A smoke ring is often thought to be a sign of barbecue perfection. It’s a coveted low and slow cooking phenomenon that looks like a luscious pink edge that boarders the outside border of the meat. It’s vital to competition pulled pork and especially beef brisket. Pit Masters use it as a sign of true craftsmanship but you can achieve this mark of cooking success too.
The smoke ring by itself will not enhance the flavor of your meat. It is not smoke flavor soaking into the meat. It is, in fact, a mark made by a chemical reaction. When nitric acid is absorbed back into the surface of the meat it changes the color of the flesh. Nitrogen dioxide comes from the natural wood smoke and combines with the wet surface of the meat to create this reaction.
Some people say cooking with green or water soaked wood will enhance the color of the ring. Others insist you must put the meat on the grill or smoker while it is still cold and fresh from the refrigerator to get a better ring. One competition team actually fakes the smoke ring by painting the edge of the meat strategically with sauce!
One of the most common ways to “hack” a barbecue smoke ring is by using a curing solution like Morton’s Tender Quick. The package reads, “Tender Quick is a blend of the finest quality salt, sugar and meat curing ingredients. It is perfectly blended for fast cure action and improved flavor and color of the meats.” The secret is that it contains the sodium nitrate/nitrite that you can use to make your smoke ring with no smoke at all. It’s the kind of stuff that makes cured ham pink.
Add some Tender Quick to a rub or dissolve it in a brine and you will see an immediate difference in your meat’s smoke ring. Many competitive cookers will also use products referred to as “pink salt,” Prague Powder or Fab (a meat enhancer).
A spoonful of Tender Quick mixed into your rub before coating the meat should do the trick. For an extreme smoke ring some cooks rub the meat with Tender Quick and then let the meat set for an hour before rinsing and cooking. Use caution with the amount of Tender Quick you use on you meat. You don’t want to end up with corned beef or cured ham.
There are many ways to manufacture a smoke ring on your barbecue but remember using a chemical nitrate like Tender Quick will not add any smoke flavor and that is the true hallmark of great barbecue. Visit Barbecue Tricks to discover more tips to enhance your outdoor cooking.