Best Cuts Of Beef For Smoking

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The best cuts of beef for smoking rely on the type of smoker you have, and how easy it will be to control the heat. And who doesn’t want to learn about smoking meat? Smoking beef is a great way to add a wonderful flavoring to the outside of the beef, while still keeping the juiciness of the inside. There are many different cuts of beef that can be used for smoking purposes. Below will be a short list of the most desirable cuts for this purpose.

Best Cuts Of Beef To Smoke (& How To Cook Them Perfectly)

Smoked beef is one of the definitive American barbecue meats. From brisket to chuck roast, short rib to flank steak, here are 7 of the best cuts of beef to smoke at your next cook-off.

There’s no doubt about it: Beef is the iconic barbecue meat.

And the real beauty of BBQ beef? It comes from such a large animal that it offers an insane range of flavors, textures and aromas. Each cut brings something new to the table. But which one is best?

Here are 7 of the best cuts of beef, how to smoke them, and what to look out for.

best cuts of meat to smoke infographic

For me the best cuts of beef to smoke are brisket, chuck roast, rib, top sirloin, flank steak, rump, and round.

In this post I’m going to outline why each cut is so great, and help you decide which beef cut you should go for at your next barbecue.

Beef Brisket

Heading this list is perhaps the most famous and certainly the best cut of beef for smoking: Beef brisket.

Brisket is the king of BBQ. The process of smoking down a large piece of beef town to a tender, succulent plate of meat with a coat of beautiful bark is what outdoor cooking is all about.

how to smoke brisket recipe

Smoked beef brisket has everything that you want from a good cut of meat. This iconic primal cut of beef is tender, it’s tough, and it’s packed full of flavor. It has tough meaty fibers that are infused with flavor and tenderized by its top layer of fat.

Unlike a lot of other types of meat, brisket doesn’t require brining or a lot of added flavors to get the most out of it. The secret instead is to choose the perfect piece of meat.

Smoking Brisket: Key Facts

  • Cook Time: 10-14 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 205°F

Try to pick a cut that has strong presence of graining, a good layer of fat, and a tender texture.

Pro tip: When looking for the best cut of brisket, hold the piece of meat up a little. If it bends then this is a good sign that it will be tender when cooked. The more it bends, the more tender it will be.

Buy Brisket Online

Dry-aged beef brisket for next-level beef flavor and unbelievable texture. Porter Road’s beef is pasture-raised, hormone-free, and without antibiotics.

porter road beef brisket

Chuck Roast

While beef brisket might get most of the headlines, I’m a huge fan of smoked chuck roast.

beef chuck roast

It has a lot in common with brisket. Chuck roast’s tough meaty fibers and connective tissue mirror brisket’s firm construction.

Smoking Chuck Roast: Key Facts

  • Cook Time: 5-6 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 205°F

The advantage of chuck roast is that it’s a smaller cut of meat so it takes far less time to smoke. Instead of the 10+ hours that you normally need to dedicate to brisket, chuck roast can be done in just 5 hours.

Buy Chuck Roast Online

Chuck roast straight from the shoulder. Porter Road’s pasture-raised heifers and steers live active and happy, resulting in extra flavorful beef.

porter road chuck roast
smoked beef ribs

Beef Ribs

When we talk about ribs, we often mean pork ribs, but beef ribs are just as good fresh out the smoker… maybe even better.

Smoking Beef Ribs: Key Facts

  • Cook Time: 5-6 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 135°F

Beef ribs can be hard to find, but are well worth the effort. What can make things confusing is that a few different cuts of beef are sometimes sold under the label of ‘beef ribs’. What you really want is ribs from the chuck plate.

Like baby back ribs, beef ribs are relatively quick to smoke. They need about 5 hours in the smoker.

Buy Beef Back Ribs Online

From the upper back of the cow, these ribs share the same bones as the Ribeye, yielding an incredibly tender plate of barbecue smoked beef.

porter road beef back ribs
Barbecue dry aged wagyu tri tip steak with BBQ sauce

Tri-Tip

Not everyone is sold on the idea of smoking steaks, but I think they’re well-deserving of a place on this list. Tri-tip is sometimes confused with sirloin, but it’s actually a small portion of the larger sirloin. It can sometimes be hard to find, but smoked tri-tip is well worth the effort.

Smoking Tri-Tip: Key Facts

  • Cook Time: 90 minutes
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan
  • Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 135°F

Unlike a lot of other smoking meats that rely on fat content to render and tenderize them, tri-tip is actually a very lean cut of meat. Because of this, it only needs about an hour to smoke before then being seared on a grill for a few minutes.

Try my reverse seared tri-tip if you want to give this beautiful cut of beef a go.

Buy Tri-Tip Steak

Tender and packed with flavor, this beef tri-tip is like no other. The shape of the meat means you can achieve a lot with just one cut.

porter road tri tip steak
Barbecue wagyu roast beef sliced as top view on a metal tray with copy space right

Top Round

Beef top round is perfect for smoking, and is great either just by itself as a steak, or sliced up and used in fajitas or tacos. See our smoked top round recipe to find out more

Smoking Top Round: Key Facts

  • Cook Time: 4-5 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak
  • Smoking Temperature: 225-250°F
  • Target Internal Temperature: 135°F

This often needs to be cut specifically by your butcher, instead of bought prepackaged in a store or supermarket. I find that store bought cuts tend to be a bit small, so I’d go to a butcher to try and get a 5lb piece.

It will also require a dry brining, but this is really simple to do. Rather than soak it in salted water, you instead lightly coat it in kosher or table salt and keep it in the refrigerator overnight.

The salt will slowly draw some of the juices out of the meat before being reabsorbed back into the meat. This will help the top round retain much of its natural moisture when smoking so it doesn’t dry out.

Buy Top Round

A solid muscle from the back leg of beef. Extremely lean and without much fat, cook it rare for the best results.

porter road beef round
beef flank steak

Flank Steak

It might sound unusual to smoke steaks low and slow when instead the norm is often to sear them on a grill, particularly if you like your steaks rare or medium-rare. However smoked steaks are fantastic and offer a really different take on the meat.

Smoking Flank Steak: Key Facts

  • Cook Time: 3 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Hickory, mesquite
  • Smoking Temperature: 225°F
  • Target Internal Temperature: 145°F

Flank steak is sometimes cheaper than other types of steak because they carry less fat content, but if you can get them right then they are super delicious.

Flank is rich in muscle fibers, so can carry a very intense and meaty flavor. This means that you can match strong woods like hickory or mesquite with it because the flavor of the steak won’t be overpowered by them.

In comparison to other cuts of beef, flank doesn’t require much time in the smoker. This is because it’s a lean and thin slice of meat.

Buy Flank Steak

Dry-aged, pasture-raised flank that’s rich in flavor. Perfect as a standalone steak or sliced for tacos, sandwiches and more.

porter road beef round
Barbecue wagyu roast beef sliced as top view on a metal tray with copy space right

Top Sirloin Steak

Top sirloin is tougher and leaner than most other cuts of beef, and comes from the back area of the cow. This might make it seem like it’ll be an unforgiving meat cut, but our smoked top sirloin steak recipe proves that good meat preparation gets amazing results.

You can get either top or sirloin, but top sirloin (also sometimes known as picanha in South America) is much more tender than bottom, making it much better for cooking low and slow.

Smoking Sirloin: Key Facts

  • Cook Time: 1 hour per lb
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Mesquite, hickory
  • Smoking Temperature: 225°F
  • Target Internal Temperature: 145°F

Just like with flank, sirloin is a lean meat so it doesn’t need as much time in the smoker as some other cuts of beef.

I recommend marinating the sirloin for at least a few hours prior to cooking. This will help the meat stay juicy and prevent it from drying out in the smoker.

Buy Sirloin Filet

From the back part of the beef, this sirloin is tender and juicy. Cook medium-rare for the best results, and finish with a strong sear.

Best Cuts of Beef to Smoke (How to Smoke Them, What Wood to Use and More)

When it comes to smoking up your own beef, choosing the right cut of meat is really important. Not only will you want it to turn out delicious since you’re working hard on that smoker, but you’ll also want your meat to cook through properly so it doesn’t end up tough.

When it comes to choosing the best cuts of beef to smoke, at BBQ Starts Here we believe there are quite a few choices to consider. There are at least eight cuts you can use for smoking: beef brisket, chuck roast, beef ribs, tri-tip, top round, flank steak, sirloin steak, and ribeye.

For each one of them, we’ll be looking at all the necessary tips such as the recommended smoking technique, right smoking temperature, the time it takes, and the best wood. We’ll also add a suggestion or two from recipes for the best sauce to pair with your favorite choice of smoked beef.

Contrary to popular belief, not all cuts of beef are smoked the same way. Preparation, smoking time, smoking temperature, and the type of wood used in the smoker are all key elements in getting the supreme taste out of your chosen meat cut.

Brisket

Tri Tip vs Brisket

When it comes to choosing the most popular beef cut for smoking in a smoker, beef brisket wins hands down. Beef brisket provides you with everything you’d expect from a good, quality cut. Brisket comes from the breast section of the animal and although it’s tough meat, it’s known for its tenderness and flavor.

Smoking the Brisket

Recipes suggest placing the brisket on the grill fat side down. Smoke the brisket until it reaches the required temperature and then removes it from the grill. Double wrap the meat in an aluminum foil wrapping and add some of the broth to retain some of the moisture. Keep the foil tightly wrapped to prevent drying out, until ready to serve.

Don’t try grilling brisket as it’s way too tough to go with this cooking method.

Temperature

The cooking temperature should be 205 degrees F.

Cook Time

The brisket reaches its most flavorful somewhere between 10 and 14 hours.

Wood

To get the right mix for adding additional flavors to your brisket, the wood to use is oak, hickory, cherry, or pecan.

Sauce to Pair

Adding sauce will prevent the brisket from getting too dry. A popular choice is Texas BBQ sauce which is a mixture of tomatoes and spices. You’ll find a recipe online to make this sauce.

Beef Chuck Roast

Cuts of Beef to Smoke

Beef chuck comes from the forequarter of the animal and consists of parts of the neck, upper arm, and shoulder blade. Chuck roast is a popular choice because the meaty fibers and connective tissue make it a great option. This is also the best meat to smoke for a beginner.

How to Cook a Chuck Roast 

Smoke the chuck roast directly on the grill. You can spray the roast with stock or favorite marinade every hour or so. A good tip is to place the roast into a pan with the marinade in and smoke at 250°F.

Temperature

The external temperature of 250°F and the target internal meat temperature to 165°F.

Cook Time

Since chuck roast is smaller than brisket, it only takes 5 to 6 hours till done.

Wood

The types to use for the right flavors are either hickory or pecan.

Sauce to Pair

Recipes suggest chuck roast pairs well with red wine. A red wine sauce made with butter and shallots and which can easily be made in advance is often used. For an extra splash of flavors, you can add some garlic and diced or minced mushroom.

Beef Ribs

Cuts of Beef

Beef ribs come from the chuck of the cow and consist of the ribs near the breastbone. This particular cut is not as tender as steak but has a lot more flavor. While pork ribs are generally more popular for BBQ, beef ribs can match the flavor if they’re smoked correctly.

How to Cook Beef Ribs 

Prepare by removing the membrane and excess fat. After seasoning, add to the smoker. Smoke long enough to break down the connective tissues and melt the fat. This will release the crisp meaty flavor.

Temperature

The ideal target internal meat temperature should be 135°F.

Cook Time

Will take up 5 to 6 hours in the smoker.

Wood

The chief wood chips flavors for this dish are oak, hickory, cherry, and pecan.

Sauce to Pair

One of the most popular sauce recipes is a rich Burgundy sauce. This flavorful sauce is made of burgundy wine, broth, diced mushrooms, and a variety of herbs and spices.

Tri-Tip

Tri Tip vs Brisket

Tri-tip is the triangular cut from the bottom sirloin cut. Unlike other meats mentioned here that require the fat to render them, tri-tips are too lean for that process. This means it takes only an hour to smoke.

How to Cook the Tri-Tip

Once you’ve seasoned the tri-tip on all sides, place it in the smoker. You can also opt to go with grilling this meat for a great tasting experience.

Temperature

Smoke until the target internal temperature reaches 120°F for a rare roast, 127°F for a medium-rare roast, 133° for a medium-roast, 140°F for a medium-well roast for a well-done roast, 150°F.

Cook Time

This cut will only take up to 90 minutes until done.

Wood

Supreme choices are cherry, oak, pecan, and hickory.

Sauce to Pair

A tasty favorite sauce for tri-tip is a creamy Gorgonzola sauce made with cream cheese, Gorgonzola cheese, and minced onion. Different types of cheese sauces are often served as they complement steaks.

Top Round

Cuts of Beef

The top round comes from the area situated above the bottom round. This type is perfect for the smoker and can be served whole, sliced up, or even in tacos. . A smoked top round roast has to be one of the tastier meals to serve your guests.

How to Cook a Top Round 

The right temperature to smoke this cut is between 225 – 250°F with indirect heat. Smoke for at least 3 to 4 hours. When done, let it rest for about 10 minutes and then slice into strips or small steaks

Temperature

Smoker temperature varies from 225 to 250°F and the ideal target internal temperature of 135°F.

Cook Time

This cut needs 4 to 5 hours to smoke to perfection.

Wood

The perfect wood chip flavor for this cut is oak.

Sauce to Pair

Mushroom sauce recipes are a great way to accentuate any beef cut but work even better with this particular cut.

Flank Steak

Cuts of Beef to Smoke

In general, flank steaks are cheaper meat because their fat content is lower. Flank steaks are commonly referred to as the greatest cut of smoked beef.

How to Cook the Flank Steak 

Flank steaks are most flavorful when done on the smoker for about 3 hours. Use a low and slow flame. Wrap in foil and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Temperature

Smoker temperature 225° F and meats’ temperature of 145°F.

Cook Time

This cut normally takes about 3 hours before done.

Wood

Going with mesquite or hickory is a good idea.

Sauce to Pair

A garlic butter sauce is a great way to complement this cut. Made from diced garlic, herbs and spices, and butter, this sauce not only adds additional flavor to your steak, it’s healthy too!

Sirloin Steak

Cuts of Beef

Since this cut comes from the cow’s hip, it tends to be tougher and leaner than most other cuts of beef. If you’re going to buy this cut, make sure you’ve selected the sirloin tip as this is the better option. It’s also the most tender and one of the most expensive cuts of beef.

 Best Cuts of Beef to Smoke: Options Explained

A steer is made up of a eight different primal cuts, all of which produce several different sub-primal cuts, most of which are great for smoking.

Something you’ll quickly discover from this article as well as other Folk’s on the same topic is that essentially everyone’s favorite cut of beef is brisket.

All of the other cuts they recommend will essentially chase that brisket taste, texture, and experience.

Best Cuts of Beef to Smoke

Of the things I enjoy smoking, beef is definitely at the top of my list. With that said, of the different types of animals, beef tends to be the most involved in terms of time, and will also typically cost the most.

After smoking and eating nearly every cut from a steer, the best cuts of beef to smoke are brisket, chuck roast, beef short plate ribs, and tri-tip.

1. Brisket

Brisket is by far one of the best beef cuts to smoke – it’s also essentially synonymous with barbecue.

Beef brisket contains large amounts of connective tissue, collagen, and fat. In order to break down/render these components, you need to slow cook the meat for an extended period of time; For this reason, it’s what I’d deem one of the toughest meats to smoke properly.

A whole beef brisket is made up of two muscles, the flat and point.

The flat or “lean” contains more lean meat than fat and is typically cut across the grain and made into slices. From there, most folks eat it on it’s own or on a sandwich.

best cuts of beef to smoke

At a typical barbecue restaurant you’re given a few slices from the lean and a few pieces of white bread.

However, to folks who do barbecue, the point is likely their favorite cut of meat (and mine). The point has extensive fat marbling and is wicked tender.

Similar to the flat, the point should be sliced against the grain. Note, the grain on the point is the opposite of the flat; Meaning, the point needs to be turned after slicing the flat.

brisket burnt ends

From the point you also get the desirable burnt ends (pictured above) that are borderline meat candy and are a definite crowd-pleaser.

Some folks even opt to separate the point from the flat mid cook in order to make the entire point into burnt ends.

Cuts of beef like brisket are typically smoked with nut-woods like post-oak, pecan, or hickory.

2. Chuck Roast or “Poor Man’s Brisket”

sliced chuck roast

The biggest issue with brisket is that it’s expensive and for some folks, it’s too much meat. With that said, there are several cuts from the steer that make for great substitutes.

In my opinion, the closest substitute for brisket is Chuck Roast or “Poor Man’s Brisket.”

The reason people call it Poor Man’s brisket is because it’s almost 1/3 or 1/4 of the cost of a choice brisket and you can prepare it, smoke it, and eat it in the exact same way.

Smoking chuck roast is a super straight forward process. Unlike brisket, you won’t have to do any trimming or shaping.

You can simply take the meat out of the over-wrap tray, apply your dry rub, and put it on the smoker. Chuck roast will also take roughly half the time it takes to smoke a brisket at around 6 hours.

Be sure to check-out my smoked chuck roast recipe.

Chuck roast won’t tend to stall like brisket but you can Texas crutch with aluminum foil to blow past any sort of plateau you may experience.

chuck roast wrapped
Chuck Roast wrapped in aluminum foil

In my opinion, chuck roast more-so resembles brisket flat slices from a taste and texture perspective.

However, I know lots of people like to turn chuck roast into burnt ends. In my opinion, the marbling in chuck roast isn’t even close in comparison to brisket point burnt ends.

3. Beef Short Plate Ribs

There a number of different beef ribs to choose from, however, the best to smoke are short plate ribs.

Short plate ribs come from from the beef short plate or ribs 6, 7, and 8.

short plate ribs location

Due to it’s close proximity to the brisket, short plate ribs are essentially brisket on a stick.

When short plate ribs are trimmed, they are cut into ribs that are 4-5″ in length and will often have the “lifter” muscle (latissimus dorsi) removed from the serratus ventralis muscle.

The serratus ventalis is the heavily marbled meat that sits just below the fat seam and silver skin and are the reason for why beef short ribs are very tasty.

short plate ribs

When the ribs are left in-tact and untrimmed (the lifter muscle is intact) – short plate ribs are called “Brontosaurus ribs.”

The biggest problem with beef short plate ribs is that they’re next to impossible to find in a grocery store – at least where I’m from. The ones I have found in BJ’s or Sam’s usually leave little to be desired in the way of meat too.

If you have a specialty Butcher, they can likely source you some better ones, that or you can order online through places like Wild Fork Foods or Porter Road.

4. Tri-tip

Tri-tip is a cut of meat that’s commonly confused with brisket or Picanha.

The tri-tip is sourced ffrom the bottom of the sirloin and is so-called due to its triangular shape and tapered tip.

tri tip location

While you can certainly slow-cook tri-tip like brisket, it’s actually a steak. Meaning, you can reverse sear it by first smoking it and then searing it off. The result is a super flavorful, tender, cut of steak.

Another reason for opting to smoke and sear is because the cook time is roughly 1 hour and 30 mins for a 2.5 lb tri-tip. If you’re someone who doesn’t have an extended period of time to cook, tri-tip is a great cut that can feed a crowd.

tri-tip

Tri-tip is a pretty lean piece of meat and won’t need much trimming. Like brisket, you can opt to remove silver skin, ragged nodules, and excess fat.

More often than not, I just take the tri-tip out of it’s packaging, season it, and then get my smoker ready. I then allow it come up in temperature with as much smoke as I can push at it. Once it reaches near finishing temperature, I take it off the smoker and sear it off.

Be sure to check-out my smoked tri-tip recipe.

tri tip resting

Final Thoughts

There are a number of great cuts that can be smoked from a steer. Most folks really are just after that quintessential beef brisket flavor.

However to name a few of my favorite, lesser known beef cuts:

Beef Cheeks – If you’ve never tried them, you can turn them into burnt ends or even something like barbacoa. The idea of eating something from the facial area can be off-putting to some people but the meat is wonderful – definitely consider giving beef cheeks a try.

Whole Picanha – A big benefit of picanha is that it’s not the most expensive cut for the amount of meat you get; It’s price usually falls somewhere between sirloin and striploin. While you can certainly make the whole roast into several steaks, I prefer to leave it whole and smoke it/reverse sear it like tri-tip. With Picanha you want to leave the fat cap on and cook until at most, medium-rare.

I could likely go on forever with different cuts of beef to smoke, however, the above are definitely my favorites.

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