Have you encountered the dreaded "stall" when smoking meat? While most commonly associated with thick, fatty cuts of meat, such as beef briskets, stalls can wreak havoc on your barbecuing activities. When a stall occurs, the internal temperature of your meat will essentially bottom out. Rather than increasing, the temperature remains stuck. It's frustrating when a stall occurs, but there are ways to prevent and overcome this phenomenon when smoking meat.
What Is the Stall? Get the Facts
The term "stall," when used in the context of smoking, refers to a state in which the internal temperature of meat being cooked fails to rise. If you keep a close eye on the temperature of your meat, you may notice it gradually increasing during the first hour or so. Eventually, though, your meat may reach a point where its internal temperature stops increasing. Known as the stall, your meat's internal temperature will remain steady, even when placed inside an otherwise hot smoker.
It's unknown what exactly causes the stall, though there are several plausible theory. One theory is that evaporation cooling causes meat to stall. When cooking inside a smoker, the meat will release some of its heat in the form of condensation. If it releases too much heat, it may fail to achieve a desirable and safe internal temperature. Another theory is that collagen in meat heats up to produce a gelatin-like substance that coats and insulates the meat, thereby cooling it. Regardless of what causes it, stalling is a common problem encountered by home chefs when smoking meat.
Placing a bowl or pan of water in the bottom of your smoker is an easy and effective way to keep your meat moist and prevent it from drying out. Additionally, though, it can reduce the risk of stalling. When water is added, your smoker will be more humid. It may sound counterproductive, but water actually discourages meat from stalling by creating uniform heat and preventing sudden temperature fluctuations. The humid air inside your smoker will reduce the amount of moisture that's released from inside your meat. You don't have to soak your smoking chips or smoking chunks in water, but you should consider adding a bowl or pan of water to your smoker if you're concerned about the possibility for stalling.
Turn Up the Heat
Stalls don't last forever. And while they are difficult to avoid completely, you can shorten the length at which your meat stalls by turning up the heat in your smoker. If your smoker is nice and hot, the stall shouldn't last for long. Smoking still requires the use of low temperatures, but turning up the heat a little can help you recover from a stall more quickly.
Here are a few ways to make your smoker hotter and, therefore, recover from a stall more quickly:
- Add more charcoal to your smoker.
- Use lump charcoal rather than briquette charcoal.
- Adjust your smoker's air vents so that they are completely open.
- Position charcoal or wood in a stack rather than laying them flat on the bottom of your smoker.
- Use high-quality, well-seasoned wood chunks for smoking, such as those sold here at Cutting Edge Firewood.
Wrap Meat in Foil
Another way to overcome the dreaded stall is to wrap your meat in aluminum foil. Before placing your meat in the smoker, wrap it a layer of aluminum foil. Once wrapped, heat will remain trapped inside the aluminum foil. As your meat cooks, the heat is unable to escape, allowing the meat's internal temperature to rise. Aluminum foil acts as insulation while preventing moisture inside your meat from escaping, which could otherwise lower your meat's internal temperature and cause it to stall.
Prepare Meat With a Thick Rub
When preparing your meat, don't just sprinkle a light layer of seasoning on it. Instead, use a thick rub while ensuring that every square inch is covered in seasoning. How can this can counter the effects of stalling? If your meat is coated with a thick rub, it will remain more moist. The rub acts as a barrier, reducing the amount of moisture that's released from inside your meat. If your meat releases too much moisture, it will become dry. More importantly, excessive loss of moisture allows the meat to cool more quickly, which can lead to the stall. You can prevent this from happening by preparing your meat with a thick rub. The thick layer of seasoning will create a barrier that reduces the amount of moisture released by your meat while it cooks -- similar to how wrapping your meat in aluminum foil works.
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