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Understanding the BBQ Stall: Mastering The Dreadful

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There are only 3 things certain in life: death, taxes and the BBQ stall.

If you’ve been around a BBQ for more than a minute, you will definitely feel like this one hits close to home.

You wake up early, thinking it’s going to be another nice day working the fire, only to end up 3 hours late on your game plan because the stall decided otherwise.

If we were to point out one single most common mistake made by pitmasters, it would be to lose patience facing the stall.

We all go through it, and we all deal with it differently. Beginners will ruin their meat by cranking up the heat while most experts will rely on techniques and lady luck to try and deliver their meal on time. 

The dreadful stall can make a meal or break a man so let’s all take a few minutes to better understand what the stall is, how to better handle it when our initial game plan is out the window.


What is the BBQ stall?

The BBQ stall is a “problem” that will occur when you are cooking large pieces of meat over long periods of time. It’s almost unavoidable if you are doing low and slow barbecue cookouts. 

Most large pieces of meat such as a pork butt or a beef brisket will require to be cooked until they reach the internal temperature of 203F. Although this sounds fairly easy, there are obstacles waiting along the way.

The BBQ Stall is a scientific phenomenon that occurs a few hours into your cooking session, as your meat will stop rising in temperature for an undefined amount of time. In fact, it may even drop in temperature. This happens in most situations as your meat gets in the 150F to 170F range, and the BBQ stall can last up to 6 hours, henceforth why so many people panic and try just about anything at the expense of the end-result.

The BBQ stall is caused by a counter-intuitive concept that’s called evaporative cooling. As your meat warms up, moisture is evaporating from the muscle fibres and released into your barbecue.

This amount of excess moisture is forcing your BBQ to drop in temperature. Think of it as the same cooling system our body has. We sweat to keep cool, even though we’re getting hotter. The same goes for your meat.

As the BBQ temperature is dropping because of this evaporative cooling, the meat slowly stops warming up, slowing down the evaporation process, and so it goes. This vicious cycle will only be broken once enough of the excess moisture inside your cooking chamber is evaporated. It’s only at this point that your meat will start rising in temperature again.


How to even the odds and get one up on the stall period

There’s a number of things that must be taken into consideration when trying to “anticipate” the stall period.

First and foremost, the size of your meat will be the first thing you’ll need to watch out for. The bigger the piece, the more water it holds. The more water it holds, the longer the stall.

Obviously, a second thing to keep in mind when you are trying to even the odds against the stall is injection/brines/spritz. A lot of people will inject additional moisture into or onto the meat, hoping the maximum the flavor and moisture. This added moisture will have a direct effect on the BBQ stall as it will need to be evaporated in order to pass through the plateau.

Your BBQ design will also play its part. Smokers are great but some of them don’t always have the best airflow system. A good smoker, such as Sunterra’s, Hamrforge’s or Yoder’s, should be designed to optimize the evaporation from the cooking chamber.

There are things you can do to beat the stall in what little way you can.

The most common technique is called the Texas Crutch. This technique is a classic amongst pitmasters and will help you power through the stall a lot faster, but you will need to sacrifice your bark in exchange for the time saved.

As you start noticing your meat internal temperature slowing down its rise, wrap it tight in aluminum foil with some liquid. The sealed package will cut down the evaporative cooling effect, allowing you to break through the stall much faster than it would have taken.

Although this method works well for most occasions, it can be very frustrating to sacrifice a nice bark when you’ve worked so hard to get it in the first place. This is why you can do a similar approach with butcher paper.

Unlike aluminum foil, butcher paper is porous and therefore breathes a lot more than the foil. This means that you won’t be destroying your bark as much as you would with the texas crutch, but then again, it will take you a bit more time to pass through the stall.

Whichever way you choose to take on the BBQ stall, make sure you got a plan and you stick to it. Don’t let impatience get the best of you, if you want to be able to get the best out of what you’re cooking. It’s as simple as that.

Even though it feels like it, the stall never lasts forever.

You will get through this. Just be self-disciplined. Such is the way of a true pitmaster!