When you start looking at pictures of meat on several YouTube channels or on Instagram you see many pieces of meat with a nice smoke ring.
But what is the smoke ring, and does it add flavor to your meat? Or is it just a chemical reaction and does not add anything but a nice look to your meat?
What is the smoke ring?
Simply put the smoke ring is the pink color that you see under the surface of meat that is smoked low and slow. Although I have also seen it on meat that was smoked hot and fast, it was in most cases just a little thinner ring.
For some reason, it is more looked at in a brisket than other cuts of meat.
What Causes The Smoke Ring On Meat?
I have read for hours and since I am not a scientist it was very hard to understand all the different explanations of what creates the smoker ring.
So, here is my version written in my own words and trying to avoid too many complicated words.
A smoke ring is not actually caused by smoke. It is formed by the interaction between the meat and the gases produced by the burning wood.
The chemical reaction between the smoke and a protein in the meat is called myoglobin.
To make it a little more complicated the smoke contains nitric oxide and carbon monoxide that are formed by burning charcoal or wood.
When you buy fresh meat it has a nice red color. However, when it sits out for a while it turns to a darker color.
The nitro oxide and carbon monoxide have the same effect on the meat just under the surface but turn it into that nice pink-colored smoke ring we like to see.
For a more scientifical explanation look the bottom part of this article.
How To Make The Best Smoke Ring?
Some pitmasters have done extensive testing on how to create a nice smoke ring and here are some of the tips I found on how to make the best smoke ring.
Different types of wood will produce different gases, which can affect the color and flavor of the smoke ring.
- Charcoal briquettes are better than lump charcoal
- Avoid vinegary mopping solutions
- A pan with liquid under the meat helps
- Remove most of the fat cap to improve nitro oxide penetration.
In most cases, the ring stopped growing after the meat reached a temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit. If you like more smoke rings then mopping, basting, or spritzing will lower the temperature and the process will keep going.
You can make a smoke ring with about any heat source. Even in the oven in your kitchen, you can produce one.
Smoke Ring and Taste
Here I must burst your bubble. A smoke ring is just for aesthetics. It does not make the meat taste better!
Scientifically speaking the ring is already in your meat. It is the myoglobin I mentioned above but it has not changed color yet.
However, we also eat with our eyes. If that was not the case all food would look blended and colorless. That means that we like to see that nice smoke ring on meats like briskets. In competition BBQ like the kcbs (1), I believe it is even one of the things judges look at in their judging.
Science Behind The Smoke Ring
I had some readers ask me to write a little more about the science of how a smoke ring is formed. So, here we go.
The answer lies in the science of combustion, gases, and protein chemistry.
When wood is burned, it produces a complex mixture of gases, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and other compounds.
This reaction with the meat is called a “nitric oxide myoglobin complex” and it’s what creates the smoke ring.
Nitric oxide is a gas that is created in small amounts by the combustion of wood, while myoglobin is a protein found in muscle fibers.
When these two compounds react, they create a pinkish hue that can penetrate several millimeters into the meat.
The reaction is similar to the process that causes meat to turn pink when it’s cooked, but the effect is more pronounced in BBQ due to the long, slow cooking process and the use of wood smoke.
The temperature and humidity of the cooking environment also play important roles.
For example, a temperature range of 200-300°F is ideal for creating a smoke ring, as it allows the nitrogen dioxide to penetrate the meat without being burnt off by higher temperatures.
Humidity also plays a role. A humidity level of around 70% can help to keep the surface of the meat moist and more receptive to the gas.
Smoke Ring – My Opinion
We all like the smoke ring and use it to judge a piece of meat. There is however, no proof that it improves the taste of the meat.
Does that mean that I don’t care about it anymore? No, definitely not. We still eat with our eyes also and a nice smoke ring can make my mouth water.
Eddie van Aken
Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews he is doing. You can read more on the about page for Eddie van Aken