When does meat stop absorbing smoke?

It’s called a smoker right so surely there’s no such thing as too much smoke.

Well, that is incorrect. Meat does stop absorbing smoke at a certain time but before we get in to when does meat stop absorbing smoke, a little explanation.

When meat is in the smoker it can only absorb meat for so long. It will eventually stop absorbing that additional flavor from the choice cut of wood after so long.

Just to paint the scenario

I’ve seen this scenario so many times:

You’ve got the smoker going it’s been on for a few hours with the meat on it and there’s not much smoke coming out of the top vent. This is the point when amateur BBQ enthusiasts start to panic and assume you need to add more wood.

This is not ideal and not just because the meat no longer needs to absorb the smoke flavor. But because if you’re using a BBQ without a separate firebox like a kettle BBQ, the meat needs to be removed from the BBQ to add more wood.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles you should only remove the lid when it is absolutely essential, the meats not cooking when it’s not in the BBQ. Fluctuating the temperatures the meat is exposed to could result in spoilt results and longer cooking times.

The answer: when does meat stop absorbing smoke?

If we are going by time only meat would normally stop absorbing smoke at around the 3-hour mark, some larger cuts of meat like brisket could go up to as much as 4+ hours.

The reason for this is the bark or crust that forms on the exterior of the meat can no longer allow more smoke to penetrate the surface.

I mean take the 3-2-1 method for ribs as an example after 3 hours the meat is wrapped. As soon as the ribs are wrapped they physically cannot take on any more smoke.

This is exactly the same for all larger cuts of meat and of those not being wrapped. Imagine filling a cup with water, once it is full it can no longer take on any more water. Meat will act in the same way.

How is bark formed?

The bark is a reaction between the heat, the smoke, and the surface of the meat. The whole idea of low and slow smoking is to get the bark formed during the early cooking process and then keep internal of the meat cooking at low heat until it hits the perfect temperature.

bark and smoke ring

Is there such thing as too much smoke?

Yes, there is such thing as to much smoke. Meats like poultry can become overpowered if exposed to a lot of heavy smoke for prolonged periods. This is the reason for setting the smoker when using a kettle and snake method with the wood at the head of the smoke only. Or a handful placed at the top when using the minion method or an offset smoker.

Search through the images on google of smokers you will only ever see one or 2 pieces of wood, this isn’t because of the wastage just purely because you’ve already added the flavor with just those few chunks.

Final thoughts

You only need to add a handful of wood chips, or a couple of chunks of wood when smoking meats, and only at the beginning when the meat is first placed on the smoker.

Smoke will stop penetrating the meat and adding the smoked wood flavour after about 2 hours.

No need to waste wood that can be used on another smoke session on another day.