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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research,
he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.
The desire of every pellet grill enthusiast is to cook smoked meat that is juicy on the inside and crusty on the outside. A dark, delicious, and flavorsome bark is the epitome of a perfectly smoked BBQ steak.
Unfortunately, even the most experienced pitmaster may face one or two challenges getting a good bark with a pellet smoker. The task is much harder for newbie grillers, with many coming up short when smoking their favorite BBQ dish on a pellet grill.
In this post, we are going to show you how to get that perfect barbecue bark consistently when using a pellet smoker.
1. What is a bark when smoking meat?
A bark is simply the thick, dark, crusty layer that forms on the surface of your meat during smoking. It derives its name from its appearance since it is dark and somewhat hard like the bark of a tree.
The bark forms as a result of several chemical reactions that occur throughout the cooking process after exposing your meat to heat and oxygen. The dark color is due to smoking while the bark forms when different rubs, spices, and fats used to prepare the brisket interact with heat and moisture.
2. Understanding the role of rubs in creating a good BBQ bark
Rub is the most important factor in creating a good bark. It gives your meat a deep, rich taste while ensuring the outer layer remains hard and crusty, just the way you want it.
The water-soluble ingredients like salt and brown sugar will dissolve into the meat during smoking while the undissolved herbs and spices will remain on the surface of the meat to form a glaze. The glaze will eventually dry out and form a spicy, crusty bark.
A good rub for creating a BBQ bark should consist of the following ingredients:
- Brown sugar
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Chili (optional)
If you are in a hurry to create a bark, consider using salty or acidic rubs. However, these rubs do not guarantee the quality of the bark. If you want to get a good bark, then you should avoid shortcuts and use a good mix of your favorite rubs.
3. Does smoke affect the creation of a bark?
Apart from giving the bark its dark color, smoke plays a crucial role in bark formation. After applying some rubs and spices to your meat, the smoke will release particles that stick to the glaze to give your brisket or pork butt a darker appearance.
While the meat might appear burnt, you will discover that this is not the case. Smoking only gives the meat a dark color but the dish remains as tasty and as flavorful as ever.
4. What is the best temperature for getting a nice bark?
The ideal temperature for bark creation should range between 225°F and 250°F. Else, if the temperature is too low, the bark will not form as desired and if the temperature is too high, your meat or steak will char without forming a good bark.
Good barbecuing requires you to have maximum control over the temperature of your grill. If you know how to control temperature on a pellet grill, then you have nothing to worry about.
5. Quick tips and tricks to create a good bark
- Always trim off excess fat
As discussed earlier, fat is essential in enriching the flavor of meat and important for a good bark. However, you must find the right balance since too little or too much fat can ruin the bark. Considering this, you should trim off any excess fat, and only leave about a ¼ inch or 1/8 inch of fat to work with.
- Don’t place your meat in a pan while in the smoker
When smoking meat, avoid placing it in a pan. Instead, place it directly on the cooking grate or grill plate. Placing your BBQ steak in a pan will reduce airflow around the surface and prevent the meat from crusting. The drippings may also catch fire and cause a steam-like effect and prevent the bark from developing.
- Don’t wrap smoked meat in foil
You shouldn’t wrap your smoked meat in foil during the stall as this will make the crust mushy. While wrapping your meat in foil might speed up the cooking process and keep it warm, the heat will cause steam to form inside the foil. This will subsequently dissolve the bark.
If you wish to wrap your meat, consider doing so after the bark has formed and use peach butcher paper instead of aluminum foil to prevent steam buildup.
- Avoid sugary rubs
We already explored how rubs can help produce that flavorful and delicious crusty bark you want on your smoked steak. However, you must be careful about the type of rubs you use on your meat.
Although you may want to add a little touch of sweetness to your BBQ dish, you should avoid sugary rubs. Sugar tends to char and it can make your meat bitter. If you must use sugar, consider applying a small amount of brown sugar at the latter stages of cooking.
- Don’t spritz for the first 2 hours of smoking
Many grillers make the mistake of basting their meat as it smokes. While you need a bit of moisture to dissolve the ingredients in your rub, basting the meat as it smokes is not a very good idea.
Mopping the meat might wash off your rub and prevent the crust from forming as desired. You should consider basting after 2 hours of smoking to allow the bark to form appropriately.
- Use nut wood instead of fruitwood for smoking
Obviously, you may have your favorite wood chips for smoking. However, we suggest you go for nut wood instead of fruitwood as they tend to release more smoke required to produce a good bark. With this in mind, you should consider using wood chips extracted from nut wood like oak, pecan, hickory, and mesquite.
Creating a good bark with a pellet smoker requires plenty of practice, but once you master the trade, you will be smoking flavorful briskets and pork butts like a pro griller. Remember to use our tips and tricks above to produce a good bark every time you are smoking with a pellet smoker.