The infamous “Texas Crutch,” or wrapping meat in foil for part of its smoking time, is a trick used by competition pit-masters to keep brisket, ribs, or pork shoulder moist and speed up the cook time by a few hours.
It can come in very handy when you’re prepping for a backyard get together and don’t quite have the full 1 hour and 15 minutes 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 middle stage in smoking your ribs, shoulder, or brisket. Once your meat has taken on enough smoky flavor and has developed a crispy bark, you’ll take it off the grill, wrap it, and put it back on to finish cooking. For about the last hour of the cook, you can unwrap your meat to let the bark firm up again and take on a last bit of smoke.
Wrapping your meat in foil while it smokes essentially braises the meat in its own juice. Some grill-masters will even throw some beer or apple cider vinegar in the wrap for extra moisture and added flavor. The liquid is trapped in the foil with the meat, and can’t evaporate as the temperature increases, preventing the dreaded brisket stall.
The stall happens to large, unwrapped cuts of meat when their moisture starts evaporating, cooling the air in the smoker and stalling a temperature rise for several hours. The meat is essentially sweating, and the evaporation combats the heat energy in the smoker until all the meat’s surface moisture has evaporated, making that crispy, traditional bark on a brisket.
Your grill with spend the first few hours in a steady temperature rise, but right around 150ºF, your grill will mysteriously stop cooking, and the internal temperature of the meat will refuse to budge for hours. The stall is perfectly normal, but it can freak out some first-time brisket tacklers, and it adds a lot of time to your cook. So, we wrap.
Why Wrap in Foil?
Aluminum foil prevents any moisture from evaporating from your meat, keeping it as succulent and juicy as possible. The idea came from the tropical technique of wrapping meat in banana leaves for cooking.
Wrapping means that the meat cooks much faster, and continues that steady temperature increase rather than stalling out. As a bonus, all those good meat juices are trapped in the foil with the meat, braising and steaming in a bath of broth, instead of being vaporized and escaping out your chimney. Wrapping is a fail-safe way to make sure your meat doesn’t dry out.
How to Wrap Properly
Once your joint has about 6 hours of good smoky cooking time, and the color and bark has developed fully, take it off the grill to wrap. It’s time to wrap right as the stall hits, and your meat temperature plateaus, usually around 150º-160ºF.
I like to lay the meat in two layers of foil and pour in a little juice or beer. 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. Stick a meat thermometer in the top (so no juices leak out) and be sure to crimp the foil tightly around the probe too. Your meat then goes back on the grill to finish cooking.
Downsides of the Texas Crutch
Some old school BBQ lovers call the crutch cheating and say it ruins the bark. And they’re right. The moisture inherent in wrapping your meat will soften your glorious low-and-slow bark, making it a little mushy and “pot roast-y.” It’s still got lots of flavor, but it lacks that glorious crispy chew that is the best part of a stellar brisket.
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 bark get nice and dry again. Now you have unbelievably juicy meat with a dried out, crispy exterior. You must be a grilling wizard! (Your secret’s safe with me.)
The naysayers will then say that it’s extra work and it makes a mess. This might be a decent argument when it comes to pulled pork or ribs, since wrapping doesn’t make as significant of an impact on smaller cuts. But if you don’t wrap your brisket, you’ll be standing around for an extra 6 hours or so, waiting on your meat to dry out before it can finish cooking. And you risk ending up with dry brisket. No thank you, sir.
If you prefer an in-the-face smoky flavor in your meat, and don’t mind the long wait, go unwrapped and spritz your brisket with apple juice every hour or so to keep her from getting too dry. I’ll take the extra step any day to make sure my brisket is as succulent and flavorful as possible.
Foil vs. Butcher Paper
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, and lets more smoke in, but it still prevents most of the moisture from evaporating. With butcher paper, you’ll get a much shorter stall than an unwrapped brisket, and it still allows a decent bark to form.
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 joint 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 impossible to turn out a dry BBQ. 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.