Fat is the true secret weapon of smoking. When fat is cooked at high temperatures, it makes meat tough, because fat tissues are full of collagen. Slow-cooking (e.g. smoking) meat has the opposite effect on collagen, instead of tightening the molecules it breaks them down. When wood is burned it breaks down the cellular walls (cellulose) of the wood. Cellulose, a type of sugar, then caramelizes on the fat and helps to break down collagen. Water makes its way into the fat once it starts to break down and you are left with a savory fatty goo instead of a tough rubber band.
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