Question: I’m heard a lot about this BBQ smoke ring that I am supposed to be striving for. Personally, I’ve been barbequing meats in my backyard smoker for a few years now, and I have never seen any sort of ring on my meat. What the hell is everyone talking about?
Answer: This can be a little confusing at first. Personally, I never knew what a smoke ring was either, until a good friend of mine showed me that I was getting a nice smoke ring almost every time I smoked.
The ring that everyone is talking about can only be seen when you cut into the meat and look a cross-section of the meat you just cooked. It is the light pink coloration that you can see just barely below the outer “crust” of the meat.
Technically, a smoke rings is little more than a chemical reaction between the water in the meat and the smoke in your BBQ smoker. When the nitrogen dioxide mixes with the water in the meat, it turns to nitric acid and builds up where the smoke penetrates into the meat.
This is why the pros set it low and go slow, allowing enough time for the smoke to penetrate deep into the meat before that sweet, crusty bark forms over the surface of whatever you are cooking.
Here is a photo that I found at http://www.alcoholian.com. This guy has a high-resolution camera that seems to be much better than mine, as I could not get a clear shot of my smoke ring without it coming out very blurry.
Do you see how the pink part isn’t the in the middle of the meat… as in a rare or medium rare cut of meat. The pink portion is on the outside of the meat, so that when you cut into the meat it forms a ring around the meat.
Some professional smokers strive for a smoke ring that around 0.25 inches into the meat, but I usually never achieve this since I don’t smoke brisket very often (a good smoke ring is usually sought after when smoking brisket, since you can smoke brisket for a longer period of time without drying out the meat). I smoke a lot of poultry (chicken and turkey legs), ribs and smaller cuts of meat.
In the past, smoking competitions would take into consideration the smoke ring when judging the skill levels of competitive smokers… but, soon this lead to cheating (by using salt tenderizer on the meat), and therefore smoke rings are no longer a factor in deciding smoking and barbecuing competitions.