How Long Does It Actually Take to Smoke Meat?

It is believed that Romanians were the first to start smoking meat to make it last longer way back in the 1800s.

Since then, as technology and knowledge have improved, smoking meat has become a cross between art and science.

pieces of smoked meat on plate
pieces of smoked meat on plate

If you want to give it a go, one question you may be wondering is: how long does it take to smoke meat?

Smoking can take anywhere between 6 hours for lean cuts and 24 hours for briskets depending on the cut, type, thickness, and weight of the meat.

Different temperatures, and the quality of your smoker all play a major role in how long it all takes. Pork typically takes the longest, while seafood is usually done faster.

When I said it is a cross between art and science, here is what I meant: the professionals have given us guidelines for smoking different types of meat; the art is taking those guidelines to your own smoker and playing around until you get that perfect taste.

If you are smoking meat like pork or chicken that can carry devastating health issues if it is not properly cured or cooked, you must follow the guidelines – at least as a minimum amount of time to cure.

If it is not cured long enough the center part of the cut could still carry harmful bacteria, microorganisms, roundworms, and viruses.

Smoking Meat Week: Smoking 101

I have a few basic tables for you to ensure your meat is properly cured and fit (and tasty) for consumption just below.

Beef Smoke Times

CutSize/WeightSmoker Temperature In FahrenheitSafe Finished Meat Temperature In FahrenheitTime to Smoke
BrisketSize affects the cook time; skewer should meet no resistance when the brisket is ready225 – 250190 – 20512 – 20 hours
Tri-Tip2 – 3 lbs.225 – 2401452 hours
Prime Rib4 – 7 bones225 – 2501454 – 5 hours (15 minutes per pound)
SteakTime depends on the thickness of the cut; can be finished at 75% by searing on the grill210 – 220145 Prime rib            225-250° F   135° F for Medium            15 minutes/lbs.45 – 60 minutes
FattiesTime depends on the thickness of the fatty225 – 2401603 hours
Chuck Roast3 – 4 lbs.225 – 250145  8 – 10 hours
BurgersAccording to thickness and taste2251601 hour
Back RibCut apart before smoking225 – 250185 – 1903 – 5 hours
Short RibTimes will vary according to size225 – 2401456 – 8 hours
Beef Country Style RibDone when tender225 – 2401453 – 4 hours
MeatloafTime depends on the thickness of the loaf225 – 2401603 hours
Spare RibTime depends on thickness and overall size of the ribs225 – 250190 – 2035 – 6 hours
Rump Roast 225 – 25014530 minutes per pound for well done
Whole Ribeye 225 – 25013525 minutes per pound for medium
Sausage 225 – 150  16030 – 60 minutes
Tenderloin 225 – 250  130 – 1402 ½ – 3 hours

Pork Smoke Times

CutSize/WeightSmoker Temperature In FahrenheitSafe Finished Meat Temperature In FahrenheitTime to Smoke
Whole Hog 225 – 25020516 – 18 hours per 10 pounds
Spare Rib 225 – 250180 – 1855 – 7 hours
Belly Bacon Less than 1001406 hours
Pork Butt 225 – 2502051 ½ – hours   per pound
Loin8 – 10 lbs.225 – 25014512 – 15 hours
Tenderloin1 ½ – 2 lbs.225 – 2501602 ½ – 3 hours
Baby Back Rib 225 – 2501805 hours
Pork Sausage 225 – 2501651 – 3 hours

Lamb Smoke Times

CutSize/WeightSmoker Temperature In FahrenheitMedium Rare Temperature (Chef Recommended) In FahrenheitSafe Finished Meat Temperature In FahrenheitTime to Smoke
Lamb Shank 225 – 250 1904 – 5 hours
Lamb Shoulder 225 – 250 1705 ½ – 5 hours
Lamb Rack 200 – 225 135 – 1401 ¼ hours
Lamb Leg7 – 9 lbs.225 – 250 140 – 1504 – 8 hours

Poultry Smoke Times

CutSize/WeightSmoker Temperature In FahrenheitSafe Finished Meat Temperature In FahrenheitTime to Smoke
Whole Chicken2 ½ – 3 lbs.  275 – 3501702 – 3 hours
Chicken Thighs 275 – 3501701 ½ hours
Chicken Wings 275 – 3501701 ¼ hours
Chicken Quarters 275 – 3501701 – 2 hours
Whole Duck4 – 5 lbs.225 – 2501653 ½ – 4 hours
Quail / Pheasant 2251651 hour
Whole Turkey10 – 12 lbs.275 – 3501707 – 8 hours
Turkey Wings 275 – 3501702 – 2 ½ hours
Turkey Breast 275 – 3501654 hours
Turkey Leg 275 – 3501702 – 3 hours
Cornish Hen 2401652 hours

Seafood Smoke Times

CutSize/WeightSmoker Temperature In FahrenheitSafe Finished Meat Temperature In FahrenheitTime to Smoke
Lobster Tails 22514045 minutes
Scallops 22514560 minutes
Whole Salmon4 – 6 lbs.2001453 ½ – 4 hours (Until it starts to flake)
Salmon Filet4 – 6 oz.2201451 hour
Shrimp 225N/A20 – 30 minutes
Whole Trout4 – 6 lbs.2251453 ½ – 4 hours (Until it starts to flake)
Oysters 225N/A30 – 40 minutes
Tilapia Filet4 – 6 oz.2201451 ½ – 2 hours

Tools for Smoking Meat

Fire

Obviously, to smoke meat you will need smoke. You can smoke meat over a campfire, using a wood stove, a smoker, a smoke room, tent, or even in your barbeque.

The key is to use the smoke, not the flames. You will need to keep the fire going for however long you are smoking.

a homemade smoker for smoking meat
a homemade smoker for smoking meat

Two Excellent Thermometers

You will never get your meat smoked properly if you do not own two good thermometers.

You will need to constantly check the temperature of the smoker and, when the appropriate amount of time has elapsed, you will need to check the temperature of the meat to ensure it is safe for consumption.

The thermometer for measuring the temperature in the smoker monitors the air temperature to ensure the temperature stays at the correct heat throughout the smoking process.

If you purchase a proper smoker, it will probably have a built-in thermometer.

It is essential that you check the thermometer every time you use it to ensure it is working properly and gives you an accurate reading.

The second thermometer you will need is a meat thermometer for measuring the internal temperature of the meat for doneness. These come in two forms:

  • An oven-safe thermometer with a long probe that can be inserted into the meat to monitor the temperature throughout the smoking process.
  • An instant-read thermometer can be used when you remove the meat from the smoker when you believe the meat is properly smoked.

Speeding Up Smoking Times

Smoking is the very definition of slow cooking. Hardly anything beats smoking when it comes to adding flavor and enjoying a lengthy, lazy day of cooking.

But, when you have a timetable you have to meet, be it going to a gathering or holiday feast or just getting food on the table for company that is soon to arrive, hardly anything is worse than having to wait several extra hours before the meat is ready because you blew the timing.

Pulling it out too soon might mean the meat has not reached the prescribed internal temp and could be unsafe!

This is the most frustrating thing about smoking, hands down. When you need your food ready now, not later, is there anything you can do to shorten cooking time?

Yes, there is: If you know a few tricks of the trade it is possible to cheat the smoking process a little bit and still have a delicious cut of meat that will be ready more or less when you need it. Read on.

Room Temperature Meat Smokes Quicker

you’ll find plenty of advice from seasoned smokers that advocate sticking your meat straight into the smoker out of the refrigerator with the promise that this will enhance the flavor.

This may or may not be true, but it will extend your cooking time, that much I can promise you.

Make sure you budget enough time during your prep phase to allow your meat to come up to room temperature prior to beginning smoking and you can shorten the overall cooking time significantly.

Use Smaller Pieces or Cuts of Meat

For those who love smoking big, huge cuts of meat or even whole animals this can seem like sacrilege but it is among the most practical tips for shortening the amount of time you’ll spend smoking. All things being equal smaller or thinner cuts of meat will smoke faster than larger cuts.

If time is a critical factor, consider making multiple smaller cuts of meat prior to starting smoking. Although it is unthinkable to some, it is also possible to cut down your meat part way through smoking if you know you need to speed up the process.

Marinade Ahead of Time- Don’t Mop

The second in what is sure to be many more “blasphemous” tips on this list among old school smokers, if you want to speed things up try to avoid mopping on BBQ sauces and glazes while smoking.

This both cools the meat and lowers the overall temperature in the smoker, greatly extending cooking time.

A better option is simply to marinate your meat in brine, use dry rubs or something else ahead of time, then let it come up to room temperature as described previously before you start smoking. This also leads us into our next tip…

Keep the Smoker Closed!

I know it is extremely tempting to open the smoker and check on the progress of your meat, apply sauces or generally mess with things but you want to avoid this if at all possible.

Smokers just don’t run as hot as grills and other cooking appliances, period, so each time you open the lid to fiddle with your meat you are losing a ton of already precious heat and, you guessed it, further extending your cooking time.

You should know about how long it is going to take a given cut of meat to smoke using your chosen wood, so keep the lid closed until it is nearing completion or until you must open it for whatever reason, if you can.

Always Preheat Your Smoker

This should be obvious, and is an elementary tip but still a good one. you can speed up the process by as much as an hour, perhaps more, if you preheat your smoker before you start your meat. 

Wrap It Up

Commonly derided as a crutch for the unskilled or inexperienced, wrapping your meat will nonetheless speed up cooking. For large cuts of meat that are prone to drying out wrapping may be virtually mandatory if you want to keep them succulent and tasty. 

You probably don’t want to wrap your meat from the beginning if you can avoid it, but if it looks like you are running out of time with several hours to go, don’t hesitate to wrap it up in aluminum foil.

Increase the Heat

Smoking is not grilling, and you never want to increase the temperature so much that you smell actual burning or charring from your smoker if you want best results, but bumping the temperature up a little bit will shorten the cooking time all the same. That’s just physics.

Increasing the temperature of the smoker anywhere from 25 to 50 degrees is probably not going to dramatically change the outcome concerning the quality of the finished product, but it will speed things up.

Keep in mind that different wood will produce more or less heat depending on the species- cherry, mesquite, maple, oak, apple, etc.- even in the same quantity!

The type of wood you are using also matters: wood pellets, wood chunks, wood chips, etc. If your temp seems lower than usual it might be because you changed wood or size.

Remove the Water Pan

The water pan is vital for keeping certain meats moist and tender, for without it they will dry out. Beef brisket is especially notorious for this.

Nonetheless, you don’t always have to have the water pan in your smoker for some cuts and the presence of increased moisture does lower the overall temperature and extend cooking somewhat.

You shouldn’t be afraid to experiment in any case. If you need to hit the jets and hurry along your cooking, consider removing the water pan especially if your meat is staying properly moist already.

Finish it Up in the Oven or on the Grill

The last and crowning transgression on this list among the smoker purists, that’s for sure! Sometimes there’s just nothing for it and you need the high temperatures and precise heat control that only an oven can provide, or else a quick char on your conveniently nearby charcoal grill or gas grill.

In such a case, you shouldn’t hesitate to use it if blowing your timetable risks the success of your event or dinner, whatever the reason.

Assuming your cuts are small enough to fit in the oven, you shouldn’t hesitate to pull them out early and finish them in a preheated oven. No, it won’t be quite as delectable as it would be if it smoked from start to finish.

No, the bark won’t be as perfect or tasty. But what it will be is delicious, edible and ready on time! Don’t worry, it will still have plenty of that wonderful smoke flavor we are after.

Ready to Do Some Smoking?

As with normal preparation, seafood, poultry, and pork are extremely dangerous to eat if they are not smoked properly.

For this reason, stick with the minimum time listed at these temperatures. If you are in doubt as to whether your meat is completely smoked, give it a few extra minutes.

When smoking meat, four things are important to bear in mind:

  1. Do not let different cuts of meat or different types of meat touch each-other; this is to reduce the risk of cross contamination.
  2. Always monitor and control the temperature and cook for the appropriate amount of time.
  3. Always ensure that you are working hygienically; ensure that you clean your smoker as well as skewers used to hang meat thoroughly to prevent contamination of your meat as well as other, often touched or handled, surfaces of your home.
  4. Refrigerate your smoked meat within two hours after smoking- smoked meats must be cured also for long preservation without refrigeration!

4 thoughts on “How Long Does It Actually Take to Smoke Meat?”

  1. I thought you were going to list times for smoked meat preservation. That’s what the first sentence implies. This is just time to smoke for bbq. I’m sure the whole point to preservation was that you didn’t have to refrigerate within 2 hours. You certainly can’t preserve a 2 3/4 lb chicken by smoking for 2 1/2 hours.

    1. While you can use a bbq to smoke meat, it is different from a bbq. a bbq uses a flame to fry the meat. the times given are for how long the meat should be exposed to smoke to preserve. the fridge is to cool the meat rapidly, but it also does keep the meat fresher for longer. the meat will deteriorate just like biltong with time and exposure to heat or moisture.

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