Some brisket recipes recommend wrapping the cooked meat in a double layer of foil, then swaddling the package in a clean kitchen towel. What’s the reasoning behind this method, and does it do any good?
Why Wrap Brisket In Towel After Taking It Off The Smoker?
When you use a towel to wrap brisket, you’re essentially buying yourself time. The towel will prevent the internal temperature of the meat from dropping too low before you’re ready to serve it. While it’s not always necessary, it’s a useful trick to have in your arsenal in case the brisket is done cooking too early.
The Science of Resting
You’re probably aware of the fact that you should rest a cut of meat after pulling it off the heat. But do you know why this step is such an integral part of the cooking process?
Raw meat contains a great deal of moisture. In fact, a whole beef brisket is made up of nearly 70 percent water. That’s the main reason why your cooked brisket weighs so much less than the raw product.
When the meat is cooking, this fluid is forced toward the surface, where it evaporates. If the meat cooks to a high enough temperature, it will lose the majority of its moisture, as you’ll know if you’ve ever eaten an overcooked steak.
With a perfectly cooked brisket, there should be plenty of moisture left behind. When you take the hot meat off the smoker, though, that fluid will still be drawn toward the outer edges.
If you were to slice into the brisket just a few minutes after pulling it from the heat, that liquid would spill out onto the carving station. Waiting just 30 minutes—or longer, if possible—will give the meat’s fibers time to reabsorb these juices.
Why Wrap Brisket In Towel?
Wrapping the meat in foil will help keep it warm while the juices settle back into place. Adding an extra layer of insulation—a clean kitchen towel, in this case—ensures that the meat will stay hot and juicy that much longer.
This step isn’t strictly necessary unless you’re planning to wait longer than an hour before carving and serving the brisket. For resting periods of 60 minutes or less, it’s fine to rest the meat on the counter. We’ll talk more about this in the sections below.
The Faux Cambro Technique
A faux Cambro is intended to help a perfectly cooked brisket maintain its integrity while you wait for the designated serving time. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you probably have all the tools you need on hand already.
Cambros are popular in the catering industry, where they’re used to keep prepared foods piping hot. Since they’re essentially just insulated containers, it’s easy to replicate the technique at home.
To make a faux Cambro, look for a regular cooler that’s big enough to hold the cooked brisket. If the cooler is too small, the method won’t work.
Fill the cooler with about 3 gallons of hot water, then close the lid. Wait about 30 minutes for the container to heat up. It’s best if you take this step when you’re nearly ready to pull the brisket from the smoker.
Drain the cooler, then dry the interior with a clean towel. Use another towel to line the inside of the container.
When the brisket is ready to come off the heat, wrap it in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, then wrap it once more in another clean towel. Set the prepared brisket in the warm cooler and close the lid.
The brisket should remain at an acceptable temperature for up to 4 hours. In a pinch, you might be able to keep it in there for another hour or two. Just make sure the internal temperature of the meat doesn’t dip below 140, or you’ll need to refrigerate it soon.
Holding vs. Resting
Even if you’ve opted to wrap the brisket and hold it until serving time, we would still recommend letting the meat rest without its wrapper for about 30 minutes.
When you hold brisket in a faux Cambro, it will remain at its optimum temperature for longer than if you’d rested it at room temperature. That’s often the whole point of the exercise, since it’s hard to predict exactly when a brisket will be done cooking.
It’s best to slice brisket when the internal temperature has dropped to the 150-170 degree range. While it might cool down to this temp during its time in the faux Cambro if it’s held long enough, the process is quicker when the meat is exposed to moving air.
Can You Wrap Brisket In a Towel Without Using a Faux Cambro?
Of course. The heated cooler provides another layer of insulation, which is helpful if you want to hold the meat for longer than a couple of hours.
If you don’t have a cooler large enough to use this method, though, the towel will still keep the brisket warm during the holding period. The temperature will drop more rapidly, but as we mentioned earlier, that could be to your advantage.
Are There Any Drawbacks To Wrapping Brisket In a Towel?
First of all, wrapping the brisket will delay the serving time. If you want to have dinner on the table in less than an hour, you don’t need to bother with this step.
On a practical level, the towel—and the cooler, if you use it—should be cleaned thoroughly after being called into service. Some home chefs prefer to keep things as simple as possible, so they balk at this potential extra chore.
There’s also the question of whether holding the brisket this way will soften the bark. While air exposure will always be preferable to wrapping (see section below), we wouldn’t worry too much about it.
In order to form a nice crunchy bark, the brisket needs to cook unwrapped for the first several hours. Once this bark has formed, it should provide an excellent counterpoint to the tender meat, even if it does soften up a bit during the holding period.
Should You Wrap Brisket As It Cooks?
Even if you opt not to wrap brisket in a towel once it’s finished cooking, you might be wondering whether you should wrap it at some point during the smoke. This method has its advantages, but it’s up to you to decide whether to use it.
Wrapping brisket will expedite the cooking process, making the total cook time easier to predict. It also helps the meat retain moisture, since less of it can escape through the wrapper.
One final—if obvious—note: This step refers to wrapping the brisket in foil or butcher paper. You should never return meat to the smoker while it’s wrapped in a towel.
When it comes to smoking meats, there’s a reason behind every technique. In our opinion, this particular step isn’t necessary every time, but it can definitely come in handy when you need to keep the brisket warm for a while.