Definition: In the world of barbecue the smoke ring is one of the most sought after properties of smoked meats. It is believed to show that you have done a good job and properly low and slow smoked the meat in question. Is particularly prized in smoked brisket. So what is it?
A smoke ring is a pink discoloration of meat just under the surface crust (called bark). It can be just a thin line of pink or a rather thick layer.
A good smoke ring is around a 1/4 inch in thickness. The smoke ring is caused by nitric acid building up in the surface of the meat, absorbed from the surface. This nitric acid is formed when nitrogen dioxide from wood combustion in smoke mixes with the natural water in the meat. Basically, it is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat and a prized element in all types and variations of traditional barbecue.
So how to do you get the best smoke ring? Opinions vary. Generally, water soaked wood produces more nitrogen dioxide loaded smoke than dry wood, but only by a small margin. If you really want to make sure you get a smoke ring then cheat. Coating meat with a salt tenderizer like Morton's Tender Quick will load up the surface of the meat with nitrogen dioxide and give you a great smoke ring. Because of the prevalence of this kind of "cheating", smoke rings are no longer taken into consideration in barbecue competitions.