The origins of the Texas Crutch remain unknown. Many believe the method was founded in Texas, hence the nomenclature. While it's history remains unknown, Pitmasters have continued to use the technique in order to meet the time constraints set by BBQ competitions.
What is a Texas Crutch?
At a basic level, the Texas Crutch is a technique that's used to beat meat stalls. The process involves tightly wrapping partially smoked/cooked pieces of meat with either aluminum foil or butcher paper.
Pitmasters often perform what's referred to as a liquid wrap, where-in they add juices, dry rub, and sugars which effectively braises the meat. This helps to push past the stall because liquids have a better heat carrying capacity than air.
Even if you only added water to the wrap, the break-down of meat collagens and the subsequent fat and moisture build-up would help to increase meat temperature and combat the moisture wicking properties of the meat.
Besides being able to beat meat stalls, a by-product of the above process is that it helps to retain moisture as it prevents surface evaporation.
What is a Meat Stall?
The overarching goal of smoking meat is to break-down collagens/connective tissue. In order to accomplish this, you must smoke the meat according to specific internal temperatures (195 - 205°F). However, certain cuts of meat can reach a temperature at which they stop increasing or “stall.” For instance, beef brisket tends to stall at 150 – 160°F after two to three hours of smoking.
The “stall” itself is a result of "porous bed free expansion cooling" which is essentially evaporative cooling. As the meat “sweats” it causes moisture to evaporate which cools the meat. This phenomenon also occurs in humans; We sweat in order to effectively cool down our bodies.
Not everyone opts to Texas Crutch or wrap their meat and many choose to wait it out. Again, the overarching goal of meat wrapping is to push past a stall. While a meat stall won't last forever, it can continue for several hours.
The time it takes for the meat to get past this phase is dependent on the size and type of meat being smoked. For instance, large cuts of meat like beef brisket and pork shoulder have a tendency to stall.
Meat stall can also be impacted by the smoker itself. Factors like the smoker's airflow, and the ambient temperature/humidity levels.
Common Meat Cuts that Stall
As noted above, meats that are large and have a lot of connective tissue tend to stall. For instance pork shoulder (pork butt) as well as beef brisket tend to be large and are susceptible to meat sweat.
Most people who Texas crutch wait until the meat stalls before wrapping it. However, some prefer to wait until the meat appears "dark" and the rub no longer sticks to the fingertips (myself and others).
The darkness implies that a maillard reaction in the meat and the caramelization of the sugars in the dry rub has occurred. Depending on material used to wrap, it prevents further color change and prevents smoke infiltration.
A full brisket can weigh anywhere from 8 - 20 lbs. A good size for a brisket is 6 - 10 lbs trimmed and is smoked 1.5 - 2 hours per lb.
Brisket tends to stall between 150 - 160°F and should be wrapped in this temperature range. The meat should have a dark ruddy color and wrapped in foil until the internal temperature reaches 205°F.
Whole, bone-in pork butts weigh anywhere from 6 - 8 lbs. Trimmed, boneless pork butts weigh around 3 - 4 lbs. Similarly, pork butt should be smoked 1.5 - 2 hours per lb.
Pork butt tends to stall between 150 - 160°F and should be wrapped in this temperature range. Pork should also have a ruddy color, and stay wrapped until the internal temperature reaches 195 - 205°F.
While ribs cuts aren't large cuts of meat, they are one of the most commonly wrapped.
Ribs aren't prone to stalling, even at lower temperature ranges like 225°F, however popular methods like "3-2-1" recommend that people liquid-wrap in foil for nearly 2 hours.
After reading my article on the 3-2-1 rib method, you can start to see the problem. Wrapping ribs for nearly two hours does two things: It over-cooks the meat (to mush in some cases) and ruins the bark.
To reiterate the sentiment from that article, you should always smoke meat according internal temperature, color, and tenderness. Specific time increments like 3-2-1 don't account for temperature swings, thickness of the meat, or even rib type for that matter.
Consider smoking ribs at 250-275 and liquid-wrap for 30-45 minutes and then thank me later.
Stalls often occur at lower temperature ranges.
As discussed in my article about the 3-2-1 method, for some reason, people regurgitate the same temperature of 225 and associate it with "low-n-slow." As a result, beginners use 225 and then run into a stall and have no idea what to do.
In most cases you can reduce the length of a stall by simply smoking at higher pit temperature like 250 - 275 while achieving the same exact result as 225 (if not better).
Humidity inside smokers is a highly debated topic. However, you can think of humidity levels similar to that of our skin.
When there is high humidity or more water vapor in the air, it feels hotter because the sweat from our body is unable to evaporate.
Meaning, in areas where there are high levels of humidity, the moisture/meat sweat cannot evaporate off the surface of the meat which results in a high surface temperature.
Inversely, low humidity levels cause the meat sweat/moisture to evaporate which cools the surface of the meat and can induce a stall.
For this same reason, people use a Texas Crutch. By wrapping the meat in tinfoil or butcher paper you effectively increase the humidity level of the environment for the meat. Meaning, moisture can't evaporate which increases surface temperature.
Many people even introduce a water pan to add moisture to meat.
Keep in mind something like spritzing meat with liquid induces evaporation and is used for reasons other than adding moisture and maintaining humidity levels. Spritzing attracts smoke and can improve flavor.
Aluminum Foil vs Butcher Paper vs Naked (Unwrapped)
The two most common materials used to Texas Crutch are aluminum foil and butcher paper. There are also some people who opt to leave their meat unwrapped or "naked."
Your choice of material used to wrap is meat dependent and personal preference.
In a true Texas Crutch, the meat is wrapped with aluminum foil. To reiterate the above, the overaching goal of the Texas Crutch is to beat meat stalls. Due to aluminum foil being impermeable, you effectively eliminate surface evaporation.
Creating a tight seal prevents moisture from escaping and depending on the liquid mixture of juices and sugars, you gently braise the meat. Again, the liquid has a better heat carrying capacity than air and cooks the meat faster.
A common issue with foil is that the trapped moisture/condensation can produce soft, mushy bark.
Pink Butcher Paper or Peach Paper
The use of pink butcher paper for the Texas crutch was popularized by Texas-based Pitmasters like Aaron Franklin. Butcher paper works similarly to aluminum foil as it prevents evaporative cooling.
The difference between the foil and the butcher paper is that the butcher paper is porous and allows additional smoke penetration. The butcher paper can also absorb fat and water on the bottom of the wrap which can cause the meat to cook slower.
It's important to note that not all butcher paper is appropriate for wrapping. Some butcher paper is impregnated and/or coated with wax/silicone. In some cases it's not wax but a thin polyethylene coating. Look for food-grade butcher paper that has no coating.
Besides not wanting to introduce wax to your food, a wax layer also acts much in the same way as foil.
Unlike foil, when wrapping with butcher paper you trap less steam and therefore, the bark won't turn soggy.
Some people opt to not wrap and leave their meat naked. This entire article has detailed why the Texas Crutch is necessary, however due to taste preferences some people prefer not to do so.
Unwrapped meat is in direct contact with smoke for the entire cook. The bark is noticeably darker and crunchy. However, due to evaporative cooling it takes the longest to cook and the meat may dry out.
What Should You Liquid Wrap With?
When performing a Texas crutch, liquids and additional sugars are introduced to further enhance the meat. What you choose to introduce in the wrap is solely based on personal preference.
For instance, pork is commonly liquid wrapped with fruit juices like apple.
Where-as beef cuts like brisket are wrapped with something like beef stock/broth to further bring out the flavor of the beef.
Pork ribs are commonly wrapped with sugars like honey, agave, and dark brown sugar or even additional dry rub. People also commonly introduce margarine or butter to the mixture too.
Again, what you opt to introduce to the liquid wrap is solely based on your taste preferences. If your goal is just to speed up the cook aka Texas Crutch, just use water.
How to Perform a Texas Crutch
The way in which you perform a Texas Crutch depends on the meat you're working with, taste preferences, and if you decide to liquid wrap or not.
Liquid wrapping with butcher paper isn't possible as it's permeable/porous. However, it depends on how much liquid you're using. Butcher paper can stand up to a light spritz with apple cider vinegar/water before a wrap. However, there is a huge difference between light spritzing and wrapping with a half cup of apple of juice.
In terms of personal preference, I like to wrap ribs/pork butt with foil and brisket with butcher paper. Namely because the latter I don't use a liquid in the wrap and the former I do.
Start by smoking the meat up until the point you're comfortable with wrapping. Depending on the meat, this can either be when the meat stalls or when you observe a visible maillard reaction and the rub no longer sticks to the fingertips.
- Brisket tends to stall at 150-160°F and will have a dark ruddy color.
- Pork Butt tends to stall at 150-160°F and will have a dark ruddy color.
- Ribs are wrapped according to color/visible caramilization of sugars.
- When wrapping brisket, lay out two sheets of butcher paper. The length of the paper to use is roughly 4x the width of the brisket. The two pieces of butcher paper should be overlapping by about half its width.
- Lay the brisket length-wise across the paper so that the presentation side is up or the flat is down. The brisket should be placed roughly a foot from the bottom edge of the paper and in the middle of the two sheets.
- If you're concerned with moisture, consider spritzing with water in order to introduce moisture.
- Fold the edge of your paper over the top of the brisket (the foot of paper we left in step 3) and pull as tight as you can.
- Fold the edges over the top of the brisket so that the folds conform to the shape of the brisket.
- After both sides are folded over, hold the wrap tightly and roll it over the folds. At this stage it will resemble a wrapped burrito.
- There will be a large overhang of paper. Fold the flaps in on either side and then fold the paper end over itself so that it doubles in thickness.
- Roll the brisket so that the flat lays atop the folded butcher paper and the point/presentation side is up.
Aluminum foil is more pliable than paper and can conform to whatever shape/cut you wrap it too. Obviously, you have to be more strategic with how you wrap paper so as to prevent moisture leaks.
- When wrapping ribs, lay out two sheets of aluminum foil of equal length. The overall length should be around 4-6 feet long.
- Most people will lay out their dark brown sugar, margarine, honey, or rub and then lay the ribs (meat side down) atop this mixture. After which they create a boat with the ribs inside so that they can pour their liquid over the back of the rack without the liquid leaking.
- The foil wrap should not leak liquid from the bottom nor allow steam to escape from the top.
- With the boat created and the liquid inside, you can start to wrap the ribs. Start with the sides by folding them over the edges of the ribs.
- Raise the length-wise pieces of foil on both sides and join them atop the ribs. You then want to crimp the foil downward toward the back of the slab.
The Texas Crutch has continued to be used by BBQ competitors because it speeds up the cooking process and helps to beat meat stalls. The way in which you wrap is dictated by your likeness for certain barbecue.
In general, this table outlined by Aaron Franklin on beef brisket indicates the overall affect of wrapping with different materials. These same sort of effects of material can be observed on other cuts of meat: Increased cook time, the effect on bark, and overall taste profile.
|Cook Time||11 Hours||11.5 Hours||12 Hours|
|Bark||Softer||A Little Crunch||Crunchy|
Align the above with your taste preferences and determine if you want to liquid wrap your meat or not.