The thick smoke ring around the outside edge of a slice of smoked brisket may be mistaken as partially uncooked, but not to the experienced eye. A smoke ring is a sign that the brisket was smoked low-and-slow, and the pink smoke ring is a symbol of success to the pitmaster. Not everyone can get a smoke ring on their brisket, so I did some research to find out how to get the best smoke ring every time.
To achieve a good smoke ring on your brisket, it’s important to keep the meat moist and cook it at a low temperature. Use a water pan and mop or spritz the brisket regularly to help retain moisture, and aim for a cooking temperature of around 220°F. Trimming the fat cap and avoiding acidic marinades can also help the smoke ring form more easily. Charcoal smokers tend to produce the best smoke rings, but electric smokers may not produce as much of a smoke ring due to the lack of smoke. By following these tips, you can help create a beautiful smoke ring on your brisket every time.
|What is it||A pinkish ring that appears on the surface of meat when it has been cooked using smoke.|
|Why is it important||Some believe it indicates that the meat has been cooked with smoke, which can add flavor and tenderness. Others believe it is mostly a cosmetic feature.|
|How is it formed||When the surface of the meat comes into contact with smoke, which contains gases and particles that can react with the meat to create the pink color.|
|Factors that affect it||Temperature, type of wood, humidity, and the quality of the meat.|
Key Points From The Pitmasters
- The smoke ring is a pinkish ring that appears on the surface of meat, such as brisket, when it has been cooked using smoke.
- Some pitmasters and barbecue enthusiasts believe that the smoke ring is important because it indicates that the meat has been cooked with smoke, which can add flavor and tenderness.
- Others believe that the smoke ring is mostly a cosmetic feature and does not have a significant impact on the taste or texture of the meat.
- The smoke ring is formed when the surface of the meat comes into contact with smoke, which contains gases and particles that can react with the meat to create the pink color.
- To get a good smoke ring, the meat should be cooked at a low temperature (around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit) for an extended period of time.
- Different types of wood can produce different flavors and colors in the smoke, which can affect the appearance of the smoke ring.
- The humidity of the cooking environment can also affect the smoke ring. Higher humidity can help create a more vibrant smoke ring, while lower humidity can make it harder to form.
- The quality of the meat can also play a role in the smoke ring. Brisket that has a good amount of fat on the surface can help create a more pronounced smoke ring, while leaner cuts may not produce as much of a smoke ring.
What Is The Smoke Ring?
A smoke ring is a pinkish ring that appears on the outside of a piece of meat, such as brisket, when it has been cooked using smoke. The smoke ring is usually about 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep and is often considered a sign of good barbecue. Some pitmasters and barbecue enthusiasts believe that a smoke ring is important because it indicates that the meat has been cooked using smoke, which can add flavor and tenderness to the meat. However, others believe that the smoke ring is mostly a cosmetic feature and does not have a significant impact on the taste or texture of the meat.
How Do You Get A Smoke Ring On A Brisket?
There are a few factors that can affect the formation of a smoke ring on brisket:
- Temperature: The smoke ring is formed when the surface of the meat comes into contact with smoke, which contains gases and particles that can react with the meat to create the pink color. To get a good smoke ring, the meat should be cooked at a low temperature (around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit) for an extended period of time, which allows the smoke to penetrate the surface of the meat and create the desired color.
- Type of wood: Different types of wood can produce different flavors and colors in the smoke, which can affect the appearance of the smoke ring. For example, oak and hickory are popular choices for brisket because they produce a medium- to heavy-bodied smoke that can help create a good smoke ring.
- Humidity: The humidity of the cooking environment can also affect the smoke ring. Higher humidity can help create a more vibrant smoke ring, while lower humidity can make it harder to form.
- Quality of the meat: The quality of the meat can also play a role in the smoke ring. Brisket that has a good amount of fat on the surface can help create a more pronounced smoke ring, while leaner cuts may not produce as much of a smoke ring.
- Add moisture. Keep the meat moist by basting. The moisture on the surface of the meat will trap the nitrates and speed up the absorption of nitric oxide.
- Cook low-n-Slow. Cook the meat slow at a low temperature. This will give the nitric oxide a chance to preserve the pink myoglobin.
- Acidic. Avoid highly acidic marinades or brines. Experiments have found that acidic solutions can affect the size of the smoke ring.
- Trim the fat. Trim most of the fat off the brisket. This will allow the nitric oxide more time to get to work in producing the smoke ring.
- Water pan.Place a water pan in your smoker to increase humidity. Moisture is the key to smoke ring formation.
- Avoid electrics. If you want a smoke ring, don’t use an electric smoker. Electric smokers produce hardly any nitrates, and make smoke ring formation difficult.
- The right wood. Buy green, unseasoned wood. Studies have shown green wood contains more nitrates, the gas that helps create a smoke ring.
- Soak wood chips. If you use wood chips, soak them in water prior to smoking. Soaking wood chips will raise the humidity and promote absorption of nitric oxide.
- Use charcoal. Charcoal briquettes create the most nitrates, the gas responsible for smoke ring formation.
What Do the Pitmasters Say About The Smoke Ring?
Here is what some of the pitmasters you mentioned have to say about the smoke ring:
“The smoke ring is a visual indication that the meat has been cooked with smoke. It’s not necessary for good barbecue, but it can be a nice touch.”Aaron Franklyn
“The smoke ring is caused by gases and particles in the smoke reacting with the surface of the meat. It’s not a sign of how good the barbecue is, but it can be an attractive feature.”Meathead Goldwyn
“The smoke ring is important because it shows that the meat has been cooked with smoke, which can add flavor and tenderness. To get a good smoke ring, it’s important to cook the meat at a low temperature for a long time and use a good quality wood for the smoke.”Harry Soo
“The smoke ring is a cosmetic feature that doesn’t have a significant impact on the taste or texture of the meat. It’s more of a visual element that can make the barbecue look more appealing.”Malcolm Reed
How Does A Smoke Ring Form?
A smoke ring is simply preserved myoglobin, the pink color found in raw meat. When meat is cooked at high temperatures, the pinkish-colored myoglobin disappears and changes into the grayish-brown color we recognize as cooked meat. When meat is smoked, the gases in the smoke set off chemical reactions on the surface of the meat which results in the preservation of the pink pigment around the outer layer of the meat. So the smoke itself doesn’t turn the outer layer of the meat pink, but the gases in the smoke preserve the myoglobin.
1. Keep The Brisket Moist By Basting or Spritzing
Smoke is attracted to cold, wet surfaces, so adding moisture to your brisket will attract more smoke. Mopping or spritzing your brisket will also prevent the meat from drying out, and it will help form a smoke ring. Smoke contains nitrates, the gas responsible for the formation of the smoke ring. If the surface of the meat is moist, the nitrates find it easier to cling to the meat. Once on the meat, the nitrates react with oxygen, forming nitric oxide which penetrates the meat and preserves the pink pigment of the meat.
There are dozens of mop sauce recipes made of combinations of apple cider, tomato juice, beer, vinegar and are brushed or sprayed onto the meat. Find a good recipe that works well with brisket. If you want to learn more about basting brisket, Ive put together a helpful resource called Basting Brisket.
2. Cook The Brisket Low-And-Slow
In order for a smoke ring to form, the brisket needs to be cooked at a low temperature. Once the internal meat temperature reaches 140 degrees, the ring will not form after this point. When meat is cooked low and slow, it gives the nitric oxide more time to work and form a nice smoke ring. Once the bark forms on the brisket, the chemical reactions will stop and the nitrates cannot penetrate the hard outer layer. If the meat is cooked too fast at a high temperature, the pink myoglobin changes color before the nitric oxide can preserve the pink color. Mopping the brisket will also slow the cooking process, as well as attracting smoke to the meat. The cooking temperature is crucial, so make sure you have a good control over your smoker.
3. Avoid Using Acidic Marinades or Brines
In some cases, marinades help form a smoke ring because of the added moisture. However, if the marinade is too acidic, a smoke ring will be less visible. Brisket has more flavor when marinaded, the extra moisture makes for a more tender, juicy brisket. If a smoke ring is important to you, just make sure you read the ingredients of your marinade and give it a miss if it is too acidic.
4. Trim Most Of The Fat Cap From The Brisket
If you want a nice smoke ring, it’s a good idea to trim most of the fat off the top of the brisket. If the meat has a thick layer of fat on the surface, the nitric oxide will take longer to penetrate the meat. You don’t need to trim all the fat off the top, leave a thin layer so the brisket can develop a bark.
5. Use A Water Pan to Increase Humidity
Placing a water pan in your smoker will increase the humidity and add moisture to the cooking chamber. We know moisture plays an important role in creating a smoke ring. Also, a water pan will help lower the temperature of your smoker if it is running too hot. Keeping your smoker at a low temperature is important for smoke ring development.
6. Use a Charcoal or Wood Smoker
For a smoke ring to form, your smoker needs to create nitric oxide. Smokers are fueled by charcoal, wood, gas or electricity. Meat smoked in charcoal smokers have more prominent smoke rings because charcoal (especially briquettes) produce the most nitrates. Electric smokers produce very little nitric oxide, which is why meat smoked in an electric smoker will have no smoke ring.
7. Don’t Use An Electric Smoker
Electric smokers are extremely popular because of their ease of use and affordability. However, meat cooked in electric smokers will have no smoke ring. Electric smokers run on a lower heat, so they produce little nitric oxide, the gas required to form a smoke ring. Some electric smoker enthusiasts place their meat in the freezer one hour prior to smoking. If the brisket is colder, it will take longer to reach the 140°F and give the meat more of a chance of achieving a smoke ring.
8. Use Green Unseasoned Smoking Wood
Most wood contains nitrates, but a larger amount of nitrates are found in green unseasoned wood. Studies have found more nitrogen found in the wood bark than the other parts of the wood. Seasoned wood is still suitable for smoking meat, but it will contain fewer nitrates, which will cause a smaller smoke ring. If you are using wood chips, consider soaking them prior to smoking. Wet wood will raise the humidity and promote absorption of the nitric oxide.
Does Wrapping Brisket Help The Smoke Ring?
During the first part of the cook, the brisket should be cooked uncovered so it can absorb smoke and develop a bark. Once the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 150°F, wrap the brisket and cook until it reaches a 203°F internal meat temperature.
Wrapping meat in foil or butcher paper is another way to keep your brisket moist, but there is little evidence to suggest it plays a role in smoke ring development. By the time you wrap the brisket, the smoke ring should have already formed. Once the brisket has developed a hard bark, the chemical reactions will stop and the nitrates cannot penetrate the brisket bark.
Wrapping is such a crucial step in the brisket smoking process I’ve written two in-depth articles on different aspects of brisket wrapping. The first is When To Wrap Brisket? and the other is What Should I Use To Wrap Brisket?
Should You Wrap In Foil Or Butcher Paper?
This is one of the most debated topics in barbecue. Should you wrap brisket in foil, butcher paper or can you smoke the brisket unwrapped? Aaron Franklin made a great video where he smoked three briskets side-by-side, and he put the debate to rest. The foil wrapped brisket had a softer bark and a pot roast flavor. The naked brisket had a firm bark, but the paper wrapped brisket had a firm bark, and was tender and juicy. You can’t just use any old butcher paper, it needs to be food grade and non-waxed. There are dozens of butcher paper brands. If you wan’t to try butcher paper, I’ve compared all the top products in an easy-to-read table.
My Favorite Brisket Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Injector: Injecting meat is a great way to take your barbecue to the next level and help you make competition-style brisket. An injector is the only way you will be able to get flavor and moisture into the middle of the meat. The Beast Injector is a stainless steel injector that is sturdy and affordable. Check the latest price on Amazon here.
Brisket Marinade: The best injection solution on the market is the Butcher BBQ Brisket Injection. This marinade is used in competitions and is made by World Barbecue Champion pitmaster, Dave Bouska. You can find the marinade on Amazon here.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Brisket Rub: These days I make my own rub when possible, but I always have a few pre-made rubs for when I’m running low. Barbecue guru Malcom Reed produces Killer Hogs, one of the best brisket rubs I’ve found over the years. Another great rub is Slap Yo Daddy, made by brisket master and multiple World Barbecue Champion, Harry Soo.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.