Mastering Pellet Smoker Techniques for Irresistible Bark

For those that don’t know, the bark is a delicious, thick, and crunchy crust that forms on the outside of smoked meats. This thick crust is often what leads to awards in BBQ competitions. The good news is there are ways to get this bark using your pellet smoker.

To get bark on a smoked piece of meat when using a pellet smoker, you’ll need to start by using a spice rub, monitoring the temperature and moisture content, and adjusting based on the fat content of your chosen piece of meat. 

The Nerdy Side of BBQ Bark

BBQ bark is a crusty layer that forms on the outside of your meat thanks to a chemical reaction with the oxygen in your smoker. The chemical reaction is called the Maillard reaction, and basically, it is accomplished when the meat on the outside dries out and begins binding together. 

Through this binding process, polymers are formed, which turn into a layer on the outside of your meat. Using a spice or a rub helps increase this process giving you a nice, crispy, flavorful bark. 

7 Tips for Getting Good Bark With Your Pellet Smoker

Getting good bark on your meat requires a combination of different elements. We’ve broken them down for you so you can get an idea of what you need to do to get good bark on your meat. 

1. Add a Rub

A good rub will help increase the Maillard reaction and will give a nice flavor to your bark. For best results, you want to pick a rub that contains both sugar and salt–which can both get into the meat but also helps bring some of the moisture out of the meat, which helps in bark formation. 

2. Monitor The Temperature

Bark won’t form no matter what if you are cooking your meat at the wrong temperature. Temperatures that are too high will char your meat, while temperatures that are too low don’t allow enough air for bark formation. 

For ideal bark formation, your pellet smoker should be set between 225°F-250°F. Remember, you can’t rush a good bark! 

At some point during your cook time, the meat will stall, which is when the bark is formed. While it may seem like the meat isn’t cooking during this time, don’t turn up the pellet smoker temperature, just be patient! 

3. Monitor the Smoke

The amount of smoke plays a part in the Maillard reaction because too much can char the meat, while too little can prevent the bark from forming. 

When you keep your pellet smoker between 225°F and 250°F, you shouldn’t have to worry about there being too much smoke for the bark to form. But if you were planning to add an extra smoker tube to the smoker, it’s probably a better idea to skip it if you want the bark to form. 

Additionally, you will want to grab pellets that release a decent amount of smoke. We recommend medium and nutty wood pellets when you are trying to get a good bark. 

Related >> How To Get More Smoke Flavor from Your Pellet Smoker

4. Don’t Baste the Meat

The Maillard reaction begins as the surface of your meat begins to dry out, and therefore, it won’t happen if you continually baste your meat as it cooks. Instead, put the initial rub and sauce on, and don’t add any more until 10-15 minutes before the cooking is complete and the bark has already formed. 

5. Trim Your Meat

While it is always good to pick a piece of meat with nice marbling for smoking, too much fat on the exterior of the meat can stop the Maillard reaction from occurring. This means while you shouldn’t cut your meat free of fat, you should cut off the excess before applying your rub to the meat. 

6. Don’t Wrap Your Meat

As much as wrapping the meat can benefit it when you are trying to get a good bark, you need to leave your meat unwrapped. This is because foil can trap moisture inside, keeping the meat moist and preventing the Maillard reaction from the beginning. 

7. Place the Meat Directly on the Grill Grate

While a foil tray can help to keep your grill clean, it also blocks some of the airflow from the meat, and this can prevent the Maillard reaction from starting.

If you are worried about making a mess of your grill, place a grease pan or drip tray beneath the meat before placing it directly on the grate. 

What Wood Pellets Do You Need for Forming Good Bark?

While wood pellets aren’t one of the main variables when you are trying to get a good bark on your meat, they can have some effect. For the best bark, you will want to stick to medium and nutty woods such as hickory, oak, mesquite, or pecan. 

Although fruity woods can produce bark, they sometimes don’t produce enough smoke to get a good Maillard reaction going.

Related >> How To Store Wood Pellets

What Type of Rub Gives the Best Bark?

As mentioned above, the rub your choose plays a huge part in the bark formation on your brisket or on another cut of meat. Double-check that the rub you plan to use has both sugar and salt ingredients, as both are needed to begin the Maillard reaction.

If you don’t have a rub on hand, you can easily make one yourself with the following ingredients:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Brown Sugar
  • Paprika

For best results, mix one tablespoon of each ingredient (except brown sugar, you’ll want ⅓ of a cup of it!) in a bowl. Apply liberally to your meat! 

Of course, you can add other things to your rub and feel free to experiment, but these are the base ingredients needed for forming a bark on your meat. 

Related >> Best BBQ Rubs To Elevate Your Grilling Game

Quick Tips for Getting Good Bark

When you are in a rush but still want to produce meat with a good bark from your pellet smoker, remember to follow these quick tips and tricks to do so. 

  • Cook your meat directly on the grill grate
  • Don’t spritz or baste your meat
  • Don’t wrap your meat
  • Apply a rub that has both sugar and salt
  • Keep the temperature between 225°F-250°F for the entire cook time. 

While there are some other tips and tricks you can try, if these don’t work, if you apply all of these, you should end up with a piece of meat that has a nice bark. 

Pellet Smoker Bark FAQs:

Can You Get Good Bark on a Pellet Smoker?

Yes! If you keep your pellet smoker at the proper temperature and skip wrapping your meat, it is possible to get good bark on a pellet smoker. You will also want to ensure you have the right woods and rub to aid in bark formation.

How Do I Increase Bark on My Pellet Smoker?

If your meat has a light bark, but you want more, the easiest thing to switch up is your rub. Ensure your rub has both sugar and salt ingredients in it for the best results. 

Why is My Smoker Not Getting Bark?

It can be very frustrating when bark doesn’t form in your pellet smoker. Check the temperature to ensure it is between 225°-250° and that you are cooking the meat directly on the grate–not in a pan or wrapped in foil. 

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Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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