How to Get Good Bark When Smoking Meat: With the escalation of cooking from a mere chore to passion, barbecues have seen a rise all over the world. Apart from the fact that they are fun to cook, they are also very delicious and provide one of a kind taste. Enjoying the barbecue with family and friends on holidays is a popular practice that never goes out of style. The smoked meat gives not only a sensory experience to your taste buds but also a very satisfying cooking experience. Having a smoked meant with a flavorsome and licorice black bark will make your guests return for a second helping for sure.
While having a consistent bark is the hallmark of an experienced pit master, it doesn’t necessarily have to take a long time for you to master the skill of producing a good and delicious bark.
Barbecue is an art that cannot be mastered by anyone just in a few hours, or can it? While it does take a lot of time to make a perfectly good and delicious piece of barbecued meat, it does not necessarily take a lot of practice. Mastering the art of barbecue can be easily achieved if one is aware of all the factors that make a good bark and a delicious barbecue. Following a few tips and tricks can prove to be shortcuts in making your food. However, in almost all barbecued pieces of meat, the bark is the most important.
But what is bark, how does the rub affect the bark and how to get a good bark when smoking meat? Your questions are all answered below!
Click to jump straight to each topic:
- What is bark?
- Required for Bark
- How does your rub affect the bark?
- What are the basic ingredients in a rub?
- How does smoke affect the bark?
- How does temperature affect the bark?
- How does fat content affect the bark?
- How does moisture affect the bark?
- Tips & Tricks to guarantee a good bark
- Get more bang for your bark
- Rub recipe for getting a good bark on brisket
- Rub recipe for getting a good bark on pork butt
- Wrapping it up
What is bark?
The crust on your smoked meat that gives a smoky, beautiful taste is called bark. It happens due to the Maillard reaction and polymerization that occur throughout the cooing process.
These reactions basically refer to the bark that is formed on the surface of the meat when it is exposed to heat and oxygen. Since during a barbecue, the meat is exposed to smoke, it becomes black due to the charcoal ashes. If not exposed to smoke, the meat will turn into a dark red, mahogany color.
As the meat starts cooking, the surface begins to dry out and the Proteins on the meat’s surface bond together to form polymers. This is called the Maillard reaction. The result is pellicle, which is basically a hard layer on the surface of the meat. When a spice rub is applied to the meat before cooking, the pellicle forms just on the top of the crust. This, in common terms, is called Bark.
As opposed to the myth, caramelized sugar is not the reason for the formation of dark crust on the outside of the meat, since the optimum cooking temperature inside the cooker is ideally between 225 – 250°F and table sugar does not start to caramelize until the temperature hits 300°F.
To get a good bark, ensure that you are not opening the lid of your barbecue every few minutes. Since the cooking process uses both direct as well as indirect heat, it is not important to flip the meat in a short amount of time. Just manage the temperature and the coals without touching the meat.
Required for Bark
- Good spice rub containing salt and sugar – other spices help to create spice crust that is thicker
- Temperature – too low = no bark / too high = caramelization and char (bleh, bitter) a temperature of 200°F to 250°F is just right
How does your rub affect the bark?
The ingredients that are present in your rub, whether water soluble or fat soluble, have specific, important roles to play in the formation of the bark.
As the meat smokes, the ingredients in the rub which are water soluble, namely salt and sugar will either dissolve in the moisture of the meat or the moisture of the smoke. These dissolved salt molecules will go on to penetrate the meat.
Those ingredients that are not dissolved in the rub will remain on the surface of the meat and will start forming a glaze. As the meat continues to cook the fats present in the meat will start to render. At this point, the fat-soluble ingredients present in your rub will also dissolve.
The glaze which contains dissolved ingredients, along with the remaining herbs and spices that are not dissolved combine together to form a pasty like substance on the surface of the meat.
As the cooking progresses and the pellicle forms, the ingredients on the surface dry out and start forming the spice crust. The pellicle combined together with the crust results in the formation of the bark.
Did you know that according to Prof Greg Blonder of AmazingRibs.com, salty and acidic rubs tend to form a bark faster than sugary and basic rubs? Even though this may sound like a potential short-cut, but it is not very effective. While the bark may initially form at a quicker rate, it will not actually improve the quality of the bark that you will achieve by the end of the cook.
What are the basic ingredients in a rub?
The rub is one of the most important things is the making of the bark, so, it becomes important to make a good rub to produce a good bark.
Despite there being a countless number of variations of meat rubs, the basic ingredients almost always include salt, pepper, sugar, and paprika. Often there is onion and garlic powder in the mix. Depending on the regional local spices and your taste, you can add or deduct the amount or type of spices you want.
Making the rub is one of the most interesting and fun ways to learn about your flavors and barks. Different rubs result in differently flavored barks. Sometimes, spices that do not seem to sit well with each other in theory, when used give a great flavor.
The thickness of your spice crust depends on not only the quantity of the ingredients used but also the type of ingredients used. This is an important point to keep in mind when deciding on your meat rub recipe.
Creating your own rubs is an amazing way to experiment with different recipes and spices. Finding the mix that works best for you is important so that you can truly enjoy the magic that is barbecue.
For a good rub, always make sure you start with a sugar base, be it normal sugar or brown sugar. Try using fresh spices in your mix for a superior quality rub. Date your spices anything dated more than 6 months should be discarded. You can make a wet rub or a dry rub depending on your taste and the amount of time you have.
If you are not an experimenter, or just basically bad at making your own recipes, you can go for the store bought route and try a few rubs that are available. It is advisable to have a few store-bought rubs for the times when you don’t have the correct ingredients to make the rub or are just feeling lazy.
So if you are thinking on how to get a good bark when smoking meat, then here are a few tips to keep in mind when barbecuing.
o One other factor that is responsible for a good bark is the amount of surface area. More the surface area of the meat, the better is the formation of bark on the meat. Also, ensure that you keep a good eye on the internal temperature. If your temperature is to low, the bark won’t form and if the temperature is too high, it will char and give a bitter taste.
o Another way to ensure that your meat is barbecued perfectly is by removing the pan. The more smoke the meat gets, the better the taste. Also, wrapping up the meat may result in a reduced cooking time, but it will cause the quality to deteriorate. Cutting off the fat will expose the more meaty area to the smoke and will result in a better pellicle and bark formation.
How does smoke affect the bark?
From the above discussion, it is clear that Smoke is also a very important key factor in the creation of the bark. The longer your meat is exposed to the smoke, the darker it will become as a result of smoke particles = sticking to the glaze or rub that you prepared or bought.
The longer the meat is smoked, the better. Your grill should never exceed the 250-degree mark as it may result in burnt meat. Barbecuing is all about patience and having fun. Smoking the meat may take a long time, and a piece of meat that has been smoked for 12 hours or more may appear to be burnt, but it is not actually so! On a closer inspection, you will notice that the bark of the meat is glossy and not dry and charred as it first appeared to be. Instead of the burnt flavor, you will get delicious, melt in the mouthpiece of meat.
After deciding on the rub, smoking the meat is the second most important factor to achieve a good bark.
T-ROY COOKS, How To Get Good Bark on BBQ
“The longer a piece of meat is exposed to the smoke, the darker the bark will be. It just happens.
A piece of meat that’s smoked for about 15 hours will almost look burnt. But it’s not. If it’s done correctly, good bark is a highly coveted piece of the meat.
The smoke particles stick to the glaze and change the color of the original rub. ”
How does temperature affect the bark?
Barbequing is all about temperature control. This principle also applies when creating a great bark. If the temperature of your grill is too low, the bark will not form at all and If it is too high you will burn or char the meat. The temperature should never reach over 250°F. Ideally, a good temperature range is for around 225-250°F.
As you reach the halfway mark of cooking your meat, the moisture starts to evaporate, thus resulting in the cooling of the meat which leads to slower cooking process. This is called the “stall”.
As the cooking continues and enough moisture has evaporated from the meat, the rub that had been applied will dry out and will lead to the Maillard Reaction. This will result in the change of chemistry on the outer layer of the meat, creating a pellicle. However, if the temperature is too low, the Maillard process will not take place. Therefore it is vital to maintaining an adequate temperature throughout the cooking process.
How does fat content affect the bark?
Just like in the case with the temperature, when it comes to the fat content of the meat a perfect balance is very important to form a good bark. Unlike the myth that says more the fat the better, more fat can actually hinder the cooking process. Even though Fat is necessary to form the bark, since the fat-soluble components in the rub dissolve and hold on to the spices, forming the crust, too much fat can pose a problem.
If your meat is too fatty, it could cause a hinder in the creation of the pellicle, by obstructing the outer layers access to the heat and oxygen to the proteins on the surface of the meat. it is, therefore, advisable to trim off any excess fat present on the meat. You should Aim to leave just enough fat so as to render the food and provide the nice glossy glaze for the spices, smoke, and dissolved salt or sugar to stick to.
How does moisture affect the bark?
Even though the evaporation of the moisture causes the “stall” or hinder in the cooking process, to form the bark there must be some moisture present so that the water-soluble ingredients can dissolve. The moisture that is naturally in the meat and the smoke is usually adequate. Therefore, it is not necessary to increase the amount of moisture in the barbecue by basting the meat. Too much moisture will, in fact, stop the bark from forming because the surface of the meat needs to dry out in order for the Maillard reaction to start.
Some people use soaked wood chips wrapped in aluminum to increase the moisture content as well as the amount of smoke that rises from the grill. It is fine to use this method as long as you don’t go overboard and increase the moisture content to a level where the bark stops forming.
Tips & Tricks to guarantee a good bark
Now that we know how and why a bark is formed, what are some steps that we can take to answer the question of how to get a good bark when smoking meat? Here are some tips:
o As discussed, remove any excess fat from your meat. Around a ¼ inch to ⅛ inch of fat on your meat is all you will need.
o Do not use a gas grill. While there are a lot of ways to make a barbecue, from direct heat, indirect heat, with charcoal and many more, do not use a gas grill. This is because a gas grill will not provide the smoke factor and will provide only the heat factor. And as we have discussed earlier, the smoke is the second most important thing in a barbecue after the rub.
o Don’t sit your meat in a pan while it’s on the smoker. This will reduce the airflow and prevent the surface from drying out. Sit it on the grill plate.
o Another way to improve the flavor in your meat naturally is by using wood from fruit trees. They have a mild flavor and have fewer impurities. You can choose from whatever grows in your region, from apple, cherry, peach, grape amongst others.
o Sugar can char and cause your bark to be bitter in taste. If you are a beginner, you could try applying sugar in the form of a base during the latter stages of the cook.
o Don’t wrap the meat in foil to speed up the cook during the stall. This will damage your bark. Due to the steam that accumulates inside the foil, you could end up with mush instead of a bark.
o Soaking the wood chips in water before cooking, mostly an hour before and then wrapping them in a foil and keeping them on the grill can increase the smoke content, leading to a superior quality flavor.
o Some pit masters use butcher paper through the stall, around the point when the temperature is 160oF, and report no ill effects. Others, however, swear that wrapping anything around your meat will kill your bark. The jury is out on this one – perhaps a little experimentation is in order.
o Make sure that the meat pieces are not touching each other so that there is a proper airflow or air circulation around each piece of meat. This will result in a shorter “stall” period as proper evaporation will take place.
o Avoid the firewood used in grocery stored and go for a more natural way, i.e. charcoal chunks.
o If you do not have a proper brush to rub the oil on the barbecue grill, use an aluminum foil. Crumble a piece of aluminum and then hold it between the tongs. Use the aluminum ball as the brush to brush the oils in the grill.
o Be patient. The most important factor while cooking your meat is having patience. The longer you look, the slower it will cook. Cooking meat takes time, especially if you are looking for that authentic flavor. Be patient and don’t try to decrease the cooking time as it can highly affect the quality of the flavor.
o Once the meat is cooked, set it for a few minutes after removing it from the grill. This will ensure that all the flavors and juices seal inside and the meat doesn’t dry out.
o If you are using wooden skewers for your kebabs, soak them in cold water for about 30 minutes so that they don’t burn. If using metal skewers, wipe them with vegetable oil to ensure that the food does not stick to them.
o Don’t mop or spritz for the first 2 hours of the smoke. Not only are you potentially washing off your rub, you may also be hindering the formation of the crust. The crust will have started to form after a couple of hours. It is safe to baste, mop or spritz after this has happened.
Get more bang for your bark
Don’t go barking up the wrong tree when it comes to creating the perfect bark on your next rack of ribs or brisket. Here is how to maximize the amount of bark on your next smoke.
- More surface area – the more surface area you have the more bark will form. Consider splitting that pork shoulder or brisket, or tie your meat into a tube. You can also gash the meat and really get that rub in there too. This can change cook times, so use a digital meat thermometer, like ThermoPro’s Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer, to keep an eye on that internal temperature.
- No pan means more smoke and convection on all surfaces – if you want to catch drippings, place a drip pan under the meat in a lower part of your grill or smoker, but don’t place the meat in a pan.
- Don’t foil your own plans – wrapping in foil will speed up the cook time, but can render your bark a gritty and soggy mess, avoid it unless necessary.
- Cut the fat – trimming off excess fat will provide a more meaty surface area for better pellicle and bark formation.
Rub recipe for getting a good bark on brisket
This is where regional differences and different styles of barbecue come into play. You can’t go wrong with this rub from amazingribs.com
o 3 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
o 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
o 1 tablespoon onion powder
o 2 teaspoons mustard powder
o 2 teaspoons garlic powder
o 2 teaspoons chili or ancho powder
o 1 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne powder
Or you could go for the ultra-simple Texas style like Aaron Franklin does on his brisket, and go with a basic salt and pepper rub.
Rub recipe for getting a good bark on pork butt
This recipe for a ‘Boston Butt’ dry rub comes from Dave of Barbequelovers.com. Visit the site for a full run-down of how he creates his ‘Boston Butt’.
Below are the quantities required to cover a 10 pound ‘Boston Butt’ likely with some leftover meat rub.
o 1/4 cup brown sugar
o 1/4 cup sea salt
o 1/4 cup paprika
o 2 heaping tablespoons of onion powder
o 2 heaping tablespoons of garlic powder
o 2 heaping tablespoons of black pepper
o 1 heaping tablespoons of celery salt
o 1 heaping tablespoon of cayenne pepper – this can be adjusted according to how spicy you like your meat.
o 1 heaping teaspoon of cumin.
Wrapping it up
Make sure that you keep the above tips in mind when you cook your next barbecue to get a better quality meat and bark. We hope you have enjoyed our run-down of how to get a delicious bark on your smoked meat. Anyone who has had an expertly smoked meat, complete with black, flavor-filled bark will attest to the fact that it is a skill worth mastering.
Have you got any extra tips or questions related to achieving a good bark? Share them in the comments section below.
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