Brisket is a delicious beef cut when cooked in whichever method. You can grill, smoke, or roast it in an oven to get the desired flavors. Over the years, pitmasters and grill lovers have developed different methods of improving the meat’s deliciousness. Among the modes adopted is wrapping the brisket using either butcher paper or foil.
For beginners and other advanced cooks who know their way around the brisket and fire, the main question has always been whether to wrap it or prepare it unwrapped. Other emerging issues such as when to wrap it, how to wrap it and the difference made by wrapping it are also dilemmas facing most brisket lovers.
To clear the air, we have compiled a list of dos and don’ts of brisket wrapping as well as the steps to follow while at it.
Why Do You Have to Wrap a Brisket?
People who have wrapped their brisket before smoking it can attest to the benefits that come with it.
There are three major reasons why you should consider doing it. Your meat gains a tenderness, cooks fast, and draws more flavors. The brisket will also form a crunchy crust that makes it more mouth-watering.
When smoking large chunks of meat, the cut is subject to stalling. This occurs towards an internal temperature of 165° F, whereby, the cooking process stagnates and the meat’s temperature curve flattens. Scientifically, this is a result of evaporation. The mechanism is similar to the one used to cool the human body during hot weather conditions.
When the internal temperature of the brisket starts rising, water vapor starts forming. The emitted droplets result in cooling the meat, causing it to bar the circulation of heat inside it. This marks the beginning of a stall, which proceeds until changes are made.
To reverse the process, you must wrap the meat and maintain a 275° F temperature range throughout the next phase of smoking.
Wrapping the brisket prevents stalling by ensuring that the droplets, that would otherwise evaporate and interfere with the temperature settings, are trapped within the meat. This prevents cooled air from getting into contact with the meat.
The wrapper is also responsible for insulating the meat. This prevents it from drying out from exposure to direct heat or burning excessively. It also ensures that heat is distributed evenly, instead of cooking the outside part of the meat before the inside is well cooked.
Once the stall has been dealt with, the brisket’s internal temperature starts to rise once more. As the cooking time proceeds, the brisket’s tenderness and texture improve.
Smoking wrapped brisket also results in a “Texas Crutch”. This is the term given to a cooking technique that involves the use of butcher paper or tinfoil.
In the world of professional grilling, pitmasters contest against each other to find out who among them is capable of creating the most unique “Texas Crutch”. They compete under set rules and times after which the judges decide on who to award.
This technique is not exclusive to brisket smoking only as it can be used in other beef cuts or other cooking methods. For example, the 3-2-1 rib-cooking method brings out great results when the Texas Crutch is used in the process. This method is named using digits to represent the number of hours used in each step until the meat is ready for consumption. 3 represents the recommended time to cook the meat before wrapping it. 2 hours should be spent on cooking the wrapped meat while in the last hour, the meat is unwrapped and cooked under a temperature higher than in the previous two stages.
When to Wrap a Brisket?
How do you know it’s time to wrap your brisket? From experience, I always do this after two occurrences: at 150° F internal temperature and if I notice the stall. Sometimes one takes place before the other and rarely do both happen at the same time.
For accuracy, a probe thermometer comes in handy. Most of them are leave-in equipment, making it possible to monitor every single change. It is also easy to notice when the temperature curve flattens as a result of a stall.
If you don’t want to rely on the temperature changes to wrap your beef cut, setting a time limit of 3 to 4 hours is another way to know when to place a wrapper around the meat. Likewise, you can wait until a dark crust or bark starts forming on the meat.
Advantages of Wrapping a Brisket
- Speeds up the cooking process- By wrapping up your brisket, the chances of the stall are limited. The heat and moisture are also locked in. This reduces the time spent on smoking and you get to enjoy the mouthwatering smoked beef chunk faster.
- Tenderising and moisturizing the meat- Due to the thick and large size of brisket, it can get very tough and chewy after smoking. To prevent this, wrap it after smoking for some time. Besides, after placing the brisket on the grate, the collagen and fats undergo a breakdown due to the high temperatures. If the meat is not wrapped, the liquid and juices will drip down on the burners. This causes the brisket to dry out and in extreme temperatures, get burned. The aluminum foil or butcher paper will trap the moisture within the meat and maintain its texture.
- Prevents excessive smoky flavors- If you are smoking your meat using charcoal briquettes or other fuel types, besides natural fuels, placing the unwrapped meat on the grate will lead to absorption of excessive smoke. The meat absorbs the smoky flavors within the first 145° F, after which the process makes little difference. Wrapping up your brisket prevents these unpleasant tastes.
- Retaining heat inside the meat before serving- After smoking brisket, it’s recommended to hold it for a while before serving. The mess caused before serving the meat remains minimal as it is still intact under the wrapper.
Disadvantages of Wrapping a Brisket
- Destroys bark- If you smoke wrapped brisket for a prolonged period, the meat will turn into mush due to the excess wetness. This also applies when you wrap the meat before the recommended time, too much moisture will be trapped within the wrapper and the meat will turn soggy.
- Bars smoky flavors from reaching the innermost parts of the brisket.
The Size of the Brisket
It is expected that a small-sized brisket will smoke quicker than a larger one. For this reason, it is natural for it to dry out faster due to loss of moisture.
To avoid this, wrap the smaller beef cut sooner than you would if it was a larger chunk.
For example, if the recommended time to wrap an 8-pound brisket is after 4 hours, let the one that weighs 16 pounds remain unwrapped for up to 6 to 8 hours. After this, place it in butcher paper or foil and put it back on the cooking area to smoke further.
The Temperature of the Smoker
The initial smoking temperature lays a foundation for the most suitable time to wrap your beef cut.
When the temperature is set at a low range, the brisket will take longer to cook. This is referred to as slow smoking. The more time it takes, the longer you wait to achieve an internal temperature suitable for wrapping the meat.
Similarly, if you set the initial temperature at 270° F, the meat will take a shorter period before it’s ready for wrapping.
Find out which are the best woods for smoking brisket?
Options for Wrapping a Brisket
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to options for wrapping your chunky piece of smoked beef cut. In this context, we have compiled three of the most popular brisket-wrapping methods in the grilling field.
Most famous pitmasters are fond of using aluminum foil to cover the brisket for better cooking results.
The tinfoil is old age and certified technique to achieve the much-desired meat bark as well as the savory crunchiness. This method is responsible for delivering the Texas Crutch.
Wrapping a brisket in tinfoil starts by measuring a suitable size to match that of the meat. Heavy-duty aluminum is recommended for long smoking or when the temperatures are high.
After cutting the desired measurement, stack the foil pieces together to form a thick membrane. The next step is to lay the brisket on the surface and wrap it tightly.
If you are a beginner, our team recommends the use of aluminum foil over other techniques. The reason for this is that the wrapper’s design allows for tight wrapping without much effort. It is also popular and readily available in most stores and homes.
Since the tinfoil seal forms tightly, the cooking speed is elevated. This is a result of the wrapper’s high heating capabilities and the heat trapped in the meat with minimal chances of escaping.
One downside to this, however, is the formation of mushy parts in the meat from overcooking. To avoid this, use a probe thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the brisket.
Pink Butcher Paper
The popularity of this butcher paper has been on the rise in the previous years. It is a useful kitchen supply and spectacular results come with its proper use.
Pink butcher paper is easy to use, keeps the meat moisturized, and cuts down on the time used in cooking. The paper is made of natural pulp, meaning it is free from additives and other harmful chemicals.
Before it can be considered fit for kitchen use, it has to first pass the FDA requirements of being 100% food-grade.
Its material’s porosity and breath-ability make it a better choice. This is because excess moisture escapes through the spaces instead of getting entrapped and resulting in mushy meat.
It works by absorbing the moisture released when the brisket comes into contact with heat. The melted grease soaks it up and remains locked in as the meat continues to cook. This makes the outer surface crunchy as bark formation takes place.
The smoke penetrates the wrapper into the meat to keep it flavored.
The drawback of this wrapping method is that the cooking process may take longer since the wrap is not as tight as when the aluminum foil is used. Also, there are a few chances of experiencing the stall due to the escape of moisture into the cooking area.
The pink butcher paper is available in selected outlets and online shops such as Amazon.
Despite the popular trend of wrapping brisket when cooking, some people still prefer unwrapped brisket.
If you believe in eating meat that was smoked naked with all the smoky flavors and crunchy crust, then there’s no need to feel pressured to conform to the wrapping technique.
Unwrapped brisket is subjected to higher amounts of smoke, making its surface darker and the bark thicker.
Despite being prone to stall, the meat may recover its temperature soon afterward and continue cooking at a faster pace.
Smoking your cuts in this manner gives them a unique taste that’s a combination of steamy and smoky flavors. The extra crunch on the bark is also something to look forward to.
How to Wrap a Brisket
Whether you are using pink butcher paper or aluminum foil, you have to adhere to the rules of wrapped-brisket smoking.
First, ensure that you don’t wrap the meat too soon into the cooking process. Let it smoke unwrapped for the first 3 to 4 hours to release excess moisture.
The next thing to consider is the size of the beef cut. The time taken to cook a smaller chunk is less than when cooking a large piece. The recommended temperature for cooking should also be put into consideration. If the heat range is high, the meat should only be smoked for a short period before wrapping.
If you are using aluminum foil, cut one sheet for a large brisket and a double sheet for a small cut. Place the meat on the foil and roll it up to cover the brisket completely. From there, you can proceed with your cooking process for the set time or until the meat hits the recommended internal temperature.
The pink butcher paper comes in the form of a roll. Depending on the size of your brisket, cut a suitable piece, lay the beef on it, and wrap it up, before placing it back in the cooking area.
The approximate time taken to cook a standard-size brisket is 9 hours when an aluminum foil is used to wrap it.
When pink butcher paper is used, the cooking time goes up to 10 hours, based on the meat’s size.
Letting the Brisket Rest is a Must
Whether you smoke your brisket wrapped or naked, resting it is not an option. The one-hour rest improves the quality of the cooked meat by enhancing its texture and allowing the juices to cool down against the meat surface. This adds to the flavors.
If you unwrap the smoked brisket immediately after taking it out of the smoker, the liquids formed from the melted fats gush out and are wasted instead of basting the meat. When left to cool down first, they slightly condense and turn to thick moisture, improving the food’s texture.
If you prefer smoking naked brisket, you can wrap it up once the cooking process is complete. After that, let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes to prevent the crust from being too dry.
Brisket wrapped in aluminum foil or pink butcher paper maintains some heat after the resting period, a process known as the “hot-hold”. It helps in maintaining the flavors and seasonings.
Smoked brisket couldn’t taste better than when wrapped using aluminum foil or butcher paper.
Wrapping up gives your food a distinct and unique taste that can only be achieved from locked-in moisture and seasonings. The texture and flavors also undergo immense improvements. Don’t forget to rest the meat at the end of the cooking process.
In the end, however, it all narrows down to personal preferences. You may be a fan of smoking your beef cut on naked heat and that’s respectable.
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