Just like the best part of a cake is the icing, the best part of barbecue is without a doubt, the bark. That flavorful, rich, smoke-infused crust is what makes burnt ends so good, takes ribs to the next level and is what you undeniably snack on as you pull the pork… And, while delicious barbecue bark is a great accomplishment for any grill master, creating it yourself is easier than you’d think. Follow these tips so that you too, can enjoy some sweet and smoky, crusty goodness.
What is Meat Bark?
When you’re talking about barbecue, bark is the hard, crust-like surface that forms on the outside of smoked meat. It occurs when the spices and sugar you rubbed onto the meat are exposed to heat and oxygen so that a chemical reaction occurs.
The Science Behind Barbecue Bark
There are two chemical processes that are responsible for the formation of bark when you’re barbecuing. These are polymerization and the Maillard reaction. But, to keep it simple, when you start smoking meat with a salt and sugar based rub, water vapor from the smoke dissolves the water-soluble ingredients. Salt particles penetrate the meat’s surface, contributing to the smoke ring, while the other ingredients stay on the outside of the meat, melting and dissolving in fat as it bubbles to the surface.
Because you’re cooking at a low and slow temperature, the sugar in your rub won’t caramelize. Instead, it provides an intense flavor boost which is why the spices you add end up tasting so darn great.
The smoke from your wood also sticks to the rub as it dissolves which is what darkens the color of the bark (it’s not actually burnt). And, as the moisture from the meat evaporates as it cooks, the rub starts to dry out leaving you with mouthwatering meat perfection.
Prepping Your Meat for Optimal Barbecue Bark
The chemical process for creating bark might be reasonably complicated, but, maximizing the bark on your next cook up is relatively simple. Follow these tips:
- Choose your cuts wisely – The more surface area your meat has, the more you have to coat in dry rub which means more bark with every bite. This is why brisket and ribs are ideal for bark creation. They’re flat and wide with a lot of surface area to cover.
- Trim excess fat – Excess fat that sits on the surface of your meat can create too much moisture which will stop bark from forming evenly. So, simply trim off extra fat before rubbing your spices in.
- Use a sugar-based dry rub – Sugar is an important ingredient in bark creation as it’ll slowly melt to intensify flavor and help form that crusty goodness. But, don’t use too much sugar either! It’ll just end up charring.
- Be careful when using trays – Never put your meat in a pan or tray while smoking as it’ll hold the juices that naturally run off your meat which will then steam back up for watery bark. If you do want to use a drip pan, be sure to place it as far below your meat as possible.
Smoking Tips for Optimal Bark
When it comes to the actual smoking itself, to get great bark aim to:
- Nail the temperature – Smoking at too low of a temperature will either cause your spice rub to run off or end up like a saucy topping. And, cooking at too high of a temperature can cause your meat to char and end up tasting burnt. So, focus on keeping your temperature between 200 and 250°F throughout your cook (depending on the type of meat you’re cooking).
- Avoid basting during the first 2 hours – Don’t introduce extra water to your meat in the first few hours when the chemical reactions are just forming.
- Avoid wrapping – Wrapping your meat in foil while it’s cooking essentially steams the meat to speed up cooking times. But, all of that extra moisture will soften your bark into a watery mess. Instead, let your meat breathe, rubbed but undressed. This way the moisture can evaporate away from the surface letting that smoking magic happen.
So, there you have it! Creating mouthwatering barbecue bark is really just a matter of following a few simple steps.
Do you have any other great bark tips? Share them with us in the comments below!