*We have an updated article Cooking butcher paper wrapped brisket, which includes a step-by-step video.
Our recent Central Texas 5-Star Anniversary BBQ Tour yielded an unexpected discovery as we talked technique with Aaron Franklin, owner of Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Several Texas BBQ Posse members are backyard pitmasters, so we are always pestering BBQ joint pit bosses for their tricks of the trade.
This one stopped us in our tracks though, when Aaron casually mentioned that he wraps his award-winning brisket in butcher paper, rather than foil, during the cooking process. What was that? Butcher paper wrapped brisket? Pitmaster Marshall Cooper had never heard of this either, he's been cooking on smokers for over 25 years. Much to our surprise, we also saw butcher paper wrapping being used several other times later in the tour, at both Prause Meat Market and Taylor Cafe, at various parts of the cooking process.
Could this be the process that vaults Franklin's brisket to the top? When discussing what makes the their brisket so great, we kept coming back to the subject of "texture" of the meat. Snow's brisket is a very close second for the Posse and they wrap with foil midway through cooking. The Snow's bark isn't quite as crusty as Franklin's, which is in contrast to the equally juicy slices of brisket offered by both BBQ joints.
Marshall is no fan of foil wrapping for back yard BBQ, telling me numerous times that it makes the meat soggy and the bark less crusty. He's gone back and forth over the years, trying to balance the need for great smoke and crust with the necessity of keeping the brisket moist and juicy.
"Face it, you are braising & probably steaming the meat by foil wrapping it for too long during your process," he writes. "Many backyard BBQ’ers, including myself, competition teams and small BBQ joints use foiling to keep the meats from drying out and becoming too smokey, also to speed up the cooking process."
"If you keep the barbecue wrapped too long during the process you could end up with over steamed but very tender stew meat, with a grey tint, having lost all the texture and color that true wood fired pit barbecue should have."
Marshall began his butcher paper research as soon as we got back from the tour and is getting close to developing a technique that works well. After four test cooks, he likes what he sees.
One of the initial problems was literally how to wrap the brisket. After his first attempt turned out far too smokey, he realized the brisket needed to be wrapped more heavily and tightly to let in less smoke. He headed to his local butcher, who showed him how to wrap tightly and efficiently, ending up with three layers of butcher paper encasing the meat. Pictured above is Marshall's step-by-step technique of butcher paper wrapping.
Marshall has been cooking the briskets, usually in the 12-15 lb. range, cooking time is around 1.5- 2 hours per pound. He smokes unwrapped for several hours, then wraps with butcher paper for the last 3-4. The ideal smoker temperature is around 225-250 degrees. After cooking, the brown paper will be very oily, yet has the ability to hold in the juices of the brisket. He also cautions the paper can burn if your smoker gets over 375-400 degrees.
Here are some notes Marshall sent after our Christmas brisket cook on Wednesday.
He writes, "The recent discovery of butcher paper on our central Texas tour has me back on the prowl of eliminating foil from my smoking process. Lately I've been smoking up a storm to learn the new process. You could probably confirm it from my kind and tolerant neighbors! The major end result is a better texture of barbecue, very moist and tender but unsteamed. The butcher paper seems to breath, keeping the brisket or ribs from drying out while shielding the meat from too much smoke."
"I'm no expert at this point, having using butcher paper for a little more than a month. Also, many champion BBQ pitmasters use foil in their cooking process and have the expertise and touch to use foil and turn out perfect meat," Marshall says. You can click here to order the same butcher paper Marshall uses, as well as many of the top Texas BBQ joints.
"But for those of us that don’t have that expertise and end up with steamed brisket, try the butcher paper alternative to see if you like the results. I’m sure I will find a place for using foil in many of my future smokes, but wanted to share some thoughts and experiences with others to let them know about this new-found alternative for smoking meat."
Our family can't wait to sit down to Christmas dinner, where we'll be dining on two butcher paper wrapped briskets from Marshall's pits. That's what I call a happy holiday feast!
Photos by Chris Wilkins