Brisket and Barbecuing

Pink meats are not exactly my forte. It’s not that they taste bad. In fact they taste delicious. It’s more so the idea in my head that the meat is raw and we are told to not eat raw meat. And the blood that drips out of the meat when you cut it. I think that’s what does me in. Crazy how the mind works, right!? Anyways, some meats are just naturally pink. Think about barbecued meats. And brisket. Ever notice the pink color in brisket? It’s certainly done. The typical medium cooked meat may have blood coming out of the meat, but brisket does not have this. So how does this work?

Brisket is a meat that is typically barbecued. The pink color is actually termed a “smoke ring”. It is about 1/4 inch thick and lies just beneath the meat’s surface. This color can also be seen in other barbecued meats. The smoke ring occurs from the meat being cooked for a long time at a low temperature.

Meat’s color is determined by a protein called myoglobin. Myoglobin contains iron which is easily oxidized when exposed to the environment. When meat is first cut, there is no oxygen present, so the meat is a deep purple. After the oxygen penetrates the myoglobin molecule, and binds to the iron to form a bright red color. Heat also affects the myoglobin, and actually oxidizes the iron, causing the meat to turn a gray color.

So how does barbecuing affect myoglobin differently? The smoke from the barbecue creates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide binds to the iron in the myoglobin molecule. The nitrites dissolve on the surface of the meat in the moisture. This creates new compounds that are similar to nitrites. Nitrites are the molecules that keep deli meats pink, hence the pink color.

So next time you eat a barbecued meat, pay attention to the pink color in the meat. Who knew barbecuing could yield such a fascinating science experiment!?


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