A great barbeque is the highlight of any celebration, and the highlight of a great barbeque is the smoke ring. Smoke rings are easy to achieve and fun to look at. With the increasing use of pellet smokers though they seem to be increasingly elusive though.
Yes, a pellet smoker can give meat a proper smoke ring. The formation of a smoke ring depends largely on the kind of pellets used as well as the temperature the meat is smoked at.
Let’s talk about how to achieve a smoke ring with a pellet smoker. While we’re at it, let’s also talk about how smoke rings affect meat, and the science behind them.
How To Get A Smoke Ring
Getting a smoke ring is as easy as choosing the proper fuel for your pellet smoker. When the meat that comes off of three different smokers get compared, you will notice a difference based on the kind of fuel used to smoke them. A gas smoker will have no smoke ring, a charcoal smoker will have no smoke ring, but if you use wood you will almost always get a smoke ring.
So, if you’re not getting a smoke ring, the first thing you need to do is analyze your fuel. Luckily, with pellet smokers, you can choose what your fuel is made of. The kind of wood you use will affect the taste of the meat, but may also affect the quality of the smoke ring. If your pellets are mixed with charcoal it may negatively affect your smoke ring without affecting the taste of your meat.
To properly achieve a smoke ring you have to use wood that will give off high amounts of nitric oxide in the smoke. Anything high in NO will give you a smoke ring. This means that even if you don’t have the proper fuel but still want a smoke ring there is a way you can achieve one.
Let’s talk about some of the ways you can achieve a good smoke ring even if your pellet smoker isn’t helping out.
Find good saltpeter (potassium nitrate) and make a brine with it. Let the meat soak in this brine for a few hours (generally two hours of this brine will give you a good ring size) to achieve a good smoke ring. That’s it. This should not replace any other brine you are using though. This is specifically for the smoke ring.
Another thing you can do to achieve a smoke ring is dust your meats in sodium nitrate before you start smoking it. Sodium nitrate is a kind of saltpeter that does not require that you soak it. This will increase the depth of the smoke ring as the meat reacts with the sodium nitrate.
One last good thing to keep in mind as you strive for a good smoke ring is that the chemical reaction that needs to occur won’t be able to if there is too much fat on the surface of the meat you are preparing. Take a moment to cut off any excess surface fat. Doing this will greatly increase your smoke ring.
What the smoke ring really what it comes down to is that nitrogen oxide needs to interact with the meat in order to preserve the red/pink color and not the smoker you use.
Here is a video that covers all of these tips. It’s pretty short with a lot of good information. It even talks about how to properly use a pellet smoker to get a smoke ring.
What all this means for your pellet smoker is that if you aren’t getting a smoke ring then it might have more to do with the preparation of your meats than it has to do with the smoker.
How Smoke Rings Affect Meats
Smoke rings actually have no effect on the taste of meat. It’s purely aesthetic. There’s no reason to be upset with your pellet smoker if you aren’t getting a smoke ring. With that being said, smoking meats does have an effect on your meats beyond that delicious flavor. Smoking meats properly actually cures and preserves them.
Smoking has been a technique used to preserve meats long before the invention of the refrigerator. When cured, smoked, and dehydrated properly large slabs of smoked meats will last up to four days. If stripped and turned into jerky meats can last for weeks.
That has nothing to do with the coveted smoke ring though. Back to that. The bottom line is that the smoke ring is worthless. It serves no purpose but to get the mouth-watering. So don’t worry too much if your pellet smoker is giving you grief when it comes to a smoke ring. Remember that it has more to do with how the meat is prepared than it does the smoker you use.
What Is A Smoke Ring
What exactly is a smoke ring? We know that in order to form there needs to be a reaction between the meat and nitric oxcide gas. We know that pellet smokers can achieve this by themselves if they use the proper fuel to smoke.
But how does it stay red? There is a protein inside raw meat called myoglobin. This protein is what gives raw meat its characteristic dark red color. As meat warms up this myoglobin becomes the grey color of cooked meat. This color can only exist when the myoglobin has the option to bind to oxygen. As myoglobin heats up it loses the ability to bind to oxygen because the iron in it experiences the loss of an electron. This protein is called hemichrome. From here the protein becomes metmyoglobin.
Myoglobin exists until meat reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit and is the dark red color of a smoke ring. From 140 to 170 farenhieght is the hemichrome. This has a brownish color. 170 and above is metmyoglobin and is a grayish color.
The smoke ring forms as the myoglobin binds to the nitric oxide. This means that the two must interact before the myoglobin changes form at the temperature 140. The nitric oxide preserves the color of the meat while allowing the protein to still change form.
What this means is that a smoke ring is evidence of nitric oxide interacting with the protein myoglobin. So all a smoke ring means is that the fuel, brine, seasonings, and smoke you used had the ability to preserve the color of your meats.
Using a pellet smoker can absolutely get you a smoke ring, and they are a good option for keeping things easy as you smoke your meat.