No Smoke Ring On Brisket? – What You Can Do

When you make your first cut into your smoked brisket after an 8-18 hour cook you are looking for two main things. A tender and juicy cross-section and that beautiful pink smoke ring. 

Just to be clear, the absence of the smoke ring doesn’t mean your brisket isn’t going to be incredibly tender and delicious. It’s more of an indication of how well the smoking process went.

Here are all the reasons you may have no smoke ring on your brisket and what to do differently next time.

What Is The Smoke Ring?

Close Up Smoke Ring

There’s no doubt that if you’re into barbecue then you already know what the smoke ring is. The short and sweet answer is that the smoke ring comes from a reaction in the meat caused in response to the smoke from your cooker.

Long story short, a protein called myoglobin that’s stored in the meat reacts with the nitric oxide (NO) and carbon monoxide (CO) produced by the fuel over the smoking process.

The myoglobin changes colors depending on how much oxygen it’s exposed to. Hence why, at the edges of the meat where the myoglobin can react with the oxygen, it remains pink over the cooking process, whereas in the center will be a rich brownish grey.

As you smoke the meat, the myoglobin reacts with the carbon monoxide and nitric oxide to create the smoke ring. The gases can’t travel far into the meat, so the pink ring only appears on the edge. 

Why Is There No Smoke Ring On My Brisket?

There are many factors that impact the formation of the smoke ring. Although there are slight differences depending on what type of smoker you’ve got, these are the most common reasons why no smoke ring forms on your brisket.

You've Used Too Much Rub

Too much rub can congele with the juices of the meat and act as a barrier between the actual meat and the smoke. This prevents the smoke from seeping into the meat as easily, which impacts the smoke ring formation.   

You’ve Wrapped Too Early

One of the most important stages of cooking brisket is the beginning. When the smoke is rolling and your smoker has come up to temperature. The smoke has its greatest effect on the meat over the first half of the cook, up until about the 140°F mark where it will have absorbed all its smokiness and developed the smoke ring already.

Usually, you’ll wrap the brisket in butcher’s paper or aluminum foil around the 160°F mark, but always be sure not to wrap it until it’s at least 150°F, and once you’re happy with the bark. 

You Haven’t Removed The Fat

When you pick up a brisket from the butchers it almost always comes with the fat cap, a thick white layer of fat across the top. Fat has no myoglobin, and also acts as a barrier between the smoke and the meat preventing the smoke ring from developing.

Grab your best knife for trimming brisket and remove the entire fat cap and trim up all the excess fatty parts. As a rule of thumb, some fat is okay, but any thicker than about ¼ of an inch will cause more harm than good.

You Have Cooked It Too Hot

If you’ve let the smoker get to 250°F or higher while smoking your brisket, there’s a good chance that you’ve simply cooked the brisket too hot and too quickly.

When you cook at higher temperatures, the myoglobin actually breaks down well before it’s able to react with the smoke, resulting in a much thinner smoke ring, or none at all. Cooking your brisket too hot can also lead to a tough brisket — best to keep it low and slow. 

Not Enough Smoke

Wood smoking produces nitric oxide (NO) and carbon monoxide (CO), and the oxygen in each is what helps start the reaction. A propane smoker produces much less usable oxygen, and an electric smoker has even less, compared to a charcoal smoker

Be sure to add enough wood to produce plenty of clean smoke over the first half of the cook to maximize the reaction and add some serious flavor. 

No Smoke Ring On Brisket - What To Do Next Time

Brisket Smoke Ring

If you’ve noticed no smoke ring on your brisket but suspect you know the culprit, then you can change your approach for next time. But, regardless of what’s happened, there are a few things you can do to help develop a better smoke ring every time.

Keep The Brisket Moist

There are a few things that moisture does to help develop the smoke ring.

First, the moisture on the meat evaporates, cooling it down allowing more time for the smoky flavor to develop. Secondly, it helps by making more smoke particulars stick to the surface of the meat. Lastly, it delays the bark from forming too quickly which would usually form a barrier against the smoke and the meat.

You can increase the humidity and make the meat moister by either mopping or spritzing brisket, or by using a water pan.

Keep It Low And Slow

The hotter the temperature is, the more quickly the myoglobin turns brown, and the less opportunity the smoke has to keep that nice pink smoke ring.

On the other hand, the lower the temperature the longer you have to build up the smoky flavor, break down the connective tissues, and of course, make that beautiful smoke ring.

Keep The Meat Refrigerated

To keep the temperature low for as long as possible, to develop the smoke ring, flavor, and bark, don’t take the meat out of the fridge until you’re ready to cook. Your meat will start off at a lower temperature, which gives you more time to create the smoke ring. The gases will slowly enter the brisket and react with the myoglobin to create the pink ring.

Use Your Smoker To It’s Advantage

Keep in mind that some types of smokers naturally produce better smoke rings, due to the fuel and source of the smoke. Producing a smoke ring with your electric smoker isn’t impossible, but you’ll need an extra set of skills to deal with the heat, combustion, and low levels of oxygen available. On the other hand, offset smokers and smoking with wood on a charcoal grill give you the best chance.

No Smoke Ring On Electric Smoker

Smoking a brisket on an electric smoker poses a number of challenges when it comes to developing a good smoke ring.

This is because, in terms of oxygen supply, it has limited airflow and much less nitric oxide & carbon monoxide being produced as its sole source is wood chips. But, it is completely possible to get a strong smoke ring on a brisket in an electric smoker.

You just need to do everything you can to encourage the reaction. This means, keeping the brisket moist, getting as much smoke as possible rolling, and keeping the temperature low and slow to allow for enough time for a solid smoke ring to build up. To get more smoke from your electric smoker, you can also add a pellet tube smoker at the beginning of the cook for extra smoke.

No Smoke Ring On Pellet Grill

Generally speaking, pellet grills shouldn’t have too much of an issue with building a good smoke ring as it’s entirely fueled by burning wood pellets.

However, there are a few things you can do to combat any weaknesses and get more smoke from your pellet grill.

Firstly, if you’ve been using the same type of wood pellets, it might be good to try another type, whether that means by using another high-quality brand or simply by choosing a stronger smoking wood like hickory or mesquite. These tend to produce a richer smoke flavor.

Although it’s optional, you can add a water pan in your pellet smoker to increase the humidity, allowing more smoke to stick to the meat and help form the smoke ring. This isn’t necessary for a pellet smoker due to its design, but it won’t hurt as it will ensure the conditions in the smoker are kept humid.

An easy way to get more smoke from your pellet smoker is to also use a pellet tube smoker as well. This handy stainless steel tube just sits in your pellet grill and releases smoke from wood pellets for up to 4-6 hours. Because pellet grills are notorious for only providing the thin blue smoke, a pellet smoker tube can really make a difference.

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