Why Wrap a Brisket?
I was first introduced to the best way to deal with cooking a whole brisket by the “Franklin BBQ” book.
Along with masses of other great advice the book describes wrapping a brisket during the cooking process. For a while I wrapped my briskets in foil until I was warned about the health risks, but more importantly discovered that butcher paper worked, So I went along with Aaron Franklin’s suggestion of soaked butcher paper (something we have lots of).
So why wrap a brisket, when’s the best time and what in?
Going without the wrap is one option. If you have a good brisket with plenty of marbling in the meat and a good fat cap, there’s no reason why it would dry out during the long low cooking time. Native breed briskets are great for this because they usually have a high fat content and because they take longer to mature and so have a good level of collagen in the meat. It will take longer to get to temperature without the wrap and so the chances of losing moisture are going to be greater. The upside of cooking without the wrap are that you’re exposing the brisket to smoke for longer and getting a crisper bark. I’m not convinced, though, that you get more smoke penetration after a few hours, once the bark has formed.
I’m going to rule out wrapping in foil right from the outset of cooking, if you do this, you might as well braise the brisket in a low oven and save yourself the trouble of firing up a BBQ or smoker. Not that there’s anything wrong with braised brisket! The trick is to cook unwrapped first to form a bark and take on some smoke, then to wrap in foil at the right time. Either look for the point when you’ve got a good, dark roast coffee, coloured bark or go for it when the temperature in the brisket is around 65-70c. Wrapping in foil will also reduce cooking time by helping the brisket through the stall. This is when the temperature stops climbing for, what seems like, forever as moisture evaporates.
Finally the butcher paper choice. This is somewhere between leaving your brisket totally exposed and wrapping with foil. The difference is that the butcher paper is slightly pervious to both the smoke and the heat, so rather than ending up with a boiled brisket you still get a level of smoke flavour and a crunchy bark. For the perfect result I would still wait until the bark has formed and you’ve got some smoke before wrapping. Then wrap to help you get through the stall and up to perfect temperature.
So there we are, take your pick. The most important thing is to make sure that you cook the brisket slowly and get it to the right finished temperature so that the collagen has turned to jelly. This is around 90c. When you’re monitoring the wrapped, or unwrapped, brisket stick with it through the stall.
My technique for cooking a whole brisket is here.