How to Get a Smoke Ring in Barbecue

Avatar photo



Updated on

So, what is a smoke ring? In simple terms, the pink-colored area of smoked meat just inside of the bark is a smoke ring. Seasoned pitmasters and chefs can do it fairly easily.

Although some new barbeque enthusiasts and amateur chefs may find this challenge, once you obtain and follow the right tips and instructions, you can become an expert in creating a smoke ring in barbequed meat. Plus we will answer:

  • What creates a smoke ring?
  • Does a smoke ring matter?
  • How do you get the perfect smoke ring?
  • Does cold meat absorb more smoke?

The smoke ring is regarded by experts and barbeque enthusiasts to symbolize perfectly cooked smoked meat. It indicates that the meat was smoked using a low and slow method. It makes barbeque enthusiasts disappointed if they do not see a smoke ring in their smoked meat.

Although the topic is certainly not without controversy, it arises because a smoke ring often overshadows juiciness and tenderness, which are more responsible for the smoked meat’s flavor. 

What creates a smoke ring?

You must be wondering about the formation of a smoke ring in barbequed meat. It’s normal because a smoke ring does not happen accidentally or usually. While you smoke meat in the barbeque machine, some chemical reactions take place. These chemical reactions create the smoke ring. 

The reaction between carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), and myoglobin (a protein in the meat that also has a purple pigment with some iron) causes the meat to form a smoke ring. When myoglobin is exposed to oxygen, it changes color. The color depends on how much oxygen it gets exposed to. 

For instance, a bright red color appears on the meat when exposed to air (oxygen in this case). When exposed to air for a long time or while cooking, it turns brown. During the smoking process, myoglobin exposes itself to nitric oxide. 

Nitric oxide binds better and stronger to myoglobin during the process more than oxygen does. So rather than turning brown, the meat retains the pink color, thus forming the smoke ring.

Does a smoke ring matter?

Smoked meat with a smoke ring looks so delicious and perfect. You can come up with a smoke ring only if you know the proper technique and have patience. That is why it’s such a sought-after feat by all barbeque enthusiasts. It is a determining factor regarding the quality of smoked meat. 

Hence, yes, a smoke ring does matter. But you need to keep one aspect in mind too. A smoke ring does not enhance the flavor of the meat. It only enhances the appearance. If you, therefore, have not been successful in creating a smoke ring, do not be disheartened. You can certainly do it when you have more experience.

How do you get the perfect smoke ring?

A perfect smoke ring will not occur by accident. You have to follow the right steps to achieve your target. You can go through the tips below and use these when you smoke meat the next time.

  • Use the right fuel: It’s essential to use the correct fuel source to get a smoke ring. Most barbeque enthusiasts consider charcoal or plain wood as the best choice for creating a spectacular smoke ring. 
  • Trim away the fat: Myoglobin is not present in fat. Besides, nitric oxide and carbon monoxide cannot penetrate the fat to reach meat containing myoglobin. As a result, it will prevent the smoke ring from forming.
  • Moisten your meat as long as possible. The bark can prevent the formation of a smoke ring. So, continue to moisten the surface to delay the bark from forming. It will also keep the meat’s surface cool which in turn will condense nitric oxide. 
  • Low and slow is the key: Myoglobin will break down quickly in high temperatures before nitric oxide, and carbon monoxide has the opportunity to push through the meat surface to form the smoke ring. 
  • Colder, the better: Refrigerate your meat up until the moment when you cook it. It will allow the nitric oxide and carbon monoxide to get into your meat as it cooks. The meat will remain cool for a more extended period, and it will help retain the pink color before the meat’s temperature gets extreme.
  • Smokers are not the ideal choice: As mentioned earlier, wood or charcoal works best rather than electric smokers. Electric smokers do not produce high levels of nitric oxide and so creating smoke rings can be difficult.
  • The level of smoke does not change the quality of a smoke ring: If the meat reaches 140 degrees (Fahrenheit), the smoke cannot penetrate it anymore. So, no matter if there is a high level of smoke, it will not affect the smoke ring. 

Does cold meat absorb more smoke?

Yes, cold meat takes in more smoke, as described above. When the meat is still at low temperature, the gases responsible for creating a smoke ring can travel and penetrate the meat. The process continues as long as the meat is at a low temperature.

But once the temperature rises to 140 degrees (Fahrenheit), the smoke cannot go in anymore. Once that happens, it will not affect a smoke ring in any way. So, it’s essential to keep the meat cold as long as possible. 

As mentioned in the tips above, take out the meat from the freezer only when you have to cook it on the barbeque machine. It will give more time for the gases to penetrate the meat. 


We believe that you’ve learned and enjoyed going through this write-up about a smoke ring in barbeque. It is a difficult challenge to achieve the feat, yes, but not impossible. Even experts have spent years mastering the art. 

Hence, continue to have cooked meat and follow the steps recommended. It may take a while to create a perfect smoke ring finally. But when you do it, share your experience with others who would also like to achieve the feat. Collect more tips to gain more knowledge and skills as you keep cooking.

About The Author

Avatar photo

Reviewed by


James is a writer who is a self-confessed kitchenware and coffee nerd and a strong advocate of Sundays, good butter, and warm sourdough.