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Tough bark

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

I've smoked a couple of racks of st. louis style ribs in the last few days and both times have ended up with a tough, almost burned bark, which I've never really had trouble with in the past.  I'm using a big green egg over coals of 225 - 240 degrees for about 4 - 4 1/2 hours, rib side down and am not turning the ribs over during smoking.  My rub is pretty much the usual, with brown sugar, cumin and paprika in the mix.  I'm mopping with apple juice every hour also.  The bark turns out very dark and tough and am wondering if any of those three ingredients, which are all dark, may be contributing to the problem.  Any suggestions what may be causing this?  thanks



post #2 of 8



Are you sure that you are at your desired egg temp? The Brown sugar may be the factor for the darkness of color. I have had bby ribs turn very dark when using brown sugar. 

post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 

I'm using an Accurite digital probe thermometer, which I've tested against others and found to be fairly accurate, so I'm satisfied the temperature is pretty close to ideal.  I don't always use brown sugar, and that is one of my concerns, that it may be burning.  I'll cook another rack this weekend without the sugar and see if that helps.  Thanks for the prompt help.

post #4 of 8

If it's really dark, that's typically what I get with a charcoal fired smoke, and I've read that using oak in stick-burners produces a darker color as well, but added sugars in the dry rub can eventually scorch even @ 225* if there's too much sugar used.


For ribs, I like to stay </= 225*, no higher.


If you have more than 20% brown sugar, you may want to back that off to about 1/2 the ratio you're currently using and see where it takes you. The other typical dry rub spices and herbs shouldn't darken much during the smoke. I don't use sugar in my rubs much nowdays, but I do recall having a few smokes get nearly to the point of looking burnt, even though they didn't have that "throw it in the dumpster" taste.


Other factors which can definitely cause a deeper color are powdered/ground fruits in the rub, due to the natural sugar content.


If your bark is really tough, I'd say it's too high of temps. I've done 3-2-1 and variations thereof, as well as straight smoked ribs, and never had issues with the bark. Be sure to do the bend test of the slabs before pulling them to serve, and you should have some pull-back (bone protrusion), even without foiling.


Ribs aren't the easiest smoke there is, IMHO, but once you get everything dialed in fairly close and start playing with the variables, you can turn out killer ribs, from fall off the bone, to tug and chew and everywhere between, no matter what you run for a smoker. You just have to find out what you like and keep building it up towards that goal.


Also, to avoid a tough bark, be sure you have a good amount of humidity going. Some smokers run humid without a water pan, while others can't be without it for hot smoking.



post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

Eric -


The amount of brown sugar I used was  more than 20% of the mix.  Next batch I may try half the rack with no sugar and half with a reduced sugar mix and not go over 225* and see what that gets me.  One thing for sure, the small green egg is a very dry environment and I don't have room for a water pan.  That WSM is looking better and better.

post #6 of 8
Originally Posted by samstrat View Post

Eric -


The amount of brown sugar I used was  more than 20% of the mix.  Next batch I may try half the rack with no sugar and half with a reduced sugar mix and not go over 225* and see what that gets me.  One thing for sure, the small green egg is a very dry environment and I don't have room for a water pan.  That WSM is looking better and better.

Ah, OK, yea, I see several things working against you. I wasn't aware of the green egg being part of the equation, and being a drier smoke chamber humidity will come into play. Some smokers do fine without additional water, and some don't...if you see a ton of steam coming off the vent throughout the smoke during cool weather, then you're probably maintaining a higher humidity, but that's only one way of measuring it visually. If meat is coming out dry when it's cooked to minimum recommended temp (example: chicken breast or pork loin), then low smoke chamber humidity may very well be the culprit.


Doing a side-by-side with reduced-sugar rub along with a no-sugar rub will definitely tell you alot more about the big picture, as well...good plan! If you can keep both comparison pieces on the same grate will be even better, just so you don't have grate temp variances to sour the trial run. Maybe just a half-slab of each dry rub on the same grate, if you have to, just for the sake of fitting it onto one grate. Every vertical smoker I have runs different temps from one grate position to the next (some not as radical as others), but the variances are always there.


Don't know what your feelings are about foiling ribs, but as a last resort, that will maintain a ton of moisture for you, and all it takes is the last 1-2 hours...the last 1/3 of the total cooking time is where the moisture loss really seems to make a huge difference. Of course, with foil comes the loss of bark formation, or softening of it, at the very least. But, without a water pan, this could help quite a bit. I just wouldn't do it until you finish your investigation on the dry rub. Too many things changed at one time before you really have an idea what is causing the issue, and you won't know for sure what you did that fixed it...that's when you (at least I) start second guessing things and end up with a jigsaw puzzle to figure out. One piece of the puzzle at a time is alot easier to manage.


If you can place a probe just beneathe the grate in the center between the slabs of ribs, that should give the best readings for grate temp. I still do that now and then, even with a smoker I know quite well, just to verify my smoke chamber vs grate temp for reference. That slso tells me if I'm due for a calibration of the analog smoke chamber thermometer.


Yea, the WSM gets rave reviews...I can't really justify one, myself. I have 3 vertical smokers and 1 horizontal, and I only use 2...one vertical gasser has been decomissioned for upgrading/maintenance, and the charcoal horizontal is converted to char-grilling only. On top of that, I have 2 kids out of the nest, so to speak (1 away for school & 1 working /schooling locally), so my bigger smokers only come around a few times each year.


I think you'll be able to narrow it down alot better now, though. Stick with your side-by-side comparison...that will speak volumes about what's going on with the rub, and that's a very likely suspect, IMO. Something to consider later on down the road: if the dry rub sugar content appeared to be too high in your current smoker, it might have been fine with higher smoke chamber humidity, so don't completely trash the recipe from your notes/hard drive, ect...it may still be a valid recipe if conditions change with the smoke chamber. It is all connected in the end, and more than we know, often times. I've had some dry rubs work out great in one smoker, and then a month or so later, it had me scratching my head when I smoked the identical meat/rub in another smoker. Different fuel type can sometimes make all the difference, then, humidity will change from one smoker to the next, and the list goes on...


Crap...I got long-winded there...anyway, you're on your way, just keep tryin'!



post #7 of 8

Sounds like Eric has got you covered.

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

I believe you're right, Al, Eric gave me some things to think about.  My probe enters through the top and does not get all the way down to the grate, so I'm most likely not getting an accurate reading of the actual contact surface of heat/meat.  I'll rig it up next time at the grate and see how that works, along with the side-by-side comparison of ingredients in the rub.


Thanks again for the help

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