Foil Boat Brisket: The How and Why Explained

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
September 10, 2022

Beef brisket is what most folks would deem the hardest, but best cut of beef to smoke. It's a large cut of meat and requires a lot of time under low and slow (225 - 275F) heat to render the tough connective tissues and fat.

Brisket will reach a point at which it will stall. In order to beat the stall, most people will wrap the meat in a material like aluminum foil or butcher paper.

However, a newer technique called the Foil Boat method has made me change how I go about beating the stall.

What is a Brisket Stall and Why Does it Happen?

Large cuts of meat like brisket and pork butt or pork picnic tend to stall or plateau.

That is, the cold meat will come up to an internal temperature - usually around 155 - 165F - and stall or plateau there for 2-4+ hours.

A typical smoke time to internal temperature graph will look like this:

example meat stall

The stall happens because of a phenomenon called porous bed free expansion cooling - which is essentially evaporative cooling.

To better understand this, you can think of it in terms of human physiology - we sweat in order to effectively cool our bodies down.

As the internal temperature of the brisket continues to rise, the evaporation rate increases until the cooling effect balances out the heat input. This stall happens until all the moisture on the surface is gone.

The above is an important realization because A LOT of guides online will tell you wrap during the stall as apposed to waiting it out (170F+) or until you're happy with the bark formation - which is my preference.

Traditional Ways to Beat a Brisket Stall

how to beat a brisket stall

The traditional way to beat a brisket stall is through wrapping. For brisket, the most common method is to utilize a "Texas Crutch."

The Texas Crutch is a full foil wrap. Meaning, the entire brisket is wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is non-porous material which allows for the build up of moisture, which prevents surface evaporation - thus pushing past the meat stall.

The build up of moisture and further rendering of fats and juices helps to push past the stall because the collected liquids have a better heat carrying capacity than air.

Another common method is wrapping in Butcher paper. This concept was popularized by Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ - which most would deem one of the best BBQ joints in the world.

brisket wrapped in butcher paper

The main thing that separates these techniques is the bark.

Wrapping in full foil combats the moisture wicking properties of the meat but will degrade the bark. The butcher paper wrap can help push past the stall, but have less of an impact on the bark because butcher paper is porous.

A new technique called the Foil Boat leaves the fat cap exposed while confiting the meat side. This entirely preserves the fatty bark while still enjoying the benefits of wrapping - beating a meat stall.

History of the Foil Boat

Like most folks in the Barbecue community, I regularly try to educate myself about new techniques and ideas; In my opinion, you should always be learning in barbecue.

One such technique is the Foil Boat brisket.

I first learned about this technique from Bradley Robinson or Chud's BBQ as he's known on YouTube.

Fun-fact: Brad is actually an alumni of my High School (talk about a small world) and graduated several years before me.

Brad gives a quick history lesson of the method. Essentially in 2015 he worked for Freedmen's Bar and the crew there developed the foil boat brisket technique.

Brad specifically names Evan LeRoy and Chris McGhee - Evan started at Freedmen's in 2012 and Chris in 2014.

Brad then went on to work at Leroy and Lewis Barbecue (Evan LeRoy and Nathan Lewis, founded 2017) where they continued to use the Foil Boat technique.

On Jun 2, 2020 Brad uploaded the "Brisket Foil Boat Method" - where he goes on to explain the nuances and benefits of the method.

Today, a number of people are now using this technique to produce better brisket because of Chud sharing the video two years ago.

Where the namesake comes from*: As a kid, you might remember doing a foil boat experiment where you'd create a boat shape with aluminum foil and then put it on water. You then placed objects inside the boat to see how long it could float for.

*I'm assuming this is where this namesake comes from - granted I did it in Kindergarten.

How the Foil Boat Works

The foil boat technique is fairly straightforward - All you need is aluminum foil (I'd suggest the large heavy duty sheets).

You start by laying out two layers of aluminum foil. You then place the brisket in the center and then crinkle the sides, leaving the fat cap exposed and the bottom and edges covered.

foil boat brisket

You then place your foil boat back on your smoker or in your oven to continue cooking.

The result is the foil boat will collect juices, rendered tallow, and water.

foil boat tallow
Foil Boat rendered tallow

These liquids then confit (cook in its own rendered fat) the meat side of the brisket, which helps to push past the stall (to reiterate, liquids have a better heat carrying capacity than air).

My Experiences with the Foil Boat

In the past, my go to method for beating the inevitable stall was the butcher paper technique (pictured above). Meaning, once I was happy with the outside of the brisket, I'd wrap it in Butcher paper.

This speeds up cook time and prevents the infiltration of smoke, thus maintaining the bark (to a degree).

I also believe in what's taught by Harry Soo from Slap Yo Daddy BBQ - Heat is Heat or BTU is BTU.

Meaning, after my briskets are wrapped in Butcher paper, I would put the wrapped brisket in my oven to continue cooking. Your brisket doesn't know what it's being cooked by and electricity is cheaper than charcoal.

However, after using the Foil Boat technique several times, I'm a convert.

Foil boating allows for a wonderful bark while also confiting the meat side of the brisket. The result is a super flavorful, textured brisket.

Chud also goes on to talk about the overnight rest - which he combines with the foil boat technique.

Recently, I moved and my oven now uses gas as apposed to electricity, which I'm not super comfortable with holding briskets overnight. Instead, I now use my electric smoker, to hold my briskets.

holding brisket
Holding Brisket in My Masterbuilt Electric Smoker

Brad, if you're reading this, you should of just bought a Masterbuilt electric smoker for jerky, meat sticks, and holding/resting briskets, rather than an expensive, overpriced toaster oven.

Essentially, I smoke my briskets on my Weber Kettle until I'm happy with the bark. I then foil boat the brisket and then put it in my electric smoker at 250F until the internal temperature of my brisket is 205F in the flat and the entire brisket feels probe tender.

Once it's at 205F, I open the door on my electric smoker until it comes down to around 130F. I then program the smoker to run at 145F to hold my brisket at.

This way, the brisket continues to render, which helps with any tight spots that might still exist on the brisket. The brisket then holds overnight until it's time to serve - this concept is similar to how a BBQ joint holds brisket in a warmer.

The above, in my opinion, is essentially foolproof and produces awesome brisket.

prime brisket halved

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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  1. So when I do a Brisket I go fat side down, really I generally trim most fat off the point and leave 1/4" on flat, so most briskets I do have fat on half the brisket. This is still a good method for me anyway right? Smoke on grate till internal of 155°-165° then put on couple sheets of foil make a boat around the brisket and continue till desired internal temp, correct?

    1. Hey Bert!

      So we sort of have conflicting opinions on trimming and when to wrap - which is cool as that's one of the reasons I love barbecue. I'll give you some insights and food for thought and maybe that'll help.

      To start, the foil boat method is ALL about fat render and the bark; Those are the main advantages and your goal is to essentially maximize bark and maintain the crunchy exterior.

      In terms of fat cap orientation when foil boating, I'd always recommend folks start with the fat cap up, simply for presentation purposes.

      The goal initially is to set the bark and to avoid things like grill marks or carbonized debris on your presentation side. The foil boat is also used because it focuses on bark - most notably a "crunchy" exterior bark. To promote a better bark, the fat is left on because it holds onto the pepper better than the lean meat - that's just my experience.

      Starting fat cap down will likely result in a markedly less "set-up" bark. Even in the case of flipping a brisket mid-cook, you're apt to lose some bark when you go to foil boat it.

      Just to illustrate:

      With pellet grills, your heat source is below the meat; Initially, I'd start fat cap up to set the bark. After 2 hours or so, I'd flip the brisket so that the heat can start rendering the fat cap. Meaning your fat cap is then down. I then foil boat when I'm happy with the bark - something I always tell folks to do is to wait further into their stalls; Personally, I foil boat at around 170-175F, mainly because your bark improves and so does your fat render; Smoke is attracted to wet surfaces and at 155-165F, you're still pushing out tons of moisture (which is why a stall happens in the first place).

      At that point, I foil boat with the fat cap facing up so that it can continue to render. The meat side of the brisket will then confit in its own juices which will soften the underside of the brisket (the meat side).

      In the case of pellet grills, I'd even suggest placing the foil boated brisket to the right of the burn pot so that the heat rolls over your meat and out the smokestack.

      Hopefully that answers your question to some extent!

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