Any smart backyard chef knows to cook not to a particular time, but to an internal temperature. Savvy ones will even keep a digital thermometer in their meat the whole time it’s cooking and watch the temperature climb as the hours go by, so as not to open the door of the smoker to check.
But if you watch that temperature long enough, the cooking process seems to stop. The internal temperature might have gone up 10 or 20 degrees in one hour, and then in the next hour, a single degree — maybe not even. If company is on the way, you might start to panic.
Fernando Gonzalez, who owns 2Fifty Texas Barbecue in Riverdale, Maryland, knows the feeling. He said pit masters call it “the stall.”
It’s shorthand for something with a far longer scientific explanation. Juice in the meat starts to evaporate, keeping the surface of the meat cool and counteracting the hot air of the smoker. It’s basically the same thing that happens when your body starts to sweat while you exercise. Typically it happens to bigger, thicker cuts of meat when they hit an internal temperature somewhere around 150 to 170 degrees.
“Chances are you’ll get desperate at a certain point — ‘Hey this is not really going up,’” Gonzalez said.
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But getting around it actually isn’t that hard. It’s why most pit masters wrap up their meat around the middle of the cooking process.
“Definitely wrap,” said Gonzalez. “Tin foil is definitely going to be an accelerant on the stall,” he added, meaning the internal temperature will start to climb again once you have the layer of foil around it.
Once Gonzalez has the bark on the outside of the pork or brisket, he knows he’s ready to wrap. At his restaurant he uses butcher paper. That’s also how barbecue celebrity chef Myron Mixon does it, and lots of other restaurants, too. But there’s nothing wrong with foil either.
If time is really of the essence, you can even wrap the meat in foil and finish it in a hot oven. By that point, you’ve already got the smoke flavor in the meat that you’re looking for, and now you just need to get it cooked all the way through.
Or you can skip the wrap, wake up in the middle of the night and sit on the back patio by yourself at 3 or 4 a.m. watching that thing cook while everyone else sleeps. Just don’t fall asleep during the party later.
“Don’t play by the book per se; be ready for those surprises,” said Gonzalez. “And don’t get desperate. You’ll get there.”
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