Part 1: Picking Meat

One of the blogs I follow online and on Facebook is by this guy named Jeff. He is a genius when it comes to smoking and grilling meat. He is also hawking various meat rubs and sauces. He has started an email course on smoking and grilling meats. It is free and you can sign up to get it at his website. Just follow the link below.

He encourages subscribers to share the course with others so here we go:   

Meat Selection 

Like anything else, there are different types and grades of meat and while you may be tempted to purchase that half price brisket or pork shoulder it is best to make sure it passes the test before deciding to take it home:  Make your meat selections last when you are in the supermarket to ensure that it stays cold until you get home Select cuts of beef that are bright red for best flavor with no splotches of gray or brown. Make sure the packages are tightly wrapped with no tears or punctures in the package Meat should be firm to the touch.. not soft and cushy. Meat should not have an unpleasant odor. You also need to know that meat is graded according to quality as USDA Prime, USDA Select and USDA Choice respectively.  The prime grade is only sold to restaurants.. the most widely sold grade to consumers is USDA Choice however with consumers being more health conscience, USDA Select is a widely sold grade as well.

 I want to mention a few of the most popular smoking meats as well such as brisket and ribs since that is the ones you will most likely need to know best.


Briskets are pretty straight forward but there are a few things that I want to share to help you insure that it turns out the best that it possibly can. To start with, briskets can be purchased as an untrimmed packer cut or as a flat. Your best bet when smoking a brisket is to buy the packer cut which should have plenty of fat on top and is the flat and point together unmodified by the butcher.

You should also try to purchase a brisket that is at or below ten pounds. I have used briskets larger than this and had them turn out good but I have found that the best bet for flavor and tenderness is one in the lower range.

To end up with the most tender brisket you need to try to start out with the most tender brisket.. this is relative since briskets are NEVER tender when you buy them but if you will lay the briskets flat across the side of your hand so that it can bend on both sides, you will notice that some of them have more bend than others. The one with the most bend is your best bet for ending up with a tender piece of meat.

This is not fool proof but it is about the only indicator you will have so it is better than nothing. If your store is one of those that places it on a Styrofoam plate then this will not be possible.

Go for a brisket that has at least a 1/4 inch fat cap for best results.

Pork Shoulder

The pork shoulder is usually separated at the store into two halves. The best half in my opinion is the butt, sometimes called the “Boston butt”. The other half is the picnic and is somewhat inferior in tenderness and flavor to the butt in my opinion.

It is very difficult to go wrong with the Boston butt.. they almost always have lots of fat marbling throughout the meat and will weight between six and nine pounds in most cases.

The picnic cut has a thick skin on one side which needs to be removed. Like the butt, it has lots of marbling and will work fine for pulled pork if you cannot find a butt.

Pork Ribs

When we say pork ribs we are referring to either spare ribs or baby back ribs. The spares are the meatier ones which come from down around the front of the rib cage. This cut is my favorite as far as flavor goes and are quite a bit larger than baby backs and tend to have more fat as well. The spares in my neck of the woods usually weigh in at around five pounds and are best when there is lots of marbling of fat between the bones.

The baby backs are a favorite of many due to the lower fat content and slightly shorter cook time. This cut originates closer to the back bone and is less meaty than the spares and have considerably less fat. This is not a bad thing but as with most things smoked, fat is a wonderful thing during the cooking process for keeping the meat moist. Look for baby backs with marbling of fat in the meat between the bones for best results.

Both spares and baby backs will have a thick membrane or skin on the bone side which should be removed prior to smoking them.

I will mention pork country style ribs as well just because everyone calls them “ribs” however, they are actually not ribs at all but are cut from the loin and may or may not contain a bone.


Chicken is a great cut for a beginner simply because it can actually handle a wider range of temperatures and if you mess one up, you are out much less money than you would be with most other cuts of meat. I like to use chickens that are around three to four pounds but I have noticed here lately that it is not uncommon to see chickens weighing in at five pounds or more. The smaller ones tend to be best for flavor and tenderness but the larger ones will work fine if that is all that is available.

Look for chickens that are labeled “MINIMALLY PROCESSED” if possible but if not, find the ones that have the least amount of solution added during processing. If you can afford it, go for the organic variety as these do tend to be more tasty in my opinion.


Gobblers, as I call them sometimes, are pretty straightforward and sometimes you don’t have a lot to pick from. You also cannot see the birds as they are generally wrapped in a white plastic wrapper. They are also almost always injected with solutions of salt, water and other tenderizing ingredients which is frustrating at times for those of us who would like to be able to purchase a natural bird.

Look for the label “MINIMALLY PROCESSED” and if you find one but it. Otherwise, look for ones with the least amount of solution added during processing.

I try to purchase turkeys that have never been frozen if possible but unless it is within a few days of Thanksgiving or Christmas, it is not likely that you will find such a gift.

Purchase birds that are twelve pounds or less for safest cooking practices. Birds larger than this will stay in the danger zone of 40° and 140° for longer than what is considered safe and may put you and your family at risk of food borne illness. If you need more meat, then consider purchasing two smaller birds instead of one large one.



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