9 Tips To Smoking Meat Any Prepper Should Know

Oh the delicious flavor of smoked ribs, brisket, or even fish and seafood…

It’s a distinctive flavor, but varies significantly based on your methods. It can be sweet and fruity, or deep and woodsy, or anything in between. The beauty is that you can mix and match and blend to find your favorites and make them your own.

Smoking used to be used as a preservation method but that fell out of use with the invention of refrigeration and isn’t a great method anyway, as it requires a smokehouse and another preservation technique such as salting to ensure food safety that changes the taste and palatability of the meat.

There are also seven ways to Sunday that you can ruin meat while you’re smoking it, too, and that’s not only expensive, but disrespectful to the animal. In a survival situation, it may also mean the difference between eating and going hungry.

Old Days. Old Ways. But The Food Never Tasted Better.

The main issue that you may run into is that you’re going to burn it up. Until you get the hang of it, it’ll be easy to go from not-quite-done to oops-I-made-leather.

So, to save you time and money, and to save wasting perfectly good meat, we’ve gathered some tips to help you get started.

Choose the Right Smoker

There are four basic types of smokers, and the first decision you need to make is which one’s best for you.

Electric Smoker

Electric smokers are probably the easiest to use because all you have to do is plug it in, put the meat in it, and forget about it until the timer goes off.

It’s basically a crock-pot for smoking meat. There are a couple of downfalls, though. It’s pricey, and you don’t quite get that deep smoky flavor.

Gas Smoker

This is the next step in easy smoking. Using a gas smoker gives you the safety measure of controlling your temperature while still being able to add wood chips for flavor, though it won’t permeate the meat and give it that deep, smoky flavor. Also, you have to have gas (propane) to run it, so it won’t be much of an option if SHTF.

Charcoal Smoker

Now you’re getting into an area that requires skill. Charcoal smoking is a favorite even among professional meat smokers because charcoal burns long and steadily and you can add wood to imbue the flavors that you want. You have to know what you’re doing if you’re going to successfully use a charcoal smoker, but it’s nothing you can’t pick up with practice.

Wood Smoker

Cooking with wood is the most difficult method but also imparts the biggest, purist smoky flavors. It’s tricky to cook only with smoke because it burns at different speeds depending on the type of wood you use and how seasoned it is.

You need to tend a wood smoker closely because you want to maintain an even temperature that’s hot enough to cook but not so hot that your meat will be charred on the outside and raw in the middle. You’ll use a combination of chips and blocks to maintain the temperature and you’ll also need to watch the airflow closely so that you’re not getting gusts that cause fluctuations in the temperature.

Choose Your Wood

OK, now that you’ve chosen your method, you need to choose your wood. Different woods imbue different flavors, and some go better with certain meats over others. In other words, match your meat to your wood, or even to the occasion and what other sides you’re going to be using.

  • Hickory will add a strong smoky flavor so it needs meat with big flavor. It goes well with lamb and beef. I like it with venison, too.
  • Cherry has a sweet, mild flavor. It’s good for meats that you aren’t going to be seasoning heavily because the seasoning will cover the delicate flavor of the wood. Cherry’s great for poultry, red meat, and pork, as long as you’re just highlighting the flavor of the meat.
  • Apple and Alder are kind of like cherry. It’s sweet and mild. I like it with fish because I’m not a fan of heavy smoke flavor on my fish. It’s also good for poultry and pork.
  • Mesquite is probably the most recognizable, along with hickory. Many barbecue sauces use these in their labels. Mesquite is great for big flavored meats like beef or pork, specifically ribs or steak, because mesquite is super strong and smoky. Use it when you’re grilling something quickly rather than smoking for a long time.
  • Maple is sweet and smoky. It’s not light like apple or cherry; it adds plenty of flavor and is great with poultry or pork.

Soak Smaller Chips in Water

You can either toss them in and they’ll burn up quickly, or you can soak them in water for several hours so that the wood doesn’t burn up quickly. Wet wood also smokes more. Remember, smoking is meant to be a long process.

The standard with the pros is to use logs and larger pieces dry and smaller pieces and chips wet. Another advantage is that if the wood is wet, it helps prevent flare-ups.

I have a friend who’s big into smoking and he soaks his in Guinness, which gives the meat a little extra something, and he says he’s also soaked it in wine, but I haven’t tasted it when he’s done that. Chances are good that if he did it, it was delicious.

If you soak your chips, wrap them loosely in foil and poke holes in it.

Pick Your Meat

Ahhh … the meat of the matter! The entire process that we just discussed depends largely upon personal taste and what type of meat that you’re going to use. Remember that smoking is usually long and low, or at least medium, so you can get away sometimes with using a larger cut of meat, and sometimes a tougher cut, though you don’t want to go too cheap on the meat.

  • Brisket
  • Ribs
  • Corned Beef
  • Ham
  • Venison Roasts
  • Brisket
  • Pork Roasts
  • Trout and other sturdy white fish
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Marinade or Rub?

Fights have been started over this question in parts of the country where smoking is a point of pride. If you decide to use a marinade, whether yours or one you buy, score your meat a little so it’ll soak it up better, and leave it in the fridge for at least 8 hours.

Find the Right Temp

Smoking is a low and slow game. You don’t want it to get over 220 degrees except in the very beginning before you put your meat on. As soon as you put your meat on, get it back down then keep close track of the temperature after that.

If you’re using a charcoal or wood smoker, you can use a pan of water to help keep the temperature regulated and keep the meat moist.

Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad

The general rule of thumb is that smoking shouldn’t take up more than half of the cooking time. Also, you want the smoke to be a steady stream, not huge and billowing.

White Smoke is Good, Black is Bad

White smoke means that everything – wood, meat, ventilation, temperature – is good. Black smoke means that you don’t have enough ventilation or your meat is dripping onto the wood and burning the fat. That’ll make your meat taste burnt.

Leave it Alone!

Leave the lid shut. When you open it, you let the smoke out and you mess with the temperature inside the cooker. If you want it to be awesome, leave it alone.

Respect the Meat!

The star of this show is the meat, not the marinade, the rub, or the smoke. Everything you do is to enhance and complement the flavor of the meat. Respect that. Don’t use anything that’s so strong that it covers up that natural deliciousness.

Now that you have a general idea about smoking, what are you waiting for?

Are you a long-time smoking pro? Share some of your tips with us in the comments section below.

This article has been written by Theresa Crouse for Survivopedia.

Written by

Theresa Crouse is a full-time writer currently living in central Florida. She was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, where she learned to farm, hunt, fish, and live off the land from an early age. She prefers to live off the grid as much as possible and does her best to follow the “leave nothing behind but footprints” philosophy. For fun, she enjoys shooting, kayaking, tinkering on her car and motorcycle, and just about anything else that involves water, going fast, or the outdoors.

Latest comments
  • HELLO, Theresa. Almost ALL commercially made “Smokers” are really “cookers”, and Not “Smokers”! I use 7 Ft. of Steel (Single Wall) stovepipe between my fire and my smoke-Box” – an old Fridge FOR COOL SMOKE – That is SMOKING! pLUM WOOD FOR pORK, aPPLE wOOD FOR bEEF, aPRICOT/ pEACH FOR POULTRY. dON’T USE cHERRY wOOD – yOU wON’T lIKE iT ! bILL

    • Nice, bill in idaho. i’ve been wanting to make one like that for a while now.

    • Hi, Bill in Idaho. How long do you smoke meats for on average? Did you cut a hole in the top of the fridge for the smoke to escape? thanks.

  • I agree with Bill, what you described is smoke cooking, it will not cure the meat. Cold smoke as Bill does is the way to preserve it such as is done most commonly with fish and ham

  • Hi Theresa,

    no one gets excited about meatloaf, right? if that’s the case with you readers, then you should try it smoked.

    I start with anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds of ground beef and then begin to add the mixings. I use diced onions, shredded carrots finely chopped celery, maybe a chopped mild pepper, one egg per pound of beef, bread crumbs, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, some red pepper flakes to taste, sometimes I will add sliced mushrooms. never catchup. if you have to put a topping on try tomato sauce or braided bacon slices.

    with the main fire of charcoal and then mesquite chips or chunks, it takes about an hour per pound to cook to an interior temperature of 165 f. It will have a smoke ring from 1/4 inch to more than 1/2 inch. and it will be moist. I have fed a house full of strangers my smoked meat loaf and they were taking pictures of it and couldn’t get over the fact it was simple meat loaf.

    my cooker is just one long section (4 0″) with two grills. fire goes in the bottom of one side and the meat goes in a pan on top of the grill on the other side. I try to keep the temperature between 225 and 250.

  • I’ve discovered the hard way that when using wood rather than chips, two mistakes can ruin your smoke:
    1. too high a ratio of bark to heartwood
    2. heartwood that is too rotten, decomposed or chewed up by borers and worms. if it’s not solid, don’t use it.

    Best wood for smoking is chunks that have been split from a large trunk (therefore, a lower bark to heart wood ratio) and set aside to season and dry out for six months to a year.

    • My third comment:
      3. if you don’t know what kind of wood it is, don’t use it. I once ruined several racks of ribs by using what I hoped was oak…but was probably hackberry or ‘other’. The smoke had a flavor reminiscent of skunk urine….not that i’m an expert on the subject.

  • Bill can you tell me how to make that old fridge smoker

  • How long for a 10 pound ham, at a temp of around 130 degrees? Also, is it better if the smoke circulates a lot, or is it ok if smoke just “hangs” in the smoker?

  • How long does it take to smoke meat.. ie a brisket. and what should the internal temp be when done?

    • the meat should stay about the same temp as your surroundings for actually smoking it. The process takes days in some cases many days.. For smoked bbq (a completely different critter than smoked) the time totally depends on the size of the brisket which obviously can vary drastically. As for internal temp prepackaged grocery store briskets usually have the recomended temp for bbq on the package. The methods in this article are probably very tasty bbq but for smoked brisket as a survival food this is a recipe for disaster if you cant refridgerate whats left from the firstmeal….i

  • “The general rule of thumb is that smoking shouldn’t take up more than half of the cooking time”

    I do not understand this statement at all, please explain yourself.

    • Frank, let’s see if i can explain by example, I smoke a 20 lb turkey for 12 hours at 200° from the start i use Apple wood if i keep adding the wood for the 12 hours i get the same smoke penetration that only 6 hours would penetrate so why waste the wood, I hope that HELPS.

  • Cold Smoke ??
    As a young teen my father “taught” me to cold smoke fish. 450lbs. at a time. this process took at least 72 hrs. the small fire was started on the outside of the “box” similar to an over sized outhouse. the smoke was delivered inside via a flu. i also smoked roe on the top rack. after the process
    the fish could be kept in paper bags for weeks. no refrigeration needed. we also smoked various types of game the same way. dad was a fisherman in southwest fl. the fish was finished when the flesh started to peel away from the skin. the fish sold faster that i could smoke them.