A steer is made up of a eight different primal cuts, all of which produce several different sub-primal cuts, most of which are great for smoking.
Something you'll quickly discover from this article as well as other Folk's on the same topic is that essentially everyone's favorite cut of beef is brisket.
All of the other cuts they recommend will essentially chase that brisket taste, texture, and experience.
Of the things I enjoy smoking, beef is definitely at the top of my list. With that said, of the different types of animals, beef tends to be the most involved in terms of time, and will also typically cost the most.
After smoking and eating nearly every cut from a steer, the best cuts of beef to smoke are brisket, chuck roast, beef short plate ribs, and tri-tip.
Brisket is by far one of the best beef cuts to smoke - it's also essentially synonymous with barbecue.
Beef brisket contains large amounts of connective tissue, collagen, and fat. In order to break down/render these components, you need to slow cook the meat for an extended period of time; For this reason, it's what I'd deem one of the toughest meats to smoke properly.
The flat or "lean" contains more lean meat than fat and is typically cut across the grain and made into slices. From there, most folks eat it on it's own or on a sandwich.
At a typical barbecue restaurant you're given a few slices from the lean and a few pieces of white bread.
However, to folks who do barbecue, the point is likely their favorite cut of meat (and mine). The point has extensive fat marbling and is wicked tender.
Similar to the flat, the point should be sliced against the grain. Note, the grain on the point is the opposite of the flat; Meaning, the point needs to be turned after slicing the flat.
From the point you also get the desirable burnt ends (pictured above) that are borderline meat candy and are a definite crowd-pleaser.
Some folks even opt to separate the point from the flat mid cook in order to make the entire point into burnt ends.
Cuts of beef like brisket are typically smoked with nut-woods like post-oak, pecan, or hickory.
The biggest issue with brisket is that it's expensive and for some folks, it's too much meat. With that said, there are several cuts from the steer that make for great substitutes.
In my opinion, the closest substitute for brisket is Chuck Roast or "Poor Man's Brisket."
The reason people call it Poor Man's brisket is because it's almost 1/3 or 1/4 of the cost of a choice brisket and you can prepare it, smoke it, and eat it in the exact same way.
Smoking chuck roast is a super straight forward process. Unlike brisket, you won't have to do any trimming or shaping.
You can simply take the meat out of the over-wrap tray, apply your dry rub, and put it on the smoker. Chuck roast will also take roughly half the time it takes to smoke a brisket at around 6 hours.
Be sure to check-out my smoked chuck roast recipe.
In my opinion, chuck roast more-so resembles brisket flat slices from a taste and texture perspective.
However, I know lots of people like to turn chuck roast into burnt ends. In my opinion, the marbling in chuck roast isn't even close in comparison to brisket point burnt ends.
There a number of different beef ribs to choose from, however, the best to smoke are short plate ribs.
Short plate ribs come from from the beef short plate or ribs 6, 7, and 8.
Due to it's close proximity to the brisket, short plate ribs are essentially brisket on a stick.
When short plate ribs are trimmed, they are cut into ribs that are 4-5" in length and will often have the "lifter" muscle (latissimus dorsi) removed from the serratus ventralis muscle.
The serratus ventalis is the heavily marbled meat that sits just below the fat seam and silver skin and are the reason for why beef short ribs are very tasty.
When the ribs are left in-tact and untrimmed (the lifter muscle is intact) - short plate ribs are called "Brontosaurus ribs."
The biggest problem with beef short plate ribs is that they're next to impossible to find in a grocery store - at least where I'm from. The ones I have found in BJ's or Sam's usually leave little to be desired in the way of meat too.
If you have a specialty Butcher, they can likely source you some better ones, that or you can order online through places like Wild Fork Foods or Porter Road.
Tri-tip is a cut of meat that's commonly confused with brisket or Picanha.
The tri-tip is sourced ffrom the bottom of the sirloin and is so-called due to its triangular shape and tapered tip.
While you can certainly slow-cook tri-tip like brisket, it's actually a steak. Meaning, you can reverse sear it by first smoking it and then searing it off. The result is a super flavorful, tender, cut of steak.
Another reason for opting to smoke and sear is because the cook time is roughly 1 hour and 30 mins for a 2.5 lb tri-tip. If you're someone who doesn't have an extended period of time to cook, tri-tip is a great cut that can feed a crowd.
Tri-tip is a pretty lean piece of meat and won't need much trimming. Like brisket, you can opt to remove silver skin, ragged nodules, and excess fat.
More often than not, I just take the tri-tip out of it's packaging, season it, and then get my smoker ready. I then allow it come up in temperature with as much smoke as I can push at it. Once it reaches near finishing temperature, I take it off the smoker and sear it off.
Be sure to check-out my smoked tri-tip recipe.
There are a number of great cuts that can be smoked from a steer. Most folks really are just after that quintessential beef brisket flavor.
However to name a few of my favorite, lesser known beef cuts:
Beef Cheeks - If you've never tried them, you can turn them into burnt ends or even something like barbacoa. The idea of eating something from the facial area can be off-putting to some people but the meat is wonderful - definitely consider giving beef cheeks a try.
Whole Picanha - A big benefit of picanha is that it's not the most expensive cut for the amount of meat you get; It's price usually falls somewhere between sirloin and striploin. While you can certainly make the whole roast into several steaks, I prefer to leave it whole and smoke it/reverse sear it like tri-tip. With Picanha you want to leave the fat cap on and cook until at most, medium-rare.
I could likely go on forever with different cuts of beef to smoke, however, the above are definitely my favorites.