We all have cravings. Some people like sweets, some like vegetables, I prefer a juicy, crispy brisket. Cooking a great brisket takes a lot of preparation, time, and patience but all the work is worth it in the end. One of the major questions you’ll need to face when preparing your meat for the smoker – when to wrap brisket and when to smoke it bare naked (it’s going to be hard to avoid the jokes with this one!)
These little details can make all the difference. Wrapping your brisket changes the cook time, whether or not it’s juicy or dry, and how crunchy your bark is. We put together a quick overview to help you decide when to wrap, what to wrap with, and how it changes the brisket in the end.
To wrap or not to wrap?
There are three main options when it comes to wrapping your brisket: naked (no wrap), butcher paper, or aluminum foil. Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ in Austin, TX does a great job of explaining each of these methods and how they’ll change the brisket in the end.
Bare Naked Brisket (no wrap)
A brisket is a tough cut of meat which makes it the perfect choice for low and slow cooking. The easiest way would be just to cook the meat as it is, with some spices and no wrapping. But because it’s so tough, it’ll take a fair amount of time to smoke an uncovered brisket until it’s tender. We find with our smokers that it takes 10-15% longer to smoke a brisket with no wrapping. Because of the extended time, you also run a greater risk of drying out the meat. Of all the options, this will leave you with the least moisture in the final dish.
But there are benefits to cooking naked (I can’t help it). With an uncovered brisket, you give the meat maximum exposure to the smoke, which amps up that smokey flavor. It also hits the cut of meat with the most direct heat, which helps develop a nice thick bark. If smokey, crunchy, powerful flavors are your
If smokey, crunchy, powerful flavors are your goal, and you’re willing to take the risk of drying out your dish, a bare brisket is the way to go. And if you do happen to overcook it, it’s nothing a little mop sauce can’t fix!
Brisket in Foil
Wrapping your brisket in aluminum foil is the exact opposite of smoking your meat bare. The tin foil creates a bit of an oven, which retains heat and will partially bake your brisket as you smoke it. This cuts down the cook time compared to cooking without a wrap. The foil protects your meat from minor temperature swings by helping keep the temperature constant, which can be great for beginner pitmasters.
Wrapping in foil also means your brisket cooks in all of its own juices. This slowly braise the brisket, often called the Texas Crutch.
The convenience of wrapping your brisket in foil comes with a tradeoff. Aluminum foil keeps a lot of the smoke away from your meat, which means less of a smokey flavor. Less direct exposure to heat and smoke also means limited bark, so your brisket won’t have the thick crunch like a naked brisket would. Smoking your brisket in foil tempers the flavors – you end up with something that is more like a sunday roast with a hint of smoke.
When wrapping your brisket in foil, we recommend waiting until your meat hits 150 degrees Fahrenheit internally. This will help you build up a nice bark on the outside of the meat and give you that beautiful red smoke ring. This will also help your brisket move through the stall more quickly and cut down your total cook time.
We like using a wireless meat thermometer to track the internal temperature of our brisket. Our favorite model, the Thermopro TP20, has an alarm that will let you know exactly when it’s time to wrap.
Brisket in Butcher Paper
Butcher paper is the Goldilocks of brisket wraps. You get most of the benefits that come with wrapping the meat in foil without making some of the sacrifices.
Like foil, wrapping the meat in butcher paper helps decrease the cook time compared to a naked brisket. As you smoke the brisket, the butcher paper becomes a “warm blanket of fat soaked paper” that braises the meat and keeps it from drying out.
Unlike foil, the butcher paper lets the meat breathe. Smoke can still get to the meat, which gives your dish that strong, distinct taste that you can only get by smoking low and slow for hours. Butcher paper also let the heat pass through, which allows you to build up a nice crunchy bark all the way around your brisket.
Wrapping your brisket in butcher paper is the happy medium between moist or dry meat, smokey or beefy flavors, and soft or crunchy.
In the end, it’s all a matter of preference, and you should let your taste buds guide your steps. Try different recipes, techniques, and spices and see what works best for your smoker, your skill level, and the hungry mouths you’re feeding.
Also, pay attention to the temperature, both of the fire and the meat, since this is fundamental to cooking a delicious brisket. Wrap or not, nothing will save your brisket if you cook it at the wrong temperature or for the wrong amount of time!
A brisket can be a delicious meal to enjoy by yourself or share with friends. As always, practice makes it perfect so be sure that every time you cook your brisket make some notes about what went right and what went not-so-good. The most important part of a slow roast is patience – and making sure you don’t overreact to the brisket stall!
If you’re looking to up your brisket game, make sure to check out our reviews for the best electric smokers and best pellet smokers. You get the convenience of a grill but it will taste like you stayed up all night stoking a fire for the perfect brisket!