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  • Re: Really tough butt

    Its not just about the temperature, its the dwell time at temperature.  Cooking at higher temperatures will bring the internal temperature up faster, but if the meat doesn't maintain an adequate internal temperature of over 160 for long enough, the collagen breakdown won't complete.  When the collagen in the connective tissue starts to breakdown, the meat actually gets tougher until the final conversion to gelatin occurs.  Foiling and putting the meat back on heat as high as 350 will result in steam cooking as well.  Toweling or foiling and then putting it in a cooler, etc. allows the internal temperature to stay high enough for the process to complete.  There is a variable amount of connective tissues in each cut, so the time varies.  Low and slow will give better flavor development on the the meats surface and a better smoke ring.
  • Re: Don't know if I agree

    There are certainly many opinions, and certainly more myths, about this subject but the science is succinct, simple and non-maleable.  I have seen many of the concepts and terms of the actual process bantered about separately, but they always work in concert to produce either a wonderfully tender and flavor piece of meat magic, or not.  Bear with me as I try to draft the definitive guide to smoking with chemistry....

    Butts, and most any other "bbq" meat is cooked "low and slow" for good reason, including giving the smoke flavor time to develop and to allow for specific chemical conversions to occur on an advantageous time scale without creating jerky over a cool pink center.  

    The burning wood in your BGE is emitting a flavorful (the kind of charcoals and wood is subject of many other myths, debates and personal preferences) blanket of vaporized organic compounds and gases.  During the initial stages of cooking, this blanket bathes the cool and moist surface of the meat where it is cooled and condenses on the meat surface.  The organics in the smoke blanket that are deposited thereon are what we recognize as the smoke flavor. At (meat) temperatures below 120, the nitrous oxide produced by the combustion of wood  is oxidized to nitrous dioxide which passes over the meat and combines with the moisture on the surface of the meat forming nitric acid. The nitric acid dissolves into a nitrate ion that then combines with the myoglobin forming a pink compound known as Thismyoglobin - the nitrate pigment responsible for the "smoke ring".  Keeping the cooking chamber cool and moist, with water pans and meat mops in some people's regimens, contributes to this process and allow the smoke ring to develop deeper than higher temperatures and less moist cooking environments.  The depth of the smoke ring is limited by the ability of the aforementioned nitrate ion to penetrate the meat, and by the temperature of the meat.  At 120 degrees the myglobin proteins break down and are no longer able to combine with the nitric acid, so the smoke ring production stops.  This process ONLY occurs in the natural combustion process, requires plenty of oxygen at the fire, a moist meat surface and relatively cool surface temperatures on the meat itself.  This obviously doesn't happen in SV cooking and is limited in electric smokers to a degree.  This is why starting with cool, raw meat is critical to the development of flavor and color in smoking.  Don't bring the meat to room temperature first, don't steam it or SV it - put it on cold and raw.

    Above 120 is where profound changes in meat proteins occur, and is the region in which the subject of this thread is most relevant - as well as the region in which a large majority of the myths and mis-information abound.  The changes that occur above 120 are perhaps where the real "secrets" lie and why low and slow works.  The actino-mycin protein complex begins to break apart at 120 (and above to someone else's point).  This "denaturing" process is the result of the heat acting on the chemical bonds in the protein complex.  As the protein is denatured, it also shrinks and the meat starts getting firmer as this shrinkage of the meat fibers forces water out of the muscle structure.  As this moisture is lost, the weight of the meat is reduced along with its volume - it gets lighter and smaller.  These changes occur over time as the heat penetrates the meat.  The temperature of the meat is not internally consistent - the surface is hotter than the internal temperature, so some time is required for this process to occur throughout the cut.  The low and slow process allows the internal temperature to rise without seriously overheating the exterior and slows the moisture loss in the process.  It is around 140 and above where mystery and misinformation abound.

    The less tender cuts of meat, like pork butts and brisket, have higher contents of connective tissues.  These tissues form sheaths around the muscle cells that connect them to each other - creating the muscle fibers and encasing the fibers into whole muscles.  These connective tissues also form tendons and ligaments that connect the muscle structures to the bones.  Some of this connective tissue is made of elastin - the really tough stuff - and some are made of collagen.  Collagen strands are chemically composed of three molecular chains that are tightly wound into a triple-helix configuration.  These strands then have cross-linked molecular bounds.  Increasing heat in the meat begins to break these bounds, shrinking the meat even more by forcing even more moisture from the meat.  At this point the collagen, which was tough to begin with gets even tougher.  At this point the meat would be tough and chewy.  At around 160 degrees, the collagen continues to break down and is slowly converted into gelatin.  Gelatin melts under heat and acts as a lubricant for the meat fibers giving the meat a fuller, moister mouth feel. This is what makes the tough cuts of meat tender - and delicious.

    The "stall" occurs in this part of the cooking process.  The stall isn't because of the collagen breaking down (there isn't enough of it to cause the stall) or the phase of the moon or proximity of the above ground pool to your smoker.  The stall occurs for one and only one reason - evaporative cooling.  As the moisture on the surface of the meat begins to evaporate, the meat is cooled.  As much of the moisture in the meat is bound to the fat, proteins and collagen, the supply of moisture increases as the cooking process proceeds.  As the moisture supply peaks and starts down the other side of the availability curve, the meat starts to heat up again - breaking out of the stall.  Mopping and using water pans effect the stall as does the amount of airflow through the cooking chamber as well as the cooking chamber temperature.  High temperature cooking doesn't stall as long, and at higher temperatures at all, but results in drier, less flavorful product.  So using water pans and mops is a good thing, as is the lower cooking temperatures most cooks use. But what about the stall?

    Foiling the meat when it is at or below the "stall" temperature retards the surface evaporation and allows the heating of the meat to continue, reducing the overall cooking times while saving some moisture in the meat.  Some people splash liquid in the foil thinking that some steaming will occur and allow this liquid to further flavor the meat and speed the cooking process while tenderizing the meat.  Well, at chamber temperatures around 225 degrees, this isn't likely to happen but the evaporation will be stopped and the liquid in the foil, whether it is added or accumulated from the meat losing its moisture, will approach a low simmer.  This is then a form of braising and braising is good.  In foil the meat will power through the stall and cook much faster without sacrificing anything but the jerky like exterior bark that you get when executing the entire cook in the open.  If you like a drier exterior bark, put the meat on the grill when its unfoiled and "set" the exterior.  Putting foiled meat in the cooler allows the internal temperature of the meat to achieve uniformity and allows more time for the conversion processes to continue while the meat cools slowly.

    None of these processes happen instantaneously when a particular temperature is reached, but rather take some time, and this time varies from cut to cut depending on the precise balance of components in the meat.  The low and slow process allows time for the processes to occur from the surface to the center without making the exterior of the meat all burnt and crunchy.  The "done" temperature of 195-200 is likely the product of giving the processes above enough time to complete while the meat continues its march towards achieving thermal equilibrium with the cooking chamber.  So whomever said 168 degrees is all that was needed was close to right, as long as the meat was left at that temperature long enough to complete the biochemical conversion processes above.  That time would vary from cut to cut based on the component distributions of fat, protein and collagen, and the humidity and air flow in the cooking device, as well as the chamber temperature. So 11 hours isn't magical, but perhaps average in a particular cooking device.  So based on this wealth of information I would opine, as the original poster requested, that 168 degrees is accurate subject to time and 11 hours isn't magical but possible.  I would further opine that cooking at around 225-250 under smoke until the meat reaches about 150 (or when you like the color of the bark), then foiling it and putting it back on at 225 - 250 to around 180-190 (the conversions should be completed by then) then resting it in foil for a bit to allow everything to stabilize would yield a chemically and mathematically wonderful product.  Turbo butts and all those other processes have merit, depending on your expectations and palate.

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