All about the Bark....

What is Bark and How Does It Form on Smoked Meat?

All good barbecue chefs understand the importance of bark to the flavor and enjoyment of smoked meats. While the term bark is becoming more widely used by those outside hardcore barbecue circles, it is still misunderstood by many. The record will be set straight here, and everyone will be better able to understand the vital importance of having good bark on their meat.


What is Bark?

Bark is a hard crust-like substance that forms on the outside of meat that is smoked in barbecue fashion. The bark results from a combination of the dry rub, caramelized sugar, rendered fat and smoke that is cooking on the surface of the meat. Bark forms on the outside and not the inside of meat because it is exposed to both direct heat and oxygen. The formation of bark is actually the product of some pretty complex chemical reactions.

Why is The Bark Important?

Bark provides a critical flavor and texture contrast to smoked meats. Bark generally has a sharp and concentrated flavor that maximizes the herbs and spices of the dry rub and locks in the smoky flavor that is the signature of barbecue. This contrasts the mild flavor of the meat inside and provides a balanced bite of meat.

The texture contrast of bark is also important. The bark is hard and crusty, and that is complimented with the soft, juicy interior of the meat. This again provides the most balanced and enjoyable bite.

How to Get Good Bark:

Good bark is not something that just happens to any and all barbecue. The cooking conditions must be correct for good bark to form. You can also change the appearance or amount of bark by altering certain conditions.

The spice rub: Most good quality spice rubs have at least salt, pepper, sugar and paprika. They may also have garlic powder, onion powder, ginger or other “secret” ingredients. The ingredients in a rub can greatly affect bark formation. A rub heavy on spices will create a “spice crust” that is usually about 1 mm thick. A thin rub, that has mostly salt, will create a lighter, thinner “pellicle” layer that is about .5 mm thick. Most pieces have both a spice crust and pellicle layer depending on how and where the rub was added to the meat.

The Smoke: Smoke is the second most important factor in bark formation. The longer a piece of meat is exposed to smoke, the dark and heavier the bark will become. A piece that is aged for about 12 hours will appear almost burned. The meat is not burned, however, and if done correctly, this dark bark is highly coveted.

Temperature: As with all meat cookery, temperature is a very important factor. If the temperature is too low, bark will not form, and if the temperature is too high, the meat will char instead of form bark. The good news is that if standard smoking temperatures are used, bark generally forms well.

Fat Content: Fat is necessary for bark formation because the fat soluble spices are key to forming the bark. Too much, fat, however is counterproductive to bark. If your goal is to have healthy bark formation, then you should have a thin layer of fat on the outside of the meat. Trim off any thick hunks of fat.

Moisture and Basting: Moisture content is also key to bark formation. Bark needs some moisture to form because the water soluble spices must be dissolved, but the moisture found naturally in the meat and smoke is generally enough. Do not overdo the basting of the meat or you will actually prevent bark forming.

Sugar: Sugar is the last step in the formation of bark. That is why it is good for beginners to save the addition of their sugar until the final stages of cooking and then baste lightly with the sugar mixture. If the sugar becomes overcooked then it will simply char on the outside of the meat instead of contributing to the bark.

Surface Area: Maximizing bark on a piece means maximizing the surface area exposed to air. Cut smaller chunks of meat and avoid using a pan. The meat should have full exposure to airflow.

By following these simple guidelines, you will create bark that is rich, flavorful and delectable




Sausage Party.... No not that kind....

ll keep this one short and sweet... This weekend I will be working on some sausage.... and not just from scraps.  I will be parting out a whole hog for the best cuts.  Stay tuned for the results.  In the meantime check out a master.


Episode 2: Sausage




Happy to be back

Hello to all my BBQ friends.  Sorry I left you in the dark for so long.  Its been an amazing couple of months. Had a little girl (Emma) in oct, launched a line of prepackaged smoked meat health meals (stay tuned for more on that) and have lined up a very busy summer.  I promise I will get back to blogging regularly and will make sure to be available for any and all questions you might have for the love of true BBQ.



Turkey Tips

Smoker Tips

Turkey comes out great when smoked at 275-300 degrees, so well that there's really no need to cook it low and slow. I've had trouble reaching the higher smoker temperature in my vertical electric water smoker, but I found that if I kept the water pan empty I got better results. When the water pan is empty, it's important to place another pan under the turkey to catch drips, otherwise the juices will burn in the bottom of the dry water pan. Either put the turkey directly in a pan, or place a pan on the lower rack, with the turkey on the upper rack.


If using a charcoal smoker, use plenty of lit charcoal to get the temperature up. Adjust the vents as necessary to control the temperature.

Use a good remote thermometer to monitor the turkey internal temperature. If you just have one, use it in the breast. Better yet, use in the breast and the second in one of the thighs.

If at all possible, don't use charcoal lighter fluid, and don't use the "Match Light" types of charcoal. Use a charcoal lighting chimney, and your turkey won't taste like petroleum.



Grill Smoking Tips

Turkey can also be smoked in your charcoal or gas grill. Use the indirect grilling method - heat to the sides, and no heat directly underneath bird. Adjust the gas valves, or add charcoal as needed to maintain the desired temperature.




Preparing The Turkey

Thaw frozen turkeys in the refrigerator, over several days. It can take up to 5 days to thaw a big one. Alternatively, thaw the turkey in a sinkful or cooler full of cold water. Don't allow the water to rise above 40 degrees. And never thaw a turkey at room temperature.


Once thawed, trim off fat deposits and remove the giblets, neck and whatnot from the body cavity and from under the neck skin. Rinse well, inside and out. Separate the skin from the breast area. The breast meat will brine more thoroughly, and you'll be able to rub dry seasonings directly on the meat. After seasoning, reposition the skin and secure with a few toothpicks.





Brining, whether a traditional water-based brine or a dry-brine, improves a turkey's ability to retain moisture. Certain muscle proteins are naturally dissolved by the salt in the brine solution. Once these proteins are dissolved, muscle fibers lose some of their ability to contract when cooking. Less contraction leads to less internal moisture being squeezed out, which in turn leads to juicier meat in the cooked bird.

Brining also seasons a bird more deeply than simply salting just before cooking.

Traditional vs. Dry Brine—Which is Better?

I vastly prefer dry-brining. A traditional brine will plump up your turkey with moisture, but that moisture is mainly water, leading to a turkey that tastes watered down. A dry brine, on the other hand, helps a turkey retain its natural moisture without adding any excess liquid, which leads to more intensely flavored end results.

Adding baking powder to a dry brine can also improves your turkey skin. Not only does the baking powder work to break down some skin proteins, causing them crisp and brown more efficiently, but it also combines with turkey juices, forming microscopic bubbles that add surface area and crunch to your skin as it roasts.

How to Dry Brine

Combine half a cup of kosher salt with two tablespoons of baking powder in a bowl. Carefully pat your turkey dry with paper towels. Generously sprinkle it on all surfaces with the salt mixture by picking up the mixture between your thumb and fingers, holding it six to ten inches above the bird and letting the mixture shower down over the surface of the turkey for even coverage. The turkey should be well-coated with salt, though not completely encrusted.

Warning: You will most likely not need all of the salt, in some cases less than half will be ok depending on the size of your bird and your salt preference.

Transfer the turkey to a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 to 24 hours. Without rinsing.

Dry-brining for more than 24 hours will produce even more juicy and well-seasoned meat. To brine longer than 24 hours, loosely cover turkey with plastic wrap or cheesecloth before refrigerating to prevent excess moisture loss through evaporation. Let rest for up to 3 days.

How to Make a Traditional Brine

Not convinced by the dry-brining argument? No problem. Here's how you do a traditional brine.

To brine a turkey using the standard method, start by clearing out a space big enough to fit a container large enough to hold your turkey in the fridge. Alternatively, fill a few empty 2-liter soda bottles 3/4 of the way with water and freeze them with the lid off. Seal the bottles with their lids once completely frozen. Next, fill a large cooler or plastic basin with the prescribed amount of tap water. Add the salt and stir until dissolved. Submerge your fully defrosted turkey in the brine solution and refrigerate for 12 to 18 hours. Alternatively, place the brining basin in a cool spot in your home and add the frozen soda bottles, replacing them every few hours to keep the water below 40°F.

After 12 to 18 hours, remove the turkey, dry carefully with paper towels.

For crisper skin, brine a couple days in advance and let your turkey air-dry at least overnight and up to two nights uncovered in the refrigerator on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet.

When constructing a brine, what really matters is the amount of salt compared to the amount of water, not the amount of salt compared to the size of a turkey. So long as your brine solution is around 6% salt by weight (that's about 1 1/4 cups of kosher salt per gallon) and your turkey is submerged, you'll do just fine.

Here are some approximate measures for the minimum amount of water and salt you'll need for a range of turkey sizes:

Standard Turkey Brine Formulas

Turkey SizeWaterSalt (Kosher)

8 to 12 pounds (3.6 to 5.4 kg)2 gallons (7.6 liters)2 1/2 cups (450 grams)

13 to 17 pounds (5.9 to 7.7 kg)2 1/2 gallons (9.5 liters)3 1/4 cups (570 grams)

18 to 22 pounds (8.2 to 10 kg)3 gallons (11.4 liters)3 3/4 cups (675 grams)

Should I Brine a Kosher, Enhanced, or Self-Basting Turkey?

All of these types of turkeys have already been treated with salt and do not need to be brined again.

Should I Use Aromatics in My Brine?

There's no need.

Many brining recipes call for bringing a number of aromatics—carrots, celery, onions, spices, herbs, etc—to a boil in your brine before letting it cool completely. While this does a great job of making your brine smell great, it doesn't affect the flavor of the turkey or chicken much beyond the skin. The problem is that because a brine is packed with salt and because salt is much more likely to enter your turkey's cells (due both to its size and its magnetic charge), most of those larger flavorful compounds don't actually make it into the meat.

For the time and effort it takes to make a flavored brine, heat it up, and let it cool completely, you're much better off making an flavorful rub or herb butter. You'll get just as much (if not more) flavor into the bird, use fewer ingredients, and save yourself some time in the process.




Rookie team of the year

Very happy to announce our results from BBQ on the Bow...... We took 5th in Pork Butt, 6th overall....... and The Jon Lord "Lords of the Grill" Rookie of the Year 2015. What a fantastic way to cap off the 2015 bbq season. We are already planning and looking forward to the 2016 season.



The "Texas Crutch"

Called the "Texas Crutch" because some folks think it was developed in Texas, practically all the top competitive barbecue teams use this technique for ribs, pork shoulder (butt), and brisket. First they smoke the meat for a few hours, then they wrap it in foil for a while. Sometimes they unwrap it and roast it again, sometimes they don't.


The concept is a descendant of the tropical technique of wrapping meat in banana leaves. It helps make meat more tender and juicy. It also has the added benefit of speeding the cooking process. It is a routine step in competition where every little incremental improvement is needed and if you are chasing that big prize money, you have to go for it. It is like a swimmer shaving his body.


On the downside, wrapping in foil can seriously damage the bark, the crispy exterior made of dehydrated meat, smoke, and rub, that is in many ways the best part of low and slow cookery. And you have to get the timing right. Too long in foil and you end up with mush.


If the meat is not in the crutch it takes longer to cook allowing more time for collagen to break down so in some cases the unwrapped meat can be as tender in the center as wrapped meat.


I never crutch pulled pork or ribs at home. The improvement is so small I just don't bother. It is more trouble than it is worth. But I always crutch brisket. I think it makes a significant difference. I know you saw it on TV. But until you master the basics, skip the Crutch.


Here's the science of the crutch


The idea is to seal the meat tightly in foil with just a little water, juice, wine, or beer. Apple juice is popular. The liquid mixes with the juices that drip from the meat and gently braises the meat. Braising is the same process used by a slow cooker where the meat sits partially submerged in a water based liquid. The liquid transmit heat to the meat better than air, speeding cooking.


Most importantly, the crutch prevents surface evaporation from the meat. Before and after wrapping, evaporation cools the meat, and that is what is responsible for the infamous "stall" a period of several hours where the meat's internal temp plateaus and beginners start to panic. With the crutch, the meat finishes cooking faster. Crutch for too long, and you will extract flavor from the meat, remove all the rub, and cause the proteins to get their undies in a bunch, forming tight knots that will make the meat tough and wring out moisture, and then eventually make the meat too soft and mushy. Pull off a strip of wide heavy-duty aluminum foil about six feet long. Fold it in half until it is three feet long and make a canoe out of it big enough to hold the meat and so it will hold liquid without leaking. Pour 1/2 cup apple juice into the foil but not on the meat so you don't wash the rub off. Crimp it tightly over the top. It is important that the packet not leak liquid from the bottom, and that steam not be able to escape from the top. For ribs, place the slab on the foil meat side up being very careful that the bones don't poke holes in the foil. You can put the meat side down, but if you do, you may want to shorten the time in foil because the meat will be in the liquid.


leaky texas crutchYou must seal the package tightly. No leaks. Use two sheets of double strength foil to be safe. In a fascinating series of experiments, the science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder proved that if the crutch does not hug the meat, and especially if it leaks even a little, the meat will cool from evaporation and it will drastically slow cooking. He also points out that you should crimp the foil around your thermometer probe if it is inserted through the foil, and be careful to stick the meat from the top so juice doesn't leak out.


Brisket and pork shoulder. Crutch brisket and pork shoulder when the stall starts or when it hits about 150°F or 160°F and has a dark ruddy color, and leave it in foil until it hits 203°F. No peeking. The moment you open the foil it will start cooling rapidly. It could go from 203°F to 170°F in 20 minutes even though the cooker is 225°F. Don't let this bother you. The dirty work of melting fat and collagen has been done, so don't worry.


For ribs. I don't crutch ribs. The quality increase is small. In competition, you need all the help possible so you must crutch. If you are going to crutch ribs, be very careful that the bones don't puncture the foil. A double layer is recommended. People ask if they can put more than one slab in a package, but the effect will not be the same. You are essentially making a single thicker piece of meat and that will take longer to reach temp. Remember, thickness determines cooking time more than anything else. I don't recommend stacking.

On the rare occasion that I crutch ribs, I crutch for only 30 minutes. If you have heard of the 3-2-1 method, read the sidebar on the subject. I strongly disagree with the two hours in the crutch. Go much beyond 30 minutes and you risk overcooking the meat and turning it mushy.


You really can't tell when ribs are done with a thermometer. Click here to learn how to tell when ribs are ready. When the meat is ready you can paint on sauce, place it on a hot grill to caramelize the sugars, and serve. Click here to learn more about saucing strategies. If you wish, make Vermont Pig Candy with the liquid in the foil.


After the crutch. Some cooks put the meat in an insulated box, a faux cambro, to rest and further soften connective tissues. I think this is important for brisket. Less so for other meats. When you open the package be extremely careful to avoid the hot steamy air that will escape. Then remove the meat and cook at 225°F for about 30 minutes or so to dry the surface and firm up the bark. Finally, just before serving, add the sauce and put it back in the cooker or better still, roll it around on a hot grill if you are using a sweet sauce to caramelize it. Read my articles on pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt) for pulled pork, and brisket to learn more


When the bark is ready, you're ready.


The results


The results

With a 4th place in chicken, 6th in ribs and pork butt Cornerstone BBQ could not be happier.  Of course we are always chasing the total win but our scores were high (3 perfect scores) and the competition was tight.  The venue was fantastic and we are looking forward to going back next year.  Check out our facebook page ( for more info on this and upcoming events.


Road trip


Road trip

Well the jeep is packed, trailer is loaded and we are hitting the road.  Off to North Battleford,SK for the Those Were The Days Summer Festival BBQ showdown  If you are in the area feel free to stop by and say hello.  Always happy to talk BBQ and hangout out with like minded people.  


BBQ is about fun


BBQ is about fun

With the last long weekend of the summer in the books I thought I would just reflect on what BBQ means to me.  For me its all about getting friends and family together for a day/weekend of fun and comradery.  It seems to be the perfect excuse for a gathering of people that wouldn't normally get together all that often.  It doesn't have to be fancy or have every minute of the day packed full of activities it just needs to have a place to gather and food to enjoy.  Keep an eye out for our soon to launch FACEBOOK page where I will encourage you to share your pics and stories of BBQ adventures.  For now if there is anything you would like to share with our small list of CORNERSTONE BBQ friends feel free to email me and I will post.  Have a great summer and may your fires burn hot.