Texas Crutch – Why & How to Foil Wrap Meat for Smoking

Texas Crutch – Why & How to Foil Wrap Meat for Smoking

Smoked chicken can be a tasty treat, but I believe that the best meats to smoke are the bigger cuts, like brisket or pork butt. These tough cuts benefit more from a low-and-slow smoking session than a naturally tender piece of chicken. But the bigger cuts often stall in the smoker, forcing pitmasters to be patient or use a method like the Texas Crutch to speed things up.

There was a time when professional pitmasters scorned the Texas Crutch as a method for impatient amateurs. The things is, “crutching” your big cuts of meat works! It speeds up your cooking times and reduces or eliminates the dreaded meat stall.

The Texas Crutch method can shave a few hours off your smoking times and still produces world-class BBQ. While the Crutch comes with some downsides, a few tweaks to the method and you can have tender pulled pork without sacrificing a deep, flavorful bark.

Whether you choose to use the Texas Crutch or not, smoking meat requires patience. But crutching can definitely make your meat smoking easier.

Texas Crutch

What is the Texas Crutch?

When you “crutch” a piece of meat, it means you wrap it tightly in foil at some point during the smoking process. The wrapped meat returns to the smoker and continues to cook inside the foil. There are an endless number of variations to the method, but that’s the Texas Crutch in a nutshell.

Using the Texas Crutch, you can shorten the amount of time your meat spends in a stall and speed up the cooking process. Often, crutching your meat will shave a good 3 hours or more off your total smoking times and leave you with tender, succulent results.

Why Does the Texas Crutch Work?

To understand the reasons the Texas Crutch is so effective, you have to understand why large cuts like brisket and pork butt often stall in the smoker.

A basic explanation of the meat stall goes something like this: As your brisket slowly cooks inside your smoker, moisture moves from the cooler center of the meat towards the hotter exterior. When the surface of your brisket gets warm enough, this moisture begins to evaporate away.

Think of this evaporative cooling as meat sweat. Just like sweating on a hot summer’s day can cool your body down, the evaporating juices cool your smoking brisket.

If everything inside the smoker balances just right, this evaporating liquid cools the surface of your meat just enough to prevent it from rising in temperature. It will stall and refuse to rise again until there’s no extra moisture left to cool your meat. Then it slowly starts to increase in temperature.

You can check out our detailed breakdown on the brisket stall if you’d like more information about the science behind it.

While there are a lot of things that factor into a stall, such as your smoker temperature and set-up, the main variables you can control are the humidity inside your smoker and how much ventilation it has. When you alter these, you change the timing and duration of the meat stall.

The Texas Crutch increases the humidity around your meat, and slows or prevents the juices from evaporating. The increased humidity pushes the stall temperature higher (and shortens the duration), and the lack of evaporation allows your meat to quickly rise in temperature.

How to Make a Crutch

Crutching a piece of meat seems easy, but for the method to be effective, you have to do it right. A sloppy wrap job can defeat the purpose of the crutch and leave you with longer smoking times.

You want your meat wrapped tightly in foil, sealing in all the juices and preventing any air from leaking in. Otherwise, you will still have some evaporation, and your meat may experience a second stall (at a higher temperature, however).

I should add that I always place a dual-probe thermometer in my meat before wrapping it. This way I don’t have to unwrap the meat or poke through the foil to track the internal temp.

Here is the method I use to wrap meat for the Texas Crutch:

  1. Use heavy-duty foil. Pull off two sheets that are about 2.5 times the length of your brisket, pork or rib racks.
  2. Starting with the first piece of foil, wrap your hot meat tightly, meat-side down, and press out all the air so the foil is in direct contact with the meat. Be sure that any bones in your meat don’t poke through the foil.
  3. You may add a bit of juice or water during this step, if you want, to fill in any gaps between the meat and foil. I usually just let the meat juices do this for me.
  4. Fold and crimp the edges of the foil to seal the package together. Give everything a good squeeze to ensure it is tightly sealed.
  5. Lay out the second sheet of foil. Take your foil-wrapped meat and flip it onto the second sheet, so that the meat-side will be on top. This helps keep your meat from sitting in the boiling juices, which can leave it mushy in texture.
  6. Wrap the second layer around your foil-wrapped meat, pressing out any air between the layers. Seal the edges tightly. Carefully return the package to your smoker.

That’s it! Once you crutch your meat, all you have to do is sit back and watch the temperature rise until it’s time to remove it from the smoker.

Should I Use the Texas Crutch?

You don’t have to crutch your meats while smoking them, and some pitmasters prefer the flavor and thick bark on traditionally smoked meats.

At the same time, you can crutch your meat and still get a crusty bark if you’re willing to put it back on the smoker for the finish. There really aren’t any set rules for crutching, so you can vary the process as much as you want until you get the results you prefer.

When someone asks me “should I crutch my brisket,” my response really depends on the situation. I prefer a Texas Crutch brisket to a traditionally smoked brisket myself, but don’t care for crutching ribs at all. You may need to try a few different methods before you find the one that makes your taste buds sing.

Before deciding on whether to crutch or not to crutch, consider the pros and cons of the method:

Pros

  • Increases the humidity around your meat, raising the stall temp and shortening or eliminating the duration of the stall.
  • Your meat cooks faster and is usually finished a few hours sooner.
  • The juices remain in the wrapper, so you can collect and use them in a sauce or demi-glaze.
  • Prevents your meat from getting too dry during the final cooking stage.
  • It’s easy to hold a wrapped brisket or pork shoulder at temperature for a few hours until you’re ready to serve.

Cons

  • Reduces the thickness of the bark because the meat won’t dry out as much.
  • Your meat cooks faster and can easily overcook if you’re not watching your temperatures.
  • The juices remain in the wrapper, where they can wash a bit of the flavor from the BBQ rub or bark.
  • Can leave the meat with a mushy texture from the liquid boiling inside the foil.
  • It’s messy, wasteful and a bit of a hassle.

 

Which Meat is Suitable for the Texas Crutch?

The best meats for the Texas Crutch method are the bigger cuts, like beef brisket, pork butt, pork shoulder and racks of ribs. These cuts have a lot of connective tissue and benefit greatly from an extended smoking session. Crutching these cuts can help convert all that connective tissue to delicious gelatin, leaving you with tender and juicy results.

How do you know when to wrap brisket, pork or ribs? It depends on your type of smoker, your smoking temperature and how much bark you prefer. The only real rule is to avoid crutching too soon, or your meat won’t develop the smoky flavor of real BBQ.

Once you wrap ribs in foil, the foil will prevent any more smoke from “sticking” to your meat. Generally, most pitmasters give their meats at least 3 hours on the smoker before they consider wrapping. Honestly, at that point, your meat isn’t going to get any more flavor from the smoke anyway.

Some chefs aim for a target temperature, such as 150°F, and wrap when the meat hits that mark. Others prefer to wait until their meat develops a deeply colored bark before wrapping. Still, other grillmasters wait until their meat stalls, usually between 150°F and 170°F.

As you can see, you have a lot of options and each variation on the method is going to produce unique results.

Bark Formation

The bark on a smoked brisket or pulled pork is a crowd favorite. Those crunchy, intensely flavored bits of smoke, spice and dried meat are what good BBQ is all about. But crutching meat can definitely limit the formation of the bark because the moisture is held close to the meat instead of evaporating away.

There are a few things you can do to help the bark form on your smoking meats while using the Texas Crutch.

If you delay the wrapping and allow the meat to dry out a bit more, your bark will be thicker and more intensely flavored. You will also see a deeper color on the exterior from the smoke and the browning of the meat.

Another option is to unwrap and finish the meat in the smoker or on a grill instead of inside the foil. Pull your meat from the smoker about 10-20°F before it hits the ideal temp, unwrap it and put it back in. It may stall for a while as the surface dries, but the second stall should be short. Just be sure you remove it before it overcooks!

Texas Crutch Brisket

Of all the meats you can crutch, brisket is probably the most popular choice. Given that the average brisket takes a good 8-16 hours to smoke, it’s no surprise that folks are looking for ways to speed things up.

Most competitive BBQ chefs crutch their briskets, and I much prefer the results myself. I find the bark on an unwrapped brisket is just too thick for my tastes, and the meat isn’t as moist and juicy.

When should you wrap a brisket? Right around the 3-hour mark or about 150°F is usually a good point, or once your brisket enters the stall. You can certainly wait until 170°F if you want a thicker, darker bark.

Brisket is usually pulled from the smoker at 195-200°F, and the ideal finish temp for brisket is 203°F. Since meat continues to rise in temp for a while after coming off the smoker, pulling it a little sooner can prevent overcooked or mushy results.

Texas Crutch Ribs

When people say they love smoked ribs, they are usually talking about pork ribs rather than beef ribs. But you can smoke both types, and crutching a rack of ribs can certainly speed up their preparation.

It’s difficult to accurately measure the temperature of a rack of ribs, however. The bones make it hard to place the probe and you will get different temps depending on where you poke. With ribs, it’s usually better to trust your eyes rather than use a temperature gauge.

Some folks like their ribs to be falling-off-the-bone tender. I don’t care for ribs that are this tender. I like a bit of chew and texture to my ribs. The longer you crutch your ribs, the more tender they will be, so wrap them for a shorter amount of time if you prefer a chewier consistency.

The most common system for crutching a rack of ribs is to use the 3-2-1 method. The numbers refer to the amount of time the ribs spend in each stage. To use this method, trim and season your ribs and then cook them:

  • 3 hours on the smoker
  • 2 hours in the Texas Crutch
  • 1 hour unwrapped on the smoker to finish

You can also glaze your ribs with a BBQ sauce during the last 20 minutes of smoking, but be sure the sauce doesn’t start to burn.

You can tell your ribs are ready when they have a deeply colored bark and the meat is starting to pull away from the rib bones. When you bend the meat between the rib bones, you should see a nice crack in the bark to signal that it’s ready.

Texas Crutch Pork Butt

Next to brisket, pork butt is one of the most commonly crutched smoked meats. Like brisket, pork butt has a lot of connective tissue that softens during a low-and-slow session. If you are a fan of pulled pork, then this section is for you!

Ironically, pork butt is NOT from the rear of the animal. The pork butt is from the upper part of the shoulder (above the cut called “pork shoulder”). You may see it labeled a “Boston Butt” in your grocery store.

Pork butt is one of my favorite cuts to smoke because it is uniform in shape and is well marbled with fat and connective tissue. When you chop or shred smoked pork butt, you get the contrast from the crispy bark and meltingly tender meat.

You can prepare a Texas Crutch pork butt just as you would a brisket. Smoke it unwrapped for a few hours or until the temperature hits your desired number, and then crutch it. Keep an eye on the temp and then pull the meat when it approaches 195-200°F.

Texas Crutch Pork Shoulder

I may not always crutch my pork butts, but I almost always use the Texas Crutch for pork shoulder. Also called a “picnic” roast, pork shoulder is similar in flavor to the butt, but has some distinct characteristics.

Pork shoulder has less marbling than the butt cut. This means it comes out drier and chewier after being smoked. Crutching your pork shoulder will help retain moisture and keep it from drying out too much on the smoker.

The process for crutching a pork shoulder is just like the brisket and pork butt. Let your shoulder sit in the smoker for a few hours to develop a nice bark, and then wrap when it hits 150-170°F. You can also wait for it to stall and then wrap.

I rarely return my pork shoulder to the smoker after crutching, but if you prefer a thicker bark you certainly may do so. Pull the shoulder at 185-190°F and then unwrap and return until it hits 200°. After resting, it should be perfect!

What to do After the Crutch

Once your meat comes off the smoker, it’s time to eat, right? You’re almost there.

Many folks like to finish their smoked meats on a hot grill rather than in the smoker. This can help dry out the bark and adds a nice amount of caramelization too. If you plan to use a sauce, you can glaze it during this final grilling step as well.

You need to let your meat rest for about an hour before you slice/chop/shred it. This gives the juices time to redistribute evenly throughout your meat. If you start slicing right away, those juices will leak out onto the plate.

For resting, I prefer to leave my crutched meat wrapped in foil to hold in the heat, humidity, and juices. If you have unwrapped your meat to finish it on a grill or back in the smoker, consider rewrapping it for the resting stage. Place it in an insulated cooler and your meat will stay warm until you are ready to serve.

What about all those delicious juices that collected in the foil? You could just save them and add them back into your shredded meat. This is a good way to help compensate if your meat turns out a little drier than ideal.

Some people like to dip their brisket slices into the meat juices or use them to make a demi-glaze. Just boil the juices down by half, and you will have a concentrated glaze you can use on your plated meats.

Conclusion

No one seems quite sure who invented the Texas Crutch, or if it even started in Texas. Folks have been wrapping their smoked briskets in various ways for many years, and some articles trace the origins of crutching back to the 1970s restaurant scene.

It is now the standard method on the competition circuit for smoking brisket and pork shoulder. Using the Texas Crutch can shorten your smoking times by several hours and helps keep your meat juicy and moist. Novice pitmasters and pros agree that the crutch is a great way to speed up the process of making real BBQ.

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by Brian

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