Have you spent hours trying to smoke the perfect brisket?
But the bark is way too hard?
So do you want to know how to prevent your bark from going hard?
I will show you below! You’ll be serving up pitmaster worthy brisket in no time!
What Is Brisket Bark?
So what is brisket bark In case you aren’t up to speed with BBQ lingo…
The ‘bark’ is a combination of the spice rub and cooking technique (smoking) that chemically reacts through the cooking process (heat).
It forms on the actual meat over the fat layer on the entire brisket.
The bark layer on the brisket is a delicacy if done right and if you haven’t tried it, imagine the layers of textures and flavor.
The crunchy bark is first, then followed by the smokey flavor, and last but not least, the juicy pieces of meat melt in your mouth.
Don’t Have Any Brisket Bark
Didnt end up with any bark on your brisket? Don’t worry!
See my resource – Brisket Has No Bark? See how to fix it!
The Almighty Brisket
The piece of meat we will be covering today is the mighty smoked brisket.
This is one of the top ‘right of passage’ hallmarks for any amateur pitmaster.
The brisket is usually beef that is taken from the chest area.
This large muscle requires a low and slow heat source to break down the connective tissue which creates tender meat.
The great thing about this cooking method is we can incorporate loads of flavors through ingredients and techniques like spices and smoking.
There is also the ‘bark’ which I promise is more appetizing than it sounds.
Fun Fact: You can also get brisket from a pig which is from the pork shoulder.
How Does Brisket Bark Form?
So how does the bark form on a brisket?
A true craftsman can balance the sweet spot for the crispy bark on brisket but what are these chemical reactions that make this piece of meat so desirable?
Let’s get our thinking caps on for a second while I explain this meat science.
The Millard Reaction
The Millard reaction in a nutshell is when a sugar reacts with a protein which is accelerated by a heat source.
As the meat cooks, this reaction takes place and elevates the aroma, taste, and appearance of the food.
You can tell you’ve achieved this reaction by the dark brown color as the sugars caramelized with the fat and spices.
I’m salivating just thinking about it.
Back to focus.
Denaturation is biochemistry jargon to explain the process of proteins (the beef brisket) breaking down and losing structural integrity at a cellular level.
This is caused by external stressors like salt, acid, and heat.
Okay, so when the brisket is exposed to things like heating, brining, or marinating it changes its form (well duh).
This is in summary what happens when there is bark on your pork butts and beefy cuts.
The best thing is that when combined with the Millard reaction, all those lovely layers of rub and natural sugars develop an intense smoked brisket to remember.
I almost forgot to say too, that the harder layers of meat on the outside also protect and keep the meat moist on the inside!
TLDR: Millard (taste, smell & apparence) + denaturation (texture & protection) x smoking = bark
Does Brining Help in the Formation of Bark?
Bring brisket doesn’t help with the formation of bark. It is really just for the flavor and texture of the meat.
If you want to brine your brisket, see my resources for dry brining brisket
What Is the Ideal Texture of Brisket Bark?
You might be asking yourself when is hard is too hard? Or when your nice prime brisket is burnt.
These bits can always be a little bit subjective on whoever is eating and always bear that in mind.
But, there are some quick tests we can look out for when checking out the delicious bark.
I will also note, that because of the dark color, it can always appear a little burnt but please don’t let this dismay you.
A dark rich color is what we want to see so first it’s more of what you feel.
Is the Bark Too Hard to Cut Through?
If you are finding it hard to cut with a standard knife then it’s going to be hard to chew through a tough bark.
Is the Layer of Bark More Than 1 Inch Thick?
If the bark is more than 1-2 inches thick then it’s likely the formation of bark is too hard which will dry out your lovely homemade brisket!
The Bark Can Also Be Soggy Instead of Hard
If the bark formation is wet or mushy then you have not achieved the right complex chemical reactions we look for.
Is it too bitter and burnt?
Why Is My Brisket Bark Too Hard?
Are you still asking yourself why you can’t cut through your brisket?
Now that we have familiarised ourselves with the bark formation process let us get into why it happens.
There are 3 main reasons why your brisket bark might be too hard which can just be 1 or a combination of all of them.
Not Enough Moisture
If you don’t have constant moisture in your smoker or grill then this can cause the crust to form quickly during the cooking process.
If you don’t have a constant lower temperature while smoking or grilling then this will cause the Millard effect too quickly.
High Sugar Ratio
If you have a high sugar percentage in your spice rub then this can cause too much caramelization.
How to Prevent Hard Brisket Bark
Follow these rules to help prevent a hard brisket.
But remember that BBQ’ing is a way to relax and get creative so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Sugar Ratio in the Rub
Only put in around 20% sugar content in your spice rub with plenty of kosher salt.
We warn against brown sugar is it burns way easier.
Do Not Put Directly on the Heat Source
Do not place your brisket directly near or in the heat source.
This will cause it to dry quickly and cook unevenly so cook with indirect heat.
Maintain a Constant Low Temperature and a Long Cooking Time
If your smoker is too high then it will burn instead of caramelizing and the bark needs time to form the crunchy smoke flavor.
Maintain Moisture When Cooking
Spray the meat every 30 minutes to ensure moisture or have a water pan in your smoker.
Try adding vinegar which will help with the denaturation.
Fat Cap Facing Heat Source
Make sure the fat cap of the meat is facing any hot spots so it can render out.
Good Quality Meat
Great bark building won’t happen without a good quality key ingredient.
Wrap The Brisket In Butcher Paper
If you wrap your brisket in butcher’s paper halfway into the cooking process then it will trap moisture.
Brisket Cooking Tips
What Is The Ideal Temperature To Cook A Brisket?
The ideal temperature to cook a brisket is around 225F.
How Long Should I Cook My Brisket?
Cook your brisket until the internal temperature of 204°F which will take around 90 minutes per pound of meat.
What Is The Ideal Internal Temperature Of a Cooked Brisket?
The internal temp of the brisket should be 204°F and the best way to monitor the brisket is with a meat probe.
I’ve Already Cooked My Brisket and the Bark Is Too Hard?
What if you are here to try and save a brisket as the bark was too hard?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much damage control as we can’t just rewind the chemical processes.
I would recommend taking it as a learning experience and cutting away the bark to make burnt ends.
Chop the harder bark into smaller pieces and add a vinegar-based hot sauce or bbq sauce.
The acidity will help break it down further and mask the texture and flavor.
Anyways, here we are and I hope the next time you cook a brisket the bark is perfect.
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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