How to Smoke Beef: A Step-by-Step Guide for Delicious Smoky Flavor

Smoking is a time-honored technique that infuses meat with irresistible smoky flavor and tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture. While brisket and pork shoulders are smoked barbecue classics, beef cuts also shine when given the low and slow treatment.

If you want to learn how to smoke beef at home, this guide covers everything from choosing the right cut to maintaining perfect smoker temperatures. Master these simple steps for incredible smoked beef worthy of a true pitmaster.

Selecting the Best Beef Cuts for Smoking

The key to incredible smoked beef is choosing a cut that becomes tender and juicy when cooked low and slow:

  • Brisket – The quintessential smoking cut, beef brisket has lots of fat and connective tissue that breaks down into succulent meat after hours in the smoker. Aim for a packer-cut whole brisket.

  • Chuck roast – Well-marbled with connective tissue, chuck roast turns deliciously tender when smoked low and slow into pulled or sliced beef.

  • Short ribs – These meaty ribs absorb tons of smoke flavor and the connective tissue melts away after a long smoke.

  • Tri-tip – Though leaner, tri-tip remains moist and benefits from a quick smoke followed by searing.

Look for well-marbled cuts with visible fat veins for the best texture and moisture after smoking.

Seasoning the Beef

Create an even coating of spice rub on your beef to maximize smoky flavor penetration:

  • Use spices generously – Apply a thick layer of dry rub all over the meat’s surface. Popular flavors include garlic, paprika, chili powder, pepper and brown sugar.

  • Press in the seasoning – Massage the rub into the meat using your fingers to ensure it adheres.

  • Refrigerate overnight – This pause lets the spice mix permeate deep into the meat for amplified flavor.

  • Add smoke flavor – Consider injecting brisket with a smoke-flavored marinade before rubbing for an extra smokiness boost.

Taking time to properly season guarantees you’ll taste the spices through every smoked bite.

Setting Up Your Smoker

A true low and slow smoke requires precise temperature control:

  • Use a charcoal smoker for authentic smoke flavor from burnt wood chips or chunks. Opt for a offset smoker design to separate the firebox from the cooking chamber.

  • Set up a gas smoker for easier temperature regulation. Add a smoke box or tray to hold wood for smoke flavor.

  • Try a pellet grill smoker for maximum convenience. It automatically feeds wood pellets from a hopper into the fire.

Whichever style you use, install dual temperature gauges to monitor both grill and meat temps. This lets you maintain a steady low smoking heat.

Getting Perfect Smoker Temperature

The temperature you set your smoker to is critical for properly cooked smoked beef:

  • Heat your smoker to 225-250°F – This low and slow range gently breaks down connective tissues over several hours without drying out the meat.

  • Preheat for 30 minutes – Allow time for the grill to fully heat up and stabilize at the desired temp before adding the meat.

  • Maintain a steady temperature – Avoid temperature spikes by monitoring your smoker and adding more fuel or adjusting vents as needed to hold a consistent 225-250°F.

  • Use a thermometer – Check the grill temp often with a built-in thermometer or dual probe thermometer placed near the meat.

The right stable low temperature works magic on those collagen-rich cuts, transforming them into fork-tender smoked beef.

Estimate Smoking Times

The size of the beef cut and your target internal temperature impact total smoking time:

  • Brisket – 1 to 1.5 hours per pound, until 200-205°F internal temp. A 12 lb. brisket needs about 18 hours.

  • Chuck roast – 45 minutes per pound up to 200°F internal temperature before shredding. A 5 lb. roast takes about 5 hours.

  • Short ribs – 5-6 hours until meat is pull-off-the bone tender.

  • Tri-tip – 2-3 hours until 125°F for medium rare doneness.

Monitor meat doneness and tenderness more than relying just on time. Brisket in particular can vary quite a bit.

Add Smoke Wood

Real wood smoke flavor is crucial for authentic smoked beef:

  • Use wood chips, chunks or logs – Favorable woods for beef include oak, hickory, apple, cherry, pecan and mesquite. Avoid soft woods like pine which can impart a bitter taste.

  • Try different combinations – Blending woods can provide layered complexity. A popular brisket duo is oak and cherry.

  • Add more wood every hour – Continually feed the smoker with more chunks or chips to keep clean smoke circulating.

  • Avoid smoldering and billowing white smoke – This means the wood is burning too fast and can create a sooty taste. Adjust the air vents to control airflow and the rate of smoke released.

Other Smoking Tips

  • Rub with yellow mustard – This forms a tacky surface for the spice rub to adhere better. Rinse off mustard before smoking.

  • Use a water pan – Adding a water pan helps regulate temperature swings. Fill with water, juice, beer or wine.

  • Spritz with liquid – Misting brisket every hour with broth, juice or cider helps prevent the surface drying out.

  • Wrap at stall point – As moisture evaporates, meat temps will plateau around 160°F. Wrapping in foil at this point powers through the stall.

  • Rest before serving – Allow brisket or other big smoked cuts to rest tented in foil for 30-60 minutes before slicing to finish cooking and redistribute juices.

  • Slice properly – Cut brisket across the grain into thin slices to shorten muscle fibers for tenderness.

Serve Up Perfectly Smoked Beef

After all your effort preparing incredible smoked beef, you’ll want to showcase it at its best:

  • Offer barbecue sauces on the side – Let guests taste the pure smoked beef flavor before saucing.

  • Make sandwiches – Piled high on buns, smoked beef makes juicy, beefy sandwiches.

  • Chop or pull – Shred brisket and chuck roast for served piled on buns or plates.

  • Add classic sides – Try backyard favorites like coleslaw, beans, cornbread and potato salad.

Now that you’re a smoked beef expert, it’s time to fire up your smoker! Adjusting those vents, spritzing, wrapping and slicing your way to the most luscious smoked brisket or chuck roast ever will be so satisfying.

Smoking Meat Week: Smoking 101


How do you prepare beef before smoking?

Let the meat dry brine in the fridge overnight for best results. Remove the meat from the fridge and it is ready for the smoker. Because the meat is so big, the extra salt does not need to be rinsed off. Set up your smoker for cooking at 225-250°F using indirect heat.

How long will beef take smoke?

On average, you will need 6 to 8 hours, but brisket can take up to 22 hours. When smoking, some cooks will follow the “3-2-1 rule.” The first 3 hours the meat is left to smoke; then the meat is wrapped in aluminum foil for the next 2 hours so the interior of the meat cooks properly.

How long does it take to smoke a joint of beef?

In our testing, we’ve found that smoking a beef roast takes between 30 to 35 minutes per pound and that they should be taken out of the smoker when the internal temp reaches between 137℉ (58℃) and 142°F (61℃), depending on the size of the roast and the desired level of doneness.

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