Wrapping large cuts of meat partway through the cooking time can help them cook faster, which is one of the reasons why the practice is so popular. Aluminum foil is one obvious choice, but many pitmasters prefer to use butcher paper or parchment paper instead. What’s appealing about these options, and is one any better than the other?
Butcher Paper vs Parchment Paper
When it comes to wrapping meat for the smoker, parchment paper takes a slight edge over butcher paper. It’s lightweight, versatile, and easy to find. It also allows the meat to retain a decent bark, which is important. One caveat: pink (or “peach”) butcher paper should yield results that are almost as impressive.
Why Wrap Meat in the First Place?
Proponents of the wrapping method, often called the “Texas crutch,” claim that it helps their pulled pork and smoked brisket retain moisture as it cooks. It can also make the cooking times easier to predict, since the temperature rises more quickly once the meat is inside the wrapper.
Raw meat contains a great deal of water. As it cooks, the moisture evaporates, which is why the meat weighs so much less afterward. When you wrap brisket in butcher or parchment paper, the dispelled liquid stays close to the surface of the meat, keeping it tender and moist.
The method has another direct benefit: a faster cooking time. When you smoke a large cut like brisket or pork butt, it will appear to stop cooking when the temperature hits 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because the evaporated moisture is cooling the surface of the meat faster than the smoker can keep up with it.
This temperature plateau, called “the stall,” can last 5 or 6 hours. That’s a long wait, and it can throw off your plans if you’re hosting a hungry crowd. Since wrapping the meat will impede the effects of evaporative cooling, the temperature will rise more quickly.
It’s also worth noting that the wrapper will act as a barrier against the direct heat of the smoker. Therefore, there’s no need to worry about dry meat or scorched patches on the bark.
Is It Necessary?
Although the Texas crutch has plenty of fans, it’s not a necessary step. In fact, we prefer to skip it entirely and wait out the stall when making smoked pulled pork or brisket. That’s partly because we don’t like to rush a good thing, but mostly because we prefer a nice hard bark on our smoked meats.
If you do decide to use this method, though, we recommend skipping the foil and using butcher or parchment paper instead. With foil, all the moisture gets trapped inside the wrapper, which results in braising rather than smoking. Paper allows some of the steam to escape while still moving the process along.
Butcher Paper vs Parchment Paper: The Breakdown
Now that we’ve narrowed it down to a choice between butcher and parchment paper, which is best? Let’s go over the basics.
About Butcher Paper
Butcher paper is a thick, durable product that resists tearing, which makes it a solid option for grilling. As the name suggests, it’s also used by butchers to wrap meat for purchase. A similar product known as “kraft paper” can be found in art supply stores, but this variety hasn’t been strengthened for food-grade use.
While white and brown butcher paper are the most common, there’s also a pink version available. This alternative, known as “peach paper,” has become more popular with grillers since famed pitmaster Aaron Franklin began using it for his noteworthy smoked beef brisket.
Peach paper is not a new product, but it’s one of the hottest trends in the barbecue community these days. It’s made of virgin wood pulp and is FDA compliant, so it can be safely used with food. Despite the name, it doesn’t contain any distinctive scent or flavor—it’s only called peach paper because of the unbleached color.
What sets peach paper apart is a treatment called “sizing.” This treatment keeps the paper from falling apart when it gets wet, which comes in handy on the grill because most of the evaporated moisture will collect on the inside of the wrapper.
If you’re buying butcher paper and plan to use it on the grill, make sure it’s 100 percent paper and hasn’t been treated with a wax coating. Some brands are coated with wax or polyethylene, which could pose a hazard if the paper is exposed to heat (see the segment below for more details).
About Parchment Paper
In a side-by-side comparison, you’re bound to notice that parchment paper is thinner than butcher paper. It’s been treated with silicone to give it nonstick qualities, and it’s available either bleached or unbleached. Both are safe to use with food, but the bleached version may leach dioxin when heated, so it’s not the best choice for the grill.
Parchment paper is sometimes confused with wax or freezer paper. However, it’s important not to confuse them, as parchment is the only one that can be used to wrap meat for grilling. Both freezer and wax paper have a layer of paraffin that will melt when exposed to heat. This will contaminate the food, rendering it inedible.
Which is cheaper: butcher paper or parchment paper? Both are affordable options, but you’ll probably pay a few dollars less for a roll of parchment than the same amount of peach paper. The white and brown versions of butcher paper, meanwhile, are slightly cheaper.
The difference in pricing is small enough for us to call a draw in this category. That said, buying in bulk will usually get you a better deal, no matter which one you choose.
If time is of the essence, you might be better off limiting your search to parchment paper. While some larger supermarkets carry butcher paper, it’s not as easy to find. Parchment paper, meanwhile, can usually be found alongside the aluminum foil and plastic wrap.
If you can’t find butcher paper in the same aisle, it could be next to the charcoal and grilling supplies. Also, if you have a good relationship with your local butcher shop, they might be willing to share some with you. However, unless they carry the peach version, it’s not worth the effort.
When it comes to performance, we prefer parchment paper. That’s because it creates a thin, breathable membrane that won’t inhibit the creation of tasty bark.
Moisture retention is another factor. Although peach paper represents a step up from regular butcher paper, it has one notable drawback: It will absorb some of the juices from the meat. That means you won’t be able to reuse those drippings in a pan sauce or gravy.
The silicone treatment prevents parchment paper from absorbing moisture, so it will retain more of the cooking juices. It’s still semi-permeable, though, which means you won’t end up with as much reserved fluid as you would with a foil wrapper.
It’s important to remember that both of these products can catch fire if the smoker temperature gets too hot. Fortunately, when smoking brisket or pork shoulder, the heat should remain low enough to circumvent this issue.
Parchment paper wins out over butcher paper in this category as well. It can be used to line baking sheets and cake pans, to wrap fish and vegetables for steaming en papillote, and to cover work stations to avoid contaminating surfaces.
By way of comparison, butcher paper has a limited range. It’s suitable for wrapping meat, and you could use it to protect your work surface in a pinch. But parchment paper is a multi-use kitchen accessory with year-round potential.
The Bottom Line
Remember: you don’t have to wrap your meat at all. It’s fine to leave it bare and wait out the long cooking process.
If you do opt for the Texas crutch, we would recommend using parchment paper over butcher paper or aluminum foil. It will provide the boost you’re looking for without sacrificing the quality of the barbecue, which is the best compromise you could ask for.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!