Let’s imagine, you’ve gone to your local butcher shop or even through one of the great online meat wholesalers and bought yourself a great-looking brisket to smoke. You fire up the smoker, get your cooker to the right internal temperature, and start smoking your brisket. But, after cooking for a few hours with the meat’s internal temperature consistently rising, it evens out and sticks there (maybe even decreasing slightly), and you start to get real nervous. You’ve hit the infamous “stall”.
If you’ve been backyard cooking for a while, you probably know what’s happening and what to do next. But for new outdoor cookers, this can be a panic-inducing situation, causing you to think you’ve done something wrong and maybe even reaching to kick up the cooker’s fuel source. But, the stall, sometimes also referred to as the plateau or the zone, is totally normal and nothing to be scared of. It is important, though, that you handle it correctly.
If you are wondering why does meat stall when smoking and what to do about it, this article covers what you need to know about what the stall is and what causes it. Plus tips on how to handle it properly to ensure you still end up with a delicious final result.
The stall usually happens when you are smoking a large piece of meat, like brisket, pork butt, rack of ribs, etc. It is when, after several hours of the meat’s internal temperature rising, usually to between 150 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit, it suddenly stops rising for several hours or even goes down a few degrees.
What is happening during this time is a form of evaporative cooling. Similar to when our body sweats when we get hot or during a hard workout. Once the meat gets to a certain temperature, it starts to sweat out some of the excess moisture. That moisture evaporates and slightly cools the meat, “stalling” the rising temperatures. This lasts until all of the surface moisture is evaporated. Then the meat’s internal temperature will continue to rise again and finish cooking. This is also when the delicious external “bark” on the meat is formed, due to the Maillard Reaction.
Source: Seasoned Advice
The stall definitely won’t last forever. You can’t get stuck there. Depending on several different factors, it can last anywhere from an hour to as long as 7 hours. It will just depend on how long it takes the surface moisture on the meat to evaporate.
Once the temperature does start to rise again, it usually won’t take long for the meat’s internal temperature to reach the desired number.
And don’t worry, the stall doesn’t cause all of the meat’s internal moisture to be evaporated and turn your cut into a dried-out chunk of meat. There will still be plenty of moisture within the meat’s fat, collagen, and protein that it can still end up juicy and tender, even if you experience a several-hour stall.
Several different factors affect the stall and how long it will last. The two biggest being airflow and humidity. The size of the cut of meat will also affect it because the larger the cut, the larger the surface area and the more water it will contain.
To put it simply, the more airflow within your cooker, the sooner the stall will occur. Often starting at around 150 degrees Fahrenheit versus at around 170 degrees Fahrenheit. This is most noticeable in smokers that have multiple vents and ports etc. Also, the increased airflow can sometimes shorten the length of the stall, but that is not always the case. (Depending on the humidity and other factors)
The more moisture there is, the longer the stall will take. Plus the longer your overall cook time will take. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You want to make sure that there is enough moisture available to keep your cooker’s temperature at a good level for flavor transference of the smoke. As well as allowing the “low and slow” cooking process to give the fat and collagen within the meat time to render properly.
The humidity inside your smoker can come from the humidity of the outside weather where you are at, a water pan, or from a baste or mop sauce on the meat itself. So just keep that in mind when planning how long the cook will take. Using a Texas Crutch will help during the cooking process. (See below)
It is usually a good idea to use a water pan in your smoker when you are cooking. The moisture from this will help raise the humidity inside and slow the evaporation process on the surface of the meat. This allows the interior temperature of the meat to properly catch up with the temperature on the exterior of the meat, resulting in uniform cooking. The evaporated liquid from the water pan will also condense on the exterior of the meat, causing the smoke to stick to it. This is where that delicious smoky flavor really comes in.
There are a couple of things you can do to ensure you handle the stall properly and end up with a final result that you’ll be happy with. These include:
More than likely, you’re going to experience some kind of stall. So, factor that into your timeline when you are planning your cook and give yourself plenty of time. Ideally, you want the meat to be finished about an hour before it is time to eat. This will give you enough time to let it rest properly.
Problems usually occur when people don’t plan for a stall, panic, and crank up the cooker’s internal temperature. While you could technically do this, it will be even tougher to ensure you don’t quickly dry out the interior of the meat or burn the outside before the inside is done.
One particular method that is used to help power through a stall is what is known as the “Texas Crutch”. This is when the meat is wrapped in either aluminum foil or Peach Paper three-quarters of the way through the smoking process. (Peach Paper is a pinkish-brown food-grade butcher paper.) This locks more moisture in the meat and prevents the evaporative cooling effect that happens during the stall, helping to maintain the meat’s internal temperature better. Instead of the moisture being carried away, it condenses on the inside of the wrap and pools at the bottom. This method will significantly cut down on the length of time that the stall will take.
To utilize this method, cook the meat unwrapped for about two-thirds of the total cook time until you get the desired bark on the exterior of the meat. Once the meat starts to hit an internal temperature of about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, take it off the cooker. Wrap it tightly in two layers of either the foil or Peach Paper and then return it to the cooker. You can even add a little extra liquid inside the wrap for flavor, like beer, juice, or a liquid sauce. Let the meat continue cooking until it reaches just under the target temperature. Then, unwrap it and put it back on the smoker just long enough to let the exterior bark crisp back up.
When deciding between what to wrap it in, keep in mind that the Peach Paper will allow more smoke on the brisket than aluminum foil. But, both of the materials will work for a Texas Crutch and allow you to get through the stall quicker.
So, hopefully, now you have a better understanding of exactly what the stall is when smoking meat and how to deal with it like a pro. When it happens, don’t panic. Just anticipate that it will indeed happen and make sure to give yourself plenty of time. Using the tips above will help you get ahead of it.
Have some horror stories from a stall? Do you have any other tips you use to handle the stall? Let us know below in the comment section. We want to hear from you!
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