To wrap or not to wrap – or when to wrap? These are the questions of the day. There is a ton of debate about exactly why, when, and how to wrap meat and a lot depends on the cooking method. Most of the time, pitmasters will use a wrap to speed up the cooking process when dealing with large cuts like brisket or a full rack of ribs. It's also a great way to cook delicate meat with indirect heat.
So we're going to let you know what we have learned about making the perfect brisket.
How to Properly Wrap Your Meat During Smoking for a Juicy and Tender Result
You might think that there is a right way and a wrong way to wrap meat. As long as the meat is fully contained and juices are not leaking out, there is no wrong way. Two of our favorite methods are the burrito wrap and the freezer wrap. You can use aluminum foil or butcher paper depending on your preference – we prefer butcher paper.
The burrito wrap starts with a long piece of butcher paper or aluminum foil. The roast is set in the corner so that the ends point to the sides. First, bring up the triangle in the back of the roast over the top, then roll the meat forward one time. Now, press the side flaps against the meat tightly and fold the flaps so they make a slightly tapered shape. Continue to roll the meat forward until it is completely wrapped.
The freezer wrap still starts with a large sheet of butcher paper. You'll want to place the meat so that it points away from you but has several inches of paper on both sides. Now, lift up the long sides and bring them together. Make a fold about one inch over, then another fold to seal in the meat. Tuck the sides tightly and fold the remaining flaps underneath the meat.
Both methods work well to seal in juicier meat and prevent drying. Sometimes you need a few sheets to wrap a larger brisket in butcher paper. If that's the case, you'll want to overlap the sheets as much as possible.
Should You Wrap Meat When Smoking?
Wrapping meat in the smoker isn't always necessary, and in some cases, it can have detrimental effects. A key benefit of wrapping meat is that it stops the smoke flavor from penetrating more. When cooking meat that flavors quickly or meat that you don't want to have a strong smoke flavor, wrapping lets you cook evenly without overdoing it.
Wrapping meat also stops the drying process and creates a steamy, humid cooking environment. For cuts of meat like brisket that cook for a long time, wrapping keeps the meat moist and seals in the delicious smoked brisket flavors.
Some people wrap ribs in the smoker, but we usually do not – unless we are smoking a full rack with the loin in place. Otherwise, the ribs cook quickly enough and wrapping isn't necessary. Other cuts of pork, particularly butt roast, we often wrap when we are making shredded pork because we want to prevent over-drying.
The downside to wrapping meat is that the increased humidity will soften the bark in the meat's own juices. But sometimes, this isn't a bad thing. We've certainly come across some smoked brisket that had such a hard bark it was inedible.
Why Should You Wrap Brisket?
Brisket is a large, fatty cut of meat that becomes incredibly tough when it is overcooked. The smoking process is ideal for cooking brisket because it releases the tenderizing natural juices over the course of several hours.
At a certain point, the moisture evaporating from the surface of the meat and the meat's natural juices will hit the same temperature and the cooking process will stall.
Cooking through the stall often takes at least an hour and can leave your tender meat dry. All the delicious flavors are ruined.
Does Wrapping Meat Make it Smoke Faster?
Once the meat is wrapped, it is not smoking anymore. Now, it's roasting.
The wrapping prevents smoke from touching the meat. You will not get more smoke flavor once the meat is wrapped, so save your expensive hardwood chunks for next time.
Once the meat is wrapped, you can increase the temperature of the smoker slightly which will make the meat finish faster.
When (What Temperature) Should I Wrap?
Meat hits the stall temp at an internal temperature of around 160 to 170 degrees when measured with a thermometer in the thickest part. This is the time to wrap brisket and continue cooking.
Wrapping your brisket locks in flavor and keeps the brisket moist. The ideal cooking temperature for unwrapped brisket is lower than that which is desired for wrapping brisket. Brisket is best when the internal temperature reaches 203 degrees.
You can also increase your smoker temp from 225 up to 275 after wrapping your brisket.
Aluminum Foil vs Butcher Paper vs Unwrapped
A popular technique on the competition barbecue circuit is the Texas crutch. This method typically uses the burrito fold with heavy-duty aluminum foil to seal the brisket tightly and rapidly finish the process. Foil does not breathe at all and there is no opportunity for excess steam to escape. Briskets wrapped in aluminum foil can get mushy rather than producing the juicy meat we all crave.
We typically will use our variation of the Texas crutch that employs pink butcher paper. Pink paper breathes a little bit but still traps heat and juices. We find that brisket keeps a better bark with pink unlined butcher paper, especially when we avoid wrapping the meat too tightly. Smoking meat wrapped in butcher paper will allow a little flavor to be added while speeding up the process. Parchment paper can also be used. It breathes less than butcher paper but might shorten the cooking time by about an hour.
Unwrapped brisket can be done, but it is a risky endeavor if you are looking for the ultimate tender meat.
Unwrapped brisket tends to become dry, particularly the ends, and develops too much bark because of the long cooking time. However, we have cooked many pulled pork butt roasts unwrapped and coated with our Hollywood seasoning and have had lots of success, so there really isn't anything saying you can't get good results without wrapping your meat.
Just keep in mind that wrapping the brisket while smoking is a great way to make a flavorful meal. Brisket cooks faster when it is wrapped and the meat begins to fall apart quicker.
Foil wrapping briskets remains a popular technique in competition and plenty of backyard pitmasters swear by the method. Beef brisket wrapped in foil is great for sandwiches and shredding. Butcher paper-wrapped brisket gets a bit more bark and is wonderful thinly sliced. We like brisket's bark (especially when our Black Seasoning is used, the bark flavor it creates is out of this world), so we tend to use butcher paper the most, but the choice is up to your cooking style. Smoking brisket is a time-consuming process that wrapping can speed along. Just don't forget that even a wrapped brisket needs a rest after cooking.
And if all this brisket talk has gotten your mouth watering, check out our favorite smoked brisket recipe.