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The Smoke Ring Is Useless

As long as you are not passionate about barbecue cooking, when you hear the mention of “smoke rings,” you allow yourself a reassuring mental digression into Tolkien’s muffled atmosphere, imagining long conversations between Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, abundantly accompanied by deep puffs of grass pipes, which cleverly emerge in concentric circles of smoke or the most disparate shapes. But then it happens that you start to become familiar with charcoal, smokers, and smoking wood, and magically, the term smoked ring takes on a completely different meaning.

How The Smoke Ring Works

Without sitting here and making long, boring (and useless for our purposes) treatises on organic chemistry, very concretely, you need to know two things: the first is that every combustion generates waste glasses, which differ depending on the temperature and humidity conditions and the type of fuel used. 

The second is that the smoke ring results from a reaction of the iron contained in the myoglobin of proteins with the presence of nitric oxide, taking on that particular fluorescent color that distinguishes it. So if there is no nitrogen monoxide, there is no smoke ring, and to make a long story short, in conditions of lower humidity and high temperatures, it will be finer but more precise and more intense. On the contrary, it will be more diffuse and deep but slightly less marked in color at lower temperatures and higher humidity. 

Imagine a classic pit where the American barbecue was born: wood is burned in a chamber, which develops a lot of nitrogen monoxide, and the habit of making the most of the surface by loading it with meat causes remarkable exudation from the beef itself during cooking. At the same time, the control of oxygen to limit combustion at low temperatures led to a tendency towards the production of smoke and consequent smoking of the meat.

“Smoke Rings Are” Does Not Mean Smoking Well

So, the overall picture is beautiful, which has led many to embroider it a little, always confirming that we like fairy tales a lot. And if they then “live happily ever after” and we become the spotless heroes in shining armor suits, even better. The very name “Smoke Ring” makes implicit the axiom “Barbecue > Smoke > Ring,” and the consequent deductive step, although purely arbitrary, was “Nice Smoke Ring > Good smoked meat,” to which one could often implicitly add “Grillmaster cool.” But is it really like that?

If you understand where we’re going with this, the answer is a resounding “no.” Look at these two images and pay particular attention to the smoke ring. Overall, they are similar in thickness and intensity; do you agree? But now look at everything else: texture, apparent juiciness, color, and bark. If I tell you that I would choose the latter without thinking for a moment, once again, do you agree with me? This does not guarantee the quality of smoking. You would be right because, in reality, the point is precisely this. 

If you have read my article on correct smoking, you know that this has nothing to do with cooking itself, or at least not with its merely visible and tangible aspects like the Smoke Ring. The demonstration lies in a simple yet very effective litmus test: take an excellent roast cut (let’s say a pork loin or a beef roast beef) that can require at least an hour or more in indirect cooking at 170°C and cook it using briquettes, which release a greater quantity of carbon monoxide than coal. 

You can easily verify how the meat will present a showy and satisfying pink ring under the external surface without smoking! The various smoke rings that can be seen online, therefore, fall into the same category as the pulled pork, which draws just barely touching it, or the brisket, which, if pressed, cries melted fat from the central vein: trophies of no value, which take on no meaning simply because they are not a demonstration of nothing, much less the skill of the griller or the quality of his result, which should instead be measured on very other parameters.

The Smoke Ring Is “Pregnancy-Safe”

Before concluding, there is a recurring experience that I associate with the Smoke Ring and that I want to share with you, partly to steal a smile from you and partly to make you understand how far in terms of communication there is still to go in the relationship to the barbecue kitchen. When in the past, I happened to serve dishes prepared low and slow, invariably among those present, there was always at least one couple waiting with her. Punctual like taxes, he gets up thoughtfully at the sight of the smoke ring, comes to me, and asks, “But… is that meat raw? 

You know, my wife is pregnant. You can stay there for up to two hours explaining to him what low and slow is and how the temperature at the core of the food, which is close to 100°C, avoids any risk of toxoplasmosis. Still, although he isn’t objecting, he will always stare at you with a perplexed look, and in the end, one hundred to one, the wife will not taste it. 

Also Read: How To Replace Corn Starch: 5 Alternatives To Thicken Your Dishes


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