PP NO Bark, what am I doing wrong?

Discussion in 'Pork' started by gundo, Jul 9, 2016.

  1. gundo

    gundo Newbie

    Smoked two (2) ~4lb. boston butts in my MES @ 225 for 7 hours and achieved very little if any bark.  The day before I put on mustard and used Billy Bones B.B.Q rub, and wrapped them in glad clear cling wrap and put in fridge overnight.  The next morning (6am) pulled them out of fridge while heating up smoker to get to close to room temp, and then put them in the smoker.  Added apple wood chips every ~45 minutes.  While smoking, I opened the door maybe twice for a quick look, then closed quickly, but that was about it.

    After 7 hours of smoking I had to wrap in tin foil to get past the stall, cause dinner time was coming quickly.  So at the 7 hour mark wrapped in tin foil, turned up the heat and cook for another 3 hours till the IT read 200 and pulled them and sat in cooler for 30 minutes wrapped in towels.  the PP absolutely fell apart and tasted good, but looking for more bark.  didn't see much of a smoke ring either, just everything brown color.

    Please help what am I doing wrong?  I thought 7 hours would produce alot of bark.

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions!!!!
  2. smokesontuesday

    smokesontuesday Smoking Fanatic

    You won't ever get a smoke ring in an electric smoker.

    If you wrap you're going to soften your bark substantially. 7 hours @ 225 isn't going to do produce much bark either. Bark at that temp is more like 12-14 hours. If you want good bark in an MES then you're going to have to go much longer (~3 hours per pound at 225) or cook hotter (~275) and don't wrap.
  3. I never could achieve much of a smoke ring on my electric. I use it more for chicken, veggies and ABT's since I don't need as intense of a smoke flavor in those foods, personally. Using a rub with a high sugar content gets me more of a bark in my experience. Also, wrapping really softens up what bark was already there and stops any more from forming. But, sometimes it's necessary when you're in a pinch!
  4. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Not only does foiling soften the bark, water in the pan on bottom reduces bark formation right from the start, and if water is present throughout the hot-smoking it's not likely to get that nice, heavy, crisp bark you're longing for. There are some tricks for vertical smokers, regardless of their heat source. They don't perform the same way horizontal pits do. If you really want a pronounced bark, you need to know and practice a reliable method to create, and, lastly but just as importantly, preserve that bark. It starts with minimal water to aid in smoke adhesion on the meat, as humidity plays a role in this during hot-smoking. Then, you allow the humidity to drop by removing the water or only using enough to let the water pan evaporate dry about half-way through cooking. The reduced humidity allows the meat's surface to dry and tighten-up...this is where the really great bark I've produced has originated. Use only open-grate cooking (do not put meat in pans or on foil, etc) and never, NEVER foil...no matter what.

    Plan ahead for longer cooking and resting times, and exercise patience with stalls. I like to rest pork shoulder at least 2-3 hours, but if you come up short on resting time, it won't kill your PP...allow a good hour, though. If it's done early enough for a 3-4 hour rest, you just won the bonus round. Rest on an elevated grate (bakers racks do well for this, or, your smoker grate) on a roasting or baking pan (to catch drippings and cut air circulation), covered only with cloth or paper towels. This still insulates well enough to keep it hot for a few hours and allows the meat to breathe as it rests, instead of steaming the bark from it's own evaporating water being trapped inside of foil. And, the bottom portion of the meat won't be literally soaking in it's own juices, so the bottom bark will be just like all the rest of it.

    The key to preserving the bark is letting it breathe. If it's a heavy, crisp bark you crave, the results of this method will produce what you desire, consistently. And, no, the meat does not dry out, unless you over-cook it beyond recognition. Dry rub ingredients won't effect this method much at all...I don't use sugars, mustard, or any other pre-rub treatments. The bark is mainly formed in the surface of the meat...rub plays a role in the texture, too, but does not seem to be a major factor with this method (I've gone with naked meat and produced good bark). I rarely rub in advance...that happens immediately prior to smoking, and I don't temper the meat at room temp, either. That could be considered a dangerous practice with larger cuts of meat that are not intact whole muscle (see Food Safety Forum for more info). I apply my rub and go straight to the smoker.

    Here's an example, with my favorite candidate for PP...the lowly picnic shoulder:


    For more on the wet-to-dry smoke chamber method, see the Wiki article. I don't just use it for PP with picnics or butts...there's lots more I like with bark, but it's not just about creating and preserving bark. It's about the overall finished product's interior/natural moisture retention, as well:


    I've been using that method for several years and it always gives predictable and repeatable results for moist PP with a killer bark. The best part is that it's easy to do...no special equipment or skills needed...I like easy.

    Last edited: Jul 9, 2016
  5. gundo

    gundo Newbie


    Thanks for all the replies.  I actually forgot to add water to the water pan.  just thought of that when Eric mentioned it.  

    Will the hotter temps do anything to the tenderness of the PP?  I mostly read to smoke at 225....

    I figured next time its going in at about 2am..

  6. I'm a 225 guy. No more, no less. Just give yourself ample time in case it stalls, which it more than likely will! My dad smokes his butts at 250. His do usually beat mine by a few hours but they taste the same.
  7. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hotter temps at some point will effect tenderness...depends on the piece of meat. If you had no water in the pan, then, you would have been half-way there on creating a good bark. You would notice more smoke flavor if you start with water, then you can let it boil dry. The foiling to push through the stall, and then resting in foil softened your bark.

    I smoke pork shoulder at anywhere from 210-240*F...depends on the size/weight, as well as start time and how long I feel it may need to get probe tender. My location is approx. 5,000 ft above sea-level, so for someone at around 1000-1500 ft it would translate to about 203-204* compared to 210* where I'm at, due to the boiling-point of water being reduced at higher elevation. Elevation changes effect cooking more than most of us would like to believe...higher you go, the hotter you need to achieve similar results.

    As for smaller pieces like you had here, you could actually start them around 225*, then back it off 15* or so to slow it down a bit. Some will argue that higher temp, faster cooking does not have any effect on the tenderness of tougher cuts of meat...I would be one of many who would disagree with that. Lower cook chamber temps allows for more melting of collagen and rendering out of fat. Reason being, the meat spends more time in the cooker with it's internal temp in the range at which these tissues melt...more time to melt connective tissues = more tender...simple as that.

    It's been a very long time since I smoked a shoulder cut less than 7lbs, but for the average weight butt or picnic I always start the night before and allow ~20 hours for butts and ~24 hours for picnics from start to pulling time...yet, I've had some 9-12lb victims take up to 28 hours to reach finished temps (then rest and pull). Wethaer factors and other variables always seem to come into play at some point and predicting the outcome is nearly impossible on a long smoke. But, that's just me...I don't crowd the chamber temps to push it along...I'd rather let it take it's own sweet time....and I've never been disappointed with the results when I smoke them low & slow. I did have a boneless picnic once (maybe 7 years ago) that was around 4lb or so, which I had to serve as sliced, because it refused to pull (or shred) at 200* IT and 2 hrs resting. It was in among some other larger goodies for a buffet birthday party and was at higher grate temps than I would have liked. It was as tough as they come, but I did have a couple butts and a few smoked yard birds in the mix as well, so no harm done, just more variety. It just didn't set well with me...felt like I'd been beaten by a piece of meat...LOL!!! I still to this day think it cooked too fast because I've never experienced anything like it since. I run smaller cuts that need to get tender at slower pace and that seems to give them some extra time to break-down.

    Let us know if have any more questions or concerns...always a pleasure to be of service to a fellow smoker.

  8. justind0301

    justind0301 Newbie

    are you going off of the MES temp? my MES is off maybe 40 degree. I bought a thermometer on amazon and when my MES is set at 265, its really 225.
  9. gundo

    gundo Newbie

    I thought the same thing, so I did check the temp. inside the smoker BEFORE this last smoke, and during the first 15 minutes, there was a 15 degree difference after that it seemed to even out.  

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