How to Get a Smoke Ring at a BBQ


Whether while smoking meat yourself or feasting on meat smoked by your friend, you must’ve noticed that sometimes there appears to be a very clear pink ring on the outer circle of the meat.

This pink-colored meat covers about 8 to 10 millimeters of the outer ring of the smoked meat and is referred to as the smoke ring.

Now, if you think that the smoke ring on meat looks like an undercooked section of that cut, you might not be the only one to have that thought!

But surprisingly, this isn’t what a smoke ring is. In fact, it is one of the most sought-after properties in well-cooked meat.

So we are here today to help you learn more about the science behind smoke rings and why they are so desirable.

What Causes a Smoke Ring? The Science Behind it

The pink discoloration that you see just right under the surface crust of your smoked meat is what is referred to as the smoke ring. 

Although what is considered a good smoke ring measures around ¼ an inch in thickness, smoke rings can be both thin lines as well as much thicker layers.

What happens during smoking that causes this pink discoloration is a  chemical interaction between the pigment in the meat and the gases created by wood or charcoal, resulting in the BBQ smoke ring.

When these organic fuels are burned, nitrogen dioxide gas is produced. As the meat cooks amid the smoke, this gas seeps into the surface. It releases nitric oxide when it combines with the water in the meat.

Myoglobin is a purple pigment in meat that contains iron. Meat reacts with oxygen when exposed to air, resulting in a brilliant crimson tint that looks like blood but isn’t. This oxygenated myoglobin gives raw meat its red or pink color. It turns brown when cooked or exposed to air for an extended period because oxygen escapes.

When myoglobin is exposed to nitric oxide, however, it binds to it and prevents oxygen from binding. Even after cooking, the color of the pick remains. Nitric oxide stabilizes myoglobin and binds to it more tightly than oxygen, preventing the brown metmyoglobin form from forming during cooking.

Is a Smoke Ring Bad? Why You Should Avoid Smoke Ring

Nitrogen Dioxide reacts with myoglobin, a protein found in meat, to produce this reaction that ultimately produces the smoke ring through the pink discoloration.

There is no flavor, and seeing this ring of red in meat serves no purpose other than to show that you and your family are consuming high levels of Nitrogen Dioxide.

So, we can say that because of the presence of excess Nitrogen Dioxide in this smoke ring, it isn’t completely safe to consume a smoke ring.

Also Read: Meat Smoking 101 for Beginners

Does a Smoke Ring Add Flavor?


You must have heard at least one person tell you that their pink brisket smoke rings are proof of their hard work and the great taste of their briskets. 

However, contrary to these popular beliefs, barbecue does not require a smoke ring to be moist, tender, and tasty. 

Although the smoke ring adds no flavor to the meat, it is attractive and the image that many people have grown to anticipate from grilled meats, particularly brisket and pig. Interestingly, many barbecue contests deliberately urge judges to disregard the smoke ring when scoring meat for beauty because it may be made chemically using curing agents.

More Smoking Tips here.

How to Get a Smoke Ring

Water-soaked wood creates somewhat more nitrogen dioxide in the smoke than dry wood, but only slightly. When it comes to manufacturing more nitric oxide, the type of wood also counts. Briquettes of charcoal outperform lump charcoal. Electric and propane smokers produce far less of the required gases.

Because a moist, sticky meat surface holds more nitric oxide, wiping or spraying the meat instead of cooking it dry can improve the smoke ring. 

Alternatively, in the smoker, a pan of water keeps moisture from collecting on the meat. However, acidic ingredients such as vinegar or lemon juice should be avoided since they can prevent the smoke ring from forming.

Removing fat from the surface of the meat exposes it to smoke, allowing more nitric oxide to enter the flesh. Cooking the meat at a low and moderate temperature allows more nitric oxide to enter before the temperature rises to the point when the myoglobin turns brown.

If you truly want to get a smoke ring, you’ll have to cheat – use a salt tenderizer!

Wrapping it Up

Whether you should wait to achieve pink smoke rings on your meat or not is a question that has been debated a lot.

In all honesty, we believe that you should do whatever seems right! If you like the pink ring, go for it as long as it’s healthy for you. 

And if you don’t get the ring in cooking, that’s fine as well!


Tyler Lachance is a cookout professional. His expertise on cooking grilled food, creating marinades, formulating sauces and matching his food with the perfect drink is unrivaled.

Born and raised in a family that has a long history of cookout, he has treated this activity as a part of his culture and who he is.