The question of whether or not to wrap beef brisket is one that’s hotly debated in the barbecue community. Some pitmasters praise the convenience of the method and the quality of the results, while others prefer to leave the brisket bare for the duration of the cooking time.
If you do decide to take this route, it’s important to do it right. In our ultimate guide to the method known as the “Texas crutch,” we’ll teach you when to wrap brisket, which material to use, and other tips to help you perfect the technique.
When To Wrap Brisket
The best time to wrap brisket is when it reaches the 150- to 160-degree threshold. At this point, the meat should be entering “the stall,” which means the cooking process will slow down for a while. Wrapping the meat will help to speed things along.
Should you Wrap Brisket?
Is it necessary to wrap brisket in the first place? That’s a matter of personal preference. In the end, it all comes down to two factors: time and texture.
Wrapping the brisket will help speed the cooking process along by powering it through the period called “the stall” (see the separate section below for more info). So if you want the meat to cook more quickly, then you should consider taking this extra step.
On the other hand, wrapped brisket tends to have a softer bark than the “naked” variety. This is a particular concern if you use aluminum foil, as the meat is essentially being steamed inside the wrapper. That’s why proponents of hard, crunchy bark will usually let the brisket cook without wrapping it.
Why Is It Called the Texas Crutch?
The term “Texas crutch” is often used on the barbecue circuit. However, its origins are somewhat vague. Most people assume that the technique was invented in Texas, but it’s just as likely that it earned this name because barbecue is such a huge part of the culture in that state.
The “crutch” portion of the name is easier to deduce. Wrapping the meat will help it reach the ideal temperature much sooner. It also prevents the brisket from losing too much moisture as it cooks. These factors give the chef an extra leg to stand on, so to speak–hence the “crutch” designation.
Some naysayers claim that this is cheating, and that’s it’s best to let the smoker do its work without interference. Others say it doesn’t matter, as long as the results are worth the effort.
We should also point out that brisket isn’t the only cut of meat that can benefit from the Texas crutch. Barbecue aficionados might also use it to speed the cooking process when making pulled pork or smoked ribs.
About The Stall
Those who employ the Texas crutch often do so as a way to beat the stall. This is an annoying but well-known phenomenon that occurs when the brisket’s temperature halts for hours on end. It’s most common around the 150-degree mark, but it can happen at various points throughout the smoke—sometimes more than once.
The stall comes about as a result of evaporative cooling. As the brisket cooks, it loses moisture. This moisture evaporates on the surface, cooling the meat slightly. At a certain point, the heat from the smoker is no longer sufficient to fight off this cooling effect, and the temperature hits the dreaded stall.
Eventually, the excess moisture in the brisket will evaporate, and the brisket’s temperature will begin to climb once more. In the meantime, though, the wait can be frustrating. That’s what encourages many chefs to employ the Texas crutch.
When To Wrap Brisket For Best Results
When is the best time to wrap beef brisket? Our advice would be to do it at the beginning of the stall. As soon as you notice that the numbers on the thermometer don’t seem to be budging, take the brisket off the heat so you can wrap it. As we mentioned, this usually happens at around 150 degrees.
Of course, the meat might also begin to stall earlier. In this case, it’s a good idea to wrap it even if you hadn’t planned to, especially if the temperature is holding steady below 140 degrees. If the brisket stays between 40 and 140 degrees for longer than 4 hours, it could become a breeding ground for the type of food-borne bacteria that causes illness.
As a rule of thumb, wrap the brisket either when it begins to stall, or when it hits 150 degrees. Even if it doesn’t seem to have stalled yet, you’ll be saving time by wrapping it preemptively. For more advice in this area, see Should You Wrap Brisket Before or After Stall?, below.
How To Wrap Brisket in Parchment Paper
If you want to wrap the brisket but you’re leery of using aluminum foil, there are other alternatives available. Parchment paper is a cellulose-based product that’s been treated with silicone to give it nonstick properties. Of all the possible wrapper options, this one is the thinnest and most delicate.
Parchment paper provides a breathable alternative to foil, but it’s still capable of withstanding high temperatures. It will help to speed the cooking process without sacrificing moisture, as some of the brisket’s juices should collect on the inside of the paper. However, it allows a bit of evaporation as well, which makes for a decent bark.
While we think that parchment paper is a better option than aluminum foil, it does have one significant drawback: it tears easily. It may also ignite if the heat of the smoker gets too high. However, most brands are heat-resistant up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so this shouldn’t be an issue when making smoked brisket.
How To Wrap Brisket in Foil
The foil wrapper is considered the original Texas crutch method. When you use it, you might have to contend with a softer bark. However, since the foil will have a blocking effect on the smoke, the meat will have a strong beefy flavor.
This is arguably the easiest brisket wrapping technique you’ll find. The malleable nature of foil allows you to wrap the meat tightly, even if you’re a first-timer. Better yet, foil is easy to come by—most people already have it on hand.
To use foil as your brisket wrapper, start with two pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Each piece should be about as long as your arm. Stack one atop the other and set them aside until you’re ready to work.
Set the partially cooked brisket on the foil layers, then wrap the meat as tightly as possible. Return it to the smoker until it’s reached the desired temperature.
If you’ve done the job properly, the foil should have created a tight seal around the meat. This will make the brisket cook much more quickly than if you’d left it alone, so be sure to keep a close eye on its progress. If you’d prefer a crisper bark, try to remove the foil during the last hour or so of your projected cooking time.
How To Wrap Brisket in Foil and Towel
The foil and towel method is best undertaken when the meat has finished cooking. This is known as “holding” the barbecue until you’re ready to serve it. You may also hear people refer to it as the “faux Cambro” technique.
Since you’ll want to allow the brisket to rest for at least 30 minutes anyway, this method gives you more leeway in terms of time. You can take your time smoking the brisket, and if it’s ready a few hours before your guests arrive, there’s no harm done.
Holding the meat can make for a more succulent barbecue, owing to the redistribution of moisture. Even fully cooked meat is made up of more than 50 percent water. When the brisket is heated, the proteins are disrupted. The resting period allows the remaining moisture to bind around these proteins, so the meat remains juicy after it’s sliced.
To use the faux Cambro method, fill a large cooler with 3 gallons of hot water and close the lid. Wait 30 minutes, then pour the water out. You should plan to do this when the internal temperature of the brisket is approaching the 195-degree mark. That way, the cooler will still be nice and warm when you put the meat inside.
Wait until the brisket has reached the desired internal temp and the probe slides in and out without resistance. Once it’s ready, pull the meat from the smoker and wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil. Use a few clean towels to swaddle the wrapped brisket, then set it in the prepared cooler until you’re ready to serve it.
How long will the faux Cambro do its work? Barbecue expert Aaron Franklin recommends a holding period of 2 to 3 hours. You might even be able to get away with holding it for up to 4 hours. However, if you’re looking at a longer wait, you might be better off letting the brisket cool, than reheating it when guests arrive.
How To Wrap Brisket in Butcher Paper
While we’re on the subject of Aaron Franklin, butcher paper is said to be his preferred method for wrapping brisket. Specifically, he uses pink butcher paper, also known as “peach paper.” This product is FDA compliant, so it can be safely used with food.
Like parchment paper, pink butcher paper allows the brisket to “breathe” as it smokes, trapping just the right amount of moisture inside. This type of paper has been treated so that it won’t fall apart when it gets wet, a process called “sizing.” This means you won’t have to worry about it disintegrating during the smoke.
Don’t make the mistake of buying pink- or peach-colored freezer paper as a substitute for pink butcher paper. While they might look similar, they have very different properties. For more details, see How to Wrap Brisket in Freezer Paper?, below.
To begin, set out two sheets of pink butcher paper. They should be about 4 times as long as the brisket is wide. As with the aluminum foil technique, you can probably use the length of your arm as a guide.
Set the first sheet of paper on a clean, flat surface, making sure the long end is perpendicular to you. Set the second sheet on top of the first, overlapping it by about 50 percent of its width.
Place the brisket along the paper lengthwise with the fat side facing up. It should rest about 12 inches from the bottom edge of the paper. If you’re using a brisket spritz, feel free to add a bit now.
Fold the bottom edge over the meat, pulling it as close as you can to create a tight package. Repeat the process with the sides of the wrapper, taking care to fold the paper neatly beneath the brisket as you attend to one side at a time. The folds should line up as closely as possible with the brisket’s natural contours.
When both sides are tucked in neatly, smooth out the paper. Hold the wrapper in place as you gently roll the brisket over. Make another fold along each side of the wrapper, then fold over the top end to create a double layer.
Roll the brisket again so that the fat side is facing up once more, with the double layer of wrapping underneath. The meat is now ready to go back on the smoker for the remainder of the cooking time.
Do You Add Liquid When Wrapping Brisket?
While it’s not always necessary, it’s permissible to add a bit of liquid when wrapping brisket. Water, apple juice or cider, beer, beef stock or broth, and vinegar are all considered viable options.
Should you decide to add liquid, don’t go overboard. A spritz bottle is a good tool for getting a thin coating of moisture on the meat.
Alternatively, you can put a small amount of liquid—no more than 3 or 4 ounces—on the wrapper before adding the brisket. This technique works best when you use aluminum foil for the wrapper, as it traps more moisture inside.
Should You Wrap Brisket Before Or After Stall?
There’s no clear answer to this question. It’s one of those debates that keeps getting raked over the coals, so to speak, so it never quite dies down.
As we’ve pointed out, some pitmasters prefer not to wrap the brisket at all. Those who do can’t seem to agree on when it should happen. Since each technique delivers different results, it’s hard to say which one is best.
Wrapping the brisket too early will deprive it of that delectable smoky flavor that anchors any good barbecue. For that reason, we think it’s best to wait for at least three hours before wrapping. At this point, it’s probably absorbed enough smoke to make a noticeable difference in terms of taste.
Our recommendation would be to wrap the brisket as soon as it reaches the usual stall temperature of 150 to 160 degrees. That way, you won’t have to play guessing games about when the stall might happen. Once it’s in the wrapper, it will power through the stall more quickly anyway.
One caveat: If you prefer a thick, mahogany-colored bark, you should hold off on wrapping until the brisket has achieved an internal temp of 170 degrees. This will probably happen after the stall, so you could be in for a long wait.
Is There Any Difference Between Wrapping the Point vs. the Flat?
If you’re smoking a whole packer brisket, you might be wondering if you should separate the flat from the point end before wrapping it. In fact, there’s no reason to do so. While the flat end might finish cooking before the point, they should both stay in the wrapper until they’ve reached the 195-degree mark.
Even when smoking the point and flat separately, there’s no real distinction regarding when you should pull the meat for wrapping. In both cases, it can be done according to preference. Again, we think the 150- to 160-degree range is preferable for both.
Obviously, if you’re wrapping either the point or the flat separately, you won’t need quite as much material as you would for a whole packer. Stick with the formula of “4 times as long as the brisket is wide,” using double layers, and you should have enough.
We should point out, though, that you may need to take the point out of the wrapper a bit sooner if you’re planning on making burnt ends. To create this delicacy, wait until the flat end of the brisket is at 195 degrees, then separate the point from the flat and cut the point meat into cubes.
Return the cubes to the smoker for another hour while the flat rests. If the flat isn’t fork-tender just yet, put it back on the cooking grate as well.
When the point meat is extra-crispy, remove the cubes from the heat and serve with barbecue sauce. Once the flat is done, allow it to rest for 30 minutes in its wrapper before slicing the meat.
How To Wrap Brisket in Freezer Paper
Freezer paper is a thick, moisture-resistant paper that’s coated with wax on one side. Although it’s fine to use freezer paper instead of butcher or parchment paper when storing meat, you should never use it as a substitute when making smoked brisket. Here’s why.
Freezer paper has been treated with a poly coating to prevent ice crystals from forming on the food. As such, it isn’t resistant to heat. If this coating is exposed to heat, it will melt all over the surface of your brisket, which would be a disaster.
The brisket-wrapping debate will continue to rage as long as pitmasters gather around the barbecue. Although we prefer to leave the meat “naked” and let the smoker do its work, we can appreciate the convenience of the Texas crutch technique.
If you decide to wrap the brisket, try your luck with butcher or parchment paper instead of foil. While it requires a little bit of effort, the brisket will be far superior in terms of flavor and texture.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!