Wrapping Brisket in Foil, Paper, and Foil Boat Explained

Wrapping Brisket in Foil, Paper, and Foil Boat Explained


Smoking brisket isn't about slapping a big piece of meat onto a grill and waiting for magic to happen. It's a craft that involves precision, patience, and a keen understanding of the methods involved. Not to mention the fun part, taste testing…

Wrapping a brisket during the smoking process is a crucial decision that makes a difference in the final results. Let's dive into the nuances of smoking brisket using three methods: wrapping in foil, wrapping in butcher paper, and the foil boat method.

Why Wrap?

Once a brisket reaches internal temperatures between 150°F and 165°, the intramuscular fat is rendering and water is released as muscle fiber cell walls are broken down. These juices then move to the outside of the brisket as the muscle fibers unravel due to heat. At this point, a brisket begins to take longer to cook as the moisture released works against the heat by cooling the meat from the inside out. This is called the stall. Fortunately, you can overcome the stall by wrapping the brisket. Wrapping braises the brisket in its own juices to maintain temperature and improves cooking time.

If wrapped properly, internal juices and fat are also not lost in the cooking process, which allows it to be reabsorbed during the resting process as muscle fibers draw moisture back in.

Wrap in Foil

When you wrap your brisket in foil, you create a vessel to hold in all of the moisture. This method yields a brisket that is as juicy as it can be, since little of the moisture is lost to evaporation. Once the juice travels to the outside, it is held against the brisket by the foil which works to keep it braising in its own juices. This is why the foil wrap is also the fastest of the three cooking methods we’re discussing. However, the trade-off here is that you sacrifice some of bark as it tends to be softer in a foil wrap since the moisture cannot evaporate away from the brisket, so it soaks the bark more.

Wrapping in foil also gives a brisket the most juice to draw from as it rests inside of the wrap.

Wrap in Paper

Wrapping your brisket in butcher paper offers a different experience from foil. This method allows for some airflow and moisture to pass out through the paper. The moisture wicks into the paper and then evaporates outside of the wrap. This results in a brisket with just as much flavor as one wrapped in foil, and the bark may be a little bit firmer, but the meat inside may have released more moisture.

A brisket wrapped in paper will absorb some moisture back from the paper as it rests, but there is less standing moisture inside the wrap to draw from.

Pro Tip- For best results, when fully wrapping a brisket, wrap as tight as possible to give little room for steam to develop, which can alter the flavor and cooking process.

Foil Boat Method: Best of Both Worlds?

Another popular method is the foil boat wrap, which is a hybrid of the traditional wrapping methods. In this method, the brisket is placed on a piece of foil, which is then wrapped around the sides, creating a boat-like enclosure. This “boat” captures the moisture below the brisket and allows the bottom of the brisket to remain in contact with the juices. As a result, the foil boat method offers a balance between wrapping in foil, wrapping in paper, and leaving the brisket unwrapped. The top has a dark crunchy bark while the bottom is still in contact with its own juices. It's an excellent option for those seeking both the textural complexity of a crispy bark and the succulence of a juicier interior.

This leaves juices in the bottom of the foil boat that can be drawn back in as the brisket rests.

For more information, Chef Tom explored these wraps previously in The Brisket Wrap Test and Foil Boat Brisket videos.

Which Method is Our Favorite?

After testing all these ways to create great briskets, we must go with the Foil Boat Method. This is because it offers the best balance of both texture and flavor. We’re not going to argue when we can have a crispy bark as well as plenty of juice in every succulent bite. Don’t take our word for it though, we’ve broken down the differences so you know what you can expect with a few different methods. So, the next time you fire up your smoker and lay a brisket upon its grates, consider the journey that lies ahead. Make your wrapping choices based on the results you desire. Whether you choose to wrap in foil, paper, foil boat, or not at all, remember that the true joy lies not just in the destination, but also in the path you take to get there.

Happy Grilling!