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To Wrap or Not to Wrap: When Should I Use Foil When Grilling?

Using foil when you’re grilling isn’t a new phenomenon. You’ve probably seen a lot of pitmasters do it, and you might have tried it once or twice yourself. However, you might not be sure exactly when you should be wrapping ribs in foil or making a tent to encourage carryover cooking.

This is where we can step in with some tried and true guidance. Read on for a rundown on why we wrap meat, when to wrap ribs before you grill them and how to nail the perfect technique. 


Why Use Foil to Wrap Meat?

Cultures that value grilled meat has been wrapping meat in everything they can find, including banana leaves, for generations. We happen to have tin foil, which is much easier to find in the grocery store. But here’s the real question we want to answer — why do we wrap foods at all?

Wrapping meat in foil mid-grill or smoke gives it the chance to continue cooking without getting too much of a bark. When done correctly, the Texas Crutch allows the meat to simmer in its own — and added — juices. The result is nothing short of a beautifully finished rack of ribs, brisket or pork butt — no dehydrated, tough protein.

You can think of your foil wrapper as kind of a secondary oven within your smoker. The little oven seals in all the juices and makes it harder for moisture to escape.

First Order of Business: Some Texas Crutch Tips

Let’s move on to the basics of wrapping ribs in foil — or any kind of meat, for that matter. As you might have picked up on, some people call this method the Texas Crutch. But whatever you call it, it works beautifully.

The foil in this ridiculously simple way to cook your meat seals in heat, tenderizing the beef faster than if it were unwrapped. However, before you start wrapping everything you love in foil, make sure to stick with a few basic rules:

  • If you’re cooking fast and hot, you don’t need to wrap anything in foil. A foil wrapper works best with low and slow cooking methods. 
  • Take your meat out of the foil earlier rather than later. Otherwise, it can get mushy, and no one will want to eat it.
  • Play babysitter the first few times you Crutch your meat. This gives you a benchmark on what to expect during future cooking endeavors.

Ready to get grilling? Check out the best way to wrap your foil.

Making the Proper Foil Boat 

What’s the best way to ensure your Texas Crutch BBQ won’t go awry? Start with a stable boat or tent. You may want to use two or three sheets of tin foil. Don’t worry about which side of the tin foil to smoke — it won’t make much of a difference. 

Create a boat that you can crimp at the top. Then add some kind of moisture, such as a little beer, water, apple juice or honey-water to rev up the flavor profile. Go easy on the amount, though. If your foil tent works correctly, it’ll act like a slow cooker and limit evaporation.

Be careful when wrapping brisket and pork butt, and particularly when crutching ribs. Wrapping ribs in foil takes patience, so the bones don’t poke through the foil. If you notice a problem, start over. The last thing you want is ventilation messing with your foil grilling plans.

Knowing When to Apply and Remove the Texas Smoking Crutch

So when should you remove your meat from the smoker grill and pop it into your foil boat? Most pitmasters swear that the ideal moment is when you hit the “stall” — when the internal temperature of whatever you’re cooking won’t budge. By moving the meat into a different environment, you force it to start cooking faster internally, while the outside of the meat continues to caramelize and darken.

A stall can be a pretty frustrating experience for a pitmaster, especially during a competition or any other time-crunched event. That’s why you want to understand how to wrap ribs and other meat in foil in the first place. By moving the meat into a different environment, you force it to start cooking faster internally, while the outside of the meat continues to caramelize and darken.

After 30 minutes, check the temperature of the meat but try not to disturb the tenting or allow too much steam to escape. When your meat reaches the desired level, you can carefully remove the foil. If you’d like, toss the meat back on the grill at a lower temperature to dry the outside and give it a crispier bark.

And now? Well, we don’t need to tell you that it’s time to dig in.

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Using Foil as a Tent

Since we’re already on the subject of when to wrap ribs in foil, it’s a good time to talk about foil as a pitmaster’s tool. You’ll find that you’ll use foil for a number of purposes. You can even scrunch up a ball of foil and rub it across warm grates with a tong to clean off the debris! And, of course, you can use it to tent meat that comes off the grill.

A foil tent is what it sounds like. You just pull enough foil off the roll and turn it into a tent. Pop the tent on your hot food and let some magic happen. Tents promote carryover cooking, allowing you to get a few extra degrees of internal heat on your meat.

Whatever method you use to wrap ribs, be sure to stock up on foil as BBQ season gets into full swing. It’s a useful tool you wouldn’t want to be without when you’re grilling!

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