Smoking brisket is one of those things that requires steadfast patience and the confidence to know that your process will result in a delicious smoked meal at the end of the day. To put it another way, brisket is probably the most stressful thing you'll put in your smoker.
Brisket is a big cut of meat that can weigh 16 pounds. It's also a tough cut of meat that becomes simply wonderful after being smoked properly.
Wrapping a brisket during the smoking process is one of the more misunderstood and inaccurately used steps. It can result in dry, tough, grey brisket no one wants to eat if it gets skipped or isn't done at the right time.
We're going to explain all the "how," "why," "when," and "with what" questions you've got about wrapping brisket or any other large hunk of meat you are smoking.
Why You Should Wrap Brisket While Smoking
The first thing that we want to do away with is the nay-sayers who swear that wrapping a brisket while smoking ruins the end result. Either those folks have a magic trick we don't know about or they don't know what they are talking about.
The reason for our firm belief in wrapping brisket is simple: science shows that it works.
Sweaty Meat and What that Means
If you think about doing yard work on a hot summer day, it'll help you understand why wrapping a brisket is important. When you're doing yard work in the sun, you sweat. That moisture evaporates off your skin, cooling you down and keeping you from overheating. If you don't drink enough water on a hot day, you'll get dehydrated and things won't be good for you.
Experiencing the Stall
Now, your brisket in the smoker experiences things very similarly. As the internal temperature of the brisket rises, moisture is forced to the outside surfaces where it evaporates. The evaporation cools the surface of the meat and prevents the internal temperature from continuing to rise. Until enough moisture has evaporated, the temperature will not increase. Smokers call this "the stall."
Getting Through the Stall
The downside of course is that unlike you, your brisket can't drink a gallon of water and stay hydrated. Instead, you have to change the brisket cooking process to make sure it doesn't dry out. That's where wrapping brisket comes into play. A wrapped brisket will trap the moisture, preventing evaporation, and allowing the internal temperature of the brisket to continue rising.
Understanding the Texas Crutch
The Texas Crutch is a silly name that is commonly used to describe the wrapping process. As the name implies, it originated in the legendary barbecue houses in Texas as a way of preventing lean meat like beef brisket from drying out during the stall when smoking.
There are a few ways to do it and a lot of people will swear that one way is better than others – which seems like a good opportunity to throw our two cents into the ring and discuss why we like doing the Texas Crutch the Bearded Butcher way.
When to Wrap a Brisket
We aren't going to go into too much depth about the cooking process for beef brisket. We've got a blog and a video that show our favorite ways to smoke brisket that you should check out to see our specific and unique process. The basic process is to begin with an unwrapped brisket and smoke it at 225-degrees for about six hours. That is typically the amount of time that it takes to set a good smoke flavor and develop a crunchy bark.
When Does the Stall Happen?
The internal temperature will hit somewhere between 150 and 165 degrees and stop rising, even if you increase the temperature of the smoker. This is the stall and if you simply continue to smoke the naked brisket, it will eventually dehydrate enough to continue cooking. That isn't always ideal for exceptional results, so the solution is to wrap the brisket.
Should I Wrap Brisket in Butcher Paper?
The Texas Crutch is a method that uses heavy-duty aluminum foil to wrap the brisket. The foil creates steam and traps heat to help push the internal temperature up more quickly. The aluminum foil method is very popular and you can get great results that way, but we've found that a special type of butcher paper makes the ideal solution to the Texas Crutch.
Wrapping in Aluminum Foil
When you wrap a brisket in aluminum foil, it no longer has smoke circulating around it, so technically, you aren't smoking anymore. The aluminum foil also holds moisture, so the brisket braises somewhat in its own juices. The result is brisket with a somewhat mushy bark, but the beef is also very juicy.
Smoking a bare brisket unwrapped through the entire process can be done and usually results in the strongest smoke flavor and a super crunchy bark. This method has the longest cooking time and has the highest risk of drying out. But a tender, juicy brisket with a thick bark can still be achieved.
The Texas Crutch is a technique that became popular on the competition barbecue circuit during timed events. A tip we learned a while back is to use butcher paper to wrap our brisket. We've found that using butcher paper gives you a better result and more consistency than either the aluminum foil wrap or the unwrapped brisket method. Often called peach paper or pink parchment paper, this special kind of butcher paper is perfect for getting great results and also works great as freezer paper to separate burger patties, slices of beef, or wild game.
Pink Butcher Paper Wrap from the Bearded Butchers
One thing we found out right away when we started using pink butcher paper to wrap our meats was that not all products on the market are equal. We like to keep things all-natural whenever possible, so we had our own pink paper made with our Bearded Butchers and Carnivore logos printed onto unbleached, unwaxed, uncoated parchment paper made right here in the USA.
This is the best peach paper you'll find for wrapping brisket and smoking meat. The 18-inch wide roll is 150-feet long, so you'll have ample paper for wrapping even the most massive packer brisket.
How Do You Wrap a Brisket in Butcher Paper?
Foil wrapping a brisket is simple because the foil holds itself together. Butcher paper doesn't hold its shape, so you'll need to wrap the brisket correctly. You'll want ample counter space for this step. This is a technique that is being made popular by Aaron Franklin of the legendary Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.
- Tear off two lengths of pink butcher paper that are four times longer than the width of your brisket. You don't have to be exact, but it'll be about two, two arm-length pieces.
- Layer the paper so that the two sheets overlap by about half and run long ways away from you.
- Place the brisket lengthwise in front of you with the fattier side up with enough of the bottom edge to wrap over the top of the brisket.
- Begin by folding the bottom over the top and pressing the paper tightly against the meat. Then, fold each side over so that the brisket is held tightly and the paper angles away from you.
- Once both sides are folded over, roll the brisket one time away from you. Then, fold the sides in again but this time so that they angle in together.
- Double the top edge over, then roll the brisket over once again so that the paper is held securely and tightly. You'll have a double layer on the bottom to protect the meat and the proper side of the brisket will be facing up.
This same folding technique also works well in the original Texas Crutch method using aluminum foil. You can get a perfect brisket using either aluminum foil or pink butcher paper when you wrap brisket during the smoking process.
What Temp Do You Wrap a Brisket in Butcher Paper?
The brisket cooking process will hit the stall temperature somewhere around 150 degrees. You should use a smoker probe to monitor the brisket internal temperature, but spot check with an instant read thermometer to verify the correct temperature. Sometimes, the stall won't happen until around 165 degrees. We've found that waiting until 165 doesn't help much and makes the meat hotter and less comfortable to handle. Since we plan on wrapping brisket in butcher paper for our cooking process, we just wrap it when it hits 150 or a little more.
Raising the Temperature After Wrapping
Once you have wrapped the brisket, you'll return it to the smoker. Many people will raise the smoker's temperature to about 275 degrees and hold it there for the duration of the smoke. While it isn't an essential step, raising the temperature slightly will help power the brisket through the stall and get it to the proper internal temperature more quickly.
We've seen some people have success by bringing the temperature of their smoker up to about 180 degrees when the meat hits stall, then wrapping and reducing to 175 when you put the meat back in. This technique helps to settle the temperature while you wrap the meat.
How Wrapping in Butcher Paper Improves Resting
Have you ever noticed that when you wrap a brisket and rest it in aluminum foil, an obscene amount of juice ends up going to waste? That's because the heat is trapped in the space between the foil and the meat.
As long as that region stays hot, the meat will not absorb juices well. Steam will collect in the foil and condense, taking some of the flavor and the crisp bark with it.
The Butcher Paper Difference
When you use butcher paper for the rest, the brisket can breathe a little. This improves the bark crispiness and helps the surface of the meat cool quickly to absorb more juices back into the center of the meat.
It's kind of like a reverse-stall where you want the surface temperature to drop somewhat quickly. The internal temperature may rise by 10 degrees or more during the initial stages of the rest period.
Environmental Reasons for Using Butcher Paper
Aluminum foil is a manufactured product that has specific environmental hazards associated with it. Beyond the mining and refining process, the end product often ends up in landfills. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 3.8 million tons of aluminum were produced with 2.6 million tons ending up in landfills. It is believed that aluminum foil may take up to 400 years to decompose in a landfill.
Butcher paper on the other hand is made from renewable resources and the production creates few environmental risks. Our butcher paper is made from 100% Southern Pine and is FDA-approved.
It has that unique color because of the natural color of the pulp. Leaving the paper unbleached reduces environmental risks and gives you a cleaner final product. Pink butcher paper takes anywhere from two to six weeks to decompose.
Other Cuts that Benefit from Wrapping
Any time that you are cooking a large cut of meat low and slow, you should be prepared to wrap it. This is particularly important for meats that you hope to shred like beef and pork that want a final temperature of 205 degrees. The wrapping method will help to preserve the bark and enhance the smoke flavor to give you the best results.
It's a good idea to wrap shoulder cuts, hams, and other big cuts. We often wrap pork butt when we smoke it to push through the stall and enhance tenderness and get a juicier meat.
We prefer wrapping briskets and other cuts in butcher paper to get the best end results, but it wasn't always that way. We've had lots of success with aluminum foil, and we know plenty of people who swear by it. We also know plenty of people that regularly turn out fantastic brisket and don't wrap at all.
We think that if you are looking for a way to enhance the flavor of your meat and get a super crunchy bark without the risk of drying it out, you should try butcher paper out. In fact, you can pick up a roll of our Bearded Butcher pink butcher paper the next time you stock up on seasoning in anticipation of smoking a massive brisket.