When you take the time to smoke a beef roast, you’re rewarded with scrumptious roast beef that is tender and juicy with deep smokey flavors.
What makes smoked beef so good is how smoking concentrates the flavors in the beef while creating a visually stunning roast that can take center stage at dinner, a backyard BBQ, or for a week of repeat performances as the star of mouthwatering roast beef sandwiches.
Smoking is one of the best ways to develop deep savory flavors in a roast. The smoke infiltrates the meat deepening its flavors and adding an extra dimension.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to smoking beef. To help cooks choose the right cut of meat and pair it with the proper technique, we break down different cuts, including time and temperature recommendations, seasoning advice, and a doneness guide.
In this piece
Picking the Right Beef Roast to Smoke
There are lots of choices when it comes to smoking beef roasts, with each cut excelling at different things. Eye of round is a perfect choice when you’re smoking roast beef for Sunday dinner or weekday sandwiches, while there’s no better choice for a holiday extravaganza than smoking a standing rib roast, and if you’re looking to feed a passel of friends authentic smoky barbecue, it’s worth taking the time to smoke a whole brisket.
To help people choose the right roast, we’ve grouped the cuts of meat into four categories primarily defined by how the cuts are smoked and served. Thinking about the different cuts this way will hopefully make it easy for cooks to choose the right roast for the right occasion.
A few things apply to choosing a beef roast, regardless of cut. The meat should always appear fresh, slightly slick without appearing wet, and have a deep reddish color. The more marbling, the more flavor. Try to avoid pieces with lots of brown on them or have an off-putting smell.
When it comes to grades, all beef is graded prime, choice, or select. The majority of the meat found in grocery stores and butcher shops is graded choice. When it comes to smoking beef roasts, we recommend going with high-quality cuts that are graded prime or choice and fit within your budget and occasion. In other words, don’t make prime rib for your kids’ lunches.
Smoked Roast Beef Cuts
We refer to this group of roasts as the roast beef cuts because they are usually served the same way roast beef is served, sliced relatively thin, and used as a main course or on sandwiches. The group includes eye of round, top round, bottom round, and rump roasts.
Taken from the hindquarters, these cuts are relatively lean and among the most economical. They are often available at grocery stores and butcher shops in the 2 to 5 pound range. They are best smoked low and slow to keep them tender and juicy. The lack of fat and connective tissue means these cuts are easy to dry out if overcooked.
For a medium to medium-rare smoked beef roast, we recommend smoking it until the internal temperature is between 135℉ (57℃) and 140°F (60℃). Once the roast reaches the target temperature, it should be removed from the smoker and allowed to rest tented under aluminum foil for 20 to 30 minutes.
The roasts generally take 30 to 35 minutes per pound using a smoking temperature of 225℉ (107℃).
These cuts can be seasoned in a million different ways. We love to smoke them using traditional roast beef flavors, or if it’s being served at a party, we use more barbecue forward flavors.
For more on traditional flavors, check out our favorite Roast Beef recipe, which has lots of information on classic flavors and techniques for tender oven-roasted roast beef.
Smoked Chuck Roast
Chuck roasts are a versatile cut from the shoulder and upper arm area. It’s a cut that excels at slow cooking, allowing the meat to break down into fork-tender pieces, especially when it’s braised as a pot roast.
Smoking a chuck roast is a simple way to smoke beef that is similar in flavor and texture to brisket without having to go through the process of smoking a full-size brisket for 12 to 18 hours.
A well-marbled cut, beef chuck roasts excel at absorbing the flavor from the smoke and long cook times that allow the fat and connective tissue to break down, creating tender, juicy meat with deep rich flavors.
The longer cook times, when paired with enough time to rest at the end, allow the beef to be served in long thin slices the same way a smoked brisket is sliced against the grain.
Smoked chuck roasts can also be braised in the smoker using an aluminum foil pan and some liquid for shredded beef that will be used for barbecue sandwiches, tacos, burritos, and more.
Chuck roasts are usually smoked at 225℉ (107℃) for 2 hours per pound or 1.5 hours per pound at 250℉ (121℃). Smoked chuck roasts should be rested for at least 30 minutes, with some recipes calling for a minimum of an hour, wrapped in pink butcher paper or aluminum foil.
The target internal temperature for chuck roasts being served in thin slices is 195℉ (91℃) to 200℉ (93℃). For chuck roasts that will be pulled or shredded, the internal temperature should be closer to 205℉ (96℃) before the meat easily pulls apart.
Smoked Beef Brisket
The granddaddy of smoked beef is a whole brisket. A brisket is a primal cut that comes from the chest area and is often divided into two sections, called the point and the flat.
In some parts of the country, namely Texas, smoked brisket borders on a religion, similar to smoked pork ribs or whole hog in parts of the Southeast.
Smoking a whole brisket is not for the faint of heart, often referred to as a packer’s cut, whole briskets generally range between 12 to 14 lbs and take 12 to 18 hours to smoke, with most recipes calling for wrapping the brisket in butcher paper halfway through the smoke to help it get through the stall. The stall is where the liquid in the roast starts to cool the brisket through evaporation, making it look like the cooking process has stalled. (Amazing Ribs)
The majority of smoked brisket recipes recommend smoking it until the internal temperature reaches between 195℉ (91℃) and 205℉ (96℃), with 203℉ (95℃) being the magic number, before taking the brisket out of the smoker and allowing it to rest for at least an hour. Many experienced pitmasters rest their brisket still wrapped in butcher paper in an insulated cooler for hours before slicing.
Try our Sous Vide Brisket recipe for a different take on cooking a smaller piece of brisket.
Smoked Prime Rib
When it comes to the wow factor, there are very few things as impressive as carving thick slices of smoked prime rib for your guests at the dinner table. In this case, the term prime refers to a large piece of beef coming from the primal rib and not from the grade of the beef.
Since the whole cut, including ribs, can weigh up to 30 lbs, it is almost always broken down into smaller cuts that are often labeled as prime rib, rib roast, standing rib roast, or ribeye roast.
Among the most expensive cuts of beef, prime rib has a unique combination of flavor and texture, making it highly sought after by restaurants and caters.
Since it is often prepared and served in large thick slices, a well-seasoned crisp crust helps create a contrast in flavor and texture to the well-marbled interior, elevating the dish’s overall flavor.
The recommended time and temperature for smoking a ribeye roast at 225℉ (107℃) is 35 to 40 minutes per pound plus 30 minutes of resting.
This is one of those large cuts where diners’ preferences are likely to range from bloody rare to medium-well, which can be challenging to do with a single piece of meat.
For a medium-rare roast, take it out of the smoker when the internal temperature is between 132℉ (55℃) and 137℉ (58℃). A good tip is to target the middle of the roast to diners who prefer rare to medium rare and save the ends for the people who prefer their beef more well-done.
How to Smoke Beef Roasts
There’s a lot to love about smoking a beef roast, the way it absorbs the flavors from the smoke, how it makes your neighbors jealous as the aroma of smokey barbecue wafts through the neighborhood, and the way it makes the flavors in beef pop.
Our favorite smoked beef recipe, located below, will work with almost any type of roast. We’ve found that smoking an eye of round, rump roast, or sirloin tip is the way to go if you want to serve thinly sliced beef that holds its shape, making these roasts an excellent choice if you’re planning on using the leftovers for sandwiches.
When picking out these cuts, choose roasts that are longer than they are wide. This ensures that when sliced against the grain, every slice combines a bit of crisp, flavorful crust and tender, juicy middle.
Preparing the Roast & Smoker
The roast beef cuts tend to be lean with very little excess fat on the outside. When it comes to trimming, the only thing we remove is any extra silver skin or the occasional loose bit. An optional step is to truss the beef to help create a more uniform shape.
The roasts can be seasoned up to a day in advance. Some people like to dry brine them, but we haven’t found that it makes a difference in flavor or texture when the meat is finished smoking.
We do rub the outside of the roasts with Worcestershire sauce to help the dry rub adhere to the roast and to add a little more umami flavor.
The key to keeping a roast moist and tender is temperature control. If the smoker being used doesn’t include a water pan or if a grill is being used, it can be helpful to add a water pan to add moisture and to help balance the temperature.
If the roast is being smoked on a gas or charcoal grill, use indirect heat for cooking the meat without drying it out or turning the outside into a briquette.
We recommend leaving any fat on the outside to let the roast baste itself and to allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes, tented in foil before slicing.
Seasoning a Beef Roast
This smoked roast beef recipe uses a simple dry rub that includes smoked paprika, garlic, and onion powders, along with kosher salt and black pepper, to develop rich classic roast beef flavors.
Some additional ways to season smoked beef include a combination of olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and thyme for more herb-forward flavors.
When we’re serving it as barbecue, sliced thin, or in sandwiches, we use a combination of ancho chili, chipotle, cumin, and garlic powder in the dry rub and serve it with some Ancho Chili and Honey Barbecue Sauce on the side.
Since beef excels at absorbing the flavors from the smoke, the choice of wood matters. We usually go with wood chips or wood chunks with bolder, hearty flavors, like hickory, oak, and mesquite, that help develop the beefy flavor in the roast.
How to Tell When the Roast is Done
There are some differences between smoked beef roasts and those that are slow-roasted in the oven or cooked sous vide.
In our testing, we’ve found that smoking a beef roast takes between 30 to 35 minutes per pound and that they should be taken out of the smoker when the internal temp reaches between 137℉ (58℃) and 142°F (61℃), depending on the size of the roast and the desired level of doneness.
We take smoked roasts off at a slightly higher temperature than those cooked in the oven because the lower temperature in the smoker means it takes longer to cook through the roast, and it will have less carryover cooking than one roasted in the oven.
When it comes to smoking meat, we recommend using a digital thermometer with a probe inserted into the middle of the roast and setting an oven thermometer next to it to have an accurate reading of the smoking temperature.
If you don’t have all day, you can smoke a roast between 250℉ (121℃) and 275℉ (135℃) and still have delicious roast beef; it just won’t be quite as tender as one cooked at a lower temperature.
The following temperature chart works for the roast beef cuts and smoked prime rib group. Refer to the chuck roast and brisket sections for temperature recommendations for those cuts.
|Very Rare||Very red, bloody, and cold||Below 125℉ (52℃)|
|Rare||Cold red center & soft to the touch||125℉ (52℃) to 134℉ (56℃)|
|Medium Rare||Warm red center, firmer with a bit of spring||135℉ (57℃) to 144℉ (62℃)|
|Medium||Pink all the way through & firm to the touch||145℉ (63℃) to 155℉ (68℃)|
|Well Done||Gray and brown all the way through, very firm||156℉ (69℃) to 165℉ (74℃)|
|Way Over Done||Dark and crusty inside and out||166℉ (74℃) plus|
Tips for Smoking Beef
Here are a few tips for smoking a roast with flavors that pop and a texture so tender and juicy you can cut it with a fork.
Rub the outside with a little Worcestershire sauce before applying the spice rub. The Worcestershire adds to the beef’s natural umami flavors while helping the rub stick to the meat.
Roasts do not need to be trussed unless there are loose pieces or they are an irregular shape.
The roasts can be placed directly on the grill grate, fat side up, and do not need to be flipped.
To avoid drying out the beef, stay away from high temperatures or leaving the roast in the smoker too long.
Regarding bark or that crisp crust that develops on the outside of large cuts of meat when smoked; the additional fat and longer smoke times make it easier for smoked chuck roasts and briskets to develop the thick, crispy bark candy that barbecue aficionados love to rave about.
Roast beef and rib roast cuts will develop a nice crust on the outside, especially when liberally seasoned, but it won’t be as thick as the ones on a chuck roast or brisket. What makes these cuts stand out when they are sliced is having slices that include some of the seasoned outside and tender inside.
The ideal setup for smoking should measure the temperature of the smoking chamber and the internal temperature of the item being smoked. A simple setup is to use an oven thermometer to keep track of the smoking temperature and an instant-read thermometer for the meat. We use this digital thermometer that includes a second probe that can be inserted into the beef.
To learn more about cooking food using this method, read our Complete Guide to Smoking Food. For more ideas on what to smoke, peruse The Best Meats to Smoke & How to Make Them Taste Delicious.
What to Serve with a Smoked Roast
Here are a few of our favorite side dishes to serve with a roast that has been smoked. If it is being served as roast beef, take the time to make a silky smooth gravy or some au jus.
A simple way to make au jus is to combine 2 cups of beef stock or beef broth along with some sauteed onions, garlic, and a little mix of whatever seasoning was used on the roast. Simmer the au jus over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes to concentrate the flavors.
A great way to serve smoked beef for parties is to slice it very thin, sprinkle it with a small amount of smoked salt and serve it as part of a meat and cheese platter.
We often smoke a roast on the weekend so we can have tender, delicious French Dip sandwiches all week long. Just slice the roast thin whenever you want a sandwich, and heat it up in the oven while the bun is being toasted. Serve it with a little pot of au jus for dipping.
Storing and Reheating
Smoked roasts can be kept in the fridge for a week or so in an airtight container and sliced whenever someone gets hungry.
We recommend reheating the roast in a 300℉ (149℃) oven in a covered baking dish for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the leftover. Thin slices won’t take as much time as a large hunk. We don’t recommend using a microwave to reheat it unless you’re a fan of chewing on rubber toys.
Roasts can be frozen for 3 to 6 months and defrosted in the refrigerator before being warmed in the oven.
No matter how you’re serving it, slice the roast against the grain and sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on the beef right before serving. The salt helps bring out the tender meat’s natural flavors, elevating the taste of the final dish.
- 3 lb beef roast, eye of round, rump, sirloin tip, top round, or bottom round
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- Worcestershire sauce to rub down
- Make the dry rub by mixing the salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic, and onion powders.1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper
- Before applying the spice rub, give the roast a good rub down with Worcestershire sauce. The Worcestershire sauce helps the rub adhere to the roast and adds flavor.3 lb beef roast, Worcestershire sauce to rub down
- Smoke the beef roast at 225℉ (107℃) for 30 to 35 minutes per pound. The roast is ready to come out when its internal temperature is between 137℉ (58℃) to 142℉ (61℃) degrees.
- Let the roast rest for 20 to 30 minutes, covered with foil, before slicing thin. Sprinkling a little salt on the slices before serving them to help brighten up the beef's flavors.