A brisket’s bark is one of those almost indescribable pleasures. Chewy, but not tough. Flavorsome, but not overpowering. Smoky? Absolutely.
But I’ll level with you. Everybody makes or has made mistakes smoking a brisket – it just happens!
So although it’s heartbreaking when you realize your brisket isn’t going to have that beautiful crispy crusty bark, not all is lost.
The best lessons come from our mistakes.
Here’s how bark forms on brisket, what went wrong in the process to cause a weak bark or no bark on brisket, and a simple checklist for the best bark on brisket
Everyone knows what bark is on brisket – it’s that delicious, chewy crust that seems to be everyone’s favorite part of the brisket!
But the key to a good bark is knowing how it forms and knowing what stops it from forming too.
So what makes bark on a brisket?
Well, as it turns out bark is a result of a few processes all coming together.
You see, as a brisket heats up and begins to cook, the salt and sugar in the rub and the fat on the meat begin to caramelize. This process is often referred to as the Maillard reaction, and it’s the very essence of what causes the beautiful browning of meat.
Now, add smoke into the mix and you’ve got the perfect recipe. All of these compounds, salt, sugar, fat, protein, and smoke come together and form a thick crust around the exterior of the brisket. A.K.A the bark!
Does Brisket Need Bark?
A competition brisket is judged on three main factors. Appearance, taste, and tenderness.
So, it’s no secret that a championship brisket would have to have an amazing bark to satisfy these conditions.
But we’re not talking about any competitions here. We’re all about cooking great food for friends and family.
So from this perspective, your brisket doesn’t NEED bark. You’ll still find it’s absolutely delicious without it!
But there’s no hiding that the bark does elevate a brisket from being good to simply amazing.
For this reason, it’s recommended to try to nail the bark, just as much as the other parts of the cooking or smoking process!
No Bark On Brisket: What Went Wrong
The process of forming and developing a solid bark on your brisket isn’t rocket science, but it’s not your a-b-c’s either.
But, it sure is frustrating when you put your heart and soul into preparing, smoking, and resting a brisket only to find out the bark isn’t quite what you hoped it would be.
If you’ve noticed there’s practically no bark on your brisket, then it’s likely caused by either:
- The Rub
- The Smoke
- The Moisture
- The Fat Cap
Here’s everything you need to know.
If you’ve noticed your bark is lackin’, it’s possible you didn’t apply enough rub – or the right kind!
Although it’s possible to achieve a deliciously crusty and biteable bark using just salt and pepper, using a decent rub definitely makes things easier.
The salty, sugary rub helps caramelize the exterior of the brisket, slowly but steadily forming a solid bark.
That’s why most barbecuers suggest applying a generous amount of rub or seasoning all over your brisket!
A nice clean but steady smoke is key to bark formation.
If you’ve ever tried to cook brisket in the oven, i.e. without smoke, instead of the smoker, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
During the smoking process compounds from the smoke latch onto and penetrate into the meat (smoke ring), which adds a complexity of flavor – AND TEXTURE to the meat.
If your brisket didn’t come out with the best bark it may be due to insufficient smoking time, or wrapping the brisket too early!
Moisture is critical in bark formation.
Too much moisture will prevent proper bark formation, but too little moisture will cause the skin to become excessively dry and chewy!
So where do you strike the perfect balance?
Well for one, don’t feel the need to spritz every hour. In fact, it’s best to leave your brisket alone in the smoker for at least a few hours before you even think about lifting the hood!
From then, you only need to spritz every hour or so, if at all! It all depends on how dry your brisket is becoming.
Secondly, don’t prematurely wrap your brisket. As soon as you wrap your brisket it immediately locks in moisture.
If the bark hasn’t properly formed by the time you wrap your brisket, then the high moisture content will ruin the chances of its formation and the rub will being to slough away from the exterior of the meat.
The Fat Cap
We all know fat means flavor.
But, too much fat will definetly prevent the formation of a decent bark. Particularly the thick white kind you find on the fat cap of a brisket!
This is because during the smoking process the rub and smoke need something to hold onto in order for the bark to form properly.
So if you’ve noticed your bark simply isn’t holding to the meat then it’s likely you need to trim more of the fat off during the preparation!
You don’t need to remove all of it, but a good rule of thumb to follow is to trim it down to 1/8 of an inch thick at most. This way the bark will form as the fat renders into the meat.
Brisket Bark Too Moist
Another classic disappointment: the bark on the brisket is too moist it’s practically sliding off the meat!
A brisket with a bark that’s too moist is just as common as a brisket without a bark at all, they are practically the same thing!
The most common suspects for a moist brisket bark are wrapping too early, spritzing too often, or not trimming the fat!
In all cases, the exterior of the brisket remains simply too moist for the bark to form correctly and hold.
Moisture is crucial to keep the brisket, well, moist. But too much moisture will prevent any crispening and hardening of the exterior of the meat. Before wrapping your brisket ensure you are happy with the bark, as once you wrap it bark development stops!
Checklist For The Ultimate Bark On Brisket
The solution to solid bark on brisket is a mix between avoiding the basic mistakes and taking steps to adequately develop the layers of the bark.
It all boils down to a few simple, but very important actions.
Here’s the ultimate checklist for developing a good bark on your brisket EVERY TIME:
- Trim The Fat: It’s essential to trim back the fat around your brisket to about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick at most!
- Apply Your Rub Or Seasoning: Generously apply your rub on ALL edges of your brisket
- Ensure It Gets Adequate Smoke: Don’t get hasty. Leave your brisket alone in the smoker for the first 2-4 hours to let it begin to develop the bark in peace.
- Spritz Only When Necessary: After about 4 hours you can start to spritz your brisket, adding flavor and moisture. Don’t feel the need to spritz too often though as it may end up delaying or ruining the bark
- Don’t Wrap It Too Early: This one’s probably the most important. Don’t feel the need to wrap your brisket UNTIL you’re happy with the bark. Don’t wrap based on internal temperature or time spent in the smoker!
The most common causes of a weak, moist, or absent bark on your brisket comes down to too much moisture, inadequate rub or smoking time, or too much fat left on the brisket!
To ensure your brisket comes out with a banging bark every time be sure you:
- Trim the fat
- Apply enough rub
- Ensure it gets enough smoke
- Spritz only when necessary
- Only wrap your brisket when you’re happy with the bark.