What is BBQ Bark and why do we care? No, it has nothing to do with a tree. BBQ Bark is the flavorful crust that develops on our Brisket, Ribs, Pork Butts and other meats as we smoke them to perfection. The bark is where your rubs, sauces, fat and meat juices are changed by the fire and heat into tasty morsels of greatness. If you have ever seen someone carefully selecting pieces of pulled pork they are more than likely looking for bark.
Most everyone enjoys a little bark on their meats and some like me can’t get enough of it. If you watch any of the cooking show competitions on TV you will often hear the judges talking about different textures in the meal. A little crunch to go with the soft or tender bite goes a long way with the judges. It’s much the same for BBQ. We love a juicy and tender bite to our Brisket for example, but when you add the element of crunch or bark to that bite it’s a match made in heaven.
For some all the flavor of the bite comes from the bark. When bark is done right you should taste the meat as well as the flavor profile from the bark. That profile comes from the rub, smoke, heat, moisture and sauce (if used). Besides tasting great the bark also gives your meat a pleasing appearance. After all, we eat first with our eyes. A brisket with no bark might as well be a roast.
Tips for Developing BBQ Bark
- Start With a Good Dry Rub
- Time is Your Friend Don’t Rush the Cook
- Don’t Wrap in Foil
- Don’t Crowd the Meat
- Place Meat Directly on Grates or Hang in Smoker
A good dry rub is the foundation for your bark to develop. Two key ingredients to help develop a good bark are salt and sugar. Be careful with the sugar though as it can sometimes burn putting off an unpleasant flavor. If you are a Hot and Fast style cooker you will definitely want to be mindful of using sugar in the rub.
Cooking at lower temps for a longer time will also aid in building a great bark on your proteins. If you are using a stick burner or a pellet smoker you should find your sweet spot between 225-275 degrees. I use a Pit Barrel Cooker so I am closer to a hot and fast style cooker than a low and slow cooker. My PBC runs the first part of the cook around 300-315 degrees. I can get a good 7 hours out of a full basket of coals which is plenty for me whether I am cooking Brisket, Pork Butts, Chicken or Ribs.
Probably most of us backyard BBQ cooks will wrap a Brisket or Pork Butt around 165 degrees. I also wrap both of these meats knowing that I am reducing the amount of bark I am going to get with that process. This is where I choose a little more tenderness and moistness over more bark. When I first started out I always wrapped with foil adding some liquid as well. I have switched to wrapping with Peach Butcher Paper and not adding any additional liquid. The paper produces more bark for me than wrapping with foil while still producing tender, juicy meat.
Make sure your meat has plenty of room inside your smoker for proper air flow. Whether you are hanging your meat or putting it on the grates, air circulation is key. If you crowd your meat letting it smush together you will not be creating any bark between the meats that touch. Having plenty of air flow also allows the smoke to penetrate as much of the surface area of the meat as possible.
Going along with proper airflow, place your meat directly on your grates or hang it if your smoker allows for it. I know many barbecue cooks place their meat in pans or trays when they put their meat on. I have had plenty of good BBQ that was cooked in a pan. But when it comes to bark, not so much. It is hard for bark to develop on the meat sitting in liquid. Depending upon your smoker you can add a drip pan to catch the drippings if you like.
If you are like me and my family you want some tasty bark with your BBQ especially Brisket, Ribs and Pork Butts.Keep these tips in mind the next time you fire up your smoker. One of the aspects of barbecue I love is that there is not one absolute method that works for everyone. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. So, keep cooking and developing the methods and flavors that make you and your family lick your fingers with every bite.