Skip to Content

What is a good meat to smoke for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends and enjoy a delicious meal. For many families, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table is a juicy, flavorful turkey. However, turkey is not the only meat that can shine as the star of your Thanksgiving feast. Smoking a large cut of meat is an excellent way to add delicious smoky flavor to your holiday meal. Smoked meat has become increasingly popular in recent years, both for its rich taste and the enticing aroma it adds to any backyard gathering. When considering what type of meat to smoke for Thanksgiving dinner, there are a few good options to choose from.

What Are Good Meat Options to Smoke for Thanksgiving?

Here are some of the best meats to smoke for Thanksgiving:

Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder, also known as pork butt, is a top choice for smoked Thanksgiving meat. Pork shoulders usually weigh 8-10 pounds or more, which provides plenty of meat for a crowd. They also have a good balance of fat and connective tissue, which helps keep the pork moist and tender as it smokes over low heat for hours. The end result is succulent, smoke-infused pulled pork that makes fantastic sandwiches but is also delicious served hot out of the smoker. Pork shoulder takes well to sweet and savory rubs or barbecue sauce glazes.

Beef Brisket

Beef brisket is another excellent option for your Thanksgiving smoker. Brisket is a tough cut of beef that needs prolonged cooking at a low temperature to break down the connective tissues into tender, mouthwatering meat. A full packer brisket usually weighs around 15 pounds, which provides enough for a large gathering. The brisket point and flat have slightly different characteristics when smoked – the point is fattier and juicier while the flat is leaner with a pronounced smoke ring. A good technique is smoking the entire brisket together and then separating it later for serving. Brisket makes amazing sandwiches but also shines when sliced for appetizers or plated as the main course.


While turkey is often roasted in the oven for Thanksgiving, you can also smoke a turkey to add succulent flavor. Smoking a turkey requires keeping the temperature low, around 250°F, for the duration of the cook which can take 4 hours or longer depending on the size. Brining the turkey prior to smoking helps keep it juicy. For best results, plan on about 30-45 minutes per pound for smoking a whole turkey. You can rub it with herbs and spice mixes or glaze it during the last hour. Smoked turkey has incredibly moist meat infused with a delicious smoky essence. It makes fantastic sandwiches for Black Friday leftovers.


Smoked ham is a classic choice for Thanksgiving and other holidays. Look for a bone-in smoked ham, preferably uncured without added nitrates or nitrites. Plan for about 5 hours of smoking time for a 10-12 pound ham. The smoky ham can be served hot alongside Thanksgiving sides and turkey or carved for sandwiches. A smoked ham also makes wonderful leftovers. Brush it with glazes such as brown sugar, honey mustard or bourbon for added flavor.

Choosing the Right Meat Size

When selecting what size of meat to smoke for Thanksgiving, consider the number of guests you plan to serve as well as how much you want for leftovers. As a general rule of thumb, plan for about 1/2 to 1 pound of uncooked meat per person. However, amounts can vary depending on your menu and the appetites of your diners. Here are some sizing guidelines:

For a Small Gathering of 4-6 People

– Pork Shoulder: 6-8 pounds
– Beef Brisket: 6-8 pound flat cut
– Turkey: 12-15 pounds
– Ham: 7-10 pounds

For a Medium Gathering of 8-12 People

– Pork Shoulder: 8-10 pounds
– Beef Brisket: 8-12 pound packer cut
– Turkey: 15-18 pounds
– Ham: 10-15 pounds

For a Large Gathering of 12-16+ People

– Pork Shoulder: 10-14 pounds
– Beef Brisket: 12-18+ pound packer cut
– Turkey: 18-22+ pounds
– Ham: 15-18+ pounds

The size ranges above are estimates and can vary depending on the type of meat. Your butcher can help advise on sizing. It’s a good idea to have extra meat for leftovers to enjoy over the rest of the holiday weekend.

Selecting a Smoker

To smoke meat for Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need a good smoker. Here are some smoker options to consider:

Charcoal Smoker

Charcoal smokers provide great flavor and easy temperature control by adjusting the ventilation. They come in a variety of sizes from small portable units up to large cabinet-style smokers. You’ll need to replenish charcoal and wood chunks periodically for longer cooks. This type requires some practice but makes delicious smoked meat.

Electric Smoker

Electric smokers provide a convenient, simple smoking method. Temperature is controlled by a digital panel and wood chips or chunks are placed in a tray. Electric units make it easy to maintain low, steady heat which is perfect for smoking meat for hours. Look for a model large enough to accommodate your chosen meat size.

Offset Smoker

These classic smokers have a firebox on the side where you burn fuel and a cooking chamber for the meat. Heat and smoke travel across to surround the meat with flavor. Offset smokers work well once you get the hang of maintaining the optimal low temperature. Models with a shelf above the firebox provide extra capacity.

Pellet Smoker

Pellet smokers are very user friendly. Hardwood pellets are fed from a hopper into a burn chamber by an electric auger. The digital control board lets you dial in the perfect temperature for smoking. Pellet smokers combine the wood-fired taste of charcoal with the precision of electric.

Propane Smoker

Propane smokers provide a convenient option, especially for colder weather. They require minimal monitoring beyond periodically checking wood chips. The gas flame provides consistent low heat while the wood produces smoke. Look for a model with sufficient capacity for larger cuts of meat.

Helpful Smoking Tips

Here are some helpful tips for getting the best results when smoking meat for Thanksgiving:

– Start early – Smoking large cuts of meat at low heat takes a long time, 12 hours or more in many cases. Begin early in the morning or even the night before.

– Use a meat thermometer – This takes the guesswork out of determining doneness and ensures your smoked meat reaches a safe internal temperature.

– Maintain steady heat – Fluctuating temperatures can dry out the meat’s exterior. Keep the smoker around 225-250°F.

– Add wood chunks – For full smoky flavor, replenish wood chunks or chips every 45-60 minutes. Soaking first helps control burning.

– Don’t peek – Resist frequently opening the smoker, which causes heat loss and extends cook time.

– Rest meat before serving – Once it reaches the target temperature, remove meat and let it rest wrapped in foil for 30-60 minutes.

– Make leftovers – Smoke extra meat to allow for some leftovers you can enjoy in sandwiches, soups, casseroles, pizza and more after the holiday.

Estimated Smoking Times

Here are approximate smoking times for various meat sizes at 225-250°F. Actual times may vary based on smoker type and temperature.

Smoking Times for Pork Shoulder

Pork Shoulder Weight Estimated Smoking Time
6 pounds 6-8 hours
8 pounds 8-10 hours
10 pounds 10-12 hours
12 pounds 12-15 hours

Smoking Times for Beef Brisket

Brisket Weight Estimated Smoking Time
6 pounds 6-8 hours
8 pounds 8-10 hours
12 pounds 12-15 hours
15+ pounds 15-18+ hours

Smoking Times for Whole Turkey

Turkey Weight Estimated Smoking Time
12 pounds 6-8 hours
15 pounds 8-10 hours
18 pounds 10-12 hours
20+ pounds 12-15+ hours

Smoking Times for Ham

Ham Weight Estimated Smoking Time
7 pounds 3-4 hours
10 pounds 5-6 hours
15 pounds 6-8 hours
18+ pounds 8-10+ hours

Smoking a large cut of meat is an all-day affair but well worth the time and effort. Start early in the day and enjoy the enticing aroma as your meal cooks slowly to perfection. The results will be the mouthwatering centerpiece of your Thanksgiving feast.


Smoking a pork shoulder, beef brisket, turkey or ham are all excellent options for Thanksgiving dinner. Choosing a sufficiently sized meat and proper smoker are key to success. Allow plenty of time for the low, slow smoking method to infuse the meat with unmatched flavor. Your guests will be delighted by the succulent, smoky meat you serve this Thanksgiving. Leftovers will provide the basis for amazing sandwiches and other creative meals in the days following the holiday. With some preparation and patience, your smoked Thanksgiving meat will become a cherished new tradition.