If you follow the BBQ world long enough, you’ve probably heard of the Texas Crutch. Similar to the two zone fire, it’s another useful skill to have in your grilling/smoking repertoire. Doing it right, you turn out some delicious dinner in record time.
For those that don’t know about this technique, this article can help you.
We’ll go through what the Texas crutch is? Why should you use it? And is it necessary? We’ll also show you how to do it, along with what some of the BBQ experts think about this technique.
And with that, let’s begin.
What Is The Texas Crutch?
The Texas crutch is a technique that involves wrapping a large cut of meat in aluminum foil (or butcher paper) after smoking it for a few hours.
At that point, the internal temp of the meat (say brisket) is usually around 160F. The meat exterior has developed a dark brown crunchy bark. And the smoker still maintains a low n slow temp range of 225F to 250F.
Developed in Texas (duh!), this technique was made famous by the BBQ competition circle. It’s also used by restaurants. And now popular among regular pitmasters everywhere, from backyard amateur to Internet famous.
Why Use It?
Using the Texas crutch, you prevent evaporative cooling on the meat surface, which in turn reduces the total cook time while still retaining the moisture of the meat. Let me explain.
Large meats with tough connective tissues (brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, and pork butt) need a lot of time to break down and render. During this time, they often go through a period called the stall, in which the internal temp of the meat plateaus after the first few hours of cooking. This freaks out many new pitmasters, especially when they have an anxious mob of friends and family wondering when is dinner ready?!
Think of the stall this way. The meat is cold and moist when you initially put it on the smoker. The hot air and smoke slowly warms up the exterior of the meat and works their way to the core. This explains why the meat rises in temp at first.
At some point, the moisture from the core is trying to get out through the surface of the meat. In doing so, it encounters the heat that’s trying to get in. Some of the moisture do escape and turn into vapor, cooling the meat exterior. While some of the heat continues to slowly penetrate deeper into the core.
But neither of these two wants to give in. They meet in the middle and stay that way for a long time. That’s why the stall can go on for 4 hours or more, which ends up prolonging the cook.
If you do nothing, all the moisture eventually escapes. The heat takes over and the internal temp of the meat starts to rise again. But with all the moisture gone, the meat is left drying out.
This is where the Texas crutch comes in. By wrapping the meat after smoking it for a few hours, you trap all the heat and moisture inside the foil. That in turn helps the meat power through the stall and remain moist and juicy.
Pros & Cons
- Speeding up the cook – you don’t have to wait around until the stall is finished. That way, you can serve dinner right on time while still making sure the meat is properly cooked.
- Keeping the meat juicy and tender – the meat still retains its moisture whereas it’s dried out when cooked without any crutching.
- Controlling the color of the bark – the color of the bark is another indicator that tells you when to wrap the meat. When the bark has the color that you want, it’s a-Ok to crutch, regardless of the internal temp. It’s still going to cook your meat.
- Controlling the smokiness – aluminum foil is impermeable. Smoke can’t penetrate once you wrap the meat. Because of that, you can maintain or reduce the smokiness if you like. You can also use butcher paper, which is more permeable, to wrap. That will increase the smokiness. More on the differences between these two later.
- Saving on fuel – whether briquettes or lump, you don’t have to use more coal to cook through the stall. By reducing the cook time, you end up burning less fuel.
- Soften the bark – the only downside of the Texas crutch is that if you leave the meat too long in the foil, it can soften bark, making it all wet and mushy (think of it as a milder form of braising or steaming). That’s not what you’re looking for. You want the bark to be crispy and crunchy. So, timing is crucial here.
Is The Texas Crutch Necessary?
Although the Texas crutch has more benefits than downsides, it’s sometimes not needed. In fact, it all comes down to personal preferences. How smoky and moist do you like your meat to be? What shade of brown do you want your bark to look like?
If you prefer the bark to be crusty and crunchy, you might want to cook unwrapped. But then you need plenty of time and make sure that the meat doesn’t dry out.
If there is a time crunch, well you definitely need to wrap that sucker. But you might not like the soft and spongy texture you often get with aluminum foil. If so, you might want to shorten the wrapping time or experiment with butcher paper.
Whatever you choose, try it and see what happens. Then pick what you like the best. You might be surprised with the result.
Now, if you’re still unsure about this, let’s see what the experts have to say.
What Do The Experts Recommend?
Meathead from AmazingRibs.com only wraps brisket. He believes it makes a big difference. Yet, he doesn’t crutch ribs or pulled pork. The difference here is minimal that it’s not worth it at all.
But if you want to wrap ribs, he recommends doing it for only 30 minutes. If you go above that, your ribs risk turning soft and mushy. In fact, he doesn’t believe in the 3 2 1 method for ribs being effective at all. And so does Sterling Ball from BigPoppaSmokers.com.
Note: The 3 2 1 method is cooking ribs unwrapped for the first 3 hours, then wrap it in foil for the next 2. After that, remove the foil and cook for another 1 hour. You can learn more about the 3 2 1 method in this article.
That said, Meathead recommends to first master the basics before trying anything else, including the Texas crutch.
Susie Bulloch from HeyGrillHey.com chooses to wrap her meat after it has been sitting in the stall for a bit. This allows smoke to firm up the bark and let it reach the desired crunchiness and color. Then she goes ahead and wraps everything up to maintain the moisture of her meat until the end of the cook.
Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue says he really tries not to wrap his meat. But sometimes, he just has to do it. The reason is similar to what’s already said throughout this article. To accelerate the cook and retain the meat’s moisture.
Now, he goes even further by saying that he doesn’t like wrapping with foil. Instead, he recommends using butcher paper. What are the differences between these two materials then? Let’s find out in the next section.
Aluminium Foil Or Butcher Paper?
As I mentioned earlier, foil isn’t permeable. That means you lock in all the heat and moisture once you wrap it around your meat. It also means there will be no smoke coming in either.
If your meat is already smoky enough, foil is a good option. But if you think your meat still needs a bit more even after you wrap it, butcher paper is a better choice.
Butcher paper works similar to aluminum foil. However, it’s more porous and breathable. Because of that, it allows smoke to pass through, continuing to flavor the meat.
The paper can also absorb some of the fat and juice, basting the meat as the heat cooks it. Unlike foil, the bark comes out harder when wrapping with butcher paper. That’s due to the fact that the meat isn’t sitting in a puddle of moisture and liquid.
Nevertheless, one drawback of butcher paper is that it tends to cook the meat slower than foil. Also make sure that you get the food-grade butcher paper, with no silicone or wax coating.
Texas Crutch Step-By-Step (With Video)
Start cooking your meat of choice low n slow for a few hours. Depending on what type of meat, the number of hours varies. Use a water pan to keep the meat moist if you want.
Once the meat hits the stall, meaning the internal temp isn’t budging (usually around 150F – 160F), it’s time to move on to step 2. Another indicator is the color and texture of the bark. If you like it, it’s also time to proceed.
Keep in mind that the bark won’t develop any further after wrapping. So, it’s good to follow Susie’s advice and let the smoke build up the bark a bit more (i.e. stay in the stall longer) before wrapping.
Either foil or butcher paper, start laying down two layers. Make sure that it completely covers the meat. You can also use wide heavy-duty foil.
You have the option of adding some liquid to enhance the flavor. The popular choices are wine, beer, and apple juice. Some people even add butter and brown sugar to it (I do). Experiment with different mixtures to see which one you like best.
Tip: If you choose to add liquid, make a boat out of the sheets to ensure no leakage. Also, pour the liquid onto the boat underneath the meat. The reason is to prevent the rub from being washed off if you pour it on top of the meat.
Then start folding the foil or butcher paper over the meat. Don’t forget to pull it as tight as you can. In fact, every fold should conform to the shape of the meat. Also remember to crimp the foil around your thermometer probe.
Tight seal is the keyword here. If you have any air pocket inside your crutch, it will slow the inflow of heat, which ends up extending the cook time. Attention to details is everything.
Once you have your meat all wrapped up tightly, move it back to your smoker. Cook it until it hits the target internal temp.
After the cooking is done, remove the meat from the smoker. Keep it wrapped like that and let it rest until dinnertime.
Or you can unwrap it and cook for another 30 minutes, usually around 225F to 250F. That is to firm up the bark. If you apply any sauce, you can crank up the heat just a tiny bit (say 275F) to brown the exterior.
Be careful with the hot steamy air when you open up the wrap though.
Steve Gow from Smoke Trails BBQ has a great video showing you how to wrap meat using the Texas Crutch, with foil (regular and heavy duty), butcher paper, and dripping pan. All in one video. Enjoy!
Wrapping It Up.
You shouldn’t be fearful of the stall. It ain’t nothing but a chicken wing.
Using the Texas Crutch will help you beat the stall, accelerate the cook, and maintain the moisture level of your meat. Most importantly, delicious dinner will be served right on time, with no hangry friends and family.
That said, if you’re not careful and leave the meat in the wrap for too long, it can turn soft and mushy.
In fact, it isn’t always necessary to use this technique all the time. Depending on the situation, what you’re cooking, and your personal preferences, experiment and see what you like best. It’s called the crutch after all.
Have you tried the Texas crutch before? How do you like it? Let me know what your thoughts are.