How long does it actually take to smoke meat? [+ tips to speed it up!]

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 22, 2022

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How long meat takes to smoke is a difficult question to answer. Smoking meat takes time, but not as much as you might think.

In fact, it can take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours depending on how big your piece of meat is, what type of wood you use, and the type of smoker.

How Long Does It Actually Take to Smoke Meat

The good news is that there are some things you can do to speed up the process.

For example, if you’re using hickory or mesquite, they burn at a higher temperature than oak, so you won’t have to cook them as long.

Also, if you want to get more smoke flavor into your food, try adding fruit woods like apple or cherry.

They contain tannins which help give foods a rich smoky taste.

You can also add spices like paprika or cumin to enhance the flavor.

So, let’s take a look at how to actually smoke meat using a smoker.

How long does it take to smoke meat?

When you are just starting out with smoking, it is recommended to start with small cuts of meat (like steak) and work your way up to bigger ones (like brisket).

This is because larger cuts of meat require more time to smoke and are harder to master with little experience.

How to calculate smoking time: per pound method

That said, one of the easiest and most commonly used tricks to calculate the smoking time of meat is the “per-pound” method.

The “per-pound” method is as simple as the name suggests.

It includes knowing the time required to smoke 1 pound of a specific cut at a particular temperature and then multiplying it by the total quantity/weight of the meat present.

It will give you the exact smoking duration.

Let’s take a beef brisket, for example. A beef brisket takes about 90 minutes per pound at 225F to cook perfectly.

Now, if you are smoking 10 pounds of brisket at the same temperature, it should be ready to serve within about 15 hours.

ALWAYS check the temperature

Please remember that the cooking time for a piece is always an estimation. What counts in the end is if the meat is well cooked or not!

For this, you need a reliable meat thermometer. A wireless BBQ thermometer will allow you to monitor the meats’ internal temperature from a distance without needing to open the lid.

Opening the lid of your smoker will allow precious heat and smoke to escape, and should not be done too often.

But say you’ve smoked a whole chicken according to the time per pound method.

It is then still important to check the internal temperature of the bird to see if it has reached at least 165 Fahrenheit.

This is a safe eating temperature and ensures the meat has been cooked through and any dangerous bacteria have been killed off.

So it might be the case that you had your meat in the smoker for the “right” amount of time, but the internal temperature is not where it is supposed to be yet.

In that case, leave the meat in the smoker for longer, keep monitoring the temp, and only serve it to eat when it is safe to do so.

If necessary, you can increase the temperature inside the smoker chamber. I explain more tips on how to speed up smoking meat further down below.

What about smoking different meats at the same time?

What if you are smoking different types of meats at the same time? What would be the ideal timing for smoking then?

And how would you ensure that all the cuts are perfectly cooked in the smoking process?

It’s difficult to figure out, isn’t it?

Well, you don’t have to be a seasoned pitmaster to figure that out. It’s just simple calculations.

All you need here is some time management and basic knowledge about the cooking times of different meats.

For example, let’s say you are smoking three different meat cuts at 225 degrees F, including:

  • A 10lb brisket that takes about 15 hours (as mentioned)
  • A slab of ribs that about 6 hours
  • And a whole chicken that takes about 4 hours

Now let’s suppose you need to get all of these ready at 4:00 PM on Sunday. You’ll need to get started at 10:00 PM Saturday.

Remember, you want each piece well cooked but preferably still warm at the time you serve it!

That being said, the first thing you will need to put in the smoker is the brisket, which takes the longest.

The ribs, then, will go into the smoker at 8:00 AM in the morning, with the chicken following it at 11:30 AM.

Putting the cuts mentioned above at the respective timings will give you a proper buffer time to make other preparations and also provide the meats with adequate rest time.

The same strategy can be followed for any combination of meats. A general formula you can apply here goes as follows:

Start time of each cut = Target finish time – time it needs to cook

What are the best smoking times for different types of meat?

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the right smoking times of our favorite meat cuts.

Beef brisket

  • Smoker temperature: 225 degrees F
  • Internal temperature: 195 degrees F
  • Resting time: 60 minutes
  • Average cooking time: 1.5 to 2 hours per pound
  • Best-suited smoker: Charcoal smoker
  • Best-suited woods: Hickory, mesquite, red oak, cherry, apple, maple

Prime rib

  • Smoker temperature: 225 degrees F
  • Internal temperature: 130 degrees F
  • Resting time: 30-60 minutes
  • Average cooking time: 40 mins per pound
  • Best-suited smoker: Charcoal smoker
  • Best-suited wood: Hickory, oak, mesquite

Spare ribs

  • Smoker temperature: 225 degrees F
  • Internal temperature: 110 degrees F
  • Resting time: 10 minutes
  • Average cooking time: 5 hours
  • Best-suited smoker: Gas smoker, electric smoker
  • Best suited wood: Cherry, apple, peach

Pork shoulder

  • Smoker temperature: 225 degrees F
  • Internal temperature: 190 degrees F
  • Resting time: 30-45 minutes
  • Average cooking time: 10-14 hours, 1/2 hours per pound
  • Best-suited smoker: Gas smoker, electric smoker
  • Best-suited woods: Hickory, maple, pecan, oak

Baby back ribs

  • Smoker temperature: 225 degrees F
  • Internal temperature: 180 degrees F
  • Resting time: 10 minutes
  • Average cooking time: 3 hours
  • Best-suited smoker: Gas smoker, electric smoker
  • Best suited woods: Pecan, apple, cherry

Whole chicken

  • Smoker temperature: 250 degrees F
  • Internal temperature: 165 degrees F
  • Resting time: 15 mins
  • Average cooking time: 4 hours
  • Best-suited smoker: Gas smoker, electric smoker
  • Best suited woods: Apple, maple, cherry, pecan

Chicken thighs

  • Smoker temperature: 250 degrees F
  • Internal temperature: 165 degrees F
  • Resting time: 5 mins
  • Average cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Best-suited smoker: Gas smoker, electric smoker
  • Best suited woods: Apple, maple, cherry, pecan

Don’t have much time to smoke? These cuts of meat need only 1-2 hours to smoke perfectly!

How to speed up smoking meat

Alright, we’ve all been there. You have a dinner party planned and promised your guests amazing pulled pork tacos, or succulent brisket.

But even though you brined the meat overnight, got up at 6 am to let it come to the temperature outside the fridge, and have been glued to your smoker ever since… that temperature dial is not budging!

With only a couple of hours to go until your guests arrive, how I can you get your bad boy to go a bit faster, without burning or drying out your precious cut?

Here are some tips on how to speed up the smoking process.

Find a marbled piece of meat

Meat cuts with a decent amount of marbling going on will cook faster than leaner cuts.

Ask your butcher for a proper fatty cut, and this can save you a couple of minutes if not hours of smoking.

Of course, Choice grade or Prime grade cuts of meat, that contain more fat, are also more expensive, so there is the classic money vs time tradeoff going on here.

Wrap it up

When the internal temperature of your meat seems to stall, this is usually the ideal time to wrap the meat.

It will speed up the cooking time while keeping the meat moist.

You can add some extra liquid to the foil before closing the wrap, and this will allow you to raise the temperature of the smoker, without running the risk of drying out your meat.

Crank up the temperature

This won’t work for all kinds of meat, but especially if you combine it with the wrapping method above, this is a sure-proof way to shorten the cooking time of your meat.

Start with a couple of increments first. For example, if the recipe for your pork butt calls for 225 F, raise the temperature to 275 F and monitor what it does.

If there are no alarming burn smells coming from the smoker, you can even go as high as 300 F.

Skip the mopping

Yes, mopping your meat with a good mop sauce can result in wonderful flavors.

But the thing is that it also lowers the temperature of your meat, which in turn lengthens the cooking time.

So if you are short of time for your smoking project, marinate it the night before or give it a flavorful meat rub, and leave it at that.

Cut the meat into pieces

For many pitmasters, this is a big no-no, but we cannot be picky right now.

The truth is that cutting the meat into smaller pieces will shorten its cooking time.

It’s simple maths, just like the chicken wings cook faster than a whole chicken, half a brisket will take less time to cook than a whole chunk of meat.

Don’t smoke cold meat

Yeah! Some bbq savvies recommend putting meat in the smoker right off the fridge to get that “extra” smokiness.

But hey, let me tell you something, getting the meat to room temperature before smoking is a game changer!

Yup, the meat won’t get that sexy smoke ring or that extra vibrant look.

But, isn’t it a fair trade-off for an evenly cooked and tender meat that tastes like something from a meat-savvy dream? I think it is.

So before you put the meat in the smoker, let it sit on the counter for an hour or two.

After that, check the meat with an instant-read thermometer. If the temperature is closer to room temperature, it’s smoker time.

Oh! And it won’t kill you. Take it from someone who has been doing the thing for years now!

Preheat the smoker

Getting the smoker to temperature before placing the meat inside, will get you started the right way.

So make sure to start heating up the smoker while you are prepping the meat as this will safe you time in the end.

Remove the water pan

For many cuts of meat, like brisket, a water pan is essential for a tender and juicy end result.

But the extra moisture in the air of your smoker will keep the temperature down, especially if you are cooking at temperatures higher than 212 F (boiling point of water).

This in turn means a longer cooking time (but of course, also more smokey flavor and a juicy tender cut).

Again, it is a trade-off. But if you are short on time, remove the water pan for a quicker smoke.

Don’t open the lid too often

I know it feels fantastic to open the lid and look at your smoked masterpiece in creation.

Because why not? Nothing looks great than seeing the meat developing that crust; the aroma is just a cherry on top.

But hey, if you have been doing this, you need to stop right now. When you open the lid from time to time, excessive heat escapes from the smoker.

This results in frequent temperature drops, which prolongs the already long smoking time. Plus, this puts your meat at risk of drying out.

The only time you should check your smoker is when the temperature calls for it.

This brings me to my next point…

Always use a meat thermometer

A great way to ruin a perfectly smoked meat is depending on guesswork amidst the process.

Trust me, it results either in undercooked meat or an overcooked one. In both cases, your meat goes to waste.

To prevent this, always use a high-quality meat thermometer to monitor the internal temp as the meat cooks. And don’t worry about constantly opening the lid.

There are some great models that allow you to read temperature from the outside.

All you need is to insert a prob in that meat, and it’ll tell you the live temperature changes.

Finish the meat in the oven

Again, make sure to wrap the meat before doing this.

The thing is that compared to a pellet smoker, a charcoal smoker, or even an electric smoker, it is much easier to control the temperature of your oven.

There are no vents to deal with, and the chamber is usually completely sealed, allowing no heat to escape.

This will ensure a very efficient last couple of hours of cooking, while the smokey flavor remains on the meat because of the foil.

The only downside is that your bark won’t be amazing. But at least there will be edible meat on the table!

Use a pressure cooker

As a last resort, you can pull out your Insta-Pot or pressure cooker to finish off the meat.

And who knows, this might actually become your preferred way to smoke meat from now on!

After the meat has smoked for a couple of hours, transfer it to the pressure cooker for maybe 20 to 40 minutes to finish it off.

The right time depends on your cut of meat, but know it will never take more than an hour to get the meat ready for serving.

This is great when you are short on time!

Moreover, the pressure from the steam will really push the smokey flavors deep into the meat and the moisture released during the cooking process will make your cut super tender.

There is a lot to like about this method, except if you live for your smokey meat bark.

And guess what, if you really want to get that crispy finish, you can always throw the meat back into the smoker for the last hour or so.

Add some more rub and raise the temperature, to finish your well-cooked meat to smokey perfection, and right on time.

Let it rest

This will not get the meat on the table, but you simply cannot skip it. Allow some time to let the meat rest, even if you are in a hurry.

The juices are distributed evenly throughout the meat during the resting phase, resulting in a tender, flavorful, and juiciest dish that you’ll ever bless your tastebuds with.

Here, it’s important to mention that different types of meat have different durations as far as resting is concerned.

Where one cut could take a maximum of 15 minutes, the other one would require about an hour to get all that juicy goodness.

Final thoughts

Smoking meat is a great way to bring out the extra flavor, and you can do it by using a smoker or a slow cooker.

The type of meat and the size will determine how long it takes. Generally speaking, it should take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.

So, now that you know how long smoking your meat may take, and some golden tips on how to speed up the process, you can enjoy the meal when hosting friends and family.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.