Chuck roast is one of our favorite cuts in the winter for stews and shredded beef recipes, but as soon as spring hits, we like to smoke a thick-cut chuck roast over a light and flavorful hardwood.
We smoke chuck roast just like we would smoke a brisket, only this recipe takes half as much time and costs significantly less. You might hear the chuck roast called “poor man’s brisket” from time to time, but don’t let that convince you that the cut is anything but delicious. Best of all, this recipe is super simple and uses only a few ingredients.
What is Chuck Roast?
Chuck roast is a large primal cut that comes from the front shoulder. There are a large number of different ways this muscle group can be cut to create different types of chuck steaks, roasts, and rolls.
Common chuck roast varieties include the 7-bone, cut from the shoulder blade resulting in seven bones, blade chuck roast cut from the rib meat between ribs four and five, and center cut which is the center part of the chuck roll.
Chuck roast is characterized by lots of marbling and a pronounced, beefy flavor. Chuck roast usually shows heavy graining in the muscle. Some cuts will contain bones from the ribs, arm, shoulder, or neck, while other cuts are boneless.
What is the Best Type of Chuck Roast for Smoking?
There are differences between the way each type of chuck roast will turn out in the smoker. Cuts that come from the top and front of the shoulder tend to be leaner and less flavorful, while cuts from the lower shoulder are fattier and more flavorful but also tend to be chewier. We usually choose one type over another based on how we plan to serve it. If we are making shredded beef or stew, bone-in chuck roast is the go-to. For sliced beef, we prefer boneless cuts such as the center cut or the cross rib.
We have smoked both bone-in and boneless roasts and had excellent results either way, but we typically will look for a thick-cut boneless center-cut chuck roast or a cross rib roast when we want to smoke a chuck roast. Both can be excellent, but the fattier cut lends itself better to the delicious smoky flavor.
How to Pick a Roast
The most important thing is that you pick a roast that has thick marbled fat throughout because this is where the tenderness and juiciness will come from. Leaner chuck roast cuts tend to dry out in the smoker and that is one of the reasons we grab the fattier center-cut roasts for smoking.
The roast should feel tender when gently pressed with a finger and should be a light red or grey-red color. Dark red roasts and roasts that are swimming in liquid should be avoided as these are signs of improper handling.
When you are smoking a chuck roast, you want a fairly thick roast. We usually will use a chuck roast that is about an inch and three-quarters to two inches thick for smoking. You might find center-cut chuck roasts with a USDA Choice label available. If so, these are the ones to get for smoking. Otherwise, use your senses to find a tender, well-marbled, fresh chuck roast.
Setting Up the Smoker
Smoking a chuck roast is done at a low and slow temperature over a period of several hours, so the first thing to do is get your smoker set up. If it has been a while since you used it or if you haven’t thought about cleaning your smoker in a while, it might be time to give it a good scrubbing. Our guide will show you some tips to get your smoker cleaned up and ready to cook.
We go back and forth on whether using the Traeger or the Big Green Egg produces a better chuck roast. Either way, we always use a light-flavored hardwood to get a clean smoke flavor that doesn’t compete with the delicious beef flavor we want.
We usually use oak or a combination of oak and pecan when we smoke hearty cuts of beef like chuck roast. We find that apple is a little too sweet and hickory is a little overpowering.
The ideal ambient temperature for the smoke chamber is between 250 degrees and 275 degrees. Lower temperatures will take too long, while higher temperatures will cause the meat to dry out. One of the reasons that we like to use a wireless meat thermometer is to keep tabs on the smoker temps as a backup to the temperature gauge on the smoker.
A water pan is very helpful for keeping humidity up in the smoke chamber which promotes a more moist result. A water pan can also help stabilize temperatures – particularly in charcoal smokers.
How to Prepare the Chuck Roast
One of the glorious things about this meal is how simple it is to make. You don’t need to trim any fat from a chuck roast, there is no reason to remove bones, and it isn’t necessary to dry-age or marinate for extensive periods of time. A wet marinade can improve the moisture of the meat, but we’ve found that a dry marinade tends to preserve the flavor of the meat and provide about the same level of juiciness as a wet marinade will provide.
We put about a tablespoon of whole black peppercorns in a spice grinder, add around a half-tablespoon of kosher coarse salt and a tablespoon of Bearded Butcher Blend Original Seasoning, then pulse until the mixture is a fine powder. That is all we use. No fancy spices, no elaborate process, just pepper, salt, and Original, and the roast will have the perfect flavor.
About six hours to the night before, gently rub the spice mixture over every surface of the chuck roast. The rub doesn’t need to be applied thick but make sure you don’t miss the sides. You can use less of the dry rub on thick, outer fat pieces since the flavor won’t penetrate the fat. Keep the roast in the refrigerator until you are ready to put it on the smoker.
Smoking the Chuck Roast
Once the smoker is in the ideal temperature range and you are getting colorless or light blue smoke, it is time to get the meat in the smoker. On the Traeger and the Big Green Egg, we simply place the meat on the grill grates. In an upright charcoal smoker, we use stainless steel hooks to hang the cut so they are more evenly exposed to the smoke.
The roast will need to smoke for about three hours at 250-275 degrees and should hit an internal temperature somewhere between 160 and 170 degrees. At this point, you can remove the roast from the smoker and wrap it in butcher paper or aluminum foil.
Put the roast back in the smoker at 275 for another two to four hours until the internal temperature is 203 degrees and the meat probe slides into the meat like warm butter.
Once the roast is finished in the smoker, remove it and place it in the oven or in a large, empty cooler to rest. The chuck roast will rest for about 30 minutes to give the meat a chance to reabsorb moisture. Unwrap the roast after the rest period and put it on a cutting board to slice.
You’ll want to slice chuck roast against the grain. It might be a bit of a challenge at first to know which direction to cut, so examine the first stroke carefully and look for the grain. When you are cutting against the grain, the fat will look dotted. If you are cutting with the grain, you will see long strands of fat and muscle tissue.
What to Eat with Smoked Chuck Roast
A well-smoked chuck roast is just about as delicious and tender as perfectly smoked brisket, and it isn’t uncommon for us to just sit down and gorge ourselves on meat, but you can make this a meal by adding corn on the cob, mashed potatoes or potato salad, a leafy green garden salad, or rice pilaf. When we slice it for sandwiches, we often will make macaroni salad or coleslaw to go with it.
Smoked Chuck Roast Recipe
- 1 whole chuck roast, thawed
- ½ tablespoon coarse kosher salt, more or less to taste
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon Bearded Butcher Blend Original Seasoning
Tools and Accessories
- Fuel for the smoker, oak and pecan are good choices
- Barbecue tongs
- Butcher paper
- Wireless meat thermometer
- Instant-read meat thermometer
- Combine salt, pepper, and Original seasoning in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground. Rub chuck roast with spice mixture ensuring that the entire cut of meat is covered. Rest in the refrigerator for six to 12 hours.
- Preheat the smoker to 250-275 degrees.
- Smoke chuck roast for three to four hours until internal temperature reaches 160-170 degrees. Remove from smoker and immediately wrap in butcher paper.
- Return to smoker and continue to smoke at 275 degrees until reaching an internal temperature of 203 degrees and the temperature probe slides into the thickest part of the meat with ease.
- Remove from smoker and keep covered. Place in oven or cooler and rest for 30 minutes.
- Unwrap the chuck roast and transfer it to a cutting board. Slice the chuck roast into ¼-½ inch slices against the grain.
- Serve with rolls for sandwiches or as a meal.
Smoking a chuck roast is an easy way to practice brisket techniques and gives you a wonderful and delicious meal. It's a great way to kick off barbecue season and it also makes for an easy recipe to cook up in winter. A tender chuck roast is a simple way to make this inexpensive cut of beef into a family-favorite meal.