AmazingRibs.com is supported by our Pitmaster Club. Also, when you buy with links on our site we may earn a finder’s fee. Click to see how we test and review products.

The Texas Crutch: Wrap In Foil Or Butcher Paper To Tenderize And Speed Cooking

Called the “Texas Crutch” because some folks think it was developed in Texas, practically all the top competitive barbecue teams use this technique for ribs, pork shoulder (pork butt), and beef brisket.

First they smoke the meat for a few hours, then they wrap it tightly in foil or pink butcher paper for a while where it steams and braises in its own juices. Sometimes they unwrap it and roast it again to firm up the surface, sometimes they don’t.

The concept is a descendant of the tropical technique of wrapping meat in banana leaves. It helps make meat more tender and juicy. It also has the added benefit of speeding the cooking process. It is a routine step in competition where every little incremental improvement is needed and if you are chasing that big prize money, you have to go for it. It is like a swimmer shaving his body.

On the downside, wrapping can seriously damage the bark, the crispy exterior made of dehydrated meat, smoke, and rub, that is in many ways the best part of low and slow cookery. It can also make brisket taste a bit like pot roast. And you have to get the timing right. Too long in foil and you end up with mush. Paper is more forgiving on bark.

If the meat is not in the crutch it more moisture evaporates and the meat flavors concentrate.

Here’s the science of the crutch

The idea is to cook the meat most of the way, then seal the meat tightly in foil with just a little water, juice, wine, or beer. Apple juice is popular. Some people add margarine and sugars like honey or agave. The liquid mixes with the juices that drip from the meat and gently braises the meat. Braising is the same process used by a slow cooker where the meat sits partially submerged in a water based liquid. The liquid transmits heat to the meat better than air, speeding cooking.

Most importantly, the crutch prevents surface evaporation from the meat and helps keep it moister. Before and after wrapping, evaporation cools the meat, and that is what is responsible for the infamous “stall” a period of several hours where the meat’s internal temp plateaus and beginners start to panic. With the crutch, the meat finishes cooking faster. Crutch for too long, and you will extract flavor from the meat, remove all the rub, and cause the proteins to get their undies in a bunch, forming tight knots that will make the meat tough and wring out moisture, and then eventually make the meat too soft and mushy.

Most crutchers wait until the meat hits the stall, the point at which the internal temp ceases to rise because evaporative cooling equals heating. Others wait until it achieves a dark enough color due to the maillard reaction in the meat and caramelization from the sugars in the rub, close to the color they want it to finish at, usually an even brown.

ribs wrapped in foil

Here’s a video of champion cook Mark Lambert preparing the Texas Crutch for a slab of pork ribs:

1) Large sheet or two of heavy duty foil or butcher paper. Use two sheets of double strength foil to be safe.

2) Margarine is easier to use than butter

3) Meat side down

4) more margarine

5) Brown sugar or turbinado

6) Vinegarry sauce

7) Fold it tight but be careful not to puncture the foil

8) Add 1/4 cup of citrus soft drink or apple juice

9) Seal it tight. It is important that the packet not leak liquid from the bottom, and that steam not be able to escape from the top.

10) Back on the smoker for no more than 1 hour

leaky texas crutch

In a fascinating series of experiments, the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Prof. Greg Blonder proved that if the crutch does not hug the meat, and especially if it leaks even a little, the meat will cool from evaporation and it will drastically slow cooking. He also points out that you should crimp the foil around your thermometer probe if it is inserted through the foil, and be careful to stick the meat from the top so juice doesn’t leak out.

Brisket. Crutch brisket when the stall starts or when it hits about 150°F or 160°F and has a dark ruddy color, and leave it in foil until it hits 203°F. No peeking. The moment you open the foil it will start cooling rapidly. It could go from 203°F to 170°F in 20 minutes even though the cooker is 225°F. Don’t let this bother you. The dirty work of melting fat and collagen has been done, so don’t worry. I find that the crutch for brisket significantly improves tenderness but softens the bark and give the meat a pot roast flavor. Leaving it unwrapped yields a slightly tougher and drier experience but the flavors are beefier and more concentrated.

For ribs. I used to pooh pooh crutching ribs, but I find myself doing it more often for 30 minutes or so. The tenderness is worth it. In competition, you need all the help possible so you must crutch. If you are going to crutch ribs, be very careful that the bones don’t puncture the foil. A double layer is recommended. People ask if they can put more than one slab in a package. Yes, but the effect will not be the same. You are essentially making a single thicker piece of meat and that will take longer to reach temp. Remember, thickness determines cooking time more than anything else. I don’t recommend stacking.

Click here to learn how to tell when ribs are ready. When the meat is ready you can paint on sauce, place it on a hot grill to caramelize the sugars, and serve. Click here to learn more about saucing strategies. If you wish, make Vermont Pig Candy with the liquid in the foil.

After the crutch. Some cooks put the meat back into the smoker to dry the surface and firm the bark. Some cooks put the meat in an insulated box, a faux cambro, to rest and further soften connective tissues. I think this is important for brisket. Less so for other meats. When you open the package be extremely careful to avoid the hot steamy air that will escape. Then remove the meat and cook at 225°F for about 30 minutes or so to dry the surface and firm up the bark. Finally, just before serving, add the sauce and put it back in the cooker or better still, roll it around on a hot grill if you are using a sweet sauce to caramelize it. Read my articles on pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt) for pulled pork, and brisket to learn more

When the bark is ready, you’re ready.

Forget the 3-2-1 method for ribs

If you must wrap, many websites tout the 3-2-1 method. It says you should cook a slab of St. Louis cut pork ribs for 3 hours, then wrap it in foil for 2 hours, then take it out of the foil for 1 hour. Don’t do it.

Sterling Ball of BigPoppaSmokers.com and winner of the prestigious American Royal in KC says “I’d like to kill the man who came up with the 3-2-1 concept. He’s ruined more meat…”

I agree. Two hours in foil is waaaay too long for pork ribs, especially if there is liquid in the foil. Beef brisket needs two hours or more in foil, but not ribs. I think anything more than 1 hour softens the meat too much and makes it mushy.

Experiment until you and your cooker get it the way you like it best. Your mileage might vary. These are guidelines not rules.

Butcher paper

In Texas, where many of the best BBQ joints began life as butcher shops, pitmasters often wrap the meat in pink butcher paper rather than foil. The people who make Reynold’s foil have recently come out with rolls of the stuff just for BBQ lovers. Other brands make it too. It works similarly to foil, capturing moisture and preventing evaporative cooling. But there is a difference. The paper can saturate with fat and water on the bottom and it cooks a bit more slowly.

Not any butcher paper will do. Some are impregnated with melted wax or silicone. If you are tempted to try it, make sure it is plain unadulterated food grade butcher paper. And if you want to be authentic, you can order the very same pink stuff they use at Franklin, Kreuz and other bastions of que in Texas from ABCO.

Read Dr. Blonder’s research

indent arrow  Foiling and basting

The Texas Crutch  The Texas Crutch

indent arrow  The stall

I know you saw it on TV. But until you master the basics, skip the Crutch.

Related articles

Published On: 8/30/2012 Last Modified: 2/28/2022

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.

 

High quality websites are expensive to run. If you help us, we’ll pay you back bigtime with an ad-free experience and a lot of freebies!

Millions come to AmazingRibs.com every month for high quality tested recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, product reviews, and inspiration. But it is expensive to run a website with more than 2,000 pages and we don’t have a big corporate partner to subsidize us.

Our most important source of sustenance is people who join our Pitmaster Club. But please don’t think of it as a donation. Members get MANY great benefits. We block all third-party ads, we give members free ebooks, magazines, interviews, webinars, more recipes, a monthly sweepstakes with prizes worth up to $2,000, discounts on products, and best of all a community of like-minded cooks free of flame wars. Click below to see all the benefits, take a free 30 day trial, and help keep this site alive.


Post comments and questions below

grouchy?

1) Please try the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can’t help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.

Moderators

  Max

Click for comments...

Spotlight

These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on AmazingRibs.com and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys: https://tinyurl.com/amazingribs


Compact Powerful Sear Machine For Your Next Tailgater


Char-Broil’s Grill2Go x200 is a super-portable, fun little sizzler made of heavy, rust-proof cast aluminum. The lid snaps shut. Grab the handle and you’re off to the party! Char-Broil’s TRU-Infrared design produces searing heat while reducing fuel consumption. A 16 ounce LP gas canister is enough to keep you flipping burgers for hours.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order


The Efficiency Of A Kamado Plus The Flexibility Of The Slow ‘N Sear Insert

kamado grill
Built around SnS Grill’s patented Slow ‘N Sear charcoal kettle accessory, this 22-inch kamado is a premium ceramic grill that brings true 2-zone cooking to a kamado.

Click here for our article on this exciting cooker

 

Comprehensive Temperature Magnet With 80+ Important Temps

Amazingribs.com temperature magnet
Winner of the National BBQ Association’s product of the year award. This 8.5″ x 11″ magnet contains more that 80 benchmark temperatures for meats (both USDA recommended temps as well as the temps chefs recommend), fats and oils, sugars, sous vide, eggs, collagens, wood combustion, breads, and more. Although it is not certified as all-weather, we have tested it outdoors in Chicago weather and it has not delaminated in three years, but there is minor fading.

Click here to order.


Bring The Heat With Broil King Signet’s Dual Tube Burners

3 burner gas grill

The Broil King Signet 320 is a modestly priced, 3-burner gas grill that packs a lot of value and power under the hood. Broil King’s proprietary, dual-tube burners get hot fast and are able to achieve high, searing temps that rival most comparatively priced gas grills. The quality cast aluminum housing carries a Limited Lifetime Warranty.

Click here to read our complete review


Grilla Pellet Smoker proves good things come in small packages

We always liked Grilla. The small 31.5″ x 29.5″ footprint makes it ideal for use where BBQ space is limited, as on a condo patio.
Click here for our review on this unique smoker


The Cool Kettle With The Hinged Hood We Always Wanted


Napoleon’s 22″ Pro Cart Charcoal Kettle Grill puts a few spins on the familiar kettle design. In fact, the hinged lid with a handle on the front, spins in a rotary motion 180 degrees. It’s hard to beat a Weber kettle, but Napoleon holds its own and adds some unique features to make the 22″ Pro Cart a viable alternative.

Click here for more about what makes this grill special


The Pit Barrel Cooker May Be Too Easy


The PBC has a rabid cult following for good reason. It is absolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world. Period. This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers because temperature control is so much easier.

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them

RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube