Beginners Guide to Smoking Meat Yael Jacks April 6, 2021

Beginners Guide to Smoking Meat

Smoking is one of the oldest cooking techniques used when preparing meat. This method of cooking originated in order to help preserve meat before refrigerators, but has carried on as a favourite way of cooking due to the sheer deliciousness of smoked meat. The process has evolved over time and has become an art form, with everyone trying to perfect their smoked food.

If you are new to this, with our guide, we will show you how to smoke like a pro.

You need a few basic items to smoke meat. These include:

  • A smoker or grill with a lid
  • Smoke source: commonly wood or wood chips
  • Liquid to enhance the smoking environment, water, apple juice or even beer or cider
  • The actual meat
  • Flavour in the form of a seasoning rub, brine, or sauce
  • Meat thermometer
  • Time

Your Smoker

There are various options when choosing a smoker. Electric, Gas, Charcoal and Wood are some examples. We would recommend you choose between a Gas and a Wood Smoker.

Gas Smokers are simple to use and great when it comes to loadshedding. It uses a gas-fueled flame to make the wood pellets smoulder. It is easy to control the temperature.

Wood Smokers offer the purest flavour but require a lot of attention and care as they need to be kept at a constant temperature.

A smoker must be able to cook and smoke your meat, off of direct heat.

Smoke Source

Choose your type(s) of wood

Wood: Large charcoal-based smokers will often use small logs or chunks of wood offset from the meat to generate a steady stream of smoke. The best woods for smoking are hardwoods as they last a long time while producing consistent smoke. This will be Hardekool, Kameelhout.

Wood chips can also be used, you need a small amount of wood chips that can be placed directly over the coals, flame, or heat coils. These can be placed in a foil packet or in a tray or pan. These are easy to find in packages at some supermarkets, braai shops or spice companies outlets. We find that dampening them slightly also works well.


Liquid is used as it helps to retain the moisture of the meat. The liquid is placed in a tray or bowl just above or to the side of the wood or the wood chips. Alternatively, the wood chips can be soaked for approximately 60 minutes and placed right on top of hot coals in your grill. The most common liquid used in smoking is plain water. If you want to add more of a flavour, you can use things like apple juice or cider and beer.


This is up to you, start small and basic and progress from there. It is ideal for tougher cuts of meat, this is found with the lots of fat and connective tissue.

You can never go wrong with beef brisket and ribs. Smoking a whole turkey or even a chicken is a winner. Pork Shoulder is another cut that is great to use.

Adding Flavour

Smoking meat lends itself to a variety of preparations. One of the most popular ways is to place the meat in a pickle mix/brine, this can be made with water, salt, and sugar or you can purchase a packet at your local spice cash and carry. The meat will be left in this mixture overnight. Depending on size of the cut.

This keeps the meat juicy and also reduces cooking loss.

Another method is coating the meat with a dry rub of salt, sugar, and lots of spices. You can also use a wet marinade or sauce, such as a Sauce-a-licious BBQ sauce. If going with a wet sauce it is common to do what is known as basting. Basting is literally brushing more liquid onto the meat at intervals as it cooks. This technique results in a nice outer shell that gets harder and crispy as cooking progresses.

You can always combine the methods, so test what you like best.


It is very important to have a good Meat thermometer. Since smoking is not a direct cooking method, we, therefore, have to keep an eye on the smoker’s temperature. The results can vary from smoker to smoker. To be sure that the meat is thoroughly cooked at the end, you should check the internal temperature. Some smokers come with thermometers attached to them.


Smoking meat takes time. If you want to eat quickly, use an oven or have a braai, faster and just as tasty but not as fun and maybe more work. The key to a successful end product is the low and slow method. The temperature is fairly low ranging from 50˚C to 150˚C. While the preparation is generally a few minutes, the smoking can take several hours. You won’t be doing too much, as you do when you braai. However, you do need to check the levels of wood, liquid, and hot coals approximately every 60-120 minutes and top up as necessary. The small vent on the top of your smoker will let you know when there is a need for more smoke or fire. No smoke means it is time.

Method 1:How to successfully smoke meat

  • Red meats such as beef and lamb are best at 50˚C for rare and 90˚C for fall off the bone. Generally, steaks are good at 60˚C, this is the core temperature, to know when it is cooked. The smoker will run at around 110 ˚C to 115 ˚C.
  • Pork should be cooked to a minimum of 75˚C. For pulled pork, take that up to 90˚C, core temperature. The smoker will run from 130 ˚C to 140 ˚C.
  • Poultry needs to get up to 80˚C. Core temperature. The smoker will run from 120 ˚C to 135 ˚C.
  • Fish varies, depending on the type. Generally, 60˚C is good for the core temperature. The smoker will run at around 110 ˚C to 115 ˚C.
  1. Prepare your meat: Clean, rinse, dry, and trim the meat. You can leave some fat on the meat for added flavour. Any silver skin (sinew) will be chewy and should be removed. For chicken or turkey, make sure to remove and clean the inside and remove any giblets etc that may have been left behind. Your meat should be at room temperature before placing it in your smoker.
  2. Get your smoker ready: light a heap of briquettes, these must burn nice and red, place them in the smoker. Preheat your smoker to the temperature you require. Most smokers have a thermometer gauge on the lid. Alternatively you can use your thermometer to check the temp after a while by leaving the probe inside for approx. 5 mins. Place a bowl or tray of liquid in the smoker. Or, add soaked chips directly to your charcoal fire.  Or add your choice of hard wood to the coals. Open the top vent. The smoke colour must be a blue coloured smoke, it should not be black or too thick and white.
  3. Cook the meat: Place the prepared meat directly on the rack above the liquid and chips if using a grill or to the side compartment, if using an offset smoker. Set a timer for the hours needed. Every 60 minutes check your chips, liquid, and coals. Top up as needed. Remember to check the smokers temperature near the end of the cooking time. Meat can take anywhere from 3 hours to 12 hours to smoke.

Brisket Example

A 4kg Brisket is placed in a pre-heated smoker of 105 ˚C. Place it with the fat side down and leave it in the smoker for 2 hours. Remember to always check coals, wood and liquid every hour.

After 2 hours, check on the colour of the meat, and you can now baste. Close the smoker and leave it for another 2 hours. You will need to check every hour. After 4 to 5 hours, once you are happy with the colour of the meat, remove it and wrap it in foil. You can then place it back in the smoker, fat side up (you must take note when wrapping), for another 2 hours.

Always let your meat rest, out of the smoker, covered for at least 15 minutes before cutting and eating.