There are a lot of BBQ tools and accessories you can buy to make your grilling and meat smoking easier. But the most versatile and cost-effective tools may already be sitting in your kitchen cabinet. I’m talking about your rolls of aluminum foil, butcher paper, and parchment paper.
Experienced pitmasters often use these products on their grills or smokers. Wrapping your meats and veggies during the BBQing process can speed up your cooking times and help avoid the brisket stall. Using foil, butcher or parchment paper can also help keep your food moist and juicy, and prevent the exterior from getting too dark.
The trick is knowing when it’s best to use butcher paper vs foil vs parchment paper. You shouldn’t just grab the nearest roll. You’ll have to consider what you are cooking and whether you are grilling food or using your smoker.
While the products may be interchangeable in some circumstances, you can create quite a mess by using the wrong product at the wrong time. To avoid a culinary disaster, we’ve assembled these guidelines to help you choose the best wrapper for BBQing your foods.
- 1 Butcher Paper
- 2 Foil
- 3 Parchment Paper
- 4 Butcher Paper vs Foil
- 5 Butcher Paper vs Parchment Paper
- 6 Parchment Paper vs Foil
- 7 Conclusion
You may not think of using butcher paper for your BBQ, other than as a fire starter for lighting your charcoal or as a tablecloth. After all, paper can catch fire and burn if exposed directly to high heat or flames.
But wrapping larger cuts of meat in butcher paper works really well under the right conditions. Many professional pitmasters use butcher paper to wrap their meat during the smoking process. The low smoking temperatures prevent the paper from catching fire or smoldering.
Using butcher paper in a smoker isn’t a new technique, but it has recently become very trendy. Here is everything you need to know about using butcher paper for your BBQ.
What is Butcher Paper?
Butcher paper is a type of thick kraft paper. Like all paper products, butcher paper is made from wood pulp, but it has also been treated to be especially strong and durable. Butcher paper usually comes in sheets or rolls and is typically white, pink or brown in color.
The butcher paper most popular for backyard BBQ is the pinkish-red colored paper. Folks often refer to the pink paper as “peach” paper due to its color.
This high-quality paper is made from FDA-approved food-grade wood pulp. Unlike white butcher paper, true pink paper gets its color naturally from the wood pulp. Manufacturers use bleach to make butcher paper white in color, and some make pink paper with artificial dyes.
While you can use any color butcher paper in your smoker, the pink stuff is what all the cool kids are using these days. It may be a bit more expensive than the white butcher paper, and it can be harder to find in your local stores.
The color doesn’t really matter as long as your butcher paper is thick, made with food-grade wood pulp and is only made from paper. Some butcher papers have a coating of wax or polyethylene to prevent leakage, which would melt into your food on a smoker.
Don’t confuse butcher paper with freezer paper or steak paper! While these products may appear similar, freezer paper and steak paper are unsuitable for use in a smoker.
When to use Pink Butcher Paper for BBQ?
Pink butcher paper is ideal for use on a smoker since the heat is low enough that the paper won’t catch fire.
I don’t recommend trying to cook butcher paper-wrapped food on a grill, even using indirect heat. If you want to make little packets of grilled foods, you’d be better off using foil or parchment paper vs butcher paper.
The most common reason to wrap your meat in pink butcher paper is to get around the meat stall. This is the period during a low-and-slow smoking session when your meat refuses to rise in temperature. Cuts like brisket, pork butt, pork shoulder, and ribs of all kinds often stall for several hours before they begin to rise again.
Smoking a whole brisket can take over 14 hours unless you use something like pink butcher paper to speed through the stall. Wrapping your meat in pink butcher paper is one version of a technique called the Texas Crutch.
There are benefits to using pink butcher paper vs foil or parchment paper for “crutching” your smoked meats. The paper is semi-porous, so it doesn’t completely seal in the air and moisture. This allows some of the meat juices to evaporate and form that thick, crusty bark your guests will go wild for.
The downside to using pink butcher paper in a smoker is that it also absorbs these meat juices, so you can’t save them for a sauce or demi-glaze. Your butcher paper wrapped meat may not be as juicy as one wrapped with a different product.
How to use Pink Butcher Paper?
If you are using your pink butcher paper to power through a meat stall, you’ll want to avoid wrapping your meat too soon. Otherwise, it won’t acquire that smoky flavor that is the signature of good BBQ.
Most pitmasters wrap their meat after a few hours of smoking. You might aim for wrapping your meat once it hits a target temperature, usually between 150-170°F. Some BBQ masters prefer to wait until their meat stalls to wrap it up.
You’ll have to play around with the timing to see which method produces the results you like best. The great thing about using butcher paper for a crutch is that your meat’s bark will continue to develop underneath the paper. You won’t have to put your meat back in the smoker, or on the grill, to get that deep BBQ flavor.
Texas Crutch with Pink Butcher Paper
To create a crutch using pink butcher paper, you’ll need two pieces of paper that are about twice the length of your cut of meat and wide enough to completely cover it.
Once your meat hits the desired temp, pull it from the smoker and wrap tightly in two layers of paper. Fold over the edges to seal tightly.
If the package doesn’t seem like it will stay together on its own, you can tie it closed with some cooking twine. Don’t use garden twine, though, as it tends to burn even in a low-heat smoker.
Put the meat back in the smoker, and watch the temperature. Once it is within a few degrees of your finish temp, pull the wrapped meat and allow it to rest for an hour before unwrapping and slicing.
Other BBQ Uses for Pink Butcher Paper
Pink butcher paper makes an attractive display for your sliced or shredded smoked meat, and you can use it to wrap your smoked or grilled foods during the resting period to hold in heat.
I’ve seen a few internet articles about using pink butcher paper to make little packets of grilled foods. The idea is to wrap cut veggies and/or individual pieces of meat in sealed packages that you can cook right on the grill. The flavors inside the package mingle with the steam, gently cooking and flavoring your food.
I am a big fan of this cooking method, but I have never been impressed with the results I’ve gotten using butcher paper. The paper has a tendency to burn, even using indirect heat. It also doesn’t seal in the moisture very well.
Best Pink Butcher Paper for BBQ
For the best results, I recommend sticking with a high-quality pink paper made specifically for BBQing.
There are many generic pink-colored papers out there that look great but just don’t work well on a smoker. These papers might be too thin to hold in moisture and tear too easily as well.
Mighty Dreams Pink Butcher Paper is an excellent option if you are looking to crutch a brisket or pulled pork. This high-quality paper is made with 100% food-grade wood pulp and comes with a carrying/storage tube and a free recipe-filled ebook.
I honestly can’t imagine using my grill or smoker without my trusty tube of foil at my side. I keep a large roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil under my grill at all times and frequently reach for it.
When it comes to the foil vs butcher paper vs parchment paper debate, I’d always go with foil if I had to pick only one product. Foil isn’t perfect, but it is fire-proof and is easy to shape around your food. It also seals in the moisture and prevents the juices from evaporating away inside your smoker or grill.
Foil is durable, versatile and very inexpensive. You can easily find high-quality heavy-duty foil at your local supermarket or online. If you’re like me, you may even pick up a roll especially to stash under your grill!
What is Foil?
Foil was once made from tin (hence the term “tin foil”), but these days most manufacturers make it from thin sheets of aluminum. There are many types of metallic foils used for crafts and jewelry making, but you should only use a food-grade aluminum foil in your grill or smoker.
Foil is very pliable and wraps tightly around objects without needing tape or twine to seal it closed. Foil is also solid, so air or water can’t penetrate through it. This makes it ideal for all sorts of cooking applications.
Is Foil Safe for Cooking Food?
I’ve seen a lot of debate about the safety of using foil to cook food. There have been rumors that aluminum leaches out of the foil during the cooking process and absorbs into your food. Some folks worry that this aluminum contamination causes Alzheimer’s and kidney disease.
The truth is a bit murkier and a lot less dramatic than the rumors. Very little aluminum leaches out of foil at room temperature or under refrigerator conditions. So you should not worry about using foil to store your leftovers or to wrap up a steak for the freezer.
Cooking with aluminum is a bit different, though. According to a 2012 study, aluminum can leach out of the foil under higher temperatures, like on a smoker or grill. The rate of aluminum-leaching increases when you add acidic ingredients to the foil, such as vinegar, tomato or lemon juice.
The real question is whether this leached aluminum is dangerous to our health? The scientists are still studying the issue, but it’s considered safe to cook in aluminum foil. Professional chefs and pitmasters alike use foil on a daily basis in kitchens around the world.
I don’t worry about the health impact of using foil on my grill or smoker. Our bodies are able to remove a certain amount of aluminum, and it is naturally found in many foods. It seems unlikely that cooking in aluminum foil is a major health hazard.
If you’re worried about the long-term health effects of using foil for cooking, you can always avoid using it. You might also wrap your food in butcher or parchment paper first, and then use foil for the outside layer. If you discard the juices that collect inside the package, the amount of aluminum in your food should be minimal.
When to use Foil for BBQ?
Foil is the perfect wrapper to use for both low-heat smoking and high-heat grilling applications. You can basically use it to cook anything on your grill or smoker. You can wrap the meat or vegetables in foil to cruise past a meat stall or just speed up the cooking process.
Foil is the ideal wrapping for sealing in the moisture on a low-and-slow smoked brisket. Since the foil is impermeable, air and moisture can’t leak through it. As long as you wrap your meat tightly, all that moisture will stay next to your meat and you won’t lose much to evaporation.
Foil is also ideal for reheating a batch of ribs or pulled pork on your grill. Using foil to reheat food on a grill can help prevent the sauces or juices from burning. It also helps keep your meat from getting too dry as it reheats, especially if you add some apple juice to the leftovers.
How to use Foil for BBQ?
You can use foil in many ways while cooking on your grill or smoker. Foil is also a useful tool for other BBQ purposes, as you will see.
Texas Crutch with Foil
If you plan to use foil to crutch a stalled brisket or pork butt, then the timing of the wrap is the same as with the pink butcher paper. Smoke your meat for a few hours, and then wrap it in foil to push past the stall.
One difference between using butcher paper vs foil for crutching is that you can get a tighter wrap with foil. There is always going to be evaporation when you use butcher paper, but you can get a true airtight seal with foil if you do it right. You can read all about foil wrapping in my article on the Texas Crutch.
There’s one difference worth noting between using foil vs butcher paper vs parchment paper for crutching meat in a smoker. The foil is going to limit the formation of the bark on the exterior of your meat because less moisture can evaporate from the surface.
If you want a really thick or deeply colored bark, you may want to unwrap your meat about 20°F before it hits the final temp. Then you can finish it unwrapped on your grill or smoker, so the bark dries out a bit and intensifies in flavor.
Other BBQ Uses for Foil
In addition to crutching and reheating food, you can also cook food inside a sealed foil packet on your grill. This is a great way to steam some veggies or cook a delicate filet of fish.
Just tear off a square of foil big enough to hold your food, and add a drizzle of oil. Season well, fold up the packet and place it in your grill. When it’s ready, you can put each packet on a plate and let your guests open them.
Kids especially enjoy opening their own special foil package of food, and it’s an easy way to up your presentation game.
I often use foil to make a disposable drip pan for my gas grill. This is a great way to prevent the grill from accumulating a lot of grease while indirectly cooking bone-in chicken.
Just fold up the edges of the foil to hold the drippings, and slip it between the burners and grill grates under your meat. The grease will drip into the foil, and you can toss it out when your meat’s ready.
You can also use a crumpled sheet of foil to clean your grill grates if you can’t find your grill brush. I keep the water pan in my smoker lined with foil to make it easy to clean and help it last longer.
Foil is an inexpensive multipurpose tool that every backyard chef should keep in stock!
Best Foil for BBQ
Foil comes in a range of sizes and thicknesses, but for BBQing, you want the wider rolls of the heavy-duty stuff. The typical rolls of foil used in the kitchen may be too short and thin to accommodate a brisket or pulled pork.
Some foils also have a coating to prevent food from sticking to it, but these are not suitable for a grill or smoker. Just go with a reliable brand of heavy-duty foil and avoid anything labeled non-stick.
My go-to foil for crutching is this high-quality product from Reynolds. It is specially designed for BBQing and is a really sturdy aluminum foil that won’t easily split apart. At 18-inches in width, it’s the perfect size for wrapping a brisket or pork butt and the price is very reasonable.
We don’t hear as much about using parchment paper on a grill or smoker, although it is a very popular product with home bakers. I’d say that most folks opt for butcher paper or foil vs parchment paper when planning an outdoor meal.
This is a shame, because in many cases parchment paper may actually be a better option in a grill or smoker. I think a lot of outdoor chefs avoid using parchment paper simply because they are unfamiliar with it.
So what can parchment paper bring to your BBQ?
What is Parchment Paper?
Parchment paper is a lightweight and thin paper with several qualities that make it ideal for use in a smoker or on a grill. Parchment paper is surprisingly strong given how thin the sheets are. It is typically sold in precut sheets or rolls and can be found in grocery stores aisles and online.
Parchment paper is made from wood pulp, like all paper products. But manufacturers also treat the paper with sulfuric acid or zinc chloride, which gelatinizes some of the cellulose fibers. This treatment increases the papers ability to handle higher temperatures and reduces the surface density, so food doesn’t stick to the paper.
A side effect of this treatment is that parchment paper is less-permeable than butcher or writing paper. Instead of absorbing moisture from food, a wrapping of parchment paper can retain some of these juices. But it still allows a bit of evaporation, so your meat develops a tasty bark.
When to use Parchment Paper for BBQ?
When should you consider using parchment paper vs foil or butcher paper?
Parchment paper is suitable to use in a smoker and is stable enough to go on your grill as well. You’ll have to check the temperature rating of your paper first, but most uncoated parchment paper products are safe at temperatures up to 400°F.
Parchment paper is a great option for crutching meat in your smoker. It allows some of the juices to evaporate, so you still get a nice amount of bark formation. But parchment paper also holds in more heat and moisture than butcher paper.
If you use parchment paper on your grill, you’ll want to keep it on the cooler side. Avoid using parchment directly over the fire, as it can ignite if the temperature exceeds the paper’s rating. But it should be safe to use with indirect heat.
How to Use Parchment Paper for BBQ?
You use parchment paper on a grill differently than in an oven. Most bakers use parchment paper to line pans since it helps food cook evenly and prevents it from sticking. BBQ chefs, on the other hand, use parchment paper exclusively as a wrapper.
Texas Crutch with Parchment Paper
Parchment paper is the ideal wrapper for the Texas Crutch, in my humble opinion. It allows for more bark formation than foil and keeps the meat moister than butcher paper.
To crutch meat using parchment paper, just follow the same method as for butcher paper or foil.
Once your meat hits the right temp or enters the meat stall, pull it and wrap in a couple of layers of parchment paper. I find that parchment seals a lot easier than butcher paper too, so I never need to use twine to hold the wrapper together.
Once your meat has finished smoking you can let it rest, still wrapped in paper. Some of the juices should remain in the paper, and you may be able to collect and use them for a sauce.
Parchment paper isn’t totally watertight, however, so you likely won’t collect as much of these drippings as you would using a foil crutch.
Other BBQ Uses for Parchment Paper
Parchment paper is also a popular choice for making those individually-wrapped packages of food I mentioned above. I actually prefer using parchment paper vs foil for this application, because I find the flavor is more complex and intense.
This style of cooking, referred to as en papillote or “enveloped in paper,” is a great way to cook a bit of meat and veggies together on the grill. The flavors of the food will mix inside the package as it gently steams inside your grill.
To make an individual parchment package, tear off a square of paper that is 2-3 times larger than what you’re cooking. Place the food in the center of the package and season. You may add some oil, water or juice for extra moisture.
Then fold or twist the edges of the paper together over your food. Seal it as tightly as you can initially. If you decide you want the food to brown a bit more, you can always unwrap it a bit on the grill to increase the evaporation.
Always keep your parchment packages to the cooler side of the grill, and avoid placing them directly over the hot coals. The paper may brown a bit, but shouldn’t catch fire or smolder.
Best Parchment Paper for BBQ
There is one big downside to using parchment paper in your smoker or grill, and that is finding the right type of paper. This is much harder than I expected!
Most brands of parchment paper that I’ve seen online have a coating of silicone to increase their non-stick capabilities. These coated papers work just fine in an oven but should not go on your grill or in your smoker.
It can be very difficult to distinguish between the different types of parchment paper, as the labels often don’t make it clear if the paper has a coating or not. Always read the fine print, or email the manufacturer directly to be sure your paper is safe for grilling and smoking applications.
The best parchment paper for BBQ that I have found online are these precut sheets from Smartake. I prefer unbleached and biodegradable paper myself, and these also measures a generous 12 x 16 inches in size.
You may have to use several sheets to entirely wrap a big brisket or pork butt, but this paper does a great job of retaining heat and moisture on your wrapped food.
Butcher Paper vs Foil
When deciding between butcher paper vs foil, you’ll want to consider how you are cooking your food and what result you are aiming for.
If you plan on using your grill for cooking, then the choice between butcher paper vs foil is an easy one. Butcher paper doesn’t work well with high heat or flames and can easily ignite. So pick the foil as a wrapper when you plan to fire up your grill.
For crutching meat in your smoker, both butcher paper and foil are viable options. Is butcher paper better than foil? Not really. You’ll get different results depending on which you choose.
If you like a thick, intensely-flavored bark on your smoked meats, then going with butcher paper vs foil might be the right choice. The butcher paper will allow for more evaporation and browning than foil. Your meat may remain in the stall longer, however, since the additional evaporation will cool the exterior of your meat.
On the other hand, if your goal is to speed up the smoking process then picking foil vs butcher paper is a better option. The foil seals tightly and will leave you with almost no loss of moisture to evaporation. This eliminates the meat stall and can shorten your cooking time by several hours.
What about butcher paper vs foil for ribs? I am not a huge fan of crutching ribs, because I prefer my ribs to have a bit of chew to them.
Using butcher paper can speed through the stall but still leaves my ribs with some texture. I find that foil-crutched ribs are too tender for my tastes, but every chef has their own preferences.
The downside to using foil vs butcher paper for the crutch is that you may need to return your meat to the smoker to develop a drier bark once it’s nearly done. Foil is also not an eco-friendly option, while you can compost used butcher paper.
Butcher Paper vs Parchment Paper
The choice between butcher paper vs parchment paper is a bit trickier since these products share more similarities. Like the foil vs butcher paper debate, it comes down to how you are cooking and what kind of results you are aiming for.
What is the difference between parchment and butcher paper? Butcher paper is thicker, more absorbent and more permeable than parchment paper. Butcher paper also has a lower heat threshold.
For grilling applications, you’ll always opt for parchment paper vs butcher paper. Parchment paper has a higher temperature rating and can handle the indirect heat on the cooler side of a grill. Butcher paper would just catch fire.
For crutching meat in a smoker, the difference between butcher paper vs parchment paper is less obvious. Both types of paper allow for evaporation and bark formation.
Using parchment paper vs butcher paper as a crutch may retain a bit more moisture and allow you to collect the juices for a sauce, but the differences are rather subtle.
Most backyard pitmasters probably can’t tell the difference between meat smoked in a wrapper of butcher paper vs parchment paper. So I wouldn’t stress much over this decision. Just use what you have on hand or whichever is easier for you.
If cost is a factor in your decision, then you’ll have to compare the price-per-foot between your butcher paper vs parchment paper. Pink butcher paper can often be pricier than parchment paper, while generic white butcher paper is usually very cheap.
Parchment Paper vs Foil
Lastly, we’ll compare parchment paper vs foil. Both of these products work on the grill and in a smoker but they are not entirely interchangeable.
When someone asks, “Can I use parchment paper instead of foil,” my answer is always, “it depends.”
If you are reheating food on your grill, stick with foil vs parchment paper. You want to limit the loss of moisture and reheat your food as quickly as possible. Foil will be easier to use and will achieve better results than using parchment paper. You can place the foil directly over the flames, too.
For indirectly cooking food on your grill, either option does a great job. Food cooked in foil vs parchment paper packages may be a bit more moist, but the differences are quite minor.
When using the Texas Crutch method, the comparison between foil vs parchment paper is similar to the foil vs butcher paper debate that I outline above.
Parchment paper will allow for more evaporation and a thicker bark than using foil for a crutch. But you may spend more time waiting through a meat stall. Parchment should collect some of the juices, though, so you can still use them after your BBQ is ready.
When it comes to the cost, there isn’t a huge difference between parchment paper vs foil. They tend to be similarly priced. Parchment paper is a better choice if you worry about the environment, though, since you can compost the used paper.
If you’re not using foil, butcher paper or parchment paper inside your grill or smoker, then you should consider switching things up! These inexpensive tools add versatility and utility to your outdoor kitchen.
Using these products to wrap your food can shorten your cooking times and keep your food moist. Knowing when to choose parchment paper vs foil vs butcher paper will help you avoid disaster and get the results you are aiming for.
Are you using these wrappers in your grill or smoker? We would love to hear about your experiences using butcher paper, foil, and parchment paper for BBQ!