A pink smoke ring is a badge of honor in the world of barbecue. It’s one of the things that separates the pit masters from the backyard grillers, and it’s the first sign that you’re cooking with real wood.
But what is a smoke ring, exactly? And how do you get one?
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What is a Pink Smoke Ring?
Smoke rings form when a thin layer of smoke is trapped between the meat and the grill or smoker, and that’s exactly what happens when you’re cooking with real wood or pellets.
The pink color is actually a discoloration that’s right under your crust’s surface.
Your smoke ring may be:
- .25″ in thickness, or
- Less than .25″ thick
If you’ve ever eaten smoked meat that has been sliced, you may notice that a crust formed on the outer layer of the meat and there’s a pink layer that circles the entire radius of the meat. This is the ring that you want to learn to master.
When smoking meats, the smoke ring is a sign of proper smoking temperatures and a clear indication that this isn’t the first time that you’ve smoked meats.
A smoke ring is not the result of anyone ingredient or technique. It’s the result of many different factors.
What Creates a Smoke Ring?
A smoke ring is created by the chemical reactions that occur when you cook meat with either wood or charcoal. Burning these fuels leads to nitrogen oxides and nitric oxide.
The gas mixes with the water in the meat to create nitric oxide.
These chemicals react with the meat’s myoglobin to create a pinkish discoloration that’s called the smoke ring.
Myoglobin is really what produces the pink ring. When oxygenated, the myoglobin molecule is red and leads to the desired ring for your meat. Traditionally, when exposed to oxygen, the myoglobin would begin to brown as oxygen begins to escape.
However, the nitric oxide will bind to the myoglobin and prevent it from browning. Nitric oxide will bond to the iron atom in the center of the myoglobin molecule and prevent oxygen from escaping. This is what gives the meat that pink ring.
It is important to note that the nitric oxide will not bond with the myoglobin molecule until it is exposed to high temperatures.
What Meats Are Good for Smoke Rings?
You can create a smoke ring on a variety of meats, including:
Steaks and briskets are two of the most common types of meat that are ideal for creating a thick smoke ring. These are some of the best meats for smoking.
Now that you understand the chemical process involved in the smoke ring forming, we can really dissect the best processes and meats to use to create the smoke rings on your pellet grill.
How to Get the Best Smoke Ring
There are a lot of tricks that can help you create a good smoke ring, and you’ll find many opinions on how to achieve the perfect ring. You can use a few ingredients that may help push the chemical process along and create a smoke ring, or you can do it the old-fashioned way with just meat and the right technique.
Ingredients to Create a Pink Smoke Ring
A pit master doesn’t need to add additional ingredients to make sure that the meat will have a nice bark to it. The technique is the name of the game when grilling, but if you don’t have time to dedicate or are simply failing time and time again to create a smoke ring, try the following:
- Salt tenderizers are a great option. Coat the outside of the meat, and the ingredient will add a lot of nitrogen dioxide to the meat to create a smoke ring.
- Celery juice or seed is another option because it contains a high level of nitrate naturally. The ingredient will add a mild flavor to your meat, and they’re also known for their high antioxidant count.
- Tender Quick is another product that you can find in supermarkets that is able to help you cheat your way to a smoke ring.
Do you want to cheat your way to a deep smoke ring?
If you don’t want to spend hours of your time grilling to reach the smoke ring, you can recreate the process with a touch of curing salt. You can simply sprinkle some of the salt on top of your meat along with sodium nitrite.
And you can place the meat inside of the oven to create the smoke ring. Of course, you’ll miss out on the delicious, grilled taste that makes barbequing so much fun.
Grilling Technique to Create a Pink Smoke Ring
A pellet grill is a great option for smoke rings because it helps bring together the carbon monoxide and nitric oxide that need to react during the cooking process to create a smoke ring.
Hardwood pellets work best, so opt for these when grilling. If your pellets are wet or moist, dry them out before grilling. Burning dry pellets provides the best opportunity for the carbon monoxide and nitric oxide to meet and cause the smoke ring to form.
Now that you have your pellets ready, it’s time to grill. A few tips that can go a long way in mastering the ring are:
- Grill at low temperatures. The first hour of grilling is the most important for creating a ring because it’s the time when nitric oxide really absorbs into the outer layer of the meat. If temperatures are too high, they can impact this chemical process and lead to the meat turning a greyish color. Ideally, you’ll keep your grill’s temperature at 225°F for the first hour.
- Start with cold meat. Don’t wait for your meat to reach room temperature before grilling. Start grilling when the meat is cold so that the myoglobin doesn’t break down rapidly and there’s enough time for the chemical bonding to occur.
- Be cautious with fat. You’ll find some people recommend fatty meats to create a smoke ring, but this recommendation has the complete opposite effect. Thick fat should be trimmed, or it will make it too difficult for the myoglobin to penetrate your meat.
- Spray lightly with water. You want to create smoke, and one good way to do this is to spray the top of the meat two or three times during the first hour of cooking. If you want to add a little flavor to the meat, you can use apple juice or something similar rather than water to promote smoking during the first hour of cooking.
- Allow more oxygen into the grill. If you’re using a pellet grill, there’s likely a smoke stack that you can open up for additional oxygen. Opening the stack will allow for higher smoke production, which is something that you want to happen.
- Choose your rubs wisely. Rubs add great flavor to your meat, and while you can still use them when trying to achieve a pink smoke ring, you’ll want to avoid rubs that contain a lot of salt or are acidic.
Do you need a pellet grill for a smoke ring? No, but they’re known for helping achieve the smoke ring. You can also have a nice fat cap with the smoke ring, but you’ll have a harder time achieving it.
While the information above is what we recommend, especially trimming off all of the excess fat, we also recommend experimenting. One trick that we recently came across was mixing water and Worcestershire sauce for the spritz to provide additional flavor to your meat.
Time, patience, and practice will allow you to fully control the meat that you’re grilling so that you can always create a smoke ring. Smoke rings are so difficult for the beginner to make that barbeque competition used to use the smoke ring as a factor when picking out the winner of the competition.
In today’s grilling competitions, the smoke ring isn’t used when judging because, as you’ve seen above, it’s far too easy to cheat your way to a high rating.
Have fun, experiment, and see if you’re able to get a smoke ring on your meat.
But before you begin, be sure to start with the right grill for the job. Pellet grills are the go-to option for smoke rings because you can use the hardwood needed for a strong chemical reaction to occur.
Get the Perfect Smoke Ring with the Right Pellet Grill
If you’re trying to get that perfect smoke ring on your meats, you need the right pellet grill for the job. Our Z Grills are designed to smoke, bake, braise, barbeque, grill, and sear. You name it, our grills can do it.
Heavy steel construction ensures durability, while our advanced PID temperature control allows you to achieve consistent temperatures from start to finish.
When it comes to perfecting the smoke ring, our grills’ temperature control features, massive grilling space, and consistency blow the competition away.
You’ll be able to make the perfect smoke ring time and time again with a Z Grills.