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The bark – and good bite – of competitive BBQ

When some of the nation’s best pitmasters arrive in Walworth County for the second annual Elkhorn Ribfest , it’s time to pick up some extra napkins and some new lingo. The pros are cooking the same cuts of meat you can buy but in a style most of us mere mortals cannot replicate and they give familiar words new meaning. The word ‘bark,’ for example is a label for a part of the cooking upon which pitmasters stake reputations.   In simple terms, bark is the outer crust that forms when smoking meat. Simplicity ends there, however. Since it’s considered the most flavorful layer on the outer surface of the meat, it entails mystery, pride, sugar, and seasonings in a formula as complex as quantum physics. Bark forms from heat caramelizing the sugars in the rub. Enhancements come from spices or even the specific brand of sugar used. Pitmasters achieve good bark from spraying or misting the cut of meat with liquid containing sugar – apple juice, for example – periodically during t

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