Is there anything more satisfying than perfect meat fresh out of a smoker? But, how long to keep meat smoking? Smoke deepens flavors and mingles with the seasonings chosen by the pitmaster. The meat is tender to the bone. You’re definitely going back for seconds.
From brisket for a party to preparing your own bacon, home-smoking meat is a rewarding project. It can also involve a bit of mystery.

 

Smoking is often done in volumes that we don’t otherwise use in our home kitchens. A great big cut of meat like a brisket won’t give you a lot of clues about how the middle is doing. 
So, how long do we keep meat smoking? The answer is a combination of meat type, smoker temperature, and cut size. Here, we’ll cover some basics about what you’re trying to achieve and how to get there. We’ll also provide a handy list of times and temperatures to reference.

The Importance of "Low and Slow"

The bottom line is that we cook foods to make them safe to eat. No matter what kind of sauce, seasoning, or garnish you dress it up in, this is why we invented cooking. It’s extra important when handling raw meat. 
Using a quality thermometer is the best way to know if your meat is done all the way through. It’s also the best way to keep from overshooting the mark. A digital probe thermometer is even better, letting you see how temperature builds in the meat in real-time.
Having a ballpark idea of how long your meat should take to finish cooking is also essential for planning a meal. You can’t call up your friends and say, “Head on over, the brisket will be done in the next twenty hours!” 
Finally, the length of the cooking time has a big impact on the end product. Long, slow cooking times allow tough collagen to dissolve and muscle fibers to loosen. Fats render and distribute through the meat. The smoke itself needs time to penetrate and impart its unique flavor. There’s just no rushing this stuff. 

Meat pieces in in a fire pit

Is it done yet?

Meat smoker times can vary quite a bit depending on the size of the cut. The meat is done when it has reached a minimum temperature at the very center. Meat can have a beautiful crust and have cooked only part of the way through, leaving it raw in the middle.
The low but steady temperature of the grill or smoker raises the temperature of the meat gradually. This way, heat can penetrate more deeply before the outside overcooks. 

To manage how heat builds up in the meat, some cooks use the “3 - 2 - 1” method:

  • 1. Smoke normally for three hours.
  • 2. Wrap in foil to trap heat and cook the interior faster for two hours.
  • 3. Unwrap and smoke normally for one more hour to develop the crust or “bark” on the outside of the meat.

3 – 2 – 1 is common for ribs, which take 5 – 6 hours to cook. The proportions scale to suit other kinds of meat as well. 

When to Start Cooking

A few factors go into determining meat smoker times. Don’t worry. there’s no need to dust off your physics textbook to get it right. Just give yourself enough time and you’ll have home-smoked meat the knocks the socks right off the lucky people you’re cooking for.
You can’t rush a smoker, so plan for more time than you need if you can. A big cut can stay hot for hours after it comes out of the smoker, and this kind of meat reheats fabulously. You’re much better off having overestimated your cooking window than trying to cut it too fine.
Meat must be thawed before it goes into the smoker. Ideally, thaw in the refrigerator. It could take several days for a large cut or whole bird. If you need to, you can thaw in cold water by completely submerging the meat in an airtight package. Use constantly running water or change standing water every 30 minutes.
If you’ve got thawed meat, you’re ready to rock-and-roll. You can season with a quick salt and pepper rub or let the meat luxuriate in a marinade for hours in advance. Once prepared, pop it in the smoker.
After smoking, your meat needs to rest. Resting allows the meat to reabsorb juices, rendered fats, and dissolved connective tissue. It’s an essential stage for tender and flavorful meat. Larger cuts need more resting time, so make sure to plan for it.

How Long to Keep that Meat Smoking

Below is a quick-reference list for lots of different types and cuts of meat. The times listed are approximate. Variations in your cut or equipment could change the time that you need to smoke your meat. The estimates for raw weight are intended to account for fat and moisture lost through cooking. Keep in mind, smoked meats make sensational leftovers. Make more so you can keep enjoying your hard work the rest of the week or send some home with your guests!

Lamb Smoking Times

The listed minimum safe temperature for cooking lamb is 145°F. Much like beef, some cuts may be cooked slightly rarer and ground lamb should be cooked to a higher temperature.

Seafood Smoking Times

Seafood is excellent smoked and cooks much faster than larger, denser cuts of meat. Fish is a great choice when you don’t have a ton of time to spend tending the coals. Whole fish and filets can vary in size, but the general rule to keep in mind is that they’re done with the meat flakes easily.

In addition to meats, your smoker can be used with tons of other food. Try smoking fruits to serve with your smoked pork, or add an exciting summery twist to dessert. Smoke vegetables for healthy side dishes packed with flavor. You can even smoke cheese and nuts yourself.

A Few More Smokin' Hot Tips

By now, we’re sure you’ll buy for scrumptious leftovers and keep a close eye on your meat thermometer. Set yourself up for the best results by choosing your smoker fuel carefully because that will determine what flavor the smoke imparts to the meat. If you’re using wood, soak it thoroughly in advance to extend the amount of time it will produce smoke. Make sure you keep enough water in the pan to get that interior nice and moist, otherwise your meat will dry out too much.
Smoking meats at home is an awesome way to boost your backyard cooking to the next level. Block-party brisket and homemade bacon are just a few of the rewards you’ll earn from getting friendly with your smoker. Always remember: The golden rule of smoking meat is low and slow. With good fuel and plenty of time, you’ll have beautifully smoked meats on your menu. Experiment with different meats and other foods to see just what your smoker can do for you. It’s a lot!

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