The stall: what is it when smoking meat?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  August 5, 2022

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Once the smoker is set up, and the meat is inside, the expectation is that the temperature will rise continuously.

For the first several hours, the meat temperature rises, but unexpectedly it then levels out and stalls.

Perhaps the temperature of the meat even begins to dip, causing lots of worries.

The stall- what is it when smoking meat?

The dreaded smoker stall can be overcome once its benefits are over and the meat absorbs the tasty wood smoke aromas.

In this guide, I’ll explain what the stall is, why it happens, and the pros and cons.

When smoking meat, what is the stall?

The stall refers to a process where the internal temperature of the meat plateaus between 155-165 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. This usually happens with large cuts of meat like brisket or pork butt because the moisture evaporates from the meat.

Basically, when a large piece of meat, such as brisket is placed on the smoker and cooked for two or three hours, the temperature of the flesh reaches roughly 150°F and stops increasing.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

This is known as the dreaded stall, and before the temperature begins to rise once more, the stall can last as long as six hours.

Here’s some more info about the stall time:

  • Stall time is the period of time during smoking when the temperature of the meat stops rising.
  • This can happen for a variety of reasons but is typically due to the temperature of the smoker not being high enough or the meat itself releasing moisture which lowers the overall temperature.
  • Stall time can last anywhere from 30 minutes to seven hours and is a normal part of the smoking process.
  • The key is to not let the temperature of the smoker drop too low during this time, as it can adversely affect the final product.

Once the stall time is over, the temperature of the meat will start to rise again and will continue to do so until it reaches the desired internal temperature.

At this point, the meat is ready to be removed from the smoker and served.

What causes the stall?

The stall is caused by the evaporation of moisture from the surface of the meat, which chills the meat and prevents further temperature increase.

This phenomenon is called evaporative cooling, and it commonly occurs during low and slow cooking.

Basically, the meat “sweats” and thus releases too much moisture.

The science behind it is that the water vapor released from the meat surface carries away heat, thereby cooling the meat.

Until enough moisture has evaporated, the meat’s internal temperature will not rise and continue to plateau.

So, most of the meat’s moisture must evaporate for the stall to be over.

While the stall can be frustrating, it is actually a good thing, as it allows the meat to absorb smoke and develop flavor properly.

The stall is a necessary process that happens when smoking large cuts of meat. It allows the connective tissue in the meat to break down, making it more tender.

The stall also allows the smoke flavor to penetrate the meat.

However, after a certain amount of smoking time, the stall must be overcome or shortened in order for the meat to continue cooking and reach the ideal final temperature.

So while some stall is actually good for the BBQ, it’s best not to let it go on for too long. If a big cut like pork shoulder, for example, stalls too long, it won’t reach the 250 degrees F it needs.

After all, the meat’s internal temperature should reach a minimum of 203 F and up to 250 F for the food to be properly smoked and cooked.

There are a few ways to overcome the stall and get the meat cooking again.

What temperature does meat stall?

The stall usually occurs between 155-165 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this temperature, the water in the meat starts to evaporate, which causes the temperature to plateau.

For something like pork butt or pork shoulder, the meat’s internal temperature takes a while to reach even the lower temperatures, like 155 F, since the meat is so large.

The evaporation process then begins quickly, and the stall happens soon after.

How long does the stall last?

The stall can last for several hours, but usually, it lasts about 3, although in some cases, it can stall for up to 7 hours!

However, once it stops and the meat heats up, the temperature can rise fast in about one or two hours.

Does all meat stall when smoking?

No, not all meat will stall when smoking.

Smaller cuts of meat like ribs or chicken will usually not stall. This is because there is less surface area for evaporation to occur.

The meats that tend to stall most are beef and pork because they are large cuts full of excess moisture.

There are two main factors to consider:

  1. the fact that most beef contains around 65 percent water so it’s normal if the brisket stalls
  2. low-and-slow cooking method encourages evaporative cooling, and the stall period

The stall is a necessary aspect of the cooking process because of the size, low temperature, and high water content of the meat you will be cooking.

However, it’s very common when smoking large cuts like pork butts. In fact, the pork butt stall is something all smokers know about.

Pork shoulders and beef briskets usually stall around the 165-degree mark. This happens because the water in the meat starts to evaporate, which causes the temperature to plateau.

Once the water has evaporated, the temperature of the meat will start to rise again.

Does meat stall in all smokers?

The meat can stall in charcoal smokers, electric smokers, propane, and pellet smokers.

The moisture evaporating process is a normal part of smoking meat, and barbecue cooks know this already.

But those who use charcoal smokers have the most problems with this issue, and once the stall occurs, the cooking time just gets longer.

Charcoal smokers are known to have longer stalls because they need more attention, and it’s hard to maintain a consistent temperature.

An electric smoker is easier to control, so the stall periods are shorter.

Smokers running on pellets have a shorter stall because they maintain a consistent temperature.

Also, the internal temperature of the meat is less likely to stay so low, and the stall in a pellet smoker might be a few degrees higher than in a charcoal smoker.

Regardless of the smoker, it’s possible to beat the stall and shorten the evaporative cooling effect that takes place inside the smoker.

Factors that affect stall

The barbecue stall can be affected by various factors:

Too much airflow

Smokers with lots of vents and dampers will cause the stall to start sooner. A lot of airflow will dry out the surface of the meat and prevent the temperature from rising.

In some instances, the airflow can also help shorten the stall period at the same time.

Generally, smokers with good ventilation encourage evaporative cooling. But some smokers with built-in fans will reduce the stall period.

Well-sealed electric smokers can reduce the stall effect way more than a charcoal smoker.

Humidity

The stall will take longer the more moisture there is. Additionally, your total cooking time will be longer.

That isn’t always a terrible thing, but it can lengthen your cooking process.

Make sure there is enough moisture on hand to maintain a healthy cooking temperature that will allow the smoke to impart its flavor.

A large chunk of beef brisket with lots of pure beef fat will surely stall, and with or without the water pan, you’ll have to beat the stall.

Additionally, the “low and slow” cooking method gives the meat’s fat, connective tissues, and collagen enough time to render correctly. The rendered fat will help keep the meat moist.

A water pan, the humidity of the air where you are, or a baste or mop sauce on the meat itself can all contribute to the humidity inside your smoker.

Pitmasters advise using water pans when smoking. This keeps the moisture inside the cooking chamber and thus creates high humidity.

But here’s the catch: water pans maintain a high level of humidity inside your smoker, which reduces some moisture loss during cooking, and this leads to the bbq stall.

The drawback is that water pans increase the moisture on the meat’s surface, lengthening the stalling period.

Takeaway

The bbq stall is a necessary part of the smoking process, and there’s no way to avoid it.

However, there are ways that you can get through the stall more quickly, such as wrapping the meat in foil or butcher paper (a process known as the Texas crutch), smoking the meat at a higher temperature, or using the sous-vide method.

But the main thing to note is that the stall is unavoidable, especially when smoking larger meat cuts like brisket, pork shoulder, etc.

In any case, it’s important to plan ahead and give yourself extra time to cook the meat so that you don’t end up stressed out and rushing to get the food on the table.

Next, learn about some simple tricks to keep a smoker’s window clean

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.