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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's is the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

bbq thermapen

GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

BBQ_grill_grates

Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $269 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.

tailgater monthly
digg

Mythbusting The Smoke Ring: No Smoke Necessary!

"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles." Audrey Hepburn

By Meathead Goldwyn

brisket smoke ring

Smoked meats, like ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket (shown here), often have a pink layer directly below the surface, nestled neatly under the bark.

Bark and smoke rings have long been emblems of great barbecue. Backyarders know they have arrived when they make their first smoke ring. BBQ judges eat with their eyes and look for smoke rings at competitions. But anybody who tells you that good barbecue needs a smoke ring is blowing smoke in your face. You don't even need smoke to make a smoke ring, and, sadly, a smoke ring has no flavor.

The fact is that you can make a smoke ring in your indoor oven by giving the meat a dusting of pink salt or any other curing salt containing that sodium nitrite. These are the salts that give bacon and corned beef their characteristic pink color. Pink tint is sometimes visible in meats braised in a slow cooker. The AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder, has even created a smoke ring by cooking indoors and exposing meat to carbon monoxide.

Blonder has done his own research and read all the conflicting scientific papers on the subject and he says that the process is very complex and depends on a number of variables including humidity, oxygen levels, combustion temp, and even how dry the wood is, among others. In fact, as of today, nobody really understands the whole process. But one thing is sure, there is a lot of misinformation out there.

According to Blonder, the smoke ring is mostly caused by CO (carbon monoxide) and/or NO (nitrogen monoxide) gases from combustion combining with liquid on the surface of the meat. CO and NO are not very stable so they willingly mix it up with wet meat juices and basting liquids. These dissolved gases prevent myoglobin, the pale pink protein in meat (it is what makes meat juice pink), from turning gray as it heats up. But the dissolved gases cannot diffuse very far beyond the surface before the meat is cooked or dried out, dooming the myoglobin in the interior to a gray fate. As a result, smoke rings usually only go about 1/8" deep, but I've seen them up to 1/2" deep on smokers whose primary fuel is wood.

But the pink band does look cool, it gets the saliva flowing, and it gives your meat a look of authenticity, so here's what we know about how to get a good smoke ring:

Blonder's experiments and my experiences say the secret is to keep a moist surface with a combination of:

  1. High humidity in the cooker to reduce natural moisture evaporation. A water pan helps.
  2. Low cooking temperatures to minimize evaporation and surface drying.
  3. Use a cooker that does not have strong air currents that can parch the surface.
  4. Keep the surface wet by basting or spritzing it with a thin water based mop. In many parts of the country mopping with vinegar based liquids is popular. Many people spritz with apple juice, which also has fructose which can help with browning.

Moisture plays an especially vital role. Blonder explains: "First, when it evaporates from the surface of the meat it cools the meat and this enhances condensation of nitrogen oxide. Second, the water is 'sticky' and grabs onto passing nitrogen oxides and flavor molecules. And third, it delays the formation of a dense bark which impedes absorption of smoke chemicals."

When smoke roasting, moist meat holds on to smoke more readily than dry meat. Less smoke sticks as the cooking continues because the surface of the meat begins to dry. For this reason putting a pan of water in a smoker helps create a smoke ring. In fact some smokers, called water smokers, have water pans built in. The Weber Smokey Mountain is the best known of this breed.

As smoke particles and combustion gases land on the surface of meat, especially cool moist meat from the fridge, they condense, dissolve, and some are moved deeper into the meat by diffusion and absorption. The cells are simply seeking equilibrium. The process is the same as when someone lights a cigar in a room, says Blonder. All the smoke starts out near the cigar, but eventually it spreads throughout the room as it achieves equilibrium. After a while it penetrates clothes, furniture, and even food. Because it is water soluble, cigar smoke will get into wet things first, like your wife's eyes. Before long you and your cigar will be seeking equilibrium in the garage.

A faux smoke ring can also develop without smoke if you cook low 'n' slow. When meat is cooked fast, the proteins in the muscle and myoglobin denature at the same time and combine to turn brown. When cooked slowly, the muscle proteins finish denaturing before the naturally pink myoglobin denatures and so the meat remains pink. You can occasionally see this phenomenon in braised meat like a beef stew. It may have been cooked for hours in a liquid at low temps, yet the meat will still be slightly pink inside.

On the other hand, some meats cooked low and slow in a smoky environment in an electric smoker will not develop a smoke ring. That is partially because the wood smolders at a low temp in electrics, and high temps (around 1,200°F or so) are required to create the most nitrogen and carbon monoxides. Experts at cooking in electric smokers add a charcoal briquet as well as wood to create the correct atmospheric conditions for a smoke ring. Some of these briquets actually contain powdered sodium nitrates, which enhance ring formation. But in general, a vigorous charcoal or wood fire at just the right temperature, produces the deepest ring and the best meat. Click here to learn more about wood and smoke.

This page was revised 9/23/2013


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Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help. Then please post your question on the appropriate page. Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, and accessories, edited by Meathead.

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