How to Get Good Bark on Brisket (8 Tips From a Pitmaster)

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The bark is a sign of a perfectly barbecued piece of brisket. Bark refers to the crispy crust that forms on meat when it is smoked, the proteins from the meat’s surface undergo a certain chemical reaction during the smoking process. This is what kicks off the bark formation.

This combined with a good spice rub and the smoke particles from a charcoal smoker or a wood smoker makes for absolutely delicious bark. However, the formation of the bark process isn’t that easy.

It’s something that a lot of people struggle with. And something that barbecue aficionados take delight in mastering, all you need is to commit a little time, practice, and use proper barbecue methods.

After that, you should be able to ensure that the bark forms on your brisket every time!

perfect bark on bbq brisket, did in my pitboss smoker 4th july

8 Factors That Affect Your Chances of Bark Forming

So we can help you form good bark on your brisket, you need to know what affects its formation. There are 8 main factors, they are oxygen, heat, temperature, fat content, choice of wood, wrapped/ unwrapped, and spice rub.

Below you’ll find out how each factor affect your bark formation

1. How Does Temperature Affect the Bark?

Temperature plays an integral part in the development of the bark layer. The optimum cooking temperature that you should aim for is 250℉. If it’s too low, the bark won’t form. If it’s too high, you’ll be left with hard bark that’s unbearably bitter.

Or it can burn the meat’s surface as well as the caramelized sugar from the spice rub and you’ll be left with something that’s as appetizing as burnt toast. And nobody wants that. 

It’s important to note that the Maillard effect or reactions are also completely dependent on the temperature. You should be keeping an eye on the internal temperature of the meat brisket at all times.

2. Will the Spice Rub You Decide to Use Affect the Bark?

Another factor that is critical for excellent tasty bark is the spice rub, there are so many rubs that you can use to create nice crusty bark.

But the basics of a good beef rub starts with basic salt, brown sugar, black pepper, and a blend of different spices. Yes, the different components of your choice of dry rub meat rub will affect the outcome of the BBQ bark and do different things.

The white sugar or table sugar will caramelize during the cook, while this caramelization isn’t entirely responsible for the bark building, it does help.

The sugar content acts as a nice glaze, and it’ll also help the spice to stick to the meat’s surface. The kosher salt in the rub will dissolve into the meat and give it more flavor. And while some of the spices will dissolve, others won’t.

Instead, they’ll sit on top of the surface of the meat to form a sort of paste texture that makes for great firm bark or jerky bark.

3. Oxygen

The main factors that contribute to bark formation are heat and oxygen, the spice rub and the meat need to be exposed to both of those factors.

Heat will allow the meat’s moisture to escape and it will also allow the spice rub to form a sort of paste that eventually turns into something similar to a spice crust.

Even wonder what the smoke does then? Well, the smoke is what turns the bark into that nice black matte color.  

It also supplies the piece of meat with this unique smoke flavor that’s irresistible.

4. What Effect Will Your Choice of Wood Have?

Your choice of wood for brisket doesn’t affect the formation of bark, but it will influence the flavor of the bark.  For brisket like to use cherry, apple, maple, or even peach and pear wood to add a gentle sweet taste and aroma to your beef brisket.

And if you’re looking for a deeper smokier flavor, you can go for hickory or pecan wood.

By the way, if you have access to oak wood, then we highly suggest smoking your meats with that at least once too.Try each type of wood to see which ones produce the best-flavored bark for your taste.

You can switch things up with the wood chips or pellets you use in addition to charcoal (in some cases).

5. What About the Moisture? Will It Affect the Bark?

The majority of the moisture comes from the meat. As the meat heats up the muscle contracts and pushes moisture to the surface of the meat.

Another factor is the moisture you applied to bind the rub. Water-soluble ingredients in the rub include salt, sugar, and mustard powder (if you choose to include it). There are a lot of other ingredients out there that dissolve in water too.

 It can also come from the wood chips you use — if you’ve decided to soak them before the smoke. Soaking wood chips in water or juices is a good idea if you’d like them to produce more smoke and last longer.

But you don’t want too much moisture. You will want that moisture to evaporate because that’s how the spices will dry leave behind that tasty crust.

6. Wrapping the Meat Could Make the Bark Soft

Deciding to cover your perfect smoked beef brisket in foil can help you overcome that meat stall. But at what cost?

It can also seriously ruin the bark. The aluminum foil will trap in all that excess moisture that’s supposed to evaporate off.If the meat doesn’t dry out, the Maillard reaction that’s crucial to the formation of bark won’t occur.

The Maillard reaction is a very complex chemical reaction. But to simplify it, it’s the sugar and proteins breaking down due to heat.

This reaction isn’t unique to meats. It also happens when you roast coffee beans, heat chocolate, and make a toast!

7. Will the Smoke Produced Affect the Bark?

As we’ve mentioned earlier, smoke is what adds flavor and color to the bark. 

8. The Fat Will Make a Big Difference

Too much fat will prevent the pellicle from forming. The pellicle refers to a protein layer that forms on the surface of your meat during the smoking or cooking process. 

Excess fat can prevent the proteins from having sufficient access to heat and oxygen.

So, it’s always a good idea to cut away excess fat when you think it’s necessary to.

Fat will also help break down some of the ingredients in the spice rub.

These are known as fat-soluble ingredients. Some fat-soluble spices and herbs include:

  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • lavender
  • sage
  • bay leaves
  • savory

Just to clarify, we do not mean that these ingredients will completely dissolve.

They don’t dissolve in fats or oils. Instead, they get ‘activated’ and it essentially unlocks their full flavor potential.

What Is in a Basic Rub?

The ingredients included in a super basic brisket rub includes:

  • Kosher Salt
  • Brown Sugar
  • Black Pepper
  • Paprika

For some extra flavor, or to make your rub interesting, you might want to try adding these:

  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Cayenne Powder
  • Ancho Powder
  • Chili Powder

What we love to do is to make a batch of this dry rub and store it in a glass jar.

We actually double the amounts on the ingredients list because all of these spices and dry ingredients keep well as long as they are dry.

Don’t forget to apply a binder before you add the rub.

Some Our Other Favorite Brisket Rub Recipes

What Is the Best Salt to Use in Brisket Rubs?

Kosher salt is said to be the best kind. This is because it is natural and does not contain iodine.

Kosher salt is very coarse and is known to have some large granules.

If you don’t have Kosher salt, sea salt is also another good and natural alternative to common table salt. This is because it also does not include any iodine.

Note: See this guide for how much salt and pepper you should use on your brisket.

Sugary Brisket Rubs

For those of you who have a sweet tooth, we’ve got you covered!

Rub Recipe for Getting the A Good Bark on Your Pork Butt

We’ve been discussing beef brisket so far, but it’s not just about the beef.

You can enjoy excellent bark on smoked pork butt too!

We’ve decided to cover the pork option too because some individuals don’t consume beef.

Here’s how to achieve delicious bark on your piece of pork butt!

First of all, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • Brown Sugar
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
  • Cumin Powder
  • Cayenne Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Coarse Black Pepper

We’d just like to remind you that the most important elements that add to the creation of great BBQ bark are:

  • Don’t apply too much extra moisture to meat when adding your rub
  • Keep the smoker at a consistent temperature
  • Don’t leave too much fat on the brisket

Try to avoid wrapping your meat because this can soften the bark! Just plan enough time to wait out the stall/

Smoke On!


Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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