Should you wrap meat in foil when smoking? It’s best for tenderness

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 11, 2022

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Smoking meat low and slow is one of the best ways to get the most flavor out of it.

The best thing is that the process is as enjoyable as the outcome itself, with countless methods you can use to enhance the final taste and texture of the meat.

One of those methods is covering the meat in foil wrap.

However, where pitmasters adore wrapping meat, weekend smokers like you are still confused about whether you should do this or not? And if yes, what are the benefits?

Should you wrap meat in foil when smoking? It's best for tenderness

Well, here’s the thing:

You certainly can and should wrap the meat if you want it to retain its juiciness and flavor throughout the smoking process. However, keep in mind that wrapping meat also means less bark. So if you want juiciness without compromising on bark, perhaps you would like to use a butcher paper. 

Want to know more? Let’s dive a bit deeper!

Why wrap meat for smoking?

Guess what, whether you make the decision to wrap your meat or not comes down to your preferences.

You are in charge behind your grill!

That being said I’ll discuss the advantages and drawbacks of wrapping meat while leaving the final decision to you.

So let’s jump in!

You should be foil wrapping your meat if you want:

Shorter cooking time

If you aren’t playing Masterchef and just want to spend a pleasant holiday picnic with your family, the chances are that you would like your meat smoked quickly and ready to eat in no time.

In such as situation, having some heavy-duty aluminum foil is nothing less than a blessing.

Whether it’s pork shoulder, spare ribs, or a brisket, foil wrapping your favorite cut ensures that it cooks in almost half of its actual smoking time and quenches your cravings before the desire milds down.

Guess what? The meat that could take almost a day smoking takes no more than a few hours when wrapped.

Tender and moist meat

Some meat cuts are tough. Thus, there’s always some chewiness no matter how many hours you smoke it.

Some people like this hint of toughness. But if you are like me, you might dislike it.

Wrapping the meat in an aluminum foil get’s you rid of this problem. Being highly insulating, it keeps the moisture and heat from escaping, letting the meat marinate in its juices.

This ensures that the final result is highly tender and full of juices, with a moderate bark just enough to enhance the feel. It’s all a win-win situation.

Keeps the meat hot longer

As I have said, aluminum is a good insulator. This ensures that the meat remains hot and smoky for a longer duration, whether it’s your favorite pork shoulder or brisket.

All you need to do is to wrap the meat tightly, and there it is! You are all set to throw a delicious backyard party later, with food for which your guests would go wild.

Wrapping meat ensures that its internal temperature remains maintained for a longer duration with all the juicy goodness intact compared to unwrapped meats.

Less smokiness

Different people have different preferences when it comes to smoked meat.

Some like it extra smoky, others moderately smoky, and then there are people who want just enough smokiness to feel that the meat is cooked using woods.

If you are in the second or third category, perhaps you would like to use aluminum foil during the smoking process.

Why? Because you have no other option! Since foil has no pores on its surface, there’s less chance of smokiness imparting to the meat.

Why NOT wrap the meat?

As I have mentioned repeatedly, wrapping the meat is essential for keeping its juiciness and flavor intact.

However, there’s always a downside to everything. And with wrapping meat, it’s losing the bark.

Less bark when wrapping meat

A delicious, super crispy bark is often regarded as the hallmark of a skilled pitmaster. It’s the sole reason for eating smoked meat for most meat lovers.

Unfortunately, you won’t get to enjoy much of the black bark if you wrap the meat in aluminum foil. That’s because it will prevent the meat from direct exposure to smoke.

To still get a decent amount of bark, you can opt for wrapping your meat in butcher paper instead of aluminum foil. More on that below!

Timing is everything

Losing the bark is not the only thing to worry about when wrapping meat for smoking.

If you make the slightest mistake in calculating the time as to when the meat should be wrapped during the process, even the most delicious pork butt or brisket could turn into bitter-tasting dry cardboard.

Also read: these are the 16 Most Common Smoking Mistakes people make [avoid them!]

How long should you smoke meat wrapped in aluminum foil for best results?

Until you are a complete newbie in smoking, you must know that each meat and cut has particular cooking times.

For example, what might be the best smoking time for a brisket might not be the best for pork butt, or what might be the best duration for smoking lamb meat might not be the best for chicken!

Anyways, before we get into the duration for which the meat should stay in the foil, first we need to know the point at which you must wrap the meat.

The thing is, you can’t just place it on the charcoal grill directly.

Ideally, the meat should be wrapped halfway through the cooking process when the internal temp of the meat is between 160 and 165 degrees F.

To reach this temperature, the meat could take anywhere from 1 hour to several hours, depending on the toughness and type of the meat.

To explain my point more elaborately, let’s take pork ribs as an example.

Smoking pork ribs wrapped in a foil with the 3-2-1 method

Pork ribs are smoked by a method known as the 3-2-1 method. The name refers to the time blocks the process is divided into.

To make it easier for you to understand, let me break it down in a step-by-step manner for further explanation.

In the 3-2-1 method, the cooking time is divided into three blocks, including:

3- Heating time

In the first time block, the smoker’s temperature is set to 225 degrees F, the rib is glazed on both sides and then slid into the smoker for about 3 hours.

2- Wrapping time

The second half of the time frame includes wrapping ribs in aluminum foil, seasoning them with sugar, and adding liquid like apple cider vinegar or bourbon.

Now the meat is sealed entirely and left at the mercy of the smoker for another 2 hours.

1- Smoking time

This smoking stage includes removing the meat from the aluminum foil and giving it a mild sauce brush.

Once done, the ribs are again slid into the smoker for another 1 hour.

You can also crank up the temperature for the last 15 minutes for even stickier ribs.

Just make sure not to overdo it; over smoking the ribs can make them mushy, thus, ruining the whole fun.

What type of meats are best suited for foil wrapping when smoking low and slow?

Well, wrapping can enhance just about any meat’s flavor and overall texture.

But if I had to recommend you some meat cuts that smoke best regardless of your experience, it would be:

  • Pork butt (or Boston butt)
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Beef brisket
  • Pork ribs
  • Whole chicken
  • Ribeye steak

The meat cuts mentioned above are super juicy, flavorful, and easy to smoke.

Wrap them in foil, and there’s nothing that beats the taste. You just got to know the basic know-how of smoking.

Up the ante even more by using flavor Infusing Grilling Wraps (here’s how)

Can I use butcher paper instead of aluminum foil?

Using pink butcher paper to wrap meat when smoking

(view more images)

You can use butcher paper instead of aluminum foil if you want some extra bark on the meat. However, it would help to keep in mind that a butcher paper only works best for smokers. For fast cooking methods like a grill, it would be best to use a foil. 

As a matter of fact, a butcher paper is less insulating and more breathable compared to an aluminum foil. Thus, it ensures the meat is directly exposed to the smoke to some extent.

Nevertheless, where this porosity helps infuse flavor, it also facilitates evaporating and absorbing much of the meat’s juices.

Consequently, the final product will be way less juicy than the one you would get with aluminum foil.

The aforementioned property also makes the butcher paper one of the best choices for a Texas Crutch (explained here).

The Texas Crutch is more about boosting up the cooking time of the meat without affecting the final results.

In other words, you get the same bark and flavor but in less time.

Make sure to go for heavy-duty butcher paper like this roll of pink butcher paper from DIY CREW.

Are there any risks to wrapping meat in aluminum foil?

While aluminum foil is one of the most liked choices for wrapping meats, it certainly has risks.

According to research published by WHO, the aluminum toleration for an average 65kg individual is 2400mg. Any amount higher than that is considered a health risk.

That being in check, aluminum often leeches into food wrapped in it, increasing the risk of high blood aluminum levels.

The chances even increase when we wrap food that already has high aluminum content inside.

Another thing you need to know is that aluminum leeches into liquid-containing foods more easily, and that also includes meat.

This could not only pose a threat to your health but also impart a sort of metallic flavor to the meat, which is equally undesirable.

Finally, producing aluminum foil is quite resource-intensive and therefore not very eco-friendly.

The best way to dispose of it is by recycling it. But since you probably will have bits of meat and juice stuck to it, it would have to go to the landfill.

Conclusion

Smoking food is a slow process that requires utmost patience for a delicious final outcome.

But does that mean you shouldn’t use some proven techniques like wrapping to quicken it up? Absolutely not!

In fact, it’s one of the best ways to get the meat out of the smoker fast while retaining its juicy goodness altogether.

In this article, I tried to answer any basic questions that you might have in mind regarding wrapping or not wrapping the meat with aluminum foil for smoking.

Moreover, I also tried to share some practical tips and tricks that you could use to make your next endeavor of preparing juicy meat easier and more enjoyable.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.