12. Science and barbecue
[Is it dangerous to your health to eat barbecue due to the presence of
carcinogens in the meat caused by the wood fire?]
Found this on the Kansas City BBQ Forum and it seems to answer your
Nitrosomines, which may be produced in charred fat of certain animals,
has tentatively and tenuously been linked to cancer in humans. In order for nitrosamines
to be created, there must be very high temperatures (500F+) and charring. Minute
quantities may, therefore, be created by careless trimming of the fat on steaks to be
broiled (500-700F) and overcooked or flamed. The risk of getting cancer from this is less
than drowning in the shower, IMHO.
Barbecuing is, by definition, cooked at temperatures around the boiling
point of water and no competent barbecuer is likely to willingly let his meat reach the
point of charring. The 'burnt ends' served by some commercial establishments are not
barbecued and are more of an affront to good taste than a threat to health. If cooking
meat over hot coals were a hazard to human health, the species would have starved or died
out a couple million years ago. I think this is a rumor started by a vegetarian who used
to be a Women's Magazine Food Editor and therefore knew nothing about barbecue. Cook slow,
relax, have fun, and don't worry.
[There was a long discussion on the List about "Fluid's Affects On
Heat Transfer" in a barbecue smoker. It was way over my head. Can somebody summarize
this for me?]
I wrote that post. Let's review heat transfer.
When you hold your hand close to a light bulb, you can feel heat being
transferred to your hand. This is RADIATION.
Guys, when your sweet thing blows her hot breath into your ear, you feel
heat being transferred to your ear. This is CONVECTION.
When you put your cold feet against that sweet thing's warm body, you
feel heat being transferred to your feet. This is CONDUCTION.
Here is a simplified version of the Fluid's Affects On Heat Transfer
dissertation. In it was compared a cooker to a glass of Scotch with an ice cube in it.
What happens is that the surrounding Scotch transfers heat to the ice cube. This can be
compared to the air in a cooker transferring heat to the enclosed meat.
The ice cube's outside surface undergoes a change of state. It is from a
Solid to a Liquid. In a comparable way, in our cooker, meat loses moisture by evaporation.
Also a change of state. It is from a Liquid to a Gas.
This takes place slowly in a cooker. Heat transfer to meat is by
CONVECTION in a cooker. The air is cooled by the meat as the air passes by and exits the
cooker. The meat receives BTUs from the passing air and its temperature rises.
The outer surface of the meat is hotter than the inside of the meat. The
heat transfer inside the meat is by CONDUCTION. To reduce somewhat the higher temperature
of the outside of the meat, moisture can be added to the outside by the chef person. This
cools the outside by evaporation, which is still hotter than the inside of the meat. The
inside of the meat continues to cook.
This adding moisture to the outside of the meat by the chef person does
not add moisture to the inside of the meat, it slows the loss of moisture from the meat by
temporarily cooling somewhat the outside of the meat. The outside of the meat is always
hotter than the inside of the meat while the meat is in the cooker.
Occasionally, the chef person might choose to lower somewhat the
temperature of the outside of the meat. Conduction will continue from the outside of the
meat to the inside of the meat even as the mop is used and evaporation cools the outside
of the meat. The outside of the meat will still be hotter than the inside of the meat. The
inside of the meat will still continue to cook.
[I read a series of posts by an engineer on the thermodynamics of
barbecuing. Is knowing any of this stuff useful in turning out a better product?]
I have been reading all the posts on "fluid effects on heat
transfer", and enjoyed it immensely. Also learned a thing or two on the
"science" of heat transfer--whether it be dry or wet heat--that's all nice, but
will most likely not help you much on making good barbecue. The design and function of
your smoker, and how the heat travels will have the greatest effect on how your product
turns out, if you are cooking at the correct temperatures, keeping the fire right, and
know when to take the meat off.
I have been lucky enough in my life to have owned a great many different
smokers. Redi Smoke and Cook Shack electric, Weber, Sunbeam, Holland, and Char-Broil gas
grills, Char-Broil and Weber charcoal smokers, Brinkmann, Coleman, and Mr. Meat Smoker
bullet water smokers, Klose and Kingfisher big time home smokers, a couple of home made 55
gallon oil drums, and my J& R Mfg. professional rig.
I have found this to be true--after you are the best you can be in
knowing how to barbecue, and really know the smoker you are cooking on, the smoker you are
cooking on WILL make a difference. Some pits do a better job than others, and this is
simply a fact of life. The least of your worries is about how much humidity is in the air,
water pans in the smoker, and if a water smoker will cook faster than a dry smoker. If you
are cooking on a first-class smoker, and have your act together, all this is irrelevant to
the finished product. I do think a little moisture induced into the smoker is good, but
[Does somebody have a scientific theory for why brining poultry makes
the meat more tender and moist? It can't be osmotic forces because the meat is dead.]
First of all, the membranes in dead meat cells can and do continue to
conduct osmosis. In fact, several entire industries are based on the osmotic properties of
semipermeable plastic membranes.
On the theory of brining, I wrote to an expert in the field, Professor
Alan Sams, at Texas A & M University and asked him what the mechanism was. He sent me
two reprints of scientific papers, one of his and one from Professor Jansky at the
University of Florida. The papers mainly dealt with various methods of chill-brining
commercial poultry but summarized the mechanism of how it works as follows: Brining makes
the poultry more tender and moist because the muscle tissues take up more water. The
mechanism for this was not stated in the articles. I would surmise it is a combination of
simple diffusion and osmotic pressures that ends up getting more water into the muscle
cells and intracellular fluids. The article stated that in the late 70's, several
researchers, (Professors Hamm, Arafa, and Jansky) determined that it was this added water
within the muscle tissue that made the meat more tender. And it's obvious that the added
water makes the meat more moist also.
On the added saltiness of the poultry after brining, Professor Jansky
states, "The average person might not increase his sodium intake substantially by
consuming chicken meat from brine chilled broilers; however, this product might not be
suitable for persons on sodium restricted diets." So if you are on a low sodium diet,
don't brine your birds with sodium chloride.
[Can you tell me about what happens to meat while you slow cook it?]
Meats are made of muscle, connective tissue, fat and bone. Muscle
contains proteins and glycogen. As the temperature of the meat increases, glycogen, a long
chain sugar, is reduced to simple sugars. This caramelizes and is responsible for one of
the flavor components.
Proteins (flavorless) are denatured to amino acids, which not only have
flavors themselves, but also undergo Maillard browning reactions, which adds another
While bone adds no flavor itself, the marrow is rich in methyglobulin
and other proteins. This reacts with smoke nitrites to give us the smoke ring. You may
have heard that "the sweetest meat is next to the bone". The proteins are
reduced to amino acids. Nutrasweet is an amino acid.
Fat is a very simple molecule that fills the fat cells in muscle tissue.
Fat breaks down to sugars, fatty acids, and triglycerides at low temperatures.
Collagen is proteins that have lots of side chain bonds. This makes them
elastic. It takes more energy to denature them than the simpler proteins of muscle tissue.
Energy in the form of heat will denature these proteins into the flavorful amino acids.
If the temperature is too high, the water in the muscle cells and the
fat is rendered out before the collagen melts. This results in dry, tough meat. Too low a
temperature and you risk bacterial activity.
Tough cuts of meat like brisket and pork butts benefit from low
temperature cooking as the collagen adds flavor to the meat. Less tough, more expensive
cuts do not need this phase and can be cooked at high temperatures for shorter periods.
That is why ribs take only a few hours and briskets take up to 20 hours.
[I thought that the reason to raise the meat to room temperature for a
wood burner was to avoid condensation of undesirables in the smoke on the meat. For this
reason, I bring the meat to room temperature, put it into my electric bullet smoker, then
wait a little while before I add the wood chunks. Lately I've read that experienced List
members put cold meat into their smokers to get a better smoke ring and more smoke flavor.
What's going on?]
For 22 years I have taken the day's cooking straight from the walk in
refrigerator in my restaurant and into the cool smoker. The temperature in the pit will
usually be around 125 to 140F. I have always felt if one wanted more smoke flavor and a
deeper smoke ring, this was the way to do it. My reasoning behind this is that I feel the
meat is more relaxed, and the pores are more open when the meat is cold. The smoke draws
to it like a magnet. Just like creosote does to a cold chimney until it gets heated up.
Now, here is where some of our novice smokers can get into trouble. If
your fire isn't established, and is in a high burn when you put on the meat, and you close
the fire damper down too much to try to keep the temperature down in your smoker for
awhile, you will get even more creosote on the cold meat than if you had let the meat
reach room temperature first. Not only will the 'good smoke' draw to the meat, the 'bad
smoke' will also. That's why I have stated in some of my earlier post to let the meat rest
out of the refrigerator for a bit before placing it in the heated smoker. It was less of a
risk for a lot of you and simply safer. However, it seems that some of the ones who have
been smoking meat for a few months are becoming good pitmasters, and we can discuss things
at a more advanced level. My problem with some of the things I do is that I don't know how
to explain them, I just know that they work. I guess that's why we have Kit around to help
explain the science behind what we're doing. From him, I have learned a lot about why what
I do works and can talk to people on a more intellectual level about it. It's always
better to understand why something works, not just that it works.
If you are using a water smoker, be it an electric, gas, or charcoal
burner, this cold meat technique shouldn't be much of a problem. Nor should it be with the
Cookshack, etc. However, doing this with a straight wood burners can be more challenging.
You must know how to start out with a low-heat fire, fairly smoky, and slowly bring the
heat up without causing a great commotion. It may be easier for you to go ahead and make a
larger fire, let it burn down to mostly coals, then throw in one piece of greener wood for
smoke in the early stages. That way, you can go ahead and close down your firebox damper a
bit without the problem of creosote, and maintain a lower heat in the cooking chamber for
awhile. Notice I said just for awhile. It's much easier to have a good bed of coals in the
firebox, and just add a log here and there to maintain and increase the heat, than to have
too few coals and have to chuck in a bunch of wood to bring the temperature up. I do not
maintain this low temperature cooking for a long time. I am continually slowly bringing up
the temperature until I reach about 240F in the cooking chamber. With the cold meat placed
in the cool smoker, and starting out with a cool, but clean-burning fire that I slowly
bring up, the meat turns out nice and smoky and with a great smoke ring every time.
I just got a copy of 'Professional Charcuterie' on Bill Ackerman's
recommendation. It is a great book on sausage making. One particular point of interest is
the smoking technique. Most of the recipes involving smoking call for putting the meat in
at 135F for a hour, going up to 155F, then higher until the internal temp reaches 160F.
This is not cold smoking, which is done at 80F. The purpose is to get
the smoke ring and its associated flavor to form at a maximum depth. The reaction stops
when the meat gets over 120F, or so. This makes a lot of sense when looking for
'bacon-on-a-stick' ribs. I have advocated putting the cold ribs in a cold smoker and then
starting the fire to achieve this. It gives a smoke ring all the way through on baby backs
but not all the way through on spareribs.
This past weekend, I was visiting a friend that has a SnP Pro. He was
cooking spares and had lowered the grill in the cooking chamber to fit 6 full racks. He
said he liked to smoke at 200F but was having trouble with the ribs being tough. I saw
that he was monitoring temperatures on the lid which meant the temperature at grill level
was probably no higher than 135-150F. He is Polder challenged. The ribs had been on for 3
hours when I got there.
So, I boosted the temperature up to 300F for two hours until dry bone
started to show on the ends. I could easily pull the ribs apart and found that the smoke
ring went all the way through. Bacon-on-a-stick spares, tender and moist. Try the initial
low temperature for a few hours next time you do ribs.
I did some research and found these Web sites on the smoking reactions
in meat: http://www2.unl.ac.uk/~hx14marshar/meatcol.htm
65C (149F) but most proteins start to denature at 120F. I think this is
the temperature when the enzymes are denatured and there is only heat affecting the
myoglobin. Note lines 4,5,6 in the table. They are the curing or smoke ring
reactions. Reactions 7 and above are the heat reactions because the myoglobin begins to
What I learned and didn't know before was that bacteria are involved in
changing sodium nitrate to nitric oxide which bonds to the myoglobin at the site where
oxygen would normally occupy. Since these bacteria die at 140 and are very active at 120,
that accounts for smoke ring depth. Also, that there are three different smoke ring
reactions giving different colors based on the amount of oxidation the meat had before it
started cooking. There are three types of those reactions. That's why there are pink, red
and purple smoke rings.
[Does the smoke ring have a taste?]
Yes. The reaction of nitrates and nitrites in smoke, or chemical cures,
with methyglobin in meat results in the typical color we see in ham and other processed
meats. This also has a distinctive flavor. For instance, if you brine a brisket, it will
taste more like ham than beef. This is how turkey ham is made.
While the smoke ring does not show the total penetration of the smoke,
its color and size are an indication of the activity of the smoke when cooking.
So, you can produce thinner cuts of meat with a smoke ring all the way
through and things like baby back ribs will taste like 'bacon on a stick'. This reaction
takes place below 120F. So, in order to do this, you must put the ribs on when they are
cold rather than letting them come to room temperature. The smoker should not be too hot,
225F is good. You should not use a ton of smoke. It will condense out causing the meat to
This is not the only way to barbecue ribs. It is only one way to get a
very unique flavor.
I think in light of the many question asked (and some answered by Kit
and Danny) about the subject of barbecue smoke, smoke rings, smoke flavor and creosote, it
might be helpful if we take a look at this from a physical chemical point of view.
[What is barbecue smoke?]
Barbecue smoke is a complex combination of particulates and gases that
results from the burning of wood. When wood burns, many different kinds of combustion
by-products are produced--this is a very complicated process and is affected by many
variables, such as temperature of the fire, the amount of oxygen available, the humidity,
the type of wood, the age of wood, etc.
What you see in smoke are actually the particulates, tiny bits of
matter, from white ash, to black carbon and many other materials. The sizes of these
particles range from about 10 microns down to less than 1 micron. A micron is one
millionth of a meter--bacteria are in this size range. In addition to the carbon and ash,
there are also some inorganic chemicals that are carried on the smoke particles, such as
nitrates and nitrites, usually as salts of sodium and calcium. The type of particulates
that a wood-burning fire produces is dependent on how clean, or complete, the combustion
process is, what kind of wood was burned, the age of the wood, etc. A clean-burning fire,
one that has all the oxygen it needs, will produce few particulates and a dirty fire, or
one that is starved for oxygen, will produce heavy particulates--including ash and soot.
John Willingham calls these smoke particulates 'dirt' and says that they are undesirable
in the smoking process. The particulate solids in the smoke cannot diffuse into the
meat--they are much too big to do that. The particulates stay on the surface of the meat.
When we get a dirty fire that generates lots of particulates, these materials do collect
onto the surface of the meat. This is why the meat turns black, from the soot that is
generated by a poorly-managed fire. The meat will also get black from the burning of
sugars in the rubs or sauces that are put on the meat, but that is another process.
An experienced wood-burning barbecuer will manage his fire in a way that
very few particulates are ever produced. His end product will come out of the cooking
chamber a beautiful deep, reddish-brown color. It will be free of any black sooty look. He
has managed during the entire course of the smoking process to keep his fire at the
correct level of fuel, air and heat, so that at no point during the smoking process did he
let the fire produce any soot or ash. The wood-burning beginner, however, will have
periods during the smoking process when the fire is well-managed and periods when the fire
is poorly-managed. During these poorly-managed periods, the fire will produce soot, ash
and creosote, all of which are detrimental to the finished barbecue product. At the end of
the smoking process, the meat may look black and sooty, and will probably have a bitter,
or 'over-smoked' taste. As the beginner gains experience with fire management, the periods
when the fire is 'out of control' will occur less and less. After a year or so of smoking,
the beginner now finds that his meat is coming out of the smoker looking and tasting like
something that could win grand prize at the state barbecue championship.
The gases in wood smoke are invisible, like air, and cannot be seen.
These gases contain carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor, and many other
chemicals. Wood is a complex material, containing solids, liquids and gases. As the wood
seasons, the gases leave quickly and the liquids leave over a period of months and years.
The complex organic chemicals within wood are termed 'secondary metabolites'. These
chemicals are produced by the living cells of the tree and are important for the tree's
growth, maintenance and protection. These chemicals are classified by wood chemists into
the following categories: volatile oils, resins, fats and waxes, lignans, and simple and
complex carbohydrates. A typical tree may produce and store about a hundred of these
organic chemicals within its cells and bark. When these chemicals burn, by-product gases
are given off in the smoke. There is a big difference in the composition of the gases that
come off a clean-burning wood fire and those that come off a smoldering wood fire. One
class of chemicals that comes off a smoldering fire are called polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons and contain some really nasty stuff, some of them known to be carcinogenic.
It is beyond our interests to go any deeper into the chemistry of
burning wood, but we can simplify all this by saying that when barbecuers talk about 'good
smoke' they are really talking about not the particulates we can see, or the carbon
dioxide or water vapor gases, but a class of chemicals we will call 'smoke flavoring
gases'. From my reading, I do not believe that this class of chemicals is at all well
Only the gases that result from the burning of the wood can get past the
surface and into the depths of the meat.
The term 'creosote' refers to a group of oily, bitter-tasting organic
chemicals that are produced during the fractional distillation of wood and coal. When
creosote is produced commercially, freshly cut wood is put into a distillation tower and
heated with very little oxygen present. The gases produced by this distillation process
are condensed on cooling coils in the top of the tower. In a smoker, we can get similar
conditions--an oxygen-starved fire, with the meat and the walls of the smoker becoming the
condensation surfaces. If your fire is well managed and you are using seasoned wood, you
will not have a problem with creosote forming and condensing on the meat. If your fire is
starved for oxygen and maybe some of your wood is a bit green, then it is very likely that
creosote will be produced and will find its way into your meat. Creosote in the smoke is a
gas and not a particulate. It condenses out of the gas as a sticky liquid. This creosote
liquid can get into the cells of the meat, so it is not just on the outside of the meat.
[How does the smoke get into the meat?]
So now that we have a little more information on what smoke is, we can
understand that smoke absorption and adsorption by the meat is a complicated and highly
variable process. There are several physical processes that are taking place within your
A process where the smoke particulates and gases are deposited onto the
outside surface of the meat.
A process where the smoke gases are transported into the cellular fluids
within the meat.
The term diffusion in non-technical language refers to the process
whereby liquids and gases go from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower
concentration. In barbecue, the gases produced by the wood-burning fire are more
concentrated in the smoke surrounding the meat and less concentrated in the liquids of the
cells within the meat. So there is a 'driving force' that works to push the smoke gases
into the meat.
This is a term that refers to a liquid, a solid or a gas dissolving into
another liquid. When you make a brine, you put salt into water. The salt goes into
solution in the water. Gases also go into solution in liquids, as in carbonated sodas.
Here, the gas carbon dioxide goes into solution in the sugar-flavored water. Liquids can
go into liquids as when you add molasses to water.
This is the process that describes how a liquid, a solid or gas goes
into another liquid and moves into and mixes throughout the liquid. In the example of
carbonated soda, the carbon dioxide gas is applied to the surface of the sugar water and
the carbon dioxide gas goes into all the liquid by the process of solution diffusion. It
first goes into solution at the surface and then diffuses throughout the liquid. If you
place a spoonful of salt in a glass of water and leave it undisturbed, in a few hours or
days, the salt will have gone into solution and the salt ions will have diffused
throughout the liquid.
The term saturation means that a fluid cannot dissolve and hold any more
solids or gases, it has become saturated. In the soda example, only so much sugar can be
added to the water. When the water is saturated with sugar, no more sugar crystals will
dissolve into the liquid. When carbon dioxide gas is added to the soda, only so much will
go into solution. When the soda is saturated with carbon dioxide, then no more of that gas
can be dissolved in the sugar water. Temperature affects the saturation point. With warmer
liquids usually being able to hold more solids than cooler liquids (we warm a brine to
help the salt dissolve) and cooler liquids being able to hold more gases than warmer
liquids (when we warm a soda, the carbon dioxide gas comes off as bubbles). In barbecue,
there will come a point where the fluids within the muscle tissue will become saturated in
the smoke flavoring gases and liquids and no more gases and liquids can be added to the
cellular fluid. This may be one reason why putting cold meat into the smoker may increase
the smoky flavor, as the cold fluids in the muscle cells will take-up the smoke flavoring
gases and liquids faster than hot fluids.
[What does this solution-diffusion process have to do with making good
Meat is really muscle tissue that basically consists of cell membranes,
a combination of many types of proteins and cellular fluids, containing water and
dissolved solids (for example salts and sugars) and gases and liquids (oxygen and carbon
dioxide). When we smoke a piece of meat, what is happening is that the smoke flavoring
gases and liquids are coming from the wood burning process into the cooking chamber and
into contact with the cell membranes of the outer muscle tissue. The smoke gases and
liquids diffuse across the muscle cell membranes and go into solution in the cellular
fluids. The driving force here is that the gases and liquids are soluble in the cellular
fluids and are in a higher concentration in the atmosphere of the cooking chamber than
they are in the cellular fluids. So the process of diffusion drives these gases and
liquids into the cellular fluids. Once across the cell membrane, the gases and liquids go
into solution in the cellular fluids and then diffuse throughout the cell. The gases and
liquids then diffuse out of the first cell and into the next cell in contact with the
first and the process starts again in that cell. This is how the smoke flavoring gases and
liquids get deep inside the meat, as much as a an inch in longer smoking sessions. Some of
the smoke flavoring gases condense out as liquids on the surface of the meat. These
liquids then begin to diffuse across the cell membrane into the cells and cellular liquids
of the muscle tissue. So we have some of the flavoring agents from the smoke diffusing
into the meat as gases and some diffusing into the meat as liquids.
[Is this solution-diffusion a steady process?]
The cells within the meat accept these smoke flavoring gases and liquids
more readily when it is raw and cool and first put into the smoker and gradually accept
less and less of these smoke flavoring gases and liquids as the cooking process continues.
There is probably no absolute cutoff point, like after 2 hours, where the meat stops
accepting these smoke flavoring gases and liquids. As the smoking process continues
several conditions are changing. The meat is shrinking and it's surface and texture are
becoming less permeable as it cooks and browns (the bark is forming) and this makes it
more difficult for the smoke flavoring gases and liquids to diffuse into the meat.
Now we need to also know a little more about diffusion, the process that
gets the smoke flavoring gases and liquids into the meat. When we speak of diffusion, we
are talking about a process that wants to equalize itself, to attain a state of
equilibrium. For example, when someone is in a room and smoking a cigarette, the smoke and
gases of the combustion of the tobacco begin immediately to diffuse out into the air of
the room. If the person has only one cigarette and then stops smoking, the diffusion
process continues until every part of the room air has the same concentration of smoke,
until the smoke in the room has attained a 'state of equilibrium'. Now, if we were to
start with a clean room and erect a barrier across the middle of it that is made of paper,
and this paper barrier is taped to the walls and floor and ceiling so that the only way
for the smoke to get into the part of the room on the other side of the barrier is to go
through the pores of the paper. Now when the person smokes one cigarette the smoke will
diffuse throughout their side of the room but the smoke but will have trouble, or be
impeded from diffusing, into the other side of the room because of the paper barrier.
Eventually, the smoke will diffuse through the paper barrier until the smoke concentration
is the same on both sides of the paper barrier. The process of diffusion is driven by an
unequal amount of smoke on each side of the paper barrier. When we start out, the smoke is
more concentrated on one side of the paper barrier and less concentrated on the other side
of the barrier. As time goes on, the smoke gradually becomes equal on both sides. The
smoke will never be in a higher concentration on the other side of the barrier, as there
is no force that will make smoke concentrate on the far side of the paper barrier. The
smoke must eventually come to a state of equilibrium in both parts of the room.
Now let's imagine that the paper barrier across the room represents the
surface of the meat and the cell membranes of the muscle tissues within the meat. Let's
make this example more like smoking meat and say that when the smoking process first
starts, the pores in the paper barrier are large, and smoke will diffuse through the paper
at a fast rate and as the smoking process continues the pores in the paper 'clog up' and
get smaller and the smoke diffuses through the pores at a slower rate. As we smoke a piece
of meat, several things are happening. First the 'pores' of the meat are more open and the
smoke flavoring gases and liquids can go through these bigger holes at a faster rate.
Also, when we start the smoking process, the meat has no smoke flavoring gases and liquids
dissolved in the fluids of the muscle cells of the meat and therefore there is a higher
driving force available to drive the flavoring gases and liquids into the fluids within
the cells. As the smoking process continues, the pores of the meat get smaller and the
'skin' on outside of the meat gets thicker. So the overall effect is that the smoke
flavoring gases and liquids cannot go into the meat as fast as they did at the start. As
the smoking process goes on, less and less of these gases and liquids can get into the
meat. Also, as the smoking process continues, the fluids with the cells get closer to the
point of saturation of the smoke flavoring gases and liquids. At some point in the smoking
process, no additional smoke flavoring gases and liquids can be absorbed or taken into the
fluids of the cells.
[OK, I understand that it is getting harder for the gases and liquids to
get inside the meat as the smoking process continues, but is there a point where no more
smoke flavor is imparted to the meat?]
Even though the smoke flavoring gases and liquids may not penetrate the
meat nearly as deep after a few hours of smoking, I feel they still continue to be
adsorbed on the outer surface of the meat. The smoke flavor can become quite strong and
bitter if the fire is not managed correctly, or it can be a positive addition to the
flavor if the fire is well-managed. Smoking beyond the 2-6 hour period definitely adds
more 'smoke flavor' to the meat, and there is a great distinction in flavor between
'smoked until done' meats, and meats that were smoked for a few hours, then finished off
with just heat, by being wrapped in foil and left in the smoker or put into an oven.
When one takes a bite and starts to chew, the eater doesn't know if the
smoke flavor is coming from the center of the meat, the outer third, or the outside
surface. He just knows it tastes smoky. So, I feel that the 'continue smoking until done'
process does add flavor all the way through the cooking process. To what degree this is
attained depends on how smoky one wants their meat to be, and how well they manage their
[Why can't we wash off the creosote taste once it gets on the meat?]
The creosotes that form from a poorly-managed fire are gases and these
gases condense on the surface of the meat. Once on the surface, they diffuse into the
interior of the meat. So a piece of meat that has been subjected to creosote conditions
for a long period of time cannot be rescued by washing it off, as the bitter-tasting
chemicals have penetrated into the meat. If the creosote condition lasts only a few
minutes, then it may be possible to wash off the meat, or cut off the bark, and remove the
bitter tasting layer and save the meat. But if the creosote conditions remain in the
smoker for a longer time, then you have almost surly ruined the meat as the bitter taste
will have gone too deeply into the meat to be removed. Danny Gaulden has testified to this
in his early days of smoking. He's had a few pieces of meat that were totally ruined
because his fire got out of control and produced some nasty creosote that went so deeply
into the meat that the bitter parts could not be trimmed off.
[Does the smoke ring continue to grow as long as the meat is in the
smoker and there is smoke?]
The smoke ring reaction stops when the meat gets to about 120F. The
smoke ring is only one of the reactions taking place in the meat and has its own
associated flavor but smoke penetration is temperature dependent.
[How do you suppose that the nitrate and nitrite salts get onto the meat
from the fire? Are they carried aloft as salts attached to the particulates in the smoke?]
The ash is loaded with potassium and sodium nitrates. That's why you
need wood smoke to get a smoke ring.
[So you need some particulates in your smoke too, not just the gases?]
Right. With charcoal, you get no smoke. With lump, you get a little.
With lump and wood you get more, with just wood you get the most. With each, an increase
in smoke ring depth. Nitrates are organic salts and cannot by themselves be gases.