How to Choose Meat for Grilling

BBQ 101

How to Choose Meat for Grilling

Meat 101: Choose the Best Meat

This article will discuss some of the most popular types of meat and the unique characteristics to look for to make sure you're bringing home the best meat to get grilling.

Whether you're grilling hot and fast or smoking low and slow, we are covering a ton of options at different price ranges so you can pick the best meat that fits your family's lifestyle and budget.

Basics of Choosing Meat for Your Next Cookout

The type of meat you choose will not only dictate the flavors you taste but also influence your grilling technique, seasonings, and the overall grilling experience. Different meats offer distinct tastes, ranging from the rich, smoky notes of beef to the delicate sweetness of poultry. The flavors of lamb, pork, chicken, and seafood each bring their unique profiles to the grill. Selecting the right meat allows you to match the protein with your choice of marinades, rubs, and seasonings as well as what style of grilling you will choose. In this guide, we'll explore the basics of selecting different cuts of meat and exploring the most popular types of meat for grilling along with which type of meat is best for which style of cooking.

Beef: What to Look for in Beef for Grilling

Let's start with beef. Beef is flavorful, versatile, and can be cooked to a variety of doneness levels. Your big cuts of beef, like brisket, beer ribs, or beef shoulders are great for low and slow barbecue. Because these cuts of beef have a lot of connective tissue, a long cooking time makes them tender, juicy, and adds smoky flavor. These cuts of meat aren't great for hot and fast grilling. Steaks tend to work well for the hot and fast grilling method. Steaks at a higher price point, like ribeyes, filets, and New York strips deliver tons of flavor. Steaks like skirt, flap, and flank come in at a lower price point and are great for budget barbecues while still delivering great flavor. Burger is typically the most economical way to consume beef. You want to choose something with a higher fat content to get a tasty burger. No matter the type of beef you're choosing, you want to pay attention to three things: marbling, grade, and color. When inspecting marbling, you're looking for the fat within the meat. This is the white lines within the beef. This is what gives meat flavor and moisture throughout the cooking process. You want to make sure your cut of meat contains marbling. Next, you'll want to look at the grade. Higher grades of meat will contain more marbling, but they will also be more expensive. Beef grading goes from prime, choice, to select. For color of beef, you'll want a rich, dark red color. Be sure to check the date on the packaging because this is also a key indicator to the freshness of the meat.

Choosing Pork for Grilling

Next up, let's talk about pork. Pork ribs, pork chops, and pork butt are commonly loved cuts of pork. As far as low and slow smoking cuts, pork shoulders and pork ribs are popular for this method. Pork chops and pork tenderloins are good for hot and fast grilling. Pork doesn't have a standardized grading system, so inspecting the cut of meat at the store is important. You'll want to look for meat that is rosy pink to red with visible marbling. If the meat looks grey or light pink, this isn't something you want to take home.


Now, let's talk about chicken! Chicken is a leaner option for grilling and one of the easiest meats to grill. Popular choices include chicken wings, drumsticks, and breasts. Leaner cuts like chicken breasts or tenders are great for hot and fast grilling. Fattier cuts like thighs, drumsticks, or wings can be grilled hot and fast or also work great for low and slow smoking. When choosing chicken, make sure the chicken is pink, not white or brown.

Barbeque is all about having fun, and part of that is the process of experimenting, seeing what your family likes, and putting something yummy and delicious on the grill.


A less popular cut of meat, but still commonly found in grocery stores, is lamb. Some people feel lamb has a strong flavor, but when prepared correctly, it can be delicious. Lamb chops are the cut most people are familiar with. Marbling is not as important with lamb because the fat should be evenly distributed throughout the piece of meat. Leg of lamb makes a great kebab, and many people find lamb ribs similar to pork spareribs. Lamb is a great option if you're looking for something new to put on the grill.


Last but not least, we can't forget seafood! If grilling fish, you'll want to choose a firm, heartier fish that will hold up well on the grill like salmon, swordfish, tuna, snapper, or mahi mahi. Shellfish is also delicious when prepared on a grill. Shrimp, crab, and lobster hold up great on the grill, so you don't have to worry about them falling apart like other seafood. Whether you're grilling hot and fast or smoking low and slow, you now know how to pick out tons of different types of meat, so you'll be able to pick what is best for your next grilling session!

About the BBQ 101 Series

Susie Bulloch founded Hey Grill Hey in 2015 with one desire: to help people make better BBQ. Char-Griller and Kingsford partnered with Susie and Todd to bring you this series of content, BBQ 101, to help you become a better backyard bbq pro.

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