This post contains affiliate links.
Well, it happened… you over smoked your meat leaving a bitter and unpleasant taste, or maybe you used to strong of a wood leaving a strong smoky flavor. Aside from learning from your mistake so you can avoid this pitfall next time here are a few ways you can fix your over smoked meat.
Trim The Outer Smoke Ring Off
Smoke and creosote only penetrate so far into the surface of the meat. If you cut open a smoked piece of meat, you will see a pink ring referred to as the smoke ring. The smoke flavor and creosote is confined to this outer surface of the meat. The interior of the meat offers no smoke flavor. By cutting the smoke ring off, you can bypass the bitter tasting parts.
Soak In Water
Creosote generally stays on the surface of the meat as part of the bark. Soaking your meat in water for 10 minutes will allow the bark of the meat to soften. Once the surface of the meat has softened, you can remove the bark. While you will be losing all your rub and seasoning, it is necessary to get rid of the bitter flavor.
Mix With Other Food
If your meat is well over smoked, this might not work; however, if you can’t get rid of the smoke flavor from one of the above methods, the next best thing you can do is dilute the smoke flavor. You can chop the meat up and add it into a chili, into a stew, into a stir fry, put it into tacos, etc. You want to add other foods that will help dilute the taste of the meat itself. It is much harder to taste the bitter flavor when your meat is mixed with other food.
Another great way to dilute the taste is to add something sweet like honey, sugar, or BBQ sauce. Sweetness is a natural counter to bitter tasting food.
Add Some Butter
Just as sweetness counters a bitter taste, so does fats. Remove as much of the creosote as possible and try sautéing the meat in butter. While it won’t get rid of the bitter taste completely, this can help mask the taste.
Add A Pinch Of Baking Soda
I heard this through the grapevine and can not confirm that this works, but others have claimed adding a pinch of baking soda and recooking in a pan can help. Baking soda is alkaline in nature and can help neutralize bitterness. Just be sure not to add too much otherwise you will get a bad flavor from the baking soda.
While these things can help salvage an over smoked piece of meat, learning what causes over smoked meat can help you to prevent it in the future. Read below to learn how you can avoid over smoking your meat.
What Gives Smoke Its Flavor?
Smoke gets its flavor from the guaiacol and syringol molecules found in lignin. Hardwoods are composed of up to 35% lignin and when burned release guaiacol and syringol. Guaiacol is mainly responsible for the smoky taste while syringol is mainly responsible for the smell.
Hardwoods used for smoking meat are composed of three main compounds, cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. When this wood is burned, these three compounds release chemicals in the form of gas, vapor, soot, and various other compounds. These chemicals are then absorbed into the meat giving us that desirable smoky flavor; however, if your fire is not burning correctly, these chemical compounds can get out of balance giving you an undesirable taste.
Why Does My Smoked Meat Taste Bitter?
Smoked meat tastes bitter as the result of a buildup of creosote on the surface of the meat. Creosote is produced from the incomplete combustion of wood and has a burnt taste. Smoking meat in smoke heavy with creosote will cause your meat to absorb the creosote leaving a bitter taste.
As mentioned above, hardwoods used for smoking meat are composed three main compounds, cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin, that when burned release chemicals. Creosote is one of the major chemicals released from the burning of these compounds. Because creosote burns above 540° Fahrenheit, unless your fire reaches those temperatures creosote can not be burned off and is released as vapor. This is known as incomplete combustion.
While your fire might be hotter, the smoking chamber usually sits between 225° F to 275° F. The problem with this is that creosote released from incomplete combustion, condenses at temperatures less than 250° Fahrenheit. When the creosote condenses, your meat will take on that creosote giving off a bitter and unpleasant taste.
When smoking meat, it is essential to burn a clean and hot fire to ensure complete combustion and make sure that the creosote is burned off. Check out my guide on how to avoid dirty smoke here!
How To Avoid Bitter Taste On Smoked Meat?
The best way to avoid the bitter taste on smoked meat is to ensure your fire is burning clean and hot. Many people, in attempt to keep their smoker temperatures low, close down their vents too much. This chokes the fire and doesn’t allow the fire to get enough oxygen. This lowers the temperature of you fire which leads to incomplete combustion and the condensation of creosote on the meat.
The simple fix… open your vents and allow your fire to receive enough oxygen. The best way to tell if you fire is getting enough oxygen is by looking at the smoke coming out of the smokestack.
Contrary to popular belief, a thick, heavy, billowing white smoke is the sign incomplete combustion and is often known as “dirty smoke”. A clean fire should be producing a thin blue smoke (sometimes seen as “TBS”) that is almost invisible to the eye. Learning how to control your fire is key to producing great tasting BBQ.
Smoke Flavor Too Strong
Most of the time someone complains about the smoke flavor being too strong, it is the result of smoking your meat in dirty smoke as described above; however, that is not always the case. There are woods, such as mesquite, that impart stronger smoky flavor into the meat.
Using too strong of a wood can quickly overpower certain types of meats. Likewise, some people are hypersensitive to smoke flavor. In both cases, opting for a wood that is milder can prevent this in the future. Make sure you choose a smoking wood that is right for you.
So how do you tell which type of over smoked meat it is? Meat that is has been smoked in dirty smoke will give off a bitter taste. You may also experience a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue from the creosote. If your meat is not bitter, and the smoke flavor is just strong, then chances are you just used too strong of a wood.
How To Smoke Meat With Less Smoke Flavor?
If your meat does not taste bitter or leave a tingling sensation on your tongue, then you most likely just used too strong of some wood.
To smoke meat with less smoke flavor, opt for a milder wood like alder. Fruit woods like apple, grape, etc. also give of a milder smoke flavor. Mesquite, hickory, and oak all give off stronger smoke flavor and should be avoided when trying to smoke meat with less smoke flavor.
The type of wood you choose impacts the smoke flavor of your meat. Make sure you are choosing a wood that works with your meat to prevent over smoking. If you are still getting too strong of a smoke flavor, try skipping the wood all together and just using charcoal. You will miss out on some flavoring, but it will greatly cut back the smokiness.
Can You Use Too Much Wood When Smoking Meat?
It is possible to add too much wood when smoking meat. Adding too much wood to your fire can drop your fire temperature too low, causing incomplete combustion and dirty smoke; however, as long as your fire is burning above 540° Fahrenheit you do not need to worry about using too much wood.
Using too much wood is generally a problem with charcoal smokers. Unlike offsets, charcoal smokers use wood as flavoring, not as a heat source. Because of this charcoal smokers don’t have the airflow to support complete combustion of large amounts of wood while still maintain smoking temperatures. When using a charcoal smoker, less wood is needed.
Adding too much wood will drop the temperature of your fire and cause incomplete combustion leaving you with smoke heavy in creosote. It is generally recommended to use 3-4 fist sized chunks of wood when smoking meat on a charcoal smoker.
If you are smoking on a pellet smoker, offset smoker, or electric smoker, there is no real need to worry about using to much wood.
How Can I Make my smoke taste better?
You can not make your smoke taste better, but you can ensure that you are burning a clean fire. When your fire does not get enough oxygen, it can lead to incomplete combustion. This produces smoke that is heavy with creosote, a bitter tasting compound. If your meat has a weird or bitter taste, then your fire is not burning clean.