The first step on your journey to becoming a master of the pit is knowing exactly what temperature to smoke at, and when to pull your food.

What you can’t tell from watching shows like BBQ Pit Masters, is that even the experts use a good digital meat thermometer to measure the temperature in their smoker, and to know exactly when the meat is at its most tender.

Whether you’re smoking beef brisket, pork butt, fish or sausage, use this chart to know what temperature to smoke at and at what temp your food is cooked at.

We’ve also included an approximate cooking time, but you should always use temperature to determine when the meat is done cooking. 

 

Free Chart: Download a free copy of our smoking times and temperatures chart so you can refer back to it whenever you need.

 

 

smoking times and temperatures chart

 

Free Chart: Download a free copy of our smoking times and temperatures chart so you can refer back to it whenever you need.

Beef smoking times and temperatures

 Smoker TempFinished TempSmoking Time
Beef brisket225-250° F190-205°F12 - 20 hours
Back ribs225-250° F185-190°F3 - 4 hours
Short ribs225-250° F190-200°F6 - 8 hours
Spare ribs225-250° F190 to 203°F5 - 6 hours
Prime rib225-250° F135° F for Medium15 minutes/lb
Chuck roast225-250° F190-200°F12 - 20 hours
Rump roast225-250° F145° F for Well Done30 minutes/lb
Whole ribeye225-250° F135° F for Medium25 minutes/lb
Tenderloin225-250° F130°-140° F2 1/2 to 3 hours
Tri-tip225-250° F130° F to 140° F2 to 3 hours
Sausage225-250° F160° F30 - 60 mins

Notes:

  • When cooking a Prime rib you can pull off the smoker and finish with a quick stint on the grill or a hot oven to brown the exterior
  • For fresh sausages without cure added you need to cook them at hotter temperatures than sausages with the proper amount of cure

Pork smoking times and temperatures

 Smoker TempFinished TempSmoking Time
Pork butt225-250° F205°F 1.5 hours/lb
Baby back ribs225-250° F180°F5 hours
Spare ribs225-250° F180-185°F 5 - 7 hours
Loin225-250° F145°F4 - 5 hours
Belly Baconless than 100° F140° F6 hours
Whole Hog225-250° F205° F16 - 18 hours
Tenderloin225-250° F160° F2 1/2 - 3 hours
Pork sausage225-250° F165° F1 to 3 hours

Notes:

  • The best way to tell when ribs are ready is when the meat pulls cleanly back from the bones.

Lamb smoking times and temperatures

 Smoker TempFinished TempSmoking Time
Lamb leg225-250° F140°-150° F4 - 8 hours
Lamb shank225-250° F190° F4 - 5 hours
Lamb shoulder225-250° F170° F5 - 5 1/2 hours
Lamb rack200-225° F135°-140° F1 1/4 hours

Poultry smoking times and temperatures

 Smoker TempFinished TempSmoking Time
Chicken whole275°-350° F170° F2 - 3 hours
Chicken quarters275°-350° F170° F1 - 2 hours
Chicken thighs275°-350° F170° F1 1/2 hours
Chicken wings275°-350° F170° F1 1/4 hours
Turkey whole275°-350° F170° F4 - 5 hours
Turkey leg275°-350° F170° F2 to 3 hours
Turkey wings275°-350° F170° F2 - 2 1/2 hours
Turkey breast275°-350° F165° F4 hours
Quail / Pheasant225°F165°F1 hour
Cornish Hens240°F165°F2 hours
Whole duck225°-250° F165°F4 hours

Notes:

  • For a whole turkey try and stick to a 10 – 14 pound bird. Larger than this and the meat may stay in the danger zone for too long

Fish and Seafood smoking times and temperatures

 Smoker TempFinished TempSmoking Time
Salmon whole200° F145° FStarts to flake
Whole trout225°F145°F1 hour
Salmon Filet220°F145°F1 hour
Tilapia Filet220°F145°F1 hour
Lobster Tails225°F140°F45 min
Oysters225°FN/A30 - 40 min
Scallops225°F145°F45 - 60 min
Shrimp225°FN/A20 - 30 min

 

The problem with relying on temperature charts

Temperature charts are a great guide. It’s especially helpful as a relative newbie to be able to quickly check the time, temperature and average cooking time in one easy place.

But an experienced pitmaster will take issue with any temperature chart.

The fact is, you can produce excellent barbecue cooking low and slow at 225 or hot and fast 350+.  There is also no exact temperature when determining when a brisket or pork butt is perfect.  The perfect temperature to pull your meat can vary by +/- 10-20 degrees.

It’s also difficult to give an accurate cook time estimate. The shape, thickness and diameter of the meat can all be as important as the weight. This means minutes or hours per lbs calculations are always just an estimate.

 

All of the following factors can impact smoking time:

  • Are you cooking bone in or deboned meat.
  • The thickness and diameter (rather than overall weight).
  • How much connective tissue and fat there is.
  • How well insulated your smoker is and the weather will play a factor in the time it takes (Allow longer if you are you cooking in the snow).
  • Humidity in the smoker and extreme weather can also slow down cooking time.
  • Type of smoker can also effect things. According to amazingribs.com If you cook using an electric smoker your meat can be done faster because there is less airflow .

 

We have mostly stuck with the ‘low and slow’ smoker temperatures and times in this guide. While it’s a good starting point, you can definitely adjust by recipe. For example lamb can be smoked hot and fast at 300-350° F for a shorter time period and come out with a better crust.

So long as you cook your meat to the desired safe (and delicious) temperature, and you keep your temperature steady you’re going to have a successful barbecue. This is why we always recommend using a dual probe thermometer setup.

Meat temperature health and safety

Because smoking uses much lower temperatures than other methods of cooking, it’s important to follow a few guidelines.

You don’t want to be responsible for poisoning your barbecue guests after all (except maybe you’re annoying neighbour…).

Welcome to the (meat smoking) danger zone

When meat lingers at temperatures between 40 and 140° F harmful bacteria can quickly multiply. You have about 4 hours tops before things get dangerous.

This is cumulative as well. Say you have your meat in the smoker for 3 hours, and then rest if for 1 hour, then you will have reached your 4 hour limit. For your safety:

  • Always completely thaw meat before adding to the smoker
  • Marinate meat in the refrigerator and never reuse marinade from raw meat or poultry
  • Cook poultry to at least the USDA minimum recommendation (but you’ll sometimes want to go above that).

Make sure you remember the 4 hour window (or stock up on toilet paper) and you’ll be good.

smoking meat danger zone

In this chart on amazingribs.com you can compare ideal ‘done’ temperatures with the USDA minimum recommendation.

The USDA guide shouldn’t always be considered gospel though. Over the years they have changed their recommendations several times. Their current recommendation for steak would also leave many carnivores shaking their head at their over cooked steaks.

Some of the ‘done’ temperatures in our guide above well exceed the USDA recommendation. For example we recommend cooking beef brisket and pork butt up to 205° F even though USDA says you only need to hit 145° F.

This brings us to our next big point.

There’s a big difference between ‘done’ and ‘ready to eat’

The long process of low and slow cooking melts the connective tissue found in tougher cuts of meat. This results in meats tasting amazingly tender even when cooked way beyond “well done” guidelines.

 


ribs ready
Meathead Goldwyn, Are my ribs ready yet?

“I differentiate between “done” and “ready,” a fine semantic line, but an important one when it comes to barbecue.

Meat is “done” when the temperature at its thickest point reaches the point at which it is safe to eat. That doesn’t mean it’s “ready”, though.

According to USDA, ribs are “done” when they are 145°F internal temp, but they may still be tough. If you take them up to 190 to 203°F, the collagens and fats melt at this temp and make the meat more tender and juicy. Then they’re ready! See the diff?

Depending on what your cooking, there may be more waiting even after the meat is technically ‘done’. Lots of people pull brisket off the smoker at around 185° F, and then leave it wrapped in a cooler for around two hours. The brisket continues to cook and becomes even tenderer.

 

 

How to accurately measure smoker and meat temperature

Maintaining a consistent temperature and knowing exactly when to pull your meat off the smoker are two of the most important skills to nail if you want to cook great barbecue.

This means you need to be constantly monitoring the internal ‘ambient’ smoker temperature, and the temperature in the center of your piece of meat.

Maverick ET-733 Long Range Wireless ThermometerFortunately many of the most popular thermometers like the Maverick ET-733 allow you to connect two temperature probes to one digital WiFi unit to allow you to closely monitor the temperature of your smoker from the comfort of your house.

Place one probe slightly raised off the grill, close to where the meat is sitting to get an accurate smoker temperature for where you meat is actually cooking (ignore that dome thermometer).

The other probe can be inserted into the meat directly.

If you’re cooking something smaller like fish then a leave-in thermometer won’t work

For smaller items it’s much more important to use an instant read thermometer to check for internal temperature. Some people will laugh and say you can tell how done something is by poking it, we can assure you that’s BS.

We cover how to properly setup your thermometer in more detail and rank the best leave in and instant read thermometers in our guide to mastering temperature control.

Tips for managing a long smoke

If you are new to smoking then cooking for 4-16 hours at a time presents a whole new series of challenges that you just don’t experience during regular cooking.

 

The dreaded ‘stall’

Almost every beginner panics when they encounter the dreaded “stall”. The guests are almost here, you thought you allowed plenty of time for the brisket, but your thermometer has been reading the same temperature for the last 2 hours.

This is where almost everyone makes the a classic smoker mistake and panics.

You don’t have to be one of these newbies though. When this happens to you you’ll know that the stall is just a natural process that happens when a brisket hits around 165 degrees. As the meat cooks, moisture is released and evaporates, cooling the meat down.

This process can cause the thermometer not to budge for hours. But stay strong and push on through and you’ll get to cooked in no time.

 

Over smoking the meat

Just because you need to cook something for 12 hours, doesn’t mean you need to keep feeding in more wood. In most cases after your meat has reached 140 degrees you will start to get diminishing results from extra smoke.

You also need to be careful you get the right type of smoke. Using green wood or failing to control the fire temperature can cause an excess of creosote (one of the compounds in smoke) which results in a nasty bitter taste.

 

Controlling the temperature inside your grill

Maintaining a stable temperature between 225-250°F can be a bit of a challenge. Especially if you are new to cooking with charcoal and managing a fire.

You need to make sure you don’t freak out when you see a temperature spike. Often you’ll over adjust and close all the vents, choking off the fire. Then you get stuck in a cycle of over adjusting.

While some people will just switch to a more set it and forget it style smoker like a gas or electric smoker, managing a charcoal smoker is actually very straightforward with a bit of practice.

  • Always get the smoker stabilized before adding your meat by letting it sit for 15 to 20 minutes with a thermometer away from direct heat until the temperature stabilizes.
  • Maintaining a full water pan in the barbecue chamber also helps to absorb heat and help moderate the temperature.
  • When temperature gets too high or too low, make very small adjustments to the valves and then monitor for several minutes before adjusting further.

 

Wrapping it up

We hope you find the above smoking temperature charts helpful. Remember that this is just a starting point to help you out. You are the boss of your pit so it’s up to you to give it a try, adjust as you go and remember for next time.

If you think we’ve got something wrong we would love to hear from you so leave a comment below.

 

Free Chart: Download a free copy of our smoking times and temperatures chart so you can refer back to it whenever you need.

Feature CC Image courtesy of in2k on Flickr

Related Posts

2 Responses

  1. Danny Gregg

    Built in temperature probe in a a electric smoker is that ok or should one buy a hand held probe ?

    Reply
    • joseph.clements12@gmail.com

      You will always get better results with a third party probe. A hand held probe can be handy to check meat temp, but you may want to consider a leave in probe like the Smoke or Maverick ET-733 so that you can keep an eye on it while you are away from your smoker.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.