What is Barbecue Bark and How to Get it

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 21, 2021

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There is no arguing that well looking Bark is something very desirable in the world of BBQ.

Sweet and crunchy Bark of complex flavor is a very important aspect of smoked meat, right next to the great smoky flavor and the smoke ring.

In most cases, we judge food visually, then check the smell, and then finally the flavor. Very good bark can make you unable to think of anything else but eating such meat.

How to get perfect bbq bark

The appearance remains in memory for a long time, which makes it a good idea to learn how to get the best results when it comes to Bark.

What is BBQ Bark ?

As is usually the case in the world of BBQ, seemingly simple things have complex chemical reactions behind them, learning of which allows to understand a particular topic better. Such is the case with BBQ Bark, which at first glance is simply a thicker crust that forms on the surface of meat during smoking.

When we take a closer look, though, especially in terms of chemistry, it turns out that it’s a process that mostly involves oxygen and heat, but there’s more to it. Using all that research available on the Internet ( source ) I can say that in the bark forming process the key role is played by two processes, Polymerization and the Maillard Reaction.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

At the time of smoking meat, water vapor from the smoke and moisture from the meat contribute to the soluble ingredients of the rubs dissolving in water. Some of all the ingredients, like salt for example, dissolve and then penetrate into the meat. The rest of ingredients, on the other hand, remain on the meat’s surface where they gradually dissolve in grease.

For the whole process to go properly and for great bark to be created, it requires the right conditions.

First and foremost, you can’t let the temperature be too high ( above 300 degrees F ) or too low – it has to be just right depending on the meat. The temperature being too high will lead to burned crust whereas in temperature that is too low the bark won’t be formed at all.

What influences the dark color of the bark?

Contrary to one popular theory on table sugar, I have to say that it is not the reason behind the bark being very dark. Let’s take a look on this from the technical side, smoking usually takes place in a temperature of about 200-240 degrees F whereas sugar only caramelizes in temperatures no lower than 300 degrees F. Thus, based on the data above, we can conclusively say that it is not table sugar that is behind the dark color.

What impacts the dark color of the bark, then?

Smoke and Rubs – When smoking, the smoke sticks to the ingredients of rubs dissolved on the meat’s surface. The result is very dark bark, which makes an impression of nearly burned surface of the meat, but don’t let that fool you, as in reality that’s just a color, while the bark itself tastes great.

Without smoke and rubs, the color would be dark red, so if you wish for a dark bark effect, you have to take care of what I mentioned above.

7 Steps to Get a Good Bark on BBQ

Below I present few steps that will make your bark much better. You may already know some of them but try to take the rest of them into account the next time you smoke meat, and you will surely get much better results.

The right temperature – As I already mentioned before, the temperature can’t be too low or too high ( like 300+ degrees F ). In both situations, you won’t get the kind of results you expect or the bark simply won’t be there. Take care of the right temperature from the very start all the way to the end of smoking.

Excess fat – Always cut down the excess fat in your meat. Never remove it entirely, but instead try to reduce its amount to the minimum. Of course it is required for the bark to be formed, but too much of it will result in reduced melting and in not enough of pellicle on the fat underneath.

Tinfoil – Keeping the meat in tinfoil for too long can generate a large amount of steam, which will result in turning the bark into complete mush. I know that it is used often to make the smoking process faster, but such solution can sometimes be risky.

Rubs – A very significant element that is necessary for the bark to be formed. There’s a lot of types of Rubs which is why I absolutely advise you to experiment and try out which combination of condiments suits you the best.

Smoke – Soluble ingredients of the rubs combined with the smoke give a dark bark effect, which looks as if the meat’s surface got burned except that it is not the case ( in reality, dark bark tastes great ). You want to get the best effect possible? The meat has to be smoked slowly and in the right temperature so that the smoke has the right conditions and time to stick to the dissolved ingredients of the rubs.

The right placement of the meat – It happens sometimes that some people place the meat in some container to prevent the grease from dripping etc. I advise against this type of solutions mostly due to a limited smoke flow over the entire surface of the meat. Just place the meat directly on the grill grates and optionally place a water bowl underneath for the grease to drip to.

Meeting all the above recommendations will allow you to get a great bark in your meat. Of course I still suggest for you to experiment when it comes to the rubs so that you can match not only the appearance of the bark but also the flavor.

If you prefer watch video about BBQ bark then I suggest you one great film below.

As you can see, the slightly complicated theory isn’t in fact anything difficult. Great looking BBQ Bark is a valuable skill that everyone who sees your food will appreciate, which makes it a good idea to get educated on the topic.

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.