The origins of the Texas Crutch remain unknown. Many believe the method was founded in Texas, hence the namesake.
Pitmasters now regularly wrap their meat in aluminum foil in order to meet the time constraints set by BBQ competitions. Where-as Backyard cooks use it to blow past the inevitable stall that occurs in some cuts of meat.
At a basic level, the Texas Crutch is a technique that's used to beat meat stalls.
The Texas crutch involves tightly wrapping partially smoked/cooked pieces of meat with aluminum foil.
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.
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 wrap their meat and many choose to wait out the stall. 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. Large cuts of meat a tendency to stall simply due to the fat and water content of the muscle.
Meat stall can also be impacted by the smoker itself. Factors like the smoker's airflow, and the ambient temperature/humidity levels.
As noted above, meats that are large and have a lot of connective tissue tend to stall. For instance pork shoulder and pork butt as well as beef brisket tend to be large and are susceptible to meat sweat.
Most people who wrap will wait until the meat stalls. However, some prefer to wait until the meat appears "dark" and the rub no longer sticks to the fingertips (myself and others) - you can learn more about when to wrap brisket here.
The darkness implies that a maillard reaction 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 (called a packer's brisket) can weigh anywhere from 8 - 20 lbs. A good size is 8 - 12 lbs trimmed and is smoked 1.5 - 2 hours per lb.
Brisket tends to stall between 155 - 165°F and is usually wrapped in this temperature range. The meat should have a dark ruddy color and wrapped in foil until the internal temperature reaches roughly 200-205°F.
Whole, bone-in pork butts weigh anywhere from 6 - 10 lbs. Trimmed, boneless pork butts weigh around 3 - 4 lbs. Similarly, pork butt should be smoked 1.5 - 2 hours per lb.
A whole pork picnic will weigh anywhere from 6-9 lbs. It is typically sold skin on and bone-in.
Pork butt and picnic tend to stall between 150 - 165°F and should be wrapped around this temperature range. Pork should also have a ruddy color, and stay wrapped until the internal temperature reaches 195 - 205°F.
While pork rib 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 wrap in foil for nearly 2 hours.
After reading my article on the 3-2-1 method, you can start to see the problem. Wrapping for nearly two hours does two things: It over-cooks the meat (to mush in some cases) and ruins the bark. Honestly, at that point you're better off just smoking a pork butt to make pulled pork.
To iterate the sentiment from my article on how to determine rib doneness - 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 at 250-275 and wrap for 30-45 minutes and then thank me later.
Personally, I'm not big on aluminum foil wrapping and prefer butcher paper for both pork and beef ribs.
The heat source on all of these smokers interacts with the food differently.
For some reason, people regurgitate the same temperature of 225F and associate it with "low-n-slow." As a result, beginners use 225F 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 a higher pit temperature like 250 - 275F while achieving the same exact result as 225F (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 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 spritzing meat induces evaporation/cooling and is used for reasons other than adding moisture and maintaining humidity levels; Spritzing attracts smoke and can improve flavor.
The two most common materials used to wrap 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.
Added below is also the newer Foil boat technique, which is now my personal preference for brisket.
In a true Texas Crutch, the meat is wrapped with aluminum foil. To reiterate the above, the overarching goal of the wrapping in foil 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 mixture of juices and sugars, you gently braise the meat.
A common issue with foil is that the trapped moisture/condensation can produce soft, mushy bark.
For something like pork butt used for pulled pork, this doesn't matter as much. However, for something like Brisket, I prefer to keep the sugar cookie bark in-tact as much as possible.
The use of pink butcher paper for wrapping was popularized by Texas-based Pitmasters like Aaron Franklin. It 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. It can also absorb fat and water (to some extent).
It's important to note that not all butcher paper is appropriate for wrapping. Some are impregnated and/or coated with wax/silicone. In some cases it's not wax but a thin polyethylene coating.
Look for those labeled food-grade as they're not coated. 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 as soggy.
Some people opt to not wrap and leave their meat naked. This entire article has detailed why wrapping 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.
In my opinion, the result is superior and it's borderline foolproof.
All that's needed for the foil boat technique is two layers of aluminum foil (I'd strongly suggest heavy duty aluminum foil). Once you reach a point where you're happy with the outside of the brisket, you place the brisket in the center of the foil.
You then crinkle the edges and place it back on your pit or in your oven.
Personally, I put the foil boat wrapped brisket in my Masterbuilt electric smoker at 250F. The main reason being, the brisket doesn't know the difference in heat source - BTU is BTU or Heat is Heat.
Once the brisket reaches 205F in the flat and feels probe tender throughout, I leave it in my electric smoker overnight to hold at 145F. The brisket will continue to render any tight spots that might exist and you have brisket ready to serve in the morning.
When wrapping in foil, 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 wrapped with fruit juices like apple.
Where-as popular beef cuts are wrapped with something like beef stock/broth to further bring out the flavor of the beef.
Pork is 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 wrap is solely based on your taste preferences. If your goal is just to speed up the cook, just use water.
The way in which you wrap your meat will end up coming down to personal preference. Personally, I like to wrap ribs with butcher paper, pork butt with foil, and I now foil boat all my briskets.
Liquid wrapping with butcher paper isn't possible as it's permeable/porous. However, it depends on how much liquid you're using. The 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.
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.
The following is how I'd wrap a brisket:
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.
The following is how I wrap ribs:
Wrapping meat in foil has continued to be used by both BBQ competitors and Backyard Barbecuers alike 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|