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Old 02-26-2008, 10:18 PM   #1
somebody shut me the fark up.
bigabyte's Avatar
Join Date: 05-10-06
Location: Overland Fark, KS
Default Mad Science Experiment - Smoke Rings

I'm posting my plans for this weekends experiment a bit early because it will be a busy weekend. I have had to plan this schedule out, and want to get the first part where I explain this experiment out of the way while I can.

This experiment is to test some various methods of making BBQ meat to see what impact, if any, each method has on the smoke ring formed in the meat.

I have read so many different ideas about how/why smoke rings are formed, and it is difficult to be sure which ones are right. There is a web page which I think might have the most complete plausible explanation, and that page is

Now, in addition to some of what is described in that link, many of the things I have heard around the BBQ community about smoke rings and it's formation are things like:

1. The smoke ring shows the depth of smoke penetration into the meat.
2. It is how to tell meat has really been smoked and not cooked in an oven.
3. It is formed by wood ash landing on the meat.
4. Stops forming after meat has been on for X number of hours.
5. Stops forming after meat has reached a certain temperature (usually 140 is what I hear).
6. Stops forming when the pathways in the meat become clogged (from rub and/or soot).
7. The smoke ring is what gives meat it's smoky flavor.
8. Cooking meat in a gas oven can form a smoke ring.

My experience tells me that some of those above are definitely not correct, and I also believe some others may not be correct but have only experience to make me feel that way and no direct evidence.

So I plan to do some experiments that should shed some light on many questions about smoke ring formation. I am not planning to glean insight to all questions about smoke ring formation in this one weekend, but this weekend should demonstrate a number of smoke ring facts and misconceptions.

I am going to be cooking 16 pieces of pork in 3 different cookers. Each piece of pork will be a quarter block of a deboned pork shoulder butt. I will quarter 4 butts to get the 16 pieces. These should be of sufficient size to make a good test, yet small enough to not be so wasteful I begin to question why the hell I'm doing all this.

Two of the cookers will be WSM's running on wood chunks and charcoal briquettes. One WSM will have a water pan to make a moist cooking environment, and the other will use a sand pan to have a drier cooking environment. Each will be cooking at approximately 250-275 degress. The third cooker will be a gas oven set to the same temps that the cookers are running at.

On each of the WSM's I will place 6 pieces of meat prepared the following ways. The only difference between the 2 WSM's will be the moist vs dry environments.

1. Plain, no treatment of any kind before or during the cook.
2. Brined for 24 hours prior to cooking.
3. Plain, but spritzed with apple juice every 45 minutes during cooking.
4. Rubbed overnight before cooking.
5. Slather and rub applied overnight before cooking.
6. Brined for 24 hours, then slathered and rubbed overnight, and spritzed with water every 45 minutes during cooking.

In the oven I will place 4 pieces of meat prepared the following ways:

1. Plain, no treatment of any kind before or during the cook.
2. Rub of Morton Tenderquick Cure applied to meat before cooking.
3. Slather of liquid smoke and rub of Morton Tenderquick Cure applied to meat before cooking.
4. Rub of wood ash applied before cooking (it will not be eaten though).

What should be demonstrated by all this:

1. What differences, if any, are there in smoke ring formation between a wet and dry cooking environment?
2. Does applying extra moisture to the meat with mop/spritz or brining affect the smoke ring compared to not using these techniques, and is one method better than the other?
3. Do rubs, slathers, or mops/spritzes clog up the meat pores reducing depth of smoke ring compared to meats that do not use these techniques?
4. Does cooking in a gas oven form a smoke ring?
5. Can a smoke ring be formed in meat cooked in a smoke-free gas oven?
6. Can smokey flavored meats with a smoke ring be produced in a smoke-free gas oven?
7. Does wood ash contribute to smoke ring development?

Questions that are not answered in this experiment, but I hope to answer in a future experiment are:

1. Does the smoke ring represent the penetration of smoke flavor into the meat?
2. Does smoke ring formation stop after meat has been cooking for a certain amount of time, or when it reaches a certain temperature?
3. Can meat with no smoke ring taste smokey?

I'll post updates later this week and post the results hopefully this weekend or on Monday.
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