Wrapping meat is a crucial step in cooking a delicious barbecue and two of the most common wraps are butcher paper and foil. Butcher paper is made from food-grade wood pulp while foil is made from aluminum sheets. As a result, these materials offer different benefits when used in a barbecue. For instance, foil offers better resistance when dropped on high heat.
I'll be discussing this and much more in my article where I will be pitting two of the best wrapping materials against one another. I’ve used both butcher paper and foil for over a decade, so I’m more than qualified to highlight the differences between them. By the end of today’s article, you’ll find out which sheet to use for your favorite meat cuts.
Here is a table that highlights key differences in both wrapping materials.
Slower cooking time
Faster cooking time
Moisture Retention & Evaporation
Retains less moisture and may leak without sufficient padding. However, the evaporation level is higher, which allows the meat to form a tasty bark.
Retains more moisture, allowing the meat to cook in its juices. However, the evaporation level means that wrapping in foil may not develop the perfect bark.
Less adaptable to high heat and flames
Can withstand high cooking temperatures.
In the battle between butcher paper and foil, you’ll need to consider how you want your barbecue to look and taste.
If you prefer smoking meat at high heat, foil would be the best option. Foil has impressive heat resistance, unlike butcher paper, which can quickly catch fire and char your BBQ under extreme heat or flames.
If you enjoy a thick, flavorful bark on your barbecue, then butcher paper is the right way to go. Compared to foil, butcher paper easily allows evaporation to pass through and produces sweet browning.
In terms of cooking speed, using foil gets your meat to cook quicker than butcher paper. Foil forms a tight seal, which hinders moisture loss. As a result, when using foil, your meat won't stall, which is when evaporation from the meat slows the cooking process, cutting your cook time by many hours.
Aluminum foil is my preferred choice when it comes to wrapping pork ribs due to its moisture retention. Foil keeps moisture locked in, allowing the ribs to roast in their own juices.
Because you typically don't worry about a crusty bark with pork ribs, the steam produced by using aluminum foil doesn't affect the quality of the steak.
I prefer using foil for pork shoulder, also known as pork butt because it maintains a consistent temperature and keeps all the juices inside, making the meat mushier - which is perfect for pulled pork.
Sometimes, I add some butter to the pork butt to infuse more flavor into the pork. Butcher paper also works great for pork butt, but I like my pork shoulder juicier.
The delicious bark formed during smoking is the secret to a delicious beef rib. For this reason, I typically use butcher paper. Butcher paper keeps the meat's bark intact while allowing more smoke flavor to permeate the meat. Whenever I smoke ribs, I wrap them in butcher paper halfway through the smoking process.
I love using butcher paper for brisket because it produces a delicious bark and allows the meat to absorb the incredible smoke flavor. On the other hand, using butcher paper slows down the smoking process, so I find myself picking up foil when preparing brisket for a hungry crowd.
I typically wrap the smoked meat in foil after it develops a tasty bark, so I get quick cooking time and an impressive bark. On that note, I prefer foil paper for brisket, but only slightly.
Butcher paper is created from food-grade wood pulp, but it has additionally been treated to make it thicker and longer-lasting. There are different types of butcher paper including white paper, steak paper, peach paper, and pink butcher paper, and these are sold in sheets or rolls.
As long as your butcher paper is thick and made of food-grade pulp and paper, it doesn't really matter what color it is. The most common issue I face when smoking meat with butcher paper is that it tends to slow down the cooking process.
Foil is a material generally made using food-grade aluminum sheets. Due to its resistance to heat and moisture, aluminum foil is incredibly adaptable when used on the grill.
Wrapping meat in aluminum foil is commonly referred to as the "Texas crutch." This technique ensures the meat stays juicy and moist. The foil traps all of the moisture and fat from your meat so that it will be able to reabsorb the fat and juices when it rests.
The issue with using foil is that you risk having meat that is too soft or mushy since it simmers in its own juices. It can sabotage the desired crusty bark on foods like brisket.
In addition to being inexpensive and simple to use, foil can significantly speed up cooking. The foil will hold the moisture in the meat and act as an insulator against the heat in the smoker, allowing the meat to steam as it cooks.
Lastly, if you're looking for the best foil to buy, I recommend buying a roll of heavy-duty foil. It works well for covering meats with bones that can pierce the foil.
Wrapping barbecue correctly is just as important as knowing the right material to use for smoked meat. Let's look at how to wrap BBQ in foil or butcher paper:
Make sure your first two pieces of foil or butcher paper are twice as long as your meat on all sides. Ensure the paper or foil is completely smoothed out.
Place the first sheet on a flat surface. Then place the side of the second sheet at the center of the first sheet.
Place the meat in the middle of the bottom half and add any sauce, juice, or seasoning to improve the flavor. I usually use Weber's apple juice, and butter for added flavor.
Next, tightly collapse all the left and right sides of the meat inward. Then, wrap the bottom part of the sheet inward and roll the meat upward until it is completely wrapped. Ensure the sheet wrap tightly around the meat so the flavor stays locked in.
Here are a few more tips to help you wrap your favorite meat perfectly:
In my opinion, the best time to wrap brisket is as soon as the meat's bark has developed and when the internal temperature of the brisket reaches 165 degrees. Remember to use a leave-in thermometer to measure the meat's temperature.
The Texas crutch is a method that involves wrapping meats in foil or paper to speed up the cooking time. This technique helps prevent the meat from stalling.
Pitmasters frequently use a technique known as a "liquid wrap," where they apply dry rub, juices, and other condiments to braise the meat. In addition to beating meat stalls, the Texas-style barbecue crutch also helps retain moisture and prevent surface evaporation.
Ultimately, the choice between butcher paper and foil depends on what you want from your barbecue. If you want quicker smoking times, I suggest selecting foil. However, if smoky-tasting and crunchy bark appeal most to you, butcher paper may be the best pick. Hopefully, you now know the main differences between these two sheets of wrap. So, pick your preferred sheet for your barbecue and start smoking.