The Art of Wrapping Brisket: Secrets Revealed

If you’re a barbecue enthusiast, you’ve probably come across countless recipes and articles on cooking the perfect brisket. One common recommendation you’ll encounter is to wrap your brisket during the cooking process. But have you ever wondered why? In the world of barbecue, there’s a rich history and a touch of myth surrounding this technique. In this guide, we’ll delve into the when, how, and what with of wrapping brisket. So, let’s uncover the secrets behind this barbecue tradition!

Unveiling the Benefits of Wrapping Brisket

Most seasoned pitmasters instinctively reach for aluminum foil or butcher paper to wrap their briskets, pork butts, and ribs at some point during the cook. While some wrap based on the appearance of the bark, others rely on the internal temperature reaching around 165°F. But what are the reasons behind this practice? Let’s explore the benefits of wrapping brisket:

Pros

  • Cuts down on cooking time: Wrapping the brisket helps you power through the stall, allowing you to enjoy your smoked delicacy sooner.
  • Keeps meat moist and tender: Brisket requires long hours of smoking to break down the fat and collagen, but overcooking can lead to dryness. Wrapping helps retain moisture and ensures tenderness.
  • Prevents excessive smoke absorption: Too much smoke can overpower the flavor of your meat. Once the internal temperature hits around 155°F, additional smoke won’t contribute much to the taste.
  • Facilitates “hot-holding”: After removing the meat from the cooker, it rapidly cools down. Wrapping your brisket enables easy transfer to a dry cooler, keeping it warm without the mess.

Cons

  • May affect the bark: Wrapping the meat too early or cooking it for too long while wrapped can result in a mushy bark. However, there are alternative methods to preserve bark quality, such as boating or using butcher paper.

The Texas Crutch: Wrapping with Style

You might have heard the term “Texas Crutch” in the world of barbecue and wondered how it relates to wrapping brisket. This technique, widely used in competition barbecuing, involves wrapping your meat in foil or butcher paper during the cook. The playful name emerged as a lighthearted jab at competitors seeking an advantage over their rivals. It’s worth mentioning that the Texas Crutch isn’t limited to brisket; it can be applied to any meat. For instance, the popular 3-2-1 method for cooking ribs utilizes this crutch, referring to 3 hours unwrapped, followed by 2 hours wrapped, and a final hour unwrapped at a slightly higher temperature.

Further reading:  Slow Cooker Fire Roasted Brisket Chili: A Hearty and Delicious Recipe

The Science Behind Wrapping Barbecue

According to renowned barbecue expert Meathead Goldwyn, wrapping your meat in barbecue serves two primary purposes:

  1. Enhancing tenderness and juiciness: Cooking large cuts of meat like brisket at low temperatures initially leads to a rapid rise in internal temperature. As cooking progresses, the meat’s internal moisture gradually evaporates, causing the temperature to plateau. This phenomenon, known as the “stall,” occurs when the evaporating moisture counteracts the temperature rise. By wrapping the meat, moisture remains trapped inside the foil or butcher paper, helping to power through the stall and achieve a tender and juicy end product.

  2. Speeding up the cooking process: Wrapping creates a sort of braise, in which the rising internal temperature facilitates faster cooking. The result is a well-cooked, moist, and tender masterpiece.

The Perfect Timing for Wrapping Brisket

When it comes to wrapping brisket, barbecue experts have varying opinions on the perfect timing. My personal recommendation is to wrap your brisket once two conditions are met:

  1. Dark bark formation: Wait until a dark, flavorful bark has developed on the surface of the meat. This usually occurs after a few hours of cooking.
  2. Internal temperature or stall: Wrap your brisket once the internal temperature reaches 165°F, or when you notice the stall phenomenon, depending on which happens first. Using a reliable leave-in probe thermometer is invaluable for accurately monitoring the temperature.

Keeping an eye on the internal temperature with the Signals thermometer
Keeping an eye on the internal temperature with the Signals thermometer

Wrapping Methods Unveiled

Let’s explore the three most common methods for wrapping your brisket:

Naked

Contrary to popular practice, you don’t have to wrap your brisket. Cooking it unwrapped, or “naked,” may take longer and pose a risk of drying out the meat. However, with practice, you can still achieve a fantastic brisket with an exceptional bark. Cooking it naked allows the smoke and bark to intertwine, resulting in a super crunchy bark and a smokier flavor.

Aluminum Foil

This method, made famous by BBQ Pitmasters, involves wrapping your brisket in aluminum foil. It speeds up the cooking process and produces a tender end product. However, beware of potentially sacrificing the bark you’ve worked hard to develop. Foil wrapping often yields a softer bark, and some argue that it can lead to overcooked or “mushy” brisket. One popular twist is using an aluminum foil “boat,” where the brisket sits on a tray or boat-shaped foil container during the cook, with added liquid for extra moisture.

Boating the brisket allows moisture to escape, hence keeping that great top bark on the meat
Boating the brisket allows moisture to escape, hence keeping that great top bark on the meat

Butcher Paper

Made famous by Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas, pink butcher paper has become synonymous with a certain style of Texas barbecue. Advocates of this method claim that wrapping brisket in butcher paper provides similar benefits to using foil while allowing some additional smoke penetration. Butcher paper is more forgiving on the bark, resulting in a crunchier texture. If you’re interested, you can find our own brand of butcher paper in the Smoked BBQ Source store.

Further reading:  Smokin' Texas-Style Brisket: Master the Art on Your Gas Grill

Aluminum Foil vs. Butcher Paper vs. Unwrapped

To witness the differences between various wrapping methods, take a look at this video by T-Roy Cooks. He conducted a test cook using three briskets: one naked, one wrapped in foil, and one wrapped in butcher paper. Cooking them on a Yoder Wichita offset smoker at 225°F, he examined the outcome of each method.

The Prep

T-Roy started with excellently trimmed briskets, seasoned with a simple salt, pepper, and cayenne rub. You can use your favorite store-bought seasoning or try our brisket rub recipe.

The Cook

Using a Yoder Wichita offset smoker, T-Roy cooked the briskets at 225°F. After several hours, he wrapped two of the briskets—one in butcher paper and the other in foil—and placed them back on the cooker with the third brisket left unwrapped until they were finished.

The results were as follows:

  • Butcher Paper: The brisket wrapped in butcher paper took 10 hours to cook. Although incredibly juicy and tender, it lacked a dark, crusty bark.
  • Foil: The foil-wrapped brisket cooked the fastest, totaling 9 hours. It developed a noticeably darker bark and was revered as the most tender and moist. The smoke ring was also more pronounced.
  • Naked: The naked brisket exhibited a much darker bark than the others. It took the longest to cook, approximately 11 hours. Unsurprisingly, it possessed the most pronounced smoke flavor and a remarkable bark due to being cooked by smoke and heat throughout the entire duration.

For an in-depth comparison between aluminum foil and butcher paper, we have an article you can explore.

Insights from the Experts

Don’t just take my word for it—reputable pitmasters and barbecue aficionados agree that wrapping brisket is a wise choice. Let’s hear what some Texas barbecue legends have to say about wrapping and why they endorse it:

Smoke

At Smoke, pitmaster Tim Byres follows a unique approach. He operates a large smoker that can hold briskets at 175°F until service. For the briskets served during lunch, no wrapping is involved. However, those intended for later sales are wrapped in butcher paper until service. Tim uses butcher paper because it’s readily available in the restaurant and allows moisture to escape, preserving the bark’s integrity.

Snow’s BBQ

As the best ‘cue spot in Texas in both 2008 and 2017, Snow’s BBQ’s pitmasters’ advice is invaluable. Surprisingly, they wrap their briskets in foil. The crucial difference, according to owner Kerry Bexley, is that they don’t wrap the briskets until later in the cooking process.

Pecan Lodge

At this iconic Dallas joint, briskets are also wrapped in foil but only after they’ve finished cooking. Once the briskets are removed from the smoker, they are wrapped individually and hot held in an electric warmer, while the smokers continue to produce more mouth-watering ‘cue.

Franklin Barbecue

A list on brisket wrapping wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Franklin Barbecue. This renowned establishment held the title of the best barbecue in Texas for several years. Aaron Franklin, the owner, wraps his briskets partially in butcher paper during the cook. The briskets remain in the butcher paper until they are removed from the smoker, hours before being served. Aaron initially chose butcher paper for its affordability, but he also appreciates its breathability, which prevents the meat from drying out.

Further reading:  Pitmaster Tips: The Art of Resting Brisket in a Cooler

Louie Mueller Barbecue

Known as the “Cathedral of Smoke,” Louie Mueller Barbecue has been satisfying customers since 1949, with three generations of pitmasters running the business. Here, briskets are wrapped in clear plastic wrap first, followed by butcher paper once they reach 95% completion. After the briskets come off the pit, they are held in a Cambro warmer. Owner Wayne Mueller insists that wrapping is essential to prevent the flat part of the brisket from drying out.

The Importance of Resting Brisket

Regardless of whether you choose to wrap your brisket or not, allowing it to rest is crucial. Resting the brisket for at least an hour after cooking improves its tenderness and moisture retention. It lets the internal temperature decrease slightly, allowing the meat’s juices to settle instead of gushing out once it’s sliced. Wrapping your brisket during or after the cook makes this essential step even easier.

Placing your brisket in a cooler wrapped in aluminum foil and a few old towels keeps it hot for hours and enhances the taste.
Placing your brisket in a cooler wrapped in aluminum foil and a few old towels keeps it hot for hours and enhances the taste.

Meathead Goldwyn has developed an effective method called the “faux Cambro” for holding meat. This involves utilizing a cooler and towels. To create your own faux Cambro, preheat the cooler by adding hot tap water for 30 minutes before placing your meat inside. Then, empty the water, line the cooler with dry towels, and carefully position your wrapped brisket. Meathead has achieved fantastic results with this method, keeping food warm for up to 3 hours.

Further Brisket Guides to Explore

If you’re eager to delve deeper into the art of brisket, here are some additional guides you may find useful:

The Choice is Yours: Wrapped or Unwrapped

After diving into the intricacies of wrapping brisket, I encourage you to experiment with different methods to find what works best for you. You don’t have to conduct a full-on scientific study with three briskets side by side (although that could be a fun experiment!). While many professionals, including myself, swear by wrapping briskets in both foil and butcher paper, don’t hesitate to try cooking one unwrapped and see how you like it. Embrace the art of barbecue, and have fun exploring the world of brisket! Happy smoking!

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