Beat the stall

Beat the stall

If you have ever made snack sticks, summer sausage, smoked sausage, bacon, hams or really any BBQ you have most likely run into "the stall". This a common term for the stage of thermal processing where your meats internal temperature either slows or stops increasing. This can be an incredibly frustrating part of the cooking process and unless you know what is happening and why you might make the mistake of increasing your smokers temperature to try to get past it.

If you have ever made snack sticks, summer sausage, smoked sausage, bacon, hams or really any BBQ you have most likely run into "the stall". This a common term for the stage of thermal processing where your meats internal temperature either slows or stops increasing. This can be an incredibly frustrating part of the cooking process and unless you know what is happening and why you might make the mistake of increasing your smokers temperature to try to get past it.

Beating the "stall"

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What is "The Stall"

If you have ever made snack sticks, summer sausage, smoked sausage, bacon, hams or really any BBQ you have most likely run into "the stall".  This a common term for the stage of thermal processing where your meats internal temperature either slows or stops increasing.  This can be an incredibly frustrating part of the cooking process and unless you know what is happening and why you might make the mistake of increasing your smokers temperature to try to get past it. 

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What causes the stall?

Most meat is around 70-75% water, meaning if you completely broke it down into molecules, only 25% would be fat or protein, the rest is water weight. This is why there will almost always be a product weight lost, some of that is fat but the vast majority of it is water. Around 130° F the proteins in your meat will really start to expell it's water and push it to the surface. This functions similarly to what happens when you sweat, the water accumulates on the skin and then evaporates off lowering your skins temperature, and the same thing happens with meat. As the moisture evaporates off of the surface of the meat it is going to cool the temperature. So, the stall is when the evaporation energy coming off of the surface of the meat matches the thermal processing energy you are using to try to cook the meat.

Ways to get through the stall

  • Just wait it out, eventually the excess water will cook out of the meat and the temperature will begin rising again.
  • Increase the temperature of your smoker. If you increase the amount of thermal energy going into the meat you can get the temperature to increase.
  • Add humidity to your smoker. Just like when it is humid out it is harder for your body to regulate the temperature with sweat, the water wont be able to evaporate off of the meat and lower the temperature.

Problems each with these options

  • If you wait it out you might be waiting for a long time. Depending on the product you are making you could be waiting bewteen 3-8 hours for the stall to be completely defeated. If you are making a larger diameter sausage like a summer sausage and you added 1.5 or so liters of water to aid in mixing you will be waiting a long time. This is the most common thing people do, they just deal with it and there can be advatnages to this. If you are cooking something like a pork butt for pulled pork or a brisket the longer the meat cooks the more the collagen and connective tissue will breakdown/melt and the more tender the meat will be.
  • Increasing the temperature of your smoker will increase the thermal processing energy that goes into the meat, this can exceed the evaporation or cooling energy if raised high enough. The issue is that by increasing the temperature we are increasing the stress we are putting on the proteins and we risk causing case hardening. This is where the outside of the meat cooks, or dries too much or quickly and then cannot pass thermal energy into the center of the sausage, or allow more moisture to pass to the surface of the sausage.
  • By adding humidity we are makiing it harder for any moisture to evaporate off of the skin of the meat hence it is not able to cool itself. The issue with this method is that most home processors do not have a smoker that can increase relative humidity beyond simply adding a water pan to the smoker. Even a large water pan will only increase the relative humidity by a few percentage points. It is better than nothing but not terribly effective
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    Advanced thermal processing step 1

    From reading the above you can probably tell we don't like waiting it out or increasing the temperature of your smoker. We would recommend you add more humidity to your smoker to help get past the stall. However, as we said even an oversized water pan will only slightly raise the relative humidity of the smoker.

    So, what can you do to really increase the relative humidity? Well, you can increase the relative humidity by increasing the surface area that the water can evaporate off of and a good and SIMPLE way to do this is to take some regular automotive spongers, wet them and stand them up in your water pan. If you have ever looked at a sponge closely you will see that they are full of channels and cavities and all of that space is extra surface area which will allow us to vastly raise the relative humidty of our environment!

    Following this simple step will cut hours off of your smoking process, and the best part is that it doesn't really matter if you are smoking pork butts and briskets or summer sausage and snack sticks!

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    Advanced thermal processing step 2

    So, with step 1 saving us upwards of 5 hours on our smoke times what could be better than that? Well, the above is limtted because even with large automotive sponges you can only raise the relative humidity so far. What could we do to cook at 100% relative humidity? Well, that would be cooking in water, and what do we do that is cooking in water? Sous Vide cooking of course! For those not familiar Sous Vide (or under vacuum in French) is when you heat a container of water to a set temp and then place your meat into that water inside of a vacuum or other plastic bag. The water has near uniform thermal energy and is able to access all sides of your meat once, plus since the temperature of your meat can never surpass the temperature of the water it will be much harder to overcook.


    So, if you are cooking large diameter sausage like summer sausage you can pull it out of the smoker once the internal temperature is about 130° and finish it up in sous vide cooker set to 172° F (for smaller diameter summer sausage) or 179° for larger diameter sausages. At these temperatures you can go from 130° F to 160° in under an hour and experience no loss in product quality, in fact it will be a better tasting sausage.

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    13th Jun 2022 Jon Tremblay

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