Red Tint in Smoked Meat

I had an email recently from a fellow complaining that there was always a red tint to smoked meat that he cooked.. sausage in particular.

This got me to thinking that there may be many out there who really do not know what this is and why.

I can certainly understand how this could be a little scary to a new smoker.. thinking the meat is still raw and you don’t want to make your family or guests sick!

Let me just say that this is completely normal and not only is it normal but it is coveted. This red or pink tint on the outside edge of smoked meat is known as the smoke ring and I have heard my share of smokers bragging about that miraculous 1/2 inch smoke ring on their brisket or pork butt.

Because of this smoke ring, it is difficult to tell visually when some meats are done cooking. This is why I always recommend using a digital probe meat thermometer to monitor the temperature of the meat while it cooks. In this way  you can let the temperature of the meat tell you when the meat is done and safe to eat.

For some reason, a chemical reaction takes place when the smoke meats the pigments in the meat and it is this lack of oxygen that causes the pigment to retain its’ color even after it is cooked fully.

Chicken, pork, beef, turkey, etc. will all have some pinkish flesh usually on the outside edge.

This process can be artificially created by adding sodium nitrite and nitrates such as in hot dogs, ham, bologna, etc.

If you will look at my picture of the slice of meatloaf on the smoked meatloaf page, you will notice this ring very distinctively. To smokers, it is a beautiful thing and something worth bragging about.

Let it be known that the smoke ring is not an indicator of flavor whether good or bad.. it just indicates that the meat cooked in a smoky, oxygen deficient oven.


  1. E. Estrada says:

    Jeff, there is a problem with the explaination that the smoke ring is a reaction to the smoke.

    I bought a gas vertical smoker and playin with different chip wood boxes using hickory. Before the holiday weekend and smoking some meats for real.

    I have been smoking without meat. And for a lack of a better word there is a “smoke ring, on the rack and the probe wires and probes hanging from the rack. It is redish-brown, just like a smoke ring.

    I have run 7 experiments so far and a couple of more to go.

    There is a pan of water and the water is getting that liquid smoke color to it. The pan also prevent probes from getting direct heat.

    The smoke ring may be as much smoke retacting to water vapor settling on the coolest surface and absorbing into meat.

  2. “This process can be artificially created by adding sodium nitrite and nitrates such as in hot dogs, ham, bologna, etc.”

    This is False. Sodium nitrite and nitrates are added to raw meat to be preserved to prevent growth of dangerous bacteria. Sausages and other preserved meats are smoked at low temperatures to add flavor NOT to preserve the meats. Bacteria can grow at these lower temperatures therefore you MUST include a ratio of sodium nitrite and/or sodium nitrates in your meat when smoking or preserving at low temperatures. A commercially available product called Insta-Cure #1 or #2 are available for this purpose. Check with your local butcher or meat supply retailer.

    Although Nitrites and Nitrates may add a “smoke ring” appearance to some meats. This is NOT the intent of the product. Please do ample research into meat preserving methods prior to trying these recipies.

    • Obviously the main intent is to preserve the meat but this does not negate what I said.. It does turn the meat pink as if it were smoked with real wood and that is a desired/expected effect for some processed meats.

      The question being explained here was related to the red/pink color of smoked meat vs. processed meats and not the preserving of the meat.

      I do appreciate your input.

  3. In are family we make it every year.and have been for about 35 years.My aunt made it for every family reunion. very very good.

  4. That would be ur smoke ring

  5. Richard LaCava says:

    I recently made ribs and they had the pink ring. Everyone thought the meat was not done, needless to say it was not only done but juicy as well.

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