The Foolproof Way to Smoke Meat

By: Contributor

It’s officially barbecue season, and you know what that means — time to start planning your next big cookout. But before you do, ask yourself this: Do you want to serve the kind of meal that has your guests raving for the entire summer? Or do you want to serve boring, flavorless meat? If you went with the first option (and of course you did), then it’s time to start smoking your meat like a pro. Here’s how it’s done.

Pick your smoking method.

Before you smoke your meat, you need to determine what you will use to smoke it. You have two options here: a charcoal grill or a smoker. The methods have their differences, but both will leave you with delicious, fall-off-the-bone meat.

Smoking on a charcoal grill.

This is the cheaper option, and likely the one you already have at home. The key to using a charcoal grill for smoking is all in how you operate it — unlike regular grilling, smoking on a charcoal grill will require a lot more time and patience. But the results will have you coming back for more.

What you need:

  • Wood chips. We recommend the hickory, apple, cherry or oak-flavored variety. Avoid stronger flavors like mesquite, unless you’re smoking a smaller piece of meat.
  • Charcoal. You can either use traditional charcoal or charcoal briquettes (a type of charcoal that contains fire-starting elements). Be careful not to use lighter fluid, as that will taint the flavor and integrity of the meat.

What you need to do:

  • Start by soaking your wood chips in water for an hour. This will help the fire smolder instead of soar, so your meat can cook slowly.
  • Then, prep your meat. Use a dry rub or seasoning of your choice to really bring out the flavor later.
  • Once your wood chips have soaked for an hour, put them in a chimney starter to stoke them and keep them hot for hours. Grab a thermometer and wait until the temperature in the charcoal grill reaches 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • At this point, it’s time to add your meat. Once your charcoal grill has reached the right temperature, place the meat on the rack. Place the lid back on your grill, leaving a small space for air to get in (the coals need oxygen to keep the heat going strong).
  • Now it’s time to hurry up and wait. That’s right — hands off. Don’t touch the meat. Don’t flip the meat. Don’t even think about the meat (okay, well maybe you can think about it). Though it may go against every cooking instinct you have, letting it be is the best way to get it to cook properly. It’s cooking slowly, so you don’t need to rotate it, it will cook all the way through without any help.
  • Let a few hours go by. As a general rule, four should do the trick. You’ll know it’s done when the meat is able to be pulled easily from the bone.
  • Serve with sauce and enjoy!

Smoking with a smoker.

This is the easier method for smoking meat, though smokers are also more expensive. There are five types of smokers: electric, propane, charcoal, wood and pellet. Charcoal, wood and pellet are generally thought of as favorites among diehard smokers since they bring out flavor more than their electric and propane counterparts. But on the flip side, electric and propane are often easier to use for beginners. It all just depends on your own personal preference.
Once you’ve selected a smoker, follow the same rules for smoking meat on a charcoal grill! The only difference here is the tool itself. No matter which method you choose, you’ll wind up with smoked meat that’s the stuff of barbecue legends.


Walsh, Danielle. (2014, June 18.) Smoking Meat 101: Barbecue for Beginners.

Riches, Derrick. (2018, May 22.) Smoking 101: How to Smoke Meat.

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