Thursday, December 23, 2010

Butcher paper wrapped brisket - Pitmaster Marshall Cooper shows you how

Our recent Central Texas 5-Star Anniversary BBQ Tour yielded an unexpected discovery as we talked technique with Aaron Franklin, owner of Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Several Texas BBQ Posse members are backyard pitmasters, so we are always pestering BBQ joint pit bosses for their tricks of the trade.

This one stopped us in our tracks though, when Aaron casually mentioned that he wraps his award-winning brisket in butcher paper, rather than foil, during the cooking process. What was that? Butcher paper wrapped brisket? Pitmaster Marshall Cooper had never heard of this either, he's been cooking on smokers for over 25 years. Much to our surprise, we also saw butcher paper wrapping being used several other times later in the tour, at both Prause Meat Market and Taylor Cafe, at various parts of the cooking process.

Could this be the process that vaults Franklin's brisket to the top? When discussing what makes the their brisket so great, we kept coming back to the subject of "texture" of the meat. Snow's brisket is a very close second for the Posse and they wrap with foil midway through cooking. The Snow's bark isn't quite as crusty as Franklin's, which is in contrast to the equally juicy slices of brisket offered by both BBQ joints.

Marshall is no fan of foil wrapping for back yard BBQ, telling me numerous times that it makes the meat soggy and the bark less crusty. He's gone back and forth over the years, trying to balance the need for great smoke and crust with the necessity of keeping the brisket moist and juicy.

"Face it, you are braising & probably steaming the meat by foil wrapping it for too long during your process," he writes. "Many backyard BBQ’ers, including myself, competition teams and small BBQ joints use foiling to keep the meats from drying out and becoming too smokey, also to speed up the cooking process."

"If you keep the barbecue wrapped too long during the process you could end up with over steamed but very tender stew meat, with a grey tint, having lost all the texture and color that true wood fired pit barbecue should have."

Marshall began his butcher paper research as soon as we got back from the tour and is getting close to developing a technique that works well. After four test cooks, he likes what he sees.

One of the initial problems was literally how to wrap the brisket. After his first attempt turned out far too smokey, he realized the brisket needed to be wrapped more heavily and tightly to let in less smoke. He headed to his local butcher, who showed him how to wrap tightly and efficiently, ending up with three layers of butcher paper encasing the meat. Pictured above is Marshall's step-by-step technique of butcher paper wrapping.

Marshall has been cooking the briskets, usually in the 12-15 lb. range, cooking time is around 1.5- 2 hours per pound. He smokes unwrapped for several hours, then wraps with butcher paper for the last 3-4. The ideal smoker temperature is around 225-250 degrees. After cooking, the brown paper will be very oily, yet has the ability to hold in the juices of the brisket. He also cautions the paper can burn if your smoker gets over 375-400 degrees.

Here are some notes Marshall sent after our Christmas brisket cook on Wednesday.

He writes, "The recent discovery of butcher paper on our central Texas tour has me back on the prowl of eliminating foil from my smoking process. Lately I've been smoking up a storm to learn the new process. You could probably confirm it from my kind and tolerant neighbors! The major end result is a better texture of barbecue, very moist and tender but unsteamed. The butcher paper seems to breath, keeping the brisket or ribs from drying out while shielding the meat from too much smoke."

"I'm no expert at this point, having using butcher paper for a little more than a month. Also, many champion BBQ pitmasters use foil in their cooking process and have the expertise and touch to use foil and turn out perfect meat," Marshall says.

"But for those of us that don’t have that expertise and end up with steamed brisket, try the butcher paper alternative to see if you like the results. I’m sure I will find a place for using foil in many of my future smokes, but wanted to share some thoughts and experiences with others to let them know about this new-found alternative for smoking meat."

Our family can't wait to sit down to Christmas dinner, where we'll be dining on two butcher paper wrapped briskets from Marshall's pits. That's what I call a happy holiday feast!

Photos by Chris Wilkins


  1. A couple of questions:

    1. At what temperature does the butcher paper burn, and would this be an issue inside a Big Green Egg (large)?
    2. Did Aaron Franklin say if he goes fat up, fat down, or flips?
    3. Was there anything other than the rub applied?

  2. Hi Lee: Here are some answers from Marshall:

    1. As far as what temp does paper burn goes, our pits never exceed 275 degrees and the paper has never flamed, it only turns dark black probably due to the saturation of fat and heat. So cannot say with any certainty the paper will burn in an offset pit. I have not direct experience with a green egg. But if the coals are directly beneath the wrapped meat it probably would burn paper unless a water pan was between the coals and meat.

    2. We always cook fat side up and have not addressed this with AF. Our pit cooks even and doesn't require flipping meat, which would probably be determined by your pit, it's size and if it cooks even or has hot spots.

    3. Yes, rub is all we use as we don't marinate our brisket.

  3. Thank you very much for the feedback. The BGE has a ceramic "plate setter" that sits between the coals/wood and the grill. That, plus the controlled combustion and even heat distribution from the design, should keep the paper from igniting. I've also got a pair of salt bricks I can use as heat mediators if I want to get really paranoid about burning the paper. I guess the only way to be sure is to try it, eh? ^_^

    If you don't mind, I have one other question about the time at which you wrap. My wife and I really love a deep, smoky flavor to our brisket, and our wood of choice is pecan chunks. Is four hours unwrapped sufficient to get this result, or would it be safe to possibly go a few more hours without over-smoking the meat?

    Once again, thank you very much for your help!

  4. Lee, here's Marshall's advice on your latest post:

    "I would push the limits, get to know the green egg better and experiment on using more wood. Try cooking two briskets at once, with one of the briskets being 2-3 pounds smaller than the other, stagger when you put each one on the egg, the bigger one first. Try adding more wood on the first one for a couple of hours and let the wood burn down. Wrap according to your usual technique. Realize paper can take 25% longer to cook due to no steam. Then replenish the wood to your typical amount and add the smaller brisket to the egg. Hopefully the two briskets will finish together for a taste test.

  5. Much obliged. Thanks for great advice, and for a great website!

  6. I can't wait to try this out. What is "pink paper" and is there a source for it.

  7. Another question. The post indicated the brisket was wrapped in three layers of paper. Is that wrapped once, then wrapped again, then again in three individual sheets of paper or wrapped all at once in a lenght of paper equivalent tp three sheets (folded over and over again)?

  8. Hi Swanny: I've been with him on several test cooks, he uses the same piece all at once, folded over three times then taped with paper tape. Thanks/Chris

  9. I tried the technique over the weekend, wrapping an approximately nine pound brisket in paper from the same source mentioned in the article. I couldn't get it wrapped as neatly and used butcher's twine instead of paper tape, but I nonetheless did get decent results. (BTW, there was absolutely no problem with burning in the BGE - both twine and paper came out unscathed.)

    Our brisket smoked bare for 6 hours and wrapped for 12. Again, as mentioned in the article, the bark did not get soggy and the texture was good across most of the meat. Some parts of the point fell apart a bit too readily, but not into mush - it was more like those bits just decided to become chopped brisket on their own. No one complained since the taste made up for this slight bit of disintegration.
    (My decision to let the meat go to 195 instead of 193 may have also contributed to this issue, since it underwent a "second plateau" that kept the meat temperature at 193 for at least 90 minutes.)

    I am encouraged enough to try it again, but with the following tweaks:

    1. A smaller brisket (ours started around 10 lbs before I trimmed some of the cap fat).
    2. A longer bare smoke (6 hours was okay, but my wife and I agreed we wanted more smoky flavor).
    3. Pulling the meat off at 193 instead of 195.

    Again, thanks for sharing the technique!

  10. I ordered the paper from the source you listed and it does not appear to be butcher paper. the texture and feel is completely different than butcher paper. I double checked what I ordered and it was correct. So, I looked around and it is identical to kraft paper at office depot so I'm completely hesitant to use it on brisket. A better source for bonafide red butcher paper is

  11. I have some briskets to do and going to try your paper wrap. I have a roll of brown butcher paper and tabe i bought from our butcher shop.

    What i plan to do these on is a Meadow Creek PR36 with the slide out and indirect pan over the coals. Meadow Creek has a web site if you would like to see the pit and give me a hollar yes or no.

    Thank You

  12. Are there any advantages to using butcher paper on briskets in insulated smokers?

  13. Yall should use pink paper and keep the temp around 260 to 270.... render that fat baby.....

  14. What weight is the paper? 30#, 40#'s, etc?

  15. Hi: Checked with Marshall & the paper is #30 unwaxed.

  16. Thanks, Chris. Is that the weight that Franklin's also uses or just the one Marshall used? Thanks again.

  17. I am interested in the grill/smoker in picture 4 that does not have smoke coming out of it. Could Marshall provide some info on it such as brand, performance, heat retention, & durability? Thanks.

  18. Todd: Those are both Pitts & Spitts smokers, out of Houston. Here's the website: They are very durable & well-built, but the smaller one cooked a little hot on one end. Marshall has since gotten a custom Jambo pit, pretty amazing rig. Jambo owner Jamie Geer also makes a backyard model, which is a great pit for the money. Here's Jambo's website:

  19. You guys are shiggin Franklin real hard. Develop your own recipe.

    1. I don't think anybodies shiggin. Franklins technique is simple and already available. I think everybody shigs once in a while which in my opinion doesn't hurt anyone. I can give someone my recipe and they still wont be able to produce exactly what I make. Practice,practice,practice.

  20. Can we get some specifics on the paper? My butchers use white paper that I'd say is coated (shiny) on the inside. Are you talking about Kraft paper or something foodgrade?

  21. You don't want to use coated butcher paper John. Marshall used #30 weight unwaxed, which looked to me more like brown kraft paper. The key was to wrap it tight enough so too much smoke didn't get in. I remember he tried a paper grocery sack for fun once but it wasn't big enough to wrap tightly & the brisket got too much smoke.

  22. What kind of paper tape is used for wrapping brisket in butcher paper?

  23. use "food grade approved" butcher paper from any paper supplier. Forget the tape. just wrap 2 layers 36" long. NOT kraft paper unless you like bad flavors and chemicals .....Marshall Cooper