At what temperature does meat stop absorbing smoke? Myth-busting limitations

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 14, 2022

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How much smoke can meat take? This is something that beginner pitmasters are always worried about.

After all, if your meat doesn’t absorb smoke flavor from the woods, there’s no point spending so much time smoking meat.

You’re likely wondering “will my meat absorb more smoke flavor even after a few hours or does meat stop taking smoke once it reaches a certain temperature?”

At what temperature does meat stop absorbing smoke? Myth-busting limitations

When smoking meat, people assume that there is a temperature range at which the meat will stop absorbing smoke.

If you go beyond that point, the meat will start to taste bitter and over smoked. But this is not quite true.

Meat doesn’t stop absorbing smoke when it is cooking in the smoker. The only time meat stops absorbing the smoke is when it’s taken out of the smoker. There is no real limit around smoke absorption.

There is a lot of confusion about what temperature meats stop taking in smoke. In this guide, I’m sharing all the info you need to know and I’m debunking some common myths.

Does meat stop absorbing smoke at a certain temperature?

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No, the meat does not stop taking in the smoke at a specific temperature, only the smoke ring stops developing after about 170 F.

However, after the first couple of hours, the meat starts to dry out. Excessive smoke creates a dark bark on the meat which can become bitter.

If you want the meat to absorb tasty smoke, baste it with liquid to keep it moist and avoid creosote build-up.

Why is the smoke ring temperature important when smoking meat?

Meat forms what is called a smoke ring. This smoke ring keeps expanding and taking on more woody smoke flavors.

Once the meat reaches a temperature of 170°F (76°C), the smoke ring stops expanding. That’s because myoglobin (an oxygen-binding protein) stops absorbing more oxygen and smoke.

This means that the smoke ring begins to seal up and less and less smoke flavor is absorbed into the meat via the smoke ring.

But the rest of the meat still absorbs the smoke so it’s possible to over smoke the meat.

Knowing at what temperature range the great smoke ring stops expanding can help you better time your smoking process and achieve the perfect level of smokiness for your meat.

Some pitmasters say that process takes place at temperatures between 140-180 F but 170 F is a more precise temperature to keep in mind.

After this temperature, the smoke ring stops growing. However, since you are going to keep smoking the meat for several hours, its fibers will keep on absorbing the smoky aroma.

So basically, as long as the meat is inside the smoker, it absorbs flavor but the smoke ring stops growing past a temperature of 170 F.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you keep the smoky meat moist, it keeps absorbing that tasty wood smoke.

What is myoglobin?

Myoglobin is a protein that affects meat’s oxygen retaining ability.

Myoglobin, the smoke ring, is already present in the meat. Raw flesh is red or pink because of this protein. Myoglobin turns brown while the meat cooks.

When enough nitric oxide (NO) from the wood smoke sticks to the surface, it combines with the still-red myoglobin to keep it from losing its color.

As a result, the smoke ring is an indicator of how rapidly the meat cooked and how much NO was able to adhere to it before it turned brown all over.

With good smoke, you can get tons of tasty BBQ flavors.

But there is no limit on smoke absorption even if myoglobin stops absorbing thin blue smoke.

If you have a moist meat surface, the smoke will intensify as long as you continue cooking the meat.

Does the smoke ring affect the smoke flavor?

The smoke ring will only expand until temperatures exceed 170°F (76°C), as we’ve witnessed. This, however, has no effect on meat’s ability to continue taking in smoke.

If you take the meat from the smoker too soon, the heavy smoke ring will damage the smokey flavor.

If you have a well-set smoke ring, you can pull the meat out early and still get a nice smokey flavor without having to leave the smoker burning all day.

The smoky flavor will grow more intense if you leave the meat in for longer. Though the smoke ring will not expand, the inside of the meat will gradually gain flavor.

Therefore, it’s important to note the difference between the smoke ring and the smoke flavor. The smoke ring size isn’t correlated to the smoky flavor.

To achieve the perfect level of smokiness, it’s important to know when your meat has reached 140 degrees.

Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat throughout the smoking process.

Does meat stop absorbing smoke after 2 hours?

No, meat does not stop absorbing the smoke after a couple of hours in the smoker. This is a myth that comes from the idea that meat stops absorbing smoke once it reaches that 140 -175 degrees F temperature.

But this is false information. There’s a different process to know about.

The meat’s surface is dry after a few hours of cooking, and smoke won’t adhere as well as it did while it was moist. This doesn’t mean the smoke doesn’t adhere to the flesh at all.

The time or temperature myth is most likely based on the fact that the surface of the meat becomes dry at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or someone somewhere decided that after a certain amount of time, smoke is no longer absorbed, and coincidentally, this is when the meat becomes dry.

However, it is the surface wetness of the meat that keeps smoke from clinging, not time or temperature. So, the moister the meat, the more smoke it can absorb.

To counteract the lack of smoke, softly spritz or baste the meat to restore moisture to the surface, and as long as you have fresh wood to provide smoke, you’ll have a second wave of smokiness hugging the flesh.

If you leave the meat dry, it will develop a dark bark that can be a bit bitter. Too much white smoke can also cause a creosote buildup which makes the meat taste bad.

Find out what it takes to get that smoke bark just right

Smoke point myth

There is a myth about what you would call a “smoke point”.

Usually, smoke point refers to the temperature at which cooking oils start to smoke. But, this actually has nothing to do with smoking meat in your smoker.

We all know smoking meat is a great way to add flavor to the meat, but the myth states that if you go too far past the smoke point, the meat will start to taste bitter and over smoked.

There is no actual smoke point so you can’t really calculate it.

Oversmoking meat is possible though if you use too many wood chips or use strong woods. The meat will start to taste bitter and over smoked.

The smoke point is NOT the temperature range at which the meat will stop absorbing smoke.

What people are trying to say is that there is a certain internal temperature the meat reaches that indicates it is done cooking and safe to eat.

The “smoke point” aka the cooking temp for pork is between 200 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit – this means the pork meat is fully smoked and cooked through.

For chicken, it’s between 165 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. And for beef, it’s between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Takeaway

Smoked meats are part of a culinary tradition that captures the hearts of barbecue enthusiasts around the world.

Now you know meat absorbs smoke during the whole cooking process. Meats can absorb that wood smoke until they are taken out from smokers.

When the meat has reached 170 F (77 C) smoke rings will cease expanding when oxygen levels drop and myoglobin is not available. The size of the smoke rings doesn’t impact the smoky aroma.

The bottom line is that there is no exact temperature when meat stops absorbing smoke. Although the smoke ring stops expanding your meat can still gain more smoke flavor.

There’s no limit to all the tasty smoke wood flavors your pork butts can absorb.

I’ve listed the best woods to use when smoking pork here for amazing flavor

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.