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Smoke Ring Chemistry

Myoglobin, not blood, is what makes fresh meat red. It is an iron compound that stores oxygen for muscles to burn for energy. It is purple in fresh cut meat, red when exposed to oxygen, and brown when cooked. In barbecue, the nitric oxide in wood smoke dissolves in the moisture on the meat’s surface and reacts with the iron in myoglobin to form compounds similar to the nitrites that turn deli meats and ham pink. Long slow cooking allows the nitrite-like compounds to penetrate deeper into the meat forming the smoke ring. Adding a pan of water will aid in the development of the smoke ring as in a water smoker. Depth of the smoke ring is one of the criteria in barbecue contest judging.

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