When you first smoke meat, it’s alarming to open the lid of your smoker and find a black meteorite sitting on the grill rather than a smoked brisket. Although it looks bad, the blackness of a smoked brisket isn’t what you think. Most often, the brisket isn’t burned and there is a perfectly good scientific explanation. However, sometimes it can mean your brisket is ruined. I went deep into the science of meat smoking to find out why our briskets turn black. As it turns out, there’s good black brisket and bad black brisket. I’ll walk you through all the reasons so you can get more of the good and less of the bad.
When you leave a brisket in the smoker for several hours, smoke particles stick to the meat, turning the bark black. This results from a series of chemical reactions on the surface of the brisket. Although it appears to be burned, this is not always the case, and the meat tastes perfectly normal. However, blackness can sometimes result from overexposure to bad smoke, and specifically, a substance called creosote.
Why Does Brisket Turn Black?
If you have done everything else right, a black brisket is nothing to be concerned about. The best way to tell is by tasting the meat. Even Aaron Franklin’s briskets are black, but they taste delicious. Sometimes, a black brisket results from overexposure to bad smoke. If this were the case, the brisket will taste like an ashtray.
Why Does Smoked Meat Look Burnt?
The black color on a brisket is a sign that it was smoked low and slow. Although it may not look appetizing, it’s actually a good thing to open the lid of your smoker and see your brisket looking more like a meteorite rather than Sunday lunch. The black color is not because the meat has been charred, it’s because of a series of chemical reactions. The blackness comes from the bark, the crispy outer layer of the brisket. Bark is a combination or rub, fat and smoke. If you were to apply a rub to the brisket and roast it in the oven, it would probably be a nice mahogany red color. However, when the same brisket goes in the smoker, all the smoke particles will stick to the outer layer of the brisket, turning it black. When we leave our briskets in the smoker for 5 to 10 hours before wrapping, the blackening will occur. Although the brisket looks burned, this isn’t the case. The brisket isn’t burned, it’s just covered in a black bark.
The Different Stages Of Brisket Color
You see brisket all kinds of colors at different stages of the cook. Early on, it will take on a nice reddish color. The black on a burned brisket is carbon. Your traditional Texas brisket will look like a black meteorite after several hours. Just watch an Aaron Franklin video to know what I mean. A Texas brisket may look like it’s a burned rock, but this isn’t the case. I guarantee it would taste far better than it looks.
Different Smokers Make Different Colored Brisket
The color of the brisket also depends on your smoker. This is largely because of the type of smoke produced by the smoker. A charcoal smoker is going to make your brisket darker than an electric smoker. A brisket smoked on an offset stick burner will be black compared to a brisket cooked for the same time in a gas smoker.
Good Smoke vs Bad Smoke
Smoke is the main reason brisket turns black, and as we’ve established, smoke is a good thing. However, we want to make sure our brisket is getting the good smoke and not the bad smoke. Often a black brisket will taste amazing, but if your brisket has been exposed to bad smoke, not only will the meat look black, it will also taste disgusting.
Protect Your Brisket From The Bad Smoke
Smoke contains several compounds, and one of which is creosote. Creosote gives your brisket the delicious smoked flavor and the dark color. Creosote is found in all smoke from wood, lump charcoal or briquettes. Without creosote, your brisket wouldn’t have any smoke flavor. However, too much creosote is not a good thing. The last thing you want on your brisket is too much creosote because it will give the meat a bitter taste.
Avoid Bad Smoke. Keep Your Smoker Clean
If you want to avoid bad smoke ruining your brisket, make sure you keep your smoker clean because a dirty smoker equals dirty smoke. A dirty smoker contains layers of creosote on the grill and on the metal of your cooking chamber. This black greasy substance can create black smoke. If you expose your brisket to hours of this bad smoke, the meat will taste bitter. To reduce the likelihood of any bad flavors ruining your brisket, wash all your cooking grates regularly, and remove any goo buildup on the walls of your smoker.
Good Airflow Equals Good Smoke
Another way soot can cover your brisket is from poor airflow in your smoker. It’s always a good idea to open your top vents/dampers so that smoke can escape. Keep the bottom vent open a crack so that air can flow through your fire, giving it plenty of oxygen. If you starve your charcoal and wood of oxygen, they won’t burn properly and will produce soot which can coat your brisket. Another thing you want to avoid is ash choking out the fire. Always elevate your fire basket an inch from the bottom so ash can fall through. Every so often, pick up your fire basket and give it a shake so that the fire will burn nice and clean, producing the ideal smoke.
Wood Influences The Color Of Your Brisket
Wood can also produce bad smoke that can affect the taste of your brisket. Wetting wood is common practice in the barbeque community, but has largely been debunked. Wet wood can produce bad smoke and make your brisket taste bad if it’s overexposed. Use a quality seasoned wood bought from a store rather than using wood scraps or wood from random trees. Some wood is toxic and will ruin your brisket.
Avoid Smoke From Grease
Use a drip tray when smoking your brisket, or place your water pan underneath the meat to catch any fat or drippings. If grease drips down onto the fire, it can produce a bad smoke. A few hours of this grease smoke may not harm the meat, but 5 to 8 hours may affect the taste of your brisket.
Reduce Creosote and Soot On Your Brisket
When we smoke brisket, we have to keep the temperature low so the connective tissue has time to break down. However, when smoking meat at low temperatures, food scientist Dr. Blonder says cooking at 225°F moves some smokers, “below the ideal combustion zone which creates black smoke, soot and more creosote.” This isn’t the case with all smokers but is true is ceramic charcoal grills such as The Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe. As mentioned before, creosote produces the flavor and color on our brisket, however too much creosote is a bad thing and we want to keep it to a minimum.
The Browning Effect
The Maillard reaction is the browning effect on cooked meat. This reaction doesn’t occur when you steam or boil but, but it only takes place when the meat is cooked using a dry heat. In simple terms, a bunch of chemical reactions take place on the surface of the meat and the meat will turn brown and become crunchy, and with brisket, it helps form the much loved bark on the outer layer of the meat.
Sugar also contributes to the darkening of brisket. When sugar burns (usually once the temperature reaches the standard smoking temperature of 225°f), the sugar will turn black. Many rubs, sauces, mops and spritzes may contain sugar, which may contribute to the meat turning black. When making my homemade brisket rub, I always be careful not to put sugar or salt into my rub mixture. I prefer to salt my brisket separately to avoid over salting my brisket. I leave sugar out of my brisket rub, however I include brown sugar in my or and chicken rub. Some smoking meats will apply a glaze at the end of the cook, such as barbeque sauce. As you would know, barbeque sauce has a high sugar content. If the barbeque sauce burns, it will turn the meat black. However, brisket recipes rarely include a glaze, so this is more relevant to ribs or pork belly.
Here are smoke of my favorite meat smoking tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking meat that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Remote Digital Thermometer: If you’re looking for your first thermometer, I highly recommended the ThermoPro TP20. This was my first thermometer, and I still use it to this day. For around $50, you get a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes so you can track the temperature of your pit with one probe and your meat with the other probe. The TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings. See the latest price on Amazon here.
Instant-Read Thermometer: I use the TP19 by ThermoPro, a more affordable version of the famous ThermoPen. The TP19 can do everything the ThermoPen can do, except for a fraction of the price. If you can afford the ThermoPen, then go for it. I think it’s worth every cent. But if you don’t want to fork out $100 for a thermometer, then check out the TP19. Check it out on Amazon here.
Pink Butcher Paper: If you haven’t tried wrapping your brisket in butcher paper, you should definitely try it out. Foiling is perfectly fine, but butcher paper is much kinder on the bark. You can’t use any old paper when wrapping meat, it has to be non-waxed peach paper. There are a few products available on Amazon, but I recommend this butcher paper. Check it out on Amazon here.