The brisket, a notoriously difficult cut of meat to cook. Mastering a great brisket takes preparation, time, and a lot of patience. If you go into it blindly, you’ll just end up with a chunk of beef jerky, wasted time, and wasted effort.
Don’t let that put you off though - pitmasters alike can agree that it is more than worth it in the end, for that crispy, juicy brisket.
Of course, first, you need to know when, how, and even why you should wrap a brisket. That’s why, as experienced brisket cooks, we have put together everything you need to know about wrapping, cooking, and smoking a brisket.
When You Should Wrap A Brisket?
I should begin by saying, there really isn’t a straightforward answer to this. Before you click off in defeat, don’t fret. I’m here to guide you down the smoked brisket road, and to a juicy beef brisket in no time.
When wrapping a brisket, there are 3 things you should consider:
The Brisket Size
Naturally, a bigger brisket will take longer to cook than one on the smaller side. This is because smaller meat briskets lose moisture much quicker than bigger ones.
The main reason to wrap a brisket is to prevent your meat from losing moisture, therefore smaller meat should be wrapped earlier in your cook. We recommended wrapping an 8-pound brisket around the 3 - 4 hour mark, whereas a brisket around 12 pounds should be wrapped closer to the 6-hour mark.
Your Smoker Temperature
You’ll also want to take into consideration how hot you usually run your smoker. A higher temperature means a faster cook, which means you’ll get to wrapping your brisket much quicker than a slow cook.
Recommended Articles: How to Regulate Temperature in a Smoker
Your Personal Preference
Just like any cooking process, a lot of it relies on your personal preference. At the end of the day, you’re the one that will eat the barbecue, so you know how you best like your meat.
Most pitmasters recommend wrapping your meat when your smokers reach an internal temperature of 165 - 170 F. Now, not everyone has the patience to wait that long. So, some people may prefer to wrap as soon as the stall hits (usually around 145 - 155 F.) It may be the fastest method, but not guaranteed the tastiest.
Now, if you want the crunchiest, thickest bark possible, you won't want to wrap your meat till it comes out of the stall. It may seem counterintuitive, but the proof is in the pudding - or in this case, the delicious brisket.
The only way to figure out your personal preference when it comes to the cooking process is to experiment. Try wrap brisket at different points of your cook to find what taste and bark crunchiness best suits you.
Why Do You Wrap It?
Why wrap brisket in the first place? Well, there are three main reasons:
Faster Cooking Time
Any large slice of meat will hit the stall temperature. Your large cut of meat, the brisket, in this case, may be right on track to finishing when you expect it to. But, as soon as the internal temperature of your barbecue hits 165 F, it stops cooking.
This happens due to evaporation. The meat begins to sweat, causing water to rise to the surface of the meat. It then starts to evaporate, which in turn cools the cuts of meat. Once your internal temp hits, the stall begins, and it could last as long as 5 hours.
Wrapping brisket allows you to eliminate the air in which moisture can evaporate. Around the surface of the meat, a layer of the brisket's own juices will form, keeping hot due to the hot air circulating inside your smoker.
The wrap works as insulin, protecting the meat from direct smoke and heat. Therefore, you can safely turn up the temperature of your smoker without worrying about burning or drying out your meat.
“Some foods will improve your meal, your mood, your day, your buttered noodles. Brisket will improve your life.”
— Stephanie Pierson, in “The Brisket Book”
Once this evaporation has stopped, your smoker will begin to rise in temperature, continuing to heat your meat. This is good, since a brisket becomes more tender the longer it gets cooked.
You may have heard of something called the Texas crutch method. The Texas crutch first came around in the competition barbecue circuit. During the competition circuit, judges gave out scores depending on the time in which the smoked meat is delivered. Wrapping brisket, the traditional cut of Texas, helped competitors reach their deadline .
Wrapping your brisket allows the meat to reach all-time juiciness. Natural juices will be locked in and they’ll be able to tenderize the meat. Since the cut has already soaked up all the smoke before stall time, you don’t risk over-smoking your meat.
Control The Bark
Wrapping brisket will allow you to have control over the bark and appearance of your brisket. The average pitmaster will aim for a mahogany-colored bark, which not only looks delicious but tastes delicious too.
Again, this all depends on your personal preference. Some pitmasters wrap brisket as soon as the stall temperature hits, others wait till they get their desired bark thickness and color.
What are The Downsides?
Now, wrapping your brisket isn't all rainbows and unicorns. There are a few downsides when you wrap the brisket, one being a possible loss of texture.
Risk Of Overcooking
Once the brisket is all wrapped up, the internal temp will begin to rise. This rise in temp is rather unpredictable and it can vary on a whole range of things such as how tight the wrap is, how humid your smokers are, etc.
It is a common mistake to follow the recipe rather than a probe thermometer. It is far better to cook by temperature and not the time since timing doesn’t really mean anything when faced with mushy briskets.
Every 30 minutes or so, check the brisket’s temperature using a meat thermometer. Simply poke through the wrapping until the meat hits 203 F. The hole won't affect cooking time, nor will it create moisture loss.
Loss Of Smoke Flavor
When wrapping your briskets, a barrier forms between the meat and the wood smoke. Naturally, this will result in a loss of smoke flavor.
Although, it doesn't affect your smoke too much since the brisket has already been exposed to the smoke hours beforehand. Generally, you won’t notice much of a difference in smoke flavor.
Plus, the wrapping keeps the packer brisket moist, making the bark tastier and the meat juicier.
Loss Of Bark Texture
Now, I know I said wrapping helps the bark crust texture, but bear with me. Once you wrap your brisket, you’re exposing your brisket edges to extra moisture which speeds up the cooking process. In turn, the bark becomes softer.
To avoid this, you should cook the brisket at 225 F after removing your wrap to make the bark crispy again. Don’t fret if the brisket quickly cools to room temperature once it’s been unwrapped, the meat will already be tender enough inside.
When it comes to wrapping the briskets, there are 2 roads you can go down:
Barbeque experts either use aluminum foil or butcher paper.
Remember the Texas barbeque competition I mentioned? Well, these Texicans sometimes use Aluminum foil on their briskets.
For beginners, wrapping in foil is recommended since it is the easiest way. Since the aluminum foil is designed to wrap food, it’s only natural to wrap up your brisket in foil too. It’s also very accessible and cheap to purchase.
Foil is a great conductor of heat, and it’ll speed up the cooking process considerably. As long as you measure the temperature of the brisket every 30 minutes, you won’t have to worry about your bark getting soggy.
To wrap a brisket inside aluminum foil, you should measure two arm-length pieces of foil. Lay the brisket on top of the two pieces of foil and wrap the brisket as tightly as you can.
The downside to wrapping the brisket in foil is the bark will get a little soft during the wrapping process.
Butcher Paper (Texas Crutch)
If you order brisket at one of the top Texas bbq joints, chances are they’ve wrapped it inside butcher paper. Unlike foil, wrapping a brisket in butcher paper allows the smoke to get through while still speeding up the cooking process.
Wrapping a brisket in butcher paper takes practice, and it may take you a few times to get it right. You can purchase butcher paper online or from your local butchers.
A layer of moisture forms on the outside of the brisket, soaked up by the butcher paper. This moisture keeps the meat cooking by conducting heat, similar to the foil. The difference being, the butcher paper lets a bit more smoke in, so you’ll gain more flavor than wrapping with foil. The bark will also stay drier.
Cooking with butcher paper also has its downsides. While cooking with the paper, you should avoid the stall. The butcher sheet isn’t as tight as the foil, therefore it’ll take longer to cook.
6 Steps To Wrapping A Brisket
Now you’ve figured out what you’re going to use to wrap, we now have to learn how to wrap. Through many smoking and bbq tribulations, I finally found a method that works for me. You may have heard of a method by Aaron Franklin of Franklin barbecue called the Texas Crutch .
Aaron Franklin uses a piece of butcher paper around 5 times as long as your brisket.
Here is how you can do it:
- Grab your paper and place the brisket widthwise, presentation side up. Fold the bottom edge of the sheet up until it’s covering the meat. Make sure to pull it as tight as possible. The sheet needs to fight snug around every side of the meat.
- While keeping the sheet tight to the shape of the brisket, fold the paper over the flat side until you have a triangle shape. Make sure the sheet is smooth and flat.
- Turn the brisket around so the triangle is now facing away from you. Fold the sheet under the point and hold it in place. Repeat this triangle fold so it looks the same as the one on the flat side.
- While keeping the brisket firmly against the sheet, fold it towards the end of the paper. After rolling the meat up, fold in the sides and pull the paper tightly.
- Once the brisket is fully wrapped, it should look more or less like a long rectangle. To double its thickness and halve its length, you should fold the rectangle over itself.
- The aim of the game is to keep everything tight and snug. With the remaining part of the rectangle sheet, roll the meat forwards and over. The presentation should be facing side up once again, with the thick side underneath the meat.
BBQ Brisket Rub
When it comes to flavors of the bbq meat, a lot of people tend to go too complicated with cumin, chill powder, paprika…. When all you need is an even part of salt and black pepper.
This simple style will complement your bark while letting the juicy beef flavor shine through.
The secret to how a great brisket cooks doesn’t rely on fancy rubs, BBQ sauce, or brisket recipes. It all depends on how you plan on smoking your meat, as well as how you select and prepare it.
To Wrap Or Not To Wrap a Brisket?
All in all, it comes down to preference. Whether you choose to wrap up your meat or not, the most important thing is cooking at the right temperature and for the right amount of time.
Practice makes perfect, so experimenting with different flavors, wrapping technique, and cooking times will get you to that perfect brisket you can share with friends.