When To Wrap Brisket

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Beef brisket is one of the most iconic barbecue dishes, but it also happens to be one of the most intimidating for a backyard pitmaster. There is a lot that goes into the smoking process, and one of the most intimidating parts of that is dealing with the stall. A lot of people, ourselves here…

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When To Wrap Brisket

Beef brisket is one of the most iconic barbecue dishes, but it also happens to be one of the most intimidating for a backyard pitmaster. There is a lot that goes into the smoking process, and one of the most intimidating parts of that is dealing with the stall. A lot of people, ourselves here at Angry BBQ included, will wrap our briskets to help get through that. However, how do you know when to wrap brisket?

The short answer is you should wrap your brisket once you’re happy with the look of the bark and the internal temperature has stalled. Michael Haas notes in his recipe for smoking Texas-style brisket that he usually encounters the brisket stall between 160°-165°F. I’ve seen and heard from other pitmasters of the stall occurring anywhere between 150°-170°F. 

You also need to be happy with the look of your brisket before wrapping because that bark is not going to get any better once the brisket is wrapped. So let’s dive into the specifics of when to wrap your brisket, why we wrap, what to use to wrap, and we’ll also go over the step-by-step process of wrapping brisket.

Why Do We Wrap Brisket?

First, let me clear this up: You do not need to wrap your brisket. There are plenty of professionals and backyard pitmasters who smoke great briskets without wrapping them. 

That being said, wrapping a brisket properly can make your life a lot easier, especially if you are first starting out. The biggest reason why we wrap is because of the stall I mentioned in the introduction.

What Is The Stall And Why Does Wrapping Help?

The stall is what pitmasters call the period of time when the internal temperature of a large cut of meat like our brisket stops rising. When you encounter the stall for the first time and you don’t know about it, you can experience a heavy case of panic and start asking where you went wrong.

Well, you didn’t. The stall is a normal part of the smoking process. But why does this happen? As the brisket heats up, moisture inside the brisket moves to the surface and then evaporates. The evaporation process actually cools the meat, much like sweating in humans.

Early in the smoking session (and after the stall,) the heat of the smoker is able to overcome the meat cooling due to evaporation. However, at some point during the cooking process, the evaporation will cool the brisket as quickly as the smoker heats it. Then the internal temperature rises incredibly slowly and even appears to stop for quite a while. Hence the stall.

The two vertical red lines show when Mike’s brisket entered and ended the stall. The brisket entered the stall around 160F and exited around 180F.

So why does wrapping the brisket help overcome the stall? Well, the moisture can’t evaporate into the air if there is no air by the surface of the meat. That’s why we always preach to tightly wrap whether it’s briskets, pork butts, or ribs. You lose one of the biggest reasons for wrapping if you leave big air gaps or even openings in your wrap.

You can simply let your brisket sit in your smoker and eventually it will overcome the stall. However, you will certainly be smoking your brisket much longer than if you wrap.

The stall is the single biggest reason for wrapping your brisket, but it’s not the only reason. Wrapping traps moisture inside the wrap which helps overcome the stall, but it also can help keep your brisket moist. The more your brisket is exposed to the heat of the smoker directly, the more likely you will dry your brisket out. 

It’s not a guarantee that you will dry your brisket out if you do not wrap it, otherwise no professionals would ever leave their briskets unwrapped. It simply helps backyard pitmasters and first-time brisket smokers make a better end product which is all we want.

When you wrap your brisket, you also prevent the possibility of oversmoking your brisket. Once your brisket is wrapped, there is no smoke that can reach the surface. As weird as it sounds, it is entirely possible to overstock meat, leaving you with a bitter taste. It’s much more likely if you’re using a very strong wood like mesquite, but it can happen. So wrapping prevents that.

Also, regardless of when you wrap brisket, it will be ready for resting. You should always rest your brisket after smoking it to let the meat fibers relax and the meat juices evenly redistribute. How long should you let brisket rest? The absolute shortest time is 30 minutes while two hours is good. There are barbecue joints that will let there briskets rest for much longer.

So now that we know what the stall is, when should we wrap our briskets?

What Internal Temp To Wrap Brisket?

The stall can occur anywhere between 150° and 180°F (65.6° to 76.7°C.) When you’ve seen your brisket plateau in that temperature range, you’re going to want to visually check on your brisket. While the temperature is the main reason you’ll want to wrap, you want to make sure your brisket’s bark looks good to you visually. Namely, you want the surface of the brisket to be dark, mostly a dark brown with some deep, dark red. 

Half of a Brisket
Nice Bark on a Half Brisket Cook


What Should I Wrap My Brisket In?

This question might be as hotly contested a question when it comes to brisket as any. There are two main options when it comes to wrapping brisket: aluminum foil and butcher paper. They both have their pros and their cons, so let’s break them down so you can make an informed decision.

Wrapping Brisket In Foil

There are few more useful items in the kitchen or in a backyard cooking area than aluminum foil. It helps preserve leftovers, it can help make cleanup easier by covering the grease tray of a pellet grill, and it can even be used to clean grill grates in a pinch. 

It’s also an extremely common brisket wrapping material, thanks in large part to how many people have it on hand and how easy it is to get. Wrapping brisket in aluminum foil is so common it’s known as “the Texas Crutch.” When you wrap the brisket with a tight seal, the foil prevents moisture evaporation, thereby helping the brisket quickly pass through the temperature range of the stall. It also reflects heat which can help prevent you from burning or drying your brisket out. I personally use aluminum foil when I’ve wrapped my briskets because it’s so readily available.

Aluminum foil isn’t a perfect material, though. While it helps power your brisket through its stall due to trapping moisture close to the surface, all that moisture stays put and can turn your bark soggy. If you’re going to use foil, use heavy duty 18″ wide foil below.


Wrapping Brisket In Butcher Paper

Wrapped brisket in butcher paper

Butcher paper is an alternative to aluminum foil that helps your brisket get through the stall quickly, but it doesn’t trap moisture the same way so your bark shouldn’t be as mushy as it can end up with wrapping in foil. 

You also need to make sure you’re purchasing the correct type of butcher paper that is safe to use in a smoker. You might encounter a number of types of butcher paper like white, bleached paper, but you want to find untreated pink butcher paper, sometimes referred to as peach butcher paper. It’s untreated so you don’t have to worry about any strange chemicals, but it’s able to handle the temperatures of your smoker so you don’t have to worry about your brisket going up in smoke, just tasting smoky. Use butcher paper like the one below as it is uncoated and a nice width.

Now, just like aluminum foil, pink butcher paper isn’t perfect. It doesn’t conform as tightly to the brisket, so wrapping with pink butcher paper means your brisket smoking session will take a little while longer than with foil. You’ll want to make sure the edges of the paper overlap to create as tight a seal as possible. You don’t want the end of the paper flapping around in your smoker! It is also not as widely available as foil, but it is becoming more prevalent. 

Like aluminum foil, however, pink butcher paper is versatile. In some cases, it can be used in situations where you wouldn’t use foil. For instance, have you eaten at a barbecue restaurant where the trays are lined with foil? That wouldn’t be pleasant. However, you might find a barbecue tray lined with pink butcher paper. You can also wrap leftovers with pink butcher paper to send home with folks just like foil.

The legendary Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue uses pink butcher paper to wrap his briskets. Hard to argue with the brisket master, right?

How To Properly Wrap A Brisket

Wrapping brisket in foil or butcher paper uses the same method. You will want 18″ wide foil or butcher paper to do this properly. Here is our step by step guide:

  1. Eye up your brisket width and try to cut off 4.5 times its width. You’ll want to cut off a second piece identical in length to the first.
  2. Overlap the two pieces by about 50%. See picture below. Once overlapped, spritz the foil or paper with a bit of 50% water 50% apple cider vinegar. Or you could try liquid beef tallow (supposedly that’s what Aaron Franklin does). This adds some moisture to the paper right away and aids in the cook.
  3. Place the brisket (fat side up) about one brisket width away from the butcher paper end. Just like the photo. Fold the length edges over the brisket (like below), then take the paper closest to you and wrap it over top of the brisket and tuck it in slightly underneath the brisket.
  4. Now roll the brisket over while slightly folding the long edges inward. Try to keep it all very tight.
  5. Roll the brisket until it is back in fat side up orientation. Try to keep the paper tucked underneath the brisket and as tight as possible. We do not want to have large voids between the paper and the brisket. This can create steam pockets which will hurt our bark.
When To Wrap Brisket
Brisket wrapping
Wrapped brisket in butcher paper
Brisket finished being wrapped.


How Long Should I Be Cooking Brisket After Wrapping?

One point that we here at Angry BBQ have tried to hammer home is that time really isn’t your target when it comes to smoking or grilling. The most important criteria for cooking brisket properly are internal temperatures of the meat and texture. I won’t tell you that three hours after you wrap the brisket, it’ll be ready. There are too many variables for blanket statements like that. When you are smoking large cuts of meat, like a brisket, you should be monitoring the internal temperature at all times. The best way to do that is with a leave-in probe thermometer. 

Wrapped brisket after resting
Very juicy brisket in butcher paper after resting for a couple hours
Brisket after being removed from butcher paper and resting

If you’re smoking on a newer pellet grill, your grill might have included temperature probes. You can absolutely use those to help keep an eye on what’s going inside your wrapped brisket. If your grill or smoker doesn’t have that feature, you’ll need to look elsewhere. We are big fans of the ThermoWorks Signals thermometer because it can monitor up to four temperatures simultaneously and you can keep an eye on the readouts on your phone. 

Usually, we find that briskets are done somewhere in the 203° to 205°F range (95° to 96.1°C.) However, for best results, you’ll want to start checking on your brisket’s texture and tenderness around the 190°F (87.8°C) mark. You can do that with an instant-read probe thermometer like the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE or any of the thermometers on our list of the best instant-read thermometers. When you insert the thermometer into the meat, you want it to slide in like the meat is soft butter. The likelihood that you’ve got the right texture at 190°F is low, but it gives you an idea of when you want to start checking regularly. Repeat every 15-20 minutes or so until the internal temperature reaches 200°F (93.3°C) then check every five minutes until that proper texture has been reached.

Then you can take your brisket off the smoker and hold it in a cooler for at least one hour (two hours is better) before serving. It’s already pre-wrapped so you don’t have to worry about making a major mess either. Then time to slice the brisket and eat.

FAQs:

Question: Can you wrap a brisket too early?

Answer: You absolutely can, at least in relation to the bark. We’ll tie this in with another common question “what happens if you wrap brisket too early?” If you wrap your brisket before the bark really develops, it never will. You’ll be left with a soft, lightly-colored exterior to your brisket. It may not even taste all that smoky depending on how early you wrap. It will be tender and juicy like brisket should, but you won’t have the full brisket experience. Wait for the stall and for the bark to look like what you want.

Question: Can I wrap a brisket from the beginning?

Answer: I kept this separate because while it’s similar to the first question, it stands alone. Technically, the answer is yes. You could absolutely cook brisket wrapped from the start. However, the real question would be “Why?” (And “Who hurt you?”) If you wrap your brisket in foil or butcher paper before it ever gets in the smoker, it will never develop bark nor will it have any smoke flavor. Will it be done faster? Absolutely. Will it taste like the barbecue delicacy it is? Absolutely not. 

Question: Is 150 too early to wrap brisket?

Answer: It depends on your personal preferences. The stall can occur as early as 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.6°C) so it makes sense temperature-wise that you might wrap then. Wrapping earlier can help you achieve a faster cooking time. However, you want to make sure your brisket’s bark is set the way you like. Once you wrap your brisket, your bark isn’t going to get any better. If you’ve asked yourself “Should I wrap my brisket if there’s no bark?” because your thermometer is telling you it’s 165°F (73.9°C,) don’t. 

Question: Can you wrap a brisket at 180 degrees?

Answer: We’ll lump this is with the question “Can I wrap my brisket at 185?” because the answer is essentially the same. You absolutely can, and there are Texas barbecue pitmasters who do. Louie Mueller, a legendary Texas barbecue joint, wraps their briskets around 95-percent done per their words. Just remember, the longer you wait to wrap, the more attention you have to pay to drying out the meat. 

Question: Do you have to wrap a brisket?

Answer: No! However, you have to be more careful if you do not and it will take longer. You need to pay attention to the surface of the brisket (using your spritzer) for the entire time it’s in the smoker so nothing dries out or burns. It is also possible to have too much smoke flavor so it overpowers the taste of the brisket itself and even develop bitter flavors. If you cook an unwrapped brisket properly, this will be the smokiest brisket you’ll have had with some amazingly crunchy bark. You just need to be careful and patient with yourself.

Question: Should I wrap brisket before or after the stall?

Answer: We believe that if you’re wrapping, it’s best to wait for the stall to start and your bark to develop how you like it before you wrap. You don’t want to wrap too early as detailed above. You also can wrap at the end of the cook to hold the brisket so juices can redistribute and it will still be hot for serving. If you’re going to wrap for the cooking process, you should wait for the stall to start, though. 

Question: Can you wrap brisket in parchment paper?

Answer: Oddly enough, the answer is yes, but not ideal. Parchment paper is food-safe and it can handle heat well past what you’re smoking your brisket at. It’s not common at all, but you could use parchment paper. However, it does not trap heat as well as aluminum foil nor breathe as well as butcher paper. If you wish to experiment with parchment paper, go with untreated and unbleached parchment paper, but we do not recommend it.

Wrapping It Up (Yes Lame Pun Intended)

Hey, barbecue puns. So when it comes to figuring out when to wrap brisket, there are two main criteria to look for, the temperature and the quality of the bark. Based on temps, you’ll be looking for the stall somewhere between 150° and 170°F (65.6° to 76.7°C.) Regarding the bark, you want a good, dark color (dark brown and dark red in places, see below.) 

Half of a Brisket
Brisket Bark

As for what to wrap it in, aluminum foil and pink butcher paper are the two most widely-used materials. Don’t hesitate to experiment with both to see what gives you the best results for your personal preference. Our preference is uncoated butcher paper.

How do you prefer your bark to look before you wrap? Do you even wrap? Let us know in the comments! If you’re looking for a new twist on your brisket rub, try our Kansas City-style brisket rub recipe!

AngryBBQ Team

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2 Comments

2 thoughts on “When To Wrap Brisket”

  1. After I smoke my brisket I want to cut it into chunks and vacuum seal it and freeze for later. I’ve read that I can wrap it in towels and put in cooler. Can I still do it the way you’ve described or not?

    Reply
    • Hi Rita,
      I think that is fine. The wrapping in towels and putting into the cooler is for holding the temps as long as possible until ready to eat. For your situation, I would let the brisket rest for 1.5-2 hours after it is done, and then cut it how you like and vac seal it after.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply

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2 thoughts on “When To Wrap Brisket”

  1. After I smoke my brisket I want to cut it into chunks and vacuum seal it and freeze for later. I’ve read that I can wrap it in towels and put in cooler. Can I still do it the way you’ve described or not?

    Reply
    • Hi Rita,
      I think that is fine. The wrapping in towels and putting into the cooler is for holding the temps as long as possible until ready to eat. For your situation, I would let the brisket rest for 1.5-2 hours after it is done, and then cut it how you like and vac seal it after.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply

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