To many people, a pink layer under the meat’s surface is a symbol of successful real BBQ. It is called The Smoke Ring, which has a lot of myths and inaccurate theories that have grown around it.
Today I’ll try to answer few basic questions on the topic and on what to do to get the best smoke ring on meat. One has to admit that it looks great and makes you want to eat it, which makes it no wonder that it is such a popular topic.
In theory, however, it is a somewhat complicated process that depends on few factors, but more on all of that below.
What is The Smoke Ring BBQ ?
Let’s start by explaining what it is in the first place. To put it in simplest words, it is simply a pink layer underneath the surface of done meat that is created when the meat is exposed to smoke during smoking. To a large extent, this answer holds the truth, but the reality is that there’s more to it.
In order to properly understand what the smoke ring is, we need to take a closer look on it.
Based on multiple sources, we can learn that it is a slightly more complicated process that depends on many factors. A smoke ring is made as a result of reactions occurring between Carbon Monoxide ( CO ), Nitric Oxide ( NO ) and a protein that is also called myoglobin.
If you think about it for a while, you’ll agree with me that each type of meat has a different color. Such situation is caused by a protein ( myoglobin ) that gives meat its color ( red ). It can be observed when comparing the color of beef and pork. You will then see that beef is more red, the reason behind this is as much as 4 times more of this exact protein ( myoglobin ).
In its native state, myoglobin has a purple and red color, but all of that changes when you expose the meat to fresh air. Such color can be noticed at the moment of cutting beef, but over time it starts to change. The reason behind this is the ability of myoglobin to combine with oxygen.
Plenty of times, it can be used to determine the freshness of meat. Fresh meat, when first exposed to oxygen, is bright-red in color (myoglobin, upon contact with oxygen, turns into oxymyoglobin ).
If meat gets exposed to fresh air for too long, it will change its color to a not very aesthetic brown while also scaring away with its smell ( metmyoglobin is created then ). In such situation you can be sure that the meat was cut many days earlier and is simply not fresh.
This phenomenon is perfectly shown in this picture
All of that slightly complicated theory might only lead you to one question – what does it have to do with the smoke ring ?
Burning wood generates gas ( nitrogen dioxide ) that in turn dissolves on the moist surface of the meat, combining with myoglobin. Such reaction prevents a situation where the myoglobin turns into metmyoglobin upon longer exposure to oxygen.
That’s how the smoke gets trapped inside the pink color, creating the smoke ring.
You also need to know that nitric gas penetrates from the inside, which is why the pink ring is only created right underneath the meat’s surface. Most pink rings get at the depth of 1/8 to 1/2 inch.
Below I will post few tips that will make it possible for you to improve the appearance and depth of your ring.
How to get Smoke Ring on meat
First I will post the creation of a smoke ring in few brief steps, you can find the detailed information below.
The Smoke Ring in few steps
- You need to use the right type of fuel that will generate carbon dioxide and nitric oxide, which is mostly charcoal or wood.
- Meat smoking has to take place in a low enough temperature over a longer time, it all depends on the type of meat.
- What matters is the conditions under which the meat is smoked, use a water bowl and maintain a moist surface of the meat. You may use a special mop for it that will allow you to easily apply sauce over the entire surface of the meat.
- Over time, a smoke ring is formed, the effect and depth of which mostly depends on what I wrote above. Which is the moisture of the meat, the humidity inside the smoker, the right amount of smoke and of course the right temperature.
First and foremost, the key is moisture and slow meat smoking in a low temperature. When saying moisture, I mean maintaining a moist surface of the meat using different types of sauces for that.
On top of that, when it comes to most smokers, it is also recommended to put in a water bowl. It makes temperature control easier and provides humid conditions. Many manufacturers make such containers factory-installed so that you don’t have to worry about that.
It is obligatory for it to be slow smoking at a low temperature as it is the only way for the influence of nitric oxide and carbon monoxide to set the color while the meat is still pink. High temperature makes the protein (Myoglobin ) change its color very fast while also preventing nitric oxide and carbon monoxide from getting absorbed.
I also have to mention that the temperature level differs depending on the type of meat. However, the temperature being too hot always causes the myoglobin to break down into one single color which results in lack of pink smoke ring here.
What has a significant impact on The Smoke ring?
Moisture – I’m talking about the meat surface as well as humidity inside the smoker. Both of those things have a significant impact on the final result of the smoke ring.
Temperature – You can’t let the temperature be too hot, if you do then you may as well forget about a pink ring. It is your responsibility to maintain the right temperature depending on the type of meat.
Oxygen – Make sure there is at least a slight air flow that is necessary for a smoke ring to be formed.
Wood – You may increase the humidity inside the smoker a little by using wet wood chips. Some sources also claim that it is a way to increase the amount of nitrogen dioxide that is generated when burning such wood.
What type of fuel is the best?
The best results are undoubtedly achieved with briquettes, then with regular wood. A small surprise here is lump charcoal which produces slightly less nitrogen dioxide required to achieve a smoke ring.
The poorest source of fuel will be definitely electricity and gas, but it can be remedied by using a wood chips container. Detailed research can be found on the amazing ribs page.
Remove the excess fat – Fat doesn’t contain Myoglobin and extends the path gases have to cross to reach meat. Fat won’t create a pink ring which makes it the best method to remove the excess of it. It is one of the easiest ways to improve your smoke ring.
Moist surface of the meat – Moist surface of meat allows gases to get absorbed much better. Before the meat reaches high temperature on the inside and permanently changes the color, it’s a good idea to make sure that the meat’s surface remains permanently moist until then.
Watch the temperature – Don’t let the temperature get too hot over a long time, or else you won’t get the ring. Let the smoking be slow and in a low temperature. In such conditions the meat gets time to absorb as much gases as possible, creating a beautiful and deep smoke ring.
Smoker Box – You have a propane or electric smoker, or maybe you want to smoke meat on a gas grill? In both situations, a smoker box is required that will let you generate smoke when burning wood chips. Without this kind of solution, you will never achieve a smoke ring with this type of smokers.
For people who prefer video guide I found something very useful.
The Smoke Ring Cheat
There is a way for the smoke ring to develop for sure, but it won’t be quite as perfect as when using the natural method. However, I’m mostly writing this for those who for some reason don’t have the right conditions or equipment. If you’re using an electric smoker then this method might be useful for you.
The only thing you need is pink salt or any curing salt with sodium nitrite. Your job will be to sprinkle one of those salts over the meat’s surface and you’re done. I won’t get deeper into details as I don’t have the adequate knowledge, but I can confirm that it does work.