1. Some of the links on this forum allow SMF, at no cost to you, to earn a small commission when you click through and make a purchase. Let me know if you have any questions about this.

Does altitude affect "stall" time?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by dennisst99, May 20, 2019.

  1. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    Hi all, I'm new at smoking meat and have run into an issue. I have a GMG pellet smoker that seems to do a good job but twice now I have run into the dreaded "stall" issue. Once with pork shoulders and most recently with a brisket. In both cases the meat reached just shy of 200f and then simply would not rise in temperature any further.In the case of the pork I finally gave up and found that it was actually done and easily clawed apart, however, the brisket was another matter. I decided I was going to be patient and wait out the stall. I had double wrapped it in foil when the temp hit 165 and then increased the smoker temp to 325. It only took another 1 1/2 hours to reach 198 but after 3 1/2 hours at a meat temp of 198 I could wait no longer if I wanted to give it a 2-3 hour rest period so I pulled it off the smoker. Well it was a disaster! The ends were nothing but charcoal, the bottom was a 1/2" of uneatable shoe leather and what was eatable was only because I dowsed it in bbq sauce. Since this was the second time this has happened I started wondering if the issue is the altitude at which I live. I am at an altitude of 8800' and water actually boils at a temp of 196 degrees. Could this possibly be the issue? Most of the cook smoker cookbooks I have say that the meat needs to get 205f to break down the collagen but perhaps this is not possible at this altitude. Any thoughts on this issue would be appreciated.

    Dennis S
  2. daveomak

    daveomak Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Next brisket, try maintaining a smoker temp of 225-240 so the meat can "simmer" at 190-200... Maybe add some beef stock to the foiled meat.. OR, finish the cook in the oven.. I usually finish cooking large hunks of meat in my oven... 225 ish for several hours...
    Hopefully you will find a solution...
    How well does meat cook in your oven ??? Any problems ??
  3. oldsmokerdude

    oldsmokerdude Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    A brisket temp of 198 and the ends and bottom are burnt badly. This may be a stupid question but please don't be offended: have you checked your thermometer calibration?
  4. bregent

    bregent Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    This has nothing to do with stall time. Brisket and pork butt should be cooked until they are tender. This does not occur at a specific temperature. Water boils at 198 at your altitude, so it's not going to get above that until most of the water is gone and the meat will be destroyed by then. Just one more reason to ignore folks that tell you to cook BBQ to temp.
  5. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    Thanks for the response! Yeah, I not only checked against 2 other probes but did an ice bath calibration check. As I said in the post, I think waiting for 3.5 hours at 198 just ended up drying it beyond all hope. I think I'll try another and whe it gets to 198 I'll pull it of and see how it turns out.
  6. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    Interesting thought! Since I have no real experience I had to rely on others for a start but now I'll just have to wing it until I get it right and remember:

    "good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment" ............ Will Rogers

    Thanks for your response!
  7. sandyut

    sandyut Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    was this a flat or full packer? If a flat, did you have a good fat cap on the bottom? some store bought ones I have seen are overly trimmed. I would get the thermometers out and verify chamber temps as was suggested. maybe try wrapping at 165 or more. I am at almost 5000 ft elevation and dont see it being an issue. I have not tried the butcher paper wrap yet, but foil or a pan will yield a more braised brisket and retain the juices for dipping.
  8. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    Meat cooks fine in the oven but until I got the smoker I never tried cooking a roast anywhere close to 200 degrees so I can't really speak to that. I'll try the beef stock out and probably go to the oven to finish the next roast if for no other reason to keep from blowing through a full bag of pellets!

    Thanks for your response!

  9. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    It was a flat and it was over trimmed in my opinion. I did verify the probes against 2 others. I was just trying to follow instructions that said to be patient when/if a stall occurs and didn't pay attention to what my common sense was saying about inadvertently turning the whole mess into crispy jerky!

    thanks for the response!

  10. bregent

    bregent Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Right, but at 5000Ft water boils at 203F. So if you are cooking to temp of say, 201F, you would not see a difference. The OP is at an altitude where water boils at 198F, so he's not going to get to 201F until the meat is ruined.
    dennisst99 likes this.
  11. sandyut

    sandyut Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    gotcha. makes sense.
  12. bregent

    bregent Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Not sure where you read that but it is just not correct. Connective tissue really starts to break down fast around 160F and if held there long enough (as in Sous Vide for example), your food will become completely tender. I've had briskets that were probe tender at 192F. To become tender, food needs TIME at temperature. The higher the temp, the faster it occurs. I don't bother using a thermometer to determine when it's done, because IT does not determine that.

    Now, I've never cooked at altitude but the one issue I see is this; when cooking brisket/butt, at sea level, the food usually reaches tenderness well before boiling point (212). At 8000Ft+, the food might not be tender before reaching boiling point, and will tend to dry out faster because of this and because evaporation occurs more rapidly. I would think the solution for this is to cook at a lower temp, and allow a bit more time.
    eric r and fullborebbq like this.
  13. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    Thanks, that makes sense!
  14. jokensmoken

    jokensmoken Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    MY OPINION...Internal temperatures (IT) are guide lines for approximating doneness on big hunks-o-meats...
    I always probe for tenderness to determine doneness using IT as an indication of when to start probing.
    dennisst99 likes this.
  15. daveomak

    daveomak Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Legendary Pitmaster

    Mountains west of Colorado Springs, CO

    Just a bit of info regarding high altitude cooking, for those that didn't know. This is not the complete article and you are welcome to visit the website to read it in its entirety:


    High Altitude Cooking and Food Safety

    What is considered high altitude?

    Most cookbooks consider 3,000 feet above sea level to be high altitude, although at 2,000 feet above sea level,

    the boiling temperature of water is 208* instead of 212*F. Most of the western United States (Alaska, Arizona,

    California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah,

    Washington and Wyoming) are wholly or partly at high altitude, however many other states contain mountainous

    areas that are also well above sea level.

    How is the air different at high altitudes?

    Above 2,500 feet, the atmosphere becomes much drier. The air has less oxygen and atmospheric pressure,

    so cooking takes longer. Moisture quickly evaporates from everything.

    How do high altitudes affect cooking?

    At altitudes above 3,000 feet, preparation of food may require changes in time, temperature or recipe. The reason is the lower atmospheric pressure due to a thinner blanket of air above. At sea level, the air presses on a square inch of surface with 14.7 pounds of pressure; at 5,000 feet with 12.3 pounds of pressure; and at 10,000 feet with only 10.2 pounds of pressure - a decrease of about 1/2 pound per 1,000 feet. This decreased pressure affects food preparation in two ways:

    1. Water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures.

    2. Leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more.

    As atmospheric pressure decreases, water boils at lower temperatures. At sea level, water boils at 212*F. With each 500-feet increase in elevation, the boiling point of water is lowered by just under 1*F. At 7,500 feet, for example, water boils at about 198*F. Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer to cook.

    High altitude areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during

    cooking. Covering foods during cooking will help retain moisture.

    Why must cooking time be increased?

    As altitude increases and atmospheric pressure decreases, the boiling point of water decreases. To compensate for the lower

    boiling point of water, the cooking time must be increased. Turning up the heat will not help cook food faster. No matter how high the cooking temperature, water cannot exceed its own boiling point - unless if using a pressure cooker. Even if the heat is turned up, the water will simply boil away faster and whatever you are cooking will dry out faster.

    How do high altitudes affect the cooking of meat and poultry?

    Meat and poultry products are composed of muscle, connective tissue, fat and bone. The muscle is approximately 75% water

    (although different cuts of meat may have more or less water) and 20% protein, with the remaining 5% representing a combination

    of fat, carbohydrates and minerals. The leaner the meat, the higher the water content (less fat means more protein, thus more water).

    With such high water content, meat and poultry are susceptible to drying out while being cooked if special precautions are not

    taken. Cooking meat and poultry at high altitudes may require adjustments in both time and moisture. This is especially true for meat cooked by simmering or braising. Depending on the density and size of the pieces, meats and poultry cooked by moist heat may take up to one-fourth more cooking time when cooked at 5,000 feet. Use the sea-level time and temperature guidelines when oven-roasting meat and poultry, as oven temperatures are not affected by altitude changes.

    And I found this in a Traeger manual:


    - When estimating cooking times for outdoor smoking, ambient air temperature, weather conditions and altitude will alter your cooking times. If it is hot outside, it will take less time for food to cook. If it is cold, wet or windy, it will take longer for food to cook. The thermostat control will help provide a constant temperature at the setting you’ve chosen once the grill has come up to the temperature you set it at.
  16. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    Thanks for the response and great info! BTW: we may be neighbors, I live in Woodland Park, CO

  17. Is
  18. Dennis, I’m right above you outside of Conifer at 8227 elev. I also have a GMG (best ever!) and you have to smoke at lower temps up here. I start my briskets at 180 for about 4 hours then up to 200 max until it’s probe tender (like a toothpick going into room temperature butter).

    I usually double wrap in foil at about 160 internal and add some liquid (broth, beer, Dr. Pepper, etc) and let it braise for an hour or two. Unwrap and but back on the grate at 195-200. Mist or mop with the liquid in the braise or thinned up BBQ sauce if you want. Smoke about another 30 -60 minutes. Wrap it back up in paper or foil and put it in a cooler with towels to lest it rest as long as 3 hours if you have time and aren’t ready to tear into it!
  19. dennisst99

    dennisst99 Newbie

    Thanks for the info!
  20. a g k

    a g k Fire Starter

    hi all,
    Reading through this post, I got to wondering if barometric pressure high & low pressure makes much difference. Looked online but didn't find anything about that. Anyone have any ideas?