pastrami brisket before being wrapped in foil

The Texas Crutch – When and Why to Wrap in Foil

The infamous “Texas Crutch,” or wrapping meat in foil for part of its smoking time, is a simple method for keeping meat moist and speeding up the cooking time. While the Crutch is most commonly used for brisket, it’s also useful for pork shoulder, ribs, and other cuts of meat.

It can come in very handy when you’re prepping for a backyard get together and don’t quite have the full 1+ hour per pound that something like an unwrapped, low-and-slow brisket requires. Your meat stays juicy and tender, and it’s on the table quicker. That’s a win-win! However, there are some potential downsides, and we’ll cover those too.

The Texas Crutch is the second stage of smoking your meat: once your meat has taken on enough smoky flavor and developed a crispy bark, you’ll take it off the smoker, wrap it in foil, and put it back on to finish cooking.

Some pit-masters will throw some liquid in the wrap for extra moisture and added flavor – broth, juice, and beer are common choices. Even without added moisture, juice from the meat is trapped in the foil and can’t evaporate as the temperature increases.

An optional final step after the Crutch is removing the foil and putting your meat back on the smoker uncovered. This will dry out the surface, making that delicious bark that we all love, and add a final kiss of smoke.

Why Wrap in Foil?

Aluminum foil prevents any moisture from evaporating from your meat, keeping it as succulent and juicy as possible. It’s essentially the process of braising the meat in its own juices.

The Texas Crutch also helps push through the brisket stall. The stall happens to large, unwrapped cuts of meat when their moisture starts evaporating, stalling a temperature rise (sometimes for several hours). The meat is essentially sweating, and the evaporation combats the heat energy in the smoker until almost all the meat’s surface moisture has evaporated, making that crispy, traditional bark on a brisket.

When to Wrap

When you wrap depends on what cut of meat you’re smoking.

For ribs, the general rule is to wrap after 3 hours. Maybe you’ve heard of the popular ‘3-2-1 Method’ for smoking ribs. According to this foolproof technique, you should smoke your ribs uncovered for 3 hours, continue cooking them wrapped for 2 hours, and finally add sauce before another hour of uncovered smoking.

For brisket and other large cuts, such as pork shoulder, it is more common to wrap after 5-6 hours of smoking. This is around the time when the temperature stalls, so as mentioned above, the Texas Crutch will help you push through that plateau.

Note that if you aren’t running a particularly clean fire, it’s perfectly fine to wrap early. This will protect your meat’s surface from becoming overly dark to the point of being sooty.

How to Wrap Properly

Once you’ve got a nice amount of smoke on your meat, take it off the grill to wrap. I like to lay out two layers of foil beforehand. That way you can get it wrapped as quickly as possible and prevent an unnecessary drop in temperature.

You can optionally add liquid like broth, juice, or beer, as mentioned above. Brown sugar, butter, and honey often get wrapped up with ribs. In fact, many competition pit-masters swear by the popular phrase “honey for the money!”

Make sure to seal up your foil packet tightly – you don’t want any of the liquid evaporating through a gap. Especially when it comes to ribs, be careful not to poke through the foil with any bones. 

If you’re using a thermometer probe (common for larger cuts, but not for ribs), be sure to stick it in the top of the foil rather than the side. This will prevent juices from leaking out. Lastly, be sure to crimp the foil tightly around the probe.

Downsides of the Texas Crutch

Some old school BBQ lovers call the Crutch cheating and say it ruins the bark. And they’re right, partly. The moisture inherent in wrapping your meat will soften your glorious low-and-slow bark, making the meat a little mushy and “pot roast-y.” It’s still got lots of flavor, but it lacks that glorious crispy chew. 

Good thing there’s an easy fix for weakened bark. Once your meat has reached its destination temperature, unwrap it – be careful of the steam! – and put it back in the smoker for about an hour to let the exterior dry. Now you have unbelievably juicy meat with a deliciously crispy bark. Even if you don’t follow this extra step, I still think the Crutch is usually worth it: you’re essentially trading a perfect bark for faster cooking time and guaranteed juiciness.

The naysayers will also say that the Crutch is extra work and makes a mess. While it is more work and requires the use of foil, it will definitely save you time in the big picture. With a larger cut of meat, you can cut down the total cook time by several hours.

And is it messy? Yes, definitely. You’ll have to handle your meat when it’s not completely necessary, and you’ll create some extra trash in the process. The flip side is that your smoker will actually stay cleaner, since fat will be trapped by the foil rather than dripping off.

Foil vs. Butcher Paper

brisket wrapped in pink butcher paper
Butcher paper is a common alternative to foil.

Many brisket experts prefer wrapping with food-grade pink butcher paper (no waxes or silicone) over foil as a sort of middle ground between the full Texas Crutch and traditional unwrapped. The paper allows the meat to breathe a bit, protecting the bark, but it still prevents most of the moisture from evaporating. 

If you’re deciding whether or not to wrap, and what to use, check out this video by Aaron Franklin. He compares three different briskets (one unwrapped, one wrapped in foil, and one wrapped in paper):

No matter whether you choose foil, paper, or no wrap, always allow your meat to rest before slicing to let the juices reabsorb into the meat fibers.

To Sum Up

Next time you’re preparing a large piece of meat for a day in the smoker, try out the Texas Crutch. It’s a great way to control the moisture, flavor, and cook time of your meat, and it makes it nearly impossible to turn out a dry BBQ. Remember to keep experimenting to find the method that works best for you!

What liquid do you use? Foil or paper? Do you finish it unwrapped? Share your wisdom in the comments.

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