A lot of budding pitmasters—and a lot of seasoned pros, too—use aluminum foil when smoking meat. As we’ll discuss in greater detail later on, though, this practice definitely has its drawbacks.
Is there an alternative to aluminum foil that will yield similar results? And if so, what is it?
What Can I Use Instead of Aluminum Foil for Smoking Meat?
The act of wrapping meat in aluminum foil partway through the smoke is known as the “Texas crutch” because it speeds the cooking process along. Unfortunately, it also causes the meat to steam inside the package, which creates a softer texture. To avoid this, you can either substitute parchment paper or butcher paper, or skip the wrapper altogether.
Why Wrap Meat in Foil?
Wrapping a cut of meat in foil will allow it to cook faster. Since most cuts that work best on the smoker—brisket, pork butt, and ribs—take a long time to cook, this is an appealing prospect that allows you to serve the meal much sooner.
Here’s how it works. When meat is exposed to heat, it expels moisture. This liquid pools on the surface of the meat, thereby cooling it down. If you were to trap this moisture inside a foil wrapper, the temp would rise and the meat would steam inside the package.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you prefer your smoked meat to have a braised-like quality. But if you’re like us, you enjoy the textural contrast and improved flavor that you get from a nice crusty bark.
The process of wrapping meat during the cooking process is called the “Texas crutch.” That should give you some idea of how it’s perceived in professional circles. While many experts still use it, it is considered a shortcut—and rightly so.
What Can I Use Instead of Aluminum Foil for Smoking?
Aluminum foil creates an impenetrable barrier between the smoke and the meat. That’s a problem if you want your food to achieve maximum smoke flavor.
On the other hand, if you leave the meat unwrapped for the duration of the smoke, the process can take a prohibitively long time. So is there a suitable compromise available?
Fortunately for us all, there are several. Butcher paper is one, and parchment paper is another. Let’s take a closer look at both options.
Although butchers use this type of paper to wrap meat for sale, it also works well on the smoker. The paper is tough and durable, so it won’t fall apart when exposed to heat for long periods.
It’s easier to find brown and white butcher paper, but “peach paper” is popular with pitmasters thanks to its more porous nature. Try to find peach paper if you’re looking for a type of butcher paper that can be used to wrap your meat.
Be aware that butcher-style peach paper has been treated to prevent it from disintegrating when it gets wet.
The color is due to the fact that the paper is unbleached, and not any additional colors or flavorings. Don’t buy just any peach-colored paper and think you’re getting a food-grade product.
Parchment paper is thinner and more delicate than butcher paper. Treated with silicone to give it a nonstick surface, it’s sold both bleached and unbleached. Like butcher paper, it’s a food-grade product, but the unbleached variety is better for smoking.
It’s important not to confuse parchment paper with wax paper. Wax paper includes a paraffin layer that will melt and contaminate your food when heated. Obviously, this makes it a no-go for the smoker.
Which is Best: Foil, Butcher Paper, or Parchment Paper?
If you’re looking for an alternative to aluminum foil, chances are good that you’ve already decided not to use that. Bravo—we don’t like using it, either. It does save time, but we’re just not fans of the soft, almost mushy texture that happens as a result.
That means you’ve narrowed your choice down to two options: butcher paper and parchment paper. How do you decide?
In terms of affordability, parchment paper and butcher paper cost roughly the same. Try to buy in bulk if you’re planning to use them on a regular basis.
Parchment paper is easier to find, so that’s a plus. Look for it in the section of the supermarket that houses plastic wrap, paper plates, and disposable plastic bags.
We would also give the edge to parchment paper in terms of performance. The material is thinner than butcher paper, so it creates a more breathable package. That means you’ll wind up with more delicious bark.
There’s also the fact that all butcher paper, including peach paper, will soak up some of the meat’s drippings. If you want to save some of that liquid to make a sauce or gravy, parchment paper is a better choice—it has a silicone layer that makes it less absorbent.
Neither of these products should catch fire in the smoker unless the environment gets too hot. Specifically, the smoker temp should remain below 400 degrees in order to prevent combustion. Since smoking typically takes place at lower temperatures, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Do You Have To Wrap Meat During the Smoke?
It’s not necessary to wrap meat at all, especially if you want to create a thick bark. The process will take longer, sure, but you can avoid disappointment by planning ahead.
If you do decide to wrap the meat, wait to do so until after the internal temperature has climbed to at least 150 degrees. At this point, the meat will begin to “stall,” meaning the temperature will cease to rise for a while. Wrapping it will help it power through this phase.
The Bottom Line
Adding a layer of aluminum foil to your smoked meat allows it to cook faster, but it also softens the texture. If you want to speed the process along while sacrificing less of the bark you’ve worked so hard to create, opt for parchment paper or butcher paper instead.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!