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when to wrap brisket

When to Wrap Brisket and How

Expert pitmasters rely on the internal meat temperature to guide them when to wrap brisket. If you been wondering when is the right time to wrap, here’s the answer from the pros. They’ll tell you the ideal time to wrap your brisket with aluminum foil or butcher’s paper is when the internal temperature is between 150⁰F and 170⁰F.

Also known as the “Texas Crutch”, the process of wrapping brisket is done during cooking, not before. If done correctly, the technique of wrapping your brisket during cooking keeps it moist but still gives that bark “crunch” we all love on our brisket.

If you’re still new to mastering the perfect brisket, then read on. Discover when to wrap the brisket at the right time, what wrapping you should use for best results, and why you should even be wrapping the brisket in the first place.

We’ll guide you through the “Texas Crutch” technique (which is also used for other cuts) so you end up with a juicy, crunchy, and tasty piece of brisket.

The Story Behind the Texas Crutch

You’re going to hear a lot of BBQ aficionados refer to the “Texas Crutch”. It’s an intriguing phrase and doesn’t only refer to brisket. Cooks are using this technique for other cuts too such as ribs and pork butts.

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No-one really knows how the phrase came about and it’s believed it started during BBQ competitions. It’s used as a slang term referring to the wrapping of large cuts of meats to improve the cooking time and the flavors. It was often referred to as the “crutch” for helping cooks master certain meats on the BBQ while trying to meet a tight deadline.

It’s now commonly used to describe the process of wrapping meat during the cooking process. The meat is cooked for a few hours naked, then cooked for a couple of hours more wrapped. The last hour of cooking can be done unwrapped.

Brisket is one of the beef cuts that benefit from this cooking technique and we’re going to share now why the “Texas Crutch” is the secret to a great tasting brisket.

The Benefits of Wrapping Brisket (and other barbecue meat)

Why would you want to even wrap brisket or other barbecue meats in the first place? And, why is it only done halfway through the cooking process? It all has to do with the “stall”.

This is another term you’re going to hear often when you start cooking large cuts of meat for a long time. Cooks who are smoking briskets in a smoker will always experience this stall. At some point during cooking, the meat will stall. This can seem frustrating to cooks who think everything is going according to plan. The meat has been cooking well when suddenly it seems to no longer be cooking.

What’s happening when your meat stalls? Evaporation kicks in. With the heat inside the cooker such as a smoker, moisture builds up in the meat. It rises to the surface and evaporates. The result? The heat cools down and so does your meat. This cycle continues and your meat’s internal temperature reaches a plateau. This is more commonly known as the stall.

By wrapping the brisket in either aluminum foil or butcher’s paper, you’re preventing the evaporation process from happening. Instead of the moisture making contact with the air inside the cooker, it’s now contained within the wrap.

The meat juices now circulate within the wrapping, constantly coating the meat surface. The meat is being braised in its own juices but not cooling down because of the hot air still circulating inside the smoker. The internal meat temperature continues to rise instead of sitting in the stall stage.

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The benefits of wrapping the brisket include:

  • Speeding up the cooking time: In other words, you won’t need to keep your smoker going for hours as you try to push through the stall stage.
  • Better control over the bark: With the brisket encased in foil or paper, you don’t have to worry about burning the surface as you increase the cooker temperature.
  • A juicer, tastier meat: This process allows the internal meat temperature to rise faster without losing moisture. The result is a juicy, tasty brisket.
  • Less fuel is used: Instead of using up more charcoal to keep your smoker fired up while you push through the stall, you’re now minimizing the impact of the stall and decreasing the cooking time as a result.

To master the stall and benefit from wrapping the brisket during cooking, you need to know when to wrap.

Brisket Stall: When to Wrap Brisket?

Pitmasters will tell you the best time to wrap brisket is when the internal meat temperature reaches anywhere between 150 degrees and 170 degrees. If the temperature range bothers you, then stick to 165 degrees.

The trick here is to catch your meat before it hits the stall. This is why BBQ cooks who have mastered this technique advise you to use a meat probe. Leave it in as the stalled process may only happen 3 to 4 hours into the cooking time.

Because you can’t estimate the exact time when the stall is likely to happen, a probe is your best guide here. Once you notice the internal meat temperature is hovering between 150⁰ and 170⁰ then you know your meat has stopped cooking.

This is the right time to take the brisket out and wrap it so you can let it continue to cook. The next question to ask is what should you wrap your brisket with?

What to Use to Wrap Brisket

The most popular options for wrapping your brisket are aluminum foil or butcher paper. Both serve the purpose of getting your brisket through the stall stage. But you might notice some slight differences in your end result. Let’s talk through the two wrapping options so you can decide which one you prefer when doing the “Texas Crutch”.

Aluminum Foil

Also known as tinfoil, aluminum foil is easy to find in the local supermarkets and is often kept in most kitchens for other purposes. It has versatile uses such as wrapping your lunch for the office or school, covering dishes and keeping moisture in while cooking.

The foil is most often used by pitmasters as it’s easier to use. It takes very little skill to wrap the brisket in tinfoil!

It’s recommended you use heavy-duty aluminum foil. Anything lighter and you run the risk of ripping the foil during the wrapping process. Cut the two pieces of foil, each being about one arm-length. The amount of foil you use does depend on the size of the cut so estimate how much you need. For bigger cuts, you’ll need more than an arm-length.

Layer the two pieces and place your brisket on top. Fold over the foil, creating a tight seal over the whole brisket. Be careful not to tear the foil or make any holes in it as this will defeat the reason for wrapping your brisket. Remember – you want to keep the moisture in!

When you use aluminum foil you can expect a shorter cooking time, a softer bark, and a meatier or beefier flavor from your cooked brisket.

Butcher Paper

Butcher paper or butcher pink paper is another type of wrap used to perform the “Texas Crutch”. It’s favored by many cooks who are smoking their meat cuts as it allows more smoke flavor to get in. Butcher paper is most often found at your specialty butcher stores.

It takes some practice to master the art of wrapping large cuts in butcher paper. Once you’ve perfected it though, you may find you prefer this wrap because it does result in a slightly more “smokehouse” flavor in your meat.

Once again, measure the right amount of paper before cutting so your brisket is well-covered when wrapped. You also want enough paper to fold over the ends without them flapping open during cooking.

Using butcher paper gives you a brisket with a more smokey flavor and a crunchier bark. The cooking time maybe about half an hour longer than using the foil wrap option.

Watch this quick video showing you how to wrap the brisket in butcher paper the right way.



Do You Have to Wrap Brisket?

While wrapping a brisket or any other cuts during a BBQ helps to push your meat through the stall stage, you can still smoke the brisket unwrapped or naked. The difference lies in how long you’re prepared to spend cooking your brisket.

Unwrapped briskets will take longer to cook. You can estimate another one to two hours compared to the time it takes to cook wrapped briskets. The stall stage will happen and this can last anywhere between a couple of minutes to a couple of hours!

You also run the risk of drying out the brisket the longer your brisket stays in the cooker. Plus, your bark could burn. But, if you get it right, an unwrapped brisket can end up tastier, with more smoke flavor, a crunchier, darker bark and while slightly dry, it will have some juice in it.

We always say experiment when you’re cooking. If you’re still learning the art of cooking briskets, start with either of the wrap options. The more familiar you get with cooking brisket, the more confidence you’ll have when you decide to cook unwrapped.

If you do decide to go with the unwrapped option, make sure you have aluminum foil or butcher paper in the kitchen. This gives you the option of wrapping if you suddenly find your brisket is burning or drying out before the end of the cooking time.

What Are the Disadvantages to Wrap the Brisket?

You know now that wrapping briskets speeds up the cooking time, allows you to have better control over the bark, and gives you a juicy piece of beef. So, what could be the disadvantages of cooking briskets wrapped?

Less Smokehouse Flavor

If you like your meat to have a strong smoky flavor you might be disappointed with the smoke-less flavor of wrapped brisket. The pros reckon most of the wood smoke is captured during the cooking time before wrapping while others say you lose the smokey flavor once you wrap.

The butcher paper is more porous than aluminum foil. If you’re concerned about not having that smokehouse flavor, then opt to wrap with butcher paper. Unwrapped brisket might give you more smokey flavors but it will also give you drier meat. So, weigh up whether you want more smoke or more juice.

A Softer Bark

Wrapping a brisket does give you more control over the texture of your bark. But, it’s going to be softer and lighter in color compared to an unwrapped brisket. This is because the brisket is being braised in its juices while cooking and not exposed to direct heat.

If having a dark and crunchy bark is important to you then wrapping the brisket may not be your option. But, keep a close eye on the meat while cooking to ensure you don’t end up with a burnt bark instead.

Overcooked Brisket

You run the risk of having mushy brisket when you wrap it in foil or butcher paper. Why? Because the meat will cook rapidly as soon as it has been wrapped. If you don’t watch the internal meat temperature it could start to overcook.

Instead of relying on the timing when cooking your wrapped brisket, use the meat probe to tell you when your brisket is cooked. Check the brisket every 30 minutes by inserting the probe through the wrap. There’s no need to unwrap every time you check the temperature. A perfectly cooked brisket should have an internal meat temperature of 203 degrees.

Wrapping Brisket: Final Thoughts

Wrapping your brisket has many benefits. It speeds up the cooking time, gives you a decent bark, and juicy, flavorful meat to eat. The key is knowing when to wrap the brisket and the internal meat temperature is your best guide here. You can opt for aluminum foil or butcher paper to get you through the stall.

Mastering the “Texas Crutch” is easy once you know why, when, and how to do it. After all, the pro pitmasters swear by this technique so learn from the experts.

When to Wrap Brisket and How