Why Can’t I Get A Smoke Ring On My Brisket? [Tips to Get One]

Backyard barbecuers strive to create that perfect smoked pink layer tucked neatly beneath the bark surface. When they form their first successful smoke ring, they can almost believe they have arrived. For the others, they can’t figure out why they can’t get that smoke ring on their brisket.

If you’re not getting a smoke ring, chances are you’re using the wrong type of wood, having moisture problems, cooking the meat too fast, using the wrong seasonings, or removing too much or too little of the fat.

why can't I get a smoke ring on my brisket

How to Get A Smoke Ring on Brisket?

There are several opinions on getting a smoke ring. Below are some of the tips that have worked for us and are proven to get that perfect beautiful pink ring everyone strives for.

For a Great looking smoke ring every time:

  • Cut off the fat layer
  • Season the brisket(rub) to taste and let it rest for 2 hours
  • Place cold brisket in the smoker 
  • Smoke for 5-8 hours internal temp 140F
  • Keep moist through mopping or spritzing
  • Wrap brisket and grill for another 8 hours at 195-210F

Now that you pretty much know how to make a good smoke ring. You might have questions like whether the smoke ring adds any flavor, the best type of fuel to use, what type of grill is the best, and if you can use electric or gas-powered grills to get that perfect ring. 

This article addresses all these, including the science behind the smoke ring and how to cheat without smoke.

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The Science Behind A Smoke Ring

Raw meat is red because of the myoglobins between the muscle fibers. The liquid in a package is not blood; it’s myoglobin water. Myoglobin goes through a fundamental change around 140-160 Fahrenheit, turning gray. 

The heat essentially destroys the myoglobin; therefore, to get a smoke ring, the brisket should not heat up above this temperature.

The combustion of wood and wood products creates Nitric oxide(NO) and carbon monoxide(CO). When Nitric oxide and carbon monoxide come in contact with the myoglobin, it sort of “freezes” the process of transforming, and the red color of the meat gets locked in, so it doesn’t turn gray. That’s the smoke ring, and it all depends on how fast the brisket heats up and how much Nitric oxide is absorbed. 

Remove the fat cap: Myoglobin is not found in fat. Furthermore, the nitric oxide and carbon monoxide would have to travel through the fat to reach the meat holding the myoglobin, the formation of a smoke ring will be hindered.

The nitric oxide has to penetrate the meat before the meat temperature exceeds 140F, or there’s simply no red color to lock in. Put your meat into the smoker at refrigerator temperature, cold, and you’ll get a more resounding smoke ring.

It takes time to understand the science behind smoking foods. Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling goes into more in-depth detail about Great Barbecue and Grilling, by helping you understand the science of heat and how to use it for cooking.

Even if you’re not interested in the science of great BBQ, it has some great recipes. I just picked up a copy about a week ago, and I can’t wait to try some of them out.

What Types Of Fuel Is Best?

When Briquettes, charcoal, or wood burn, they emit nitric oxide and carbon monoxide. It is the nitric oxide that creates the smoke ring on meat. Lump charcoal performs poorly, releasing less nitric oxide throughout the combustion process since most of the nitric oxide and carbon monoxide got burned off in the production process. 

When going the wood route, pick the type of wood to create the flavor profile you desire. Soak the wood or woodchips in water since this will generate more smoke when put in the fire. 

Backyard barbecuers and pitmasters all have a favorite. Some popular wood types used in smoking include:

  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Mesquite
  • Peach
  • Pecan

Using Hardwood Pellets 

When smoking meat, hardwood pellets are great for generating smoke releasing more carbon monoxide and nitric oxide. Pellet grills are an excellent choice for smoke rings, but you need to ensure that your hardwood pellets are not wet or soggy. 

Use dry, dehydrated wood pellets for best results because wet pellets will create more steam than smoke. 

Gas And Electric Smokers

Gas and electric smokers put out a minimal amount of nitric oxide, so it is by far the worst way to grill a brisket if you desire to make a great smoke ring. 

However, there are ways to give your brisket a smoke ring in this type of grill. To “cheat” a smoke ring, dust a small amount of any curing salt that contains sodium nitrite on the brisket, and Voilà you have a smoke ring.

Does A Smoke Ring Affect Flavor?

Some grillers still like to create a smoke ring for its looks. However, when you want to get into competitions, the smoke ring is no longer a judging criterion in some barbecue competitions, and this is because it’s so easy to cheat the smoke ring. And it adds no flavor to the meat. It is purely for aesthetics and to show your skills.

What Temperature Should You Cook Your Brisket, And How Long?

The early stages of grilling brisket are for smoking and creating the ring. Smoking is a slow, low heat process with an internal temperature between 140-150F. This process takes 5-6 hours, depending on the depth of the ring sought after. 

Keep your meat moist by spritzing, spraying, and mopping the surface, delaying the buildup of bark around your meat. In addition, moistening will help the absorption of nitric oxide into your meat resulting in a more resounding smoke ring. 

After the smoking process, the brisket needs wrapping in aluminum foil or butchers paper to keep moisture in. The internal temperature should now be around 195-210 degrees Fahrenheit for another 5-10 hours until the bark develops and the meat becomes fully cooked and tender. Then, rest for 1-2 hours before slicing against the grain and serving.

What Are The Best Smokers?

Pellet grills are an excellent choice for creating smoke rings in brisket for backyard grillers. As mentioned in the science section, you need carbon monoxide and nitric oxide to combine with myoglobin. 

Pellet grills with wood pellets generate the most nitric oxide at a constant rate, giving you the best chance to create that beautiful ring in the early smoking process. 

Be sure to check out some of the best pellets on the market. We’ve rounded up several pellet grills that will fit any budget. 

If you don’t have a pellet grill, other wood smokers work well, too, and if you are not allowed to burn wood in your area, electric or gas grills work. If you have to, you can also use your home oven with that curing salt trick to impress your guests.  

What To Avoid While Trying To Get A Smoke Ring

Oxygen is essential, so make sure your meat is in a well-ventilated area and that the grill is getting enough oxygen. Oxygen is required for combustion to happen, and not enough oxygen will smolder the fuel resulting in poor nitric oxide release, hence no smoke ring. 

Other factors that hinder a smoke ring in brisket:

  • Getting low-quality meat
  • Cooking at the wrong temperature
  • Using the wrong rub
  • Improperly trimming your brisket 
  • When spraying a brisket, don’t spray the fat if there is any left
  • Over or under smoking the meat
  • Wild temperature spikes
  • Wrapping improperly
  • Not allowing brisket to rest long enough before serving

Final Word

Ensure that you get as much smoke into the meat for a beautiful smoke ring during the smoking process.

Try to keep your brisket at a constant temperature in the early stages between 140-150F and use water or basting sauce spraying or mopping the meat keeping it moist and cool, ensuring an excellent deep smoke ring. 195-210F required for the final stages, resting the brisket before serving.

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