One of the defining characteristics of meat that has been smoked to near perfection is the presence of a dark, crusty outer layer otherwise known as “The Bark.” Along with the smoke ring and juicy rendered fat, a strong bark can indicate to hungry eyes that they are about to bite into something extraordinarily delicious. Still, some of you may struggle with getting a good one consistently. Follow along and we’ll teach you how to get that perfect BBQ bark on brisket, pork butt, or other types of smoked meat.
The bark is the result of a few different chemical reactions that are produced by interactions between the spices of the rub, the fats and moisture in the meat, and the smoke from your grill. As the spices dissolve, they form a glaze which locks in with the pellicle, a semi-hard, outer layer that forms on meat as it cooks. The combination of glaze and pellicle forms the bark.
It is called bark, because when it’s done properly the outer layer of the meat looks like the bark from a tree (albeit a tad bit darker, like licorice).
You want meats with an outer layer of fat that is around ¼ inch thick (before or after trimming). Typically, a brisket or a pork shoulder (aka pork butt) are the classic cuts that produce the best bark. Baby Back Pork Ribs or Back Beef Ribs can also produce good bark as well.
The sweet spot for getting a nice bark is to cook at grill temps between 225°F and 250°F. Lower temps will not cause bark to form while higher temps can cause the meat to char.
For best results and the mightiest of flavorful bark on brisket or pork butt, use the following tips:
Nut woods like hickory, oak, mesquite, and pecan tend to generate more smoke and stronger smoke flavors than fruit hardwoods like apple and cherry.
Once you wrap, it’s a wrap on your bark so wait until you have the color and consistency you desire. If you’re not familiar with wrapping and the Texas Crutch, please see our Big Bossin Guide on How to Smoke a Brisket. If you’re going to wrap, use peach butcher paper for best results. Foil can dissolve any bark that has built up and turn it to mush. Butcher paper allows moisture to escape and prevents steam.
You need a thin layer of fat to dissolve the fat-soluble spices in the rub. Too much fat is counterproductive. Excess fat can prevent or delay the formation of the pellicle which is the hard layer that forms while heat is applied to the meat. The pellicle holds the glaze formed by the dissolving spices which eventually form the bark.
You need a little bit of humidity to dissolve the water-soluble spices in the rub and sometimes the moisture that is evaporating out of the meat isn’t enough. A nice 50/50 mixture of water and apple cider vinegar sprayed or basted lightly every 45 minutes should be enough to dissolve those spices and keep the bark from getting too crusty.
Placing your meat in a pan can limit the contact the meat has with smoke. It can also catch drippings which can cause a steam like effect and dissolve or prevent the bark from forming properly.
Too much sugar can char your meat and give it a bitter taste. If you want a little sweetness, mix a small amount of brown sugar in your rub or just wait and apply sauce when you’re ready to eat.
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