The Smoke Ring is the thin pinkish colored layer below the surface of BBQ meat after smoking. The smoke ring will typically be between 1/8″ and 1/2″ thick.
There is a lot of confusion as to what this ring actually is or does. And perhaps part of the problem comes from the name “Smoke Ring” itself. Many people think the smoke ring is made from the smoke penetrating the meat but it is not. The ring is created by a chemical reaction between the nitrogen dioxide from the smoke and a protein called myoglobin in the meat.
This same chemical reaction is what makes smoked chicken often look like is it still raw. The pink coloring in BBQ chicken has caused a lot of good chicken to end up in the trash. Remember… if the juices are clear the chicken is cooked.
Development of the smoke ring is affected by several factors including the amount of smoke, the moisture in the wood, the moisture in the BBQ smoker, the ingredients in the rub on the meat, and then amount of time the meat is below 140 degrees.
A smoke ring is often considered a sign of good BBQ. And barbequers have figured out ways to increase the development of the ring (or cheating). These methods include keeping the meat surface moist, using greener wood for smoke, and using a tenderizer such as Morton’s Tender Quick on the meat. Because of this smoke rings are no longer supposed to be considered when judging BBQ contests.