An important technique to understand if you cook low and slow, the Texas Crutch can reduce cooking times and preserve moisture when you hit “the stall” during a long smoking session.
They say patience is a virtue. As a parent, I say it’s essential. If you aren’t prepared for “Are we there yet?” on long car rides and “Is dinner ready yet?” every night, you won’t last long before going right off the deep end.
Patience is also essential if you want to master barbecuing and smoking. For example, you can’t keep lifting the lid to see if “it’s done yet.” If you’re looking, you ain’t cooking, is something else “they” say.
The biggest test of your patience will probably be a long smoking session and “the stall.” Fortunately, we can help ourselves along by mastering a simple technique called the Texas Crutch.
Not only will it save you time, but it will also enhance the flavor of your meat. What is this magical maneuver, and how do I do it? My step-by-step guide to the Texas Crutch is coming up, plus tips on when to use it.
Be patient, read on, and all will be explained.
The Texas Crutch Explained – What it is and Why We Use it
As barbecue techniques go, this one is pretty simple. It’s actually just one step in the larger process of smoking meat low and slow. Typically, you’d use the Texas Crutch when slow-cooking big cuts like a picnic shoulder or a brisket.
The point of smoking is to cook slowly, generally over many hours, to allow smoke flavor to infuse into the meat. Because it happens so slowly, a delicious bark will form over the surface of the meat (if done properly), and tough cuts will tenderize, often to the point where they practically melt in your mouth.
But, and here’s where your patience will really be tested, in most smoking sessions, you’ll come face-to-face with the stall. It’s a period of time (that often seems endless) during which the internal temperature of your meat steadfastly refuses to rise, no matter how skilled you are with adjusting vents and dampers. This can literally go on for hours. Why?
Without getting too much into the science, your meat is both heating and cooling at the same time. How is that possible? Well, the heat penetrating the meat drives out the moisture inside. When the moisture reaches the surface, it evaporates. As you may recall from high school science, evaporation causes cooling. That’s why a clay jug of water can stay cool in the desert sun. It’s also why we sweat.
Since food is cooked to temperature, not time, all you can do is wait it out and keep the beer and pretzels flowing.
OR, you can invoke the Texas Crutch like a magic spell.
All you have to do is remove the meat from the smoker and wrap it in foil. Put it back in the smoke, and… that’s it!
Here’s a quick video overview of the Texas Crutch from Sweet Baby Rays:
How Does the Texas Crutch Work?
I hear you out there – what do you mean, “that’s it”? Wrapping in aluminum foil is the big secret? What good does that do?
By sealing off the meat from the smoker’s warm, smoky innards, we trap all the heat inside. It also wards off the cooling process of evaporation. With the warmth locked in and the cooling shut off, our meat can go about its business of cooking to perfection.
Incredibly, this basic trick can shave hours of panic-inducing time off your smoking session.
Pros and Cons of Using the Texas Crutch
Like any smoking technique, there are advantages and drawbacks to using the Texas Crutch. Many pitmasters use it, even in competition. But, you have to do it right for maximum benefit and understand what can go wrong if you don’t.
Creates flexibility for timing your meal
Are you ahead of schedule? I never am. But, if I was, I could use the Texas Crutch to put my meat in a holding pattern. Keep the moisture and heat locked in, and unwrap to carve when you’re ready to eat.
Shorten your cook time
Yes, smoking meat is all about patience. There’s a limit, though! If waiting 12 hours or more doesn’t work for you, this is the way. You’ll cut hours off your cook and plate a fantastic meal in a more reasonable time frame.
Customize the smokiness and color of your meat
There is such a thing as too much smoke. Spending all day in a smoker can add more smoke flavor to your meat than you want if you’re not careful. The Texas Crutch prevents smoke from getting at the meat, reducing the risk of over-smoking.
Additionally, wrapping slows down the color change that happens to meat in a smoker. I think aesthetics are important to enjoying a great meal. So, when my meat looks good but isn’t actually done, I’ll wrap it to preserve the appearance.
Max out on tenderness and juiciness
One of the biggest issues with smoking meat is the risk of drying it out. Your fortress of foil keeps the moisture inside, keeping your meat nice and tender.
It’s an extra step
This “con” seems a little silly to me. Still, I’ve read comments here and there from people who just want to set-it-and-forget-it when it comes to smoking. To them, the Texas Crutch is one more thing to be worried about.
Honestly, it only takes a few minutes of your time, and the results are so worth it. If this is your excuse, maybe smoking isn’t for you?
Moisture is a friend and a fiend at the same time. Holding in the moisture is great for tenderness, but it’s very bad for the bark. Bark is the crunchy outer layer that forms on smoking meat, and it’s packed with rich flavor. Sitting in a steam bath can reduce your gorgeous bark to something you can eat without teeth.
No worries – we have a work-around coming up in our how-to section!
What Kinds of Meat are Best for Texas Crutch?
You can smoke most kinds of meat. It’s the big guys, though, the ones that smoke all day long, that get the most out of a foil wrap. That’s because we’re not only cooking them in the smoker, we’re tenderizing them by relaxing tough muscle fibers. But, it’s all done with the risk of drying the meat out and actually making it tougher.
As already described, the Texas Crutch shortens the time spent in the cooker and preserves much-needed moisture.
Typically, you’ll want to use a Texas Crutch on the following cuts:
Mastering the Texas Crutch in 5 Easy Steps
We always cook to time, not temperature. Still, we always start knowing roughly how long we expect to smoke based on what’s on the menu. Slow cook or smoke for about two-thirds of your total estimated cook time.
Monitor your meat, both visually and with your meat temperature probe. The stall usually strikes in the 150-160F range (internal temperature). If you see that temperature holding, you know it’s time. Check the crust with your eyes; if you like the color, get it out of there.
Have your heavy-duty foil handy, and wrap two layers of it around your meat. If you like, you can add a tablespoon or two of beer, wine, apple juice, or other tasty fluid to up the moisture level and add some flavor.
Leave your meat probe in place and crimp the foil around it. Tightly seal every seam to prevent moisture from escaping and ruining the whole thing. This is absolutely VITAL TO YOUR SUCCESS!
Put the meat back in the smoker or grill. Keep cooking until you reach your target temperature, which will vary depending on the cut and how you like it.
Decision time! As mentioned earlier, you can take the meat out of the smoker but leave it wrapped until you’re ready to eat.
Alternatively, you can unwrap it and place it on a grill over low heat to crisp up the bark and banish the mushy texture I mentioned in the cons section.
Can I Use Butcher Paper for Texas Crutch?
Normally, the Texas Crutch is done with foil. There are some out there, though, that choose pink butcher paper instead. You get slightly different results, and it’s a matter of personal preference which is better.
Butcher paper is naturally porous, so some of the smoky air will get in, and some of the moisture will get out. You’ll still cut your cooking time way down and defeat the stall, but your bark will have a bit more crunch, and you may notice a smokier flavor.
Pro Tips for Texas Crutch
- Be patient! Lifting the lid or opening the door drops the temperature inside your cooker and extends your cooking time.
- Once you wrap your meat, bark can no longer form. Be sure you wait until you’re happy with the look of your bark before applying the foil.
- Using a water pan up until it’s time to wrap can help keep the meat moist.
- Be patient again! Let your meat stand after it’s finished cooking so that the juices are reabsorbed and distributed through the meat. Meat that leaks fluid looks moist, but what good is moisture when it’s all over your platter and not in the actual meat?
Now your patience is rewarded – yes, we’re there! And, you have added a new technique to your skillset. Your smoked and slow-cooked will taste better, and your uninitiated friends will be in awe of your smoking prowess.
Mind you, knowledge is best when it’s shared; let your buddies know where you learned this amazing trick by sharing this article wherever you like. Be sure to browse the site, too, to have more of your barbecue questions answered. Plus, we love it when you drop us a line. Let us know if you tried the Texas Crutch and what your results were. Maybe you’ll even develop a secret tweak all your own.
Thanks for reading – now go stock up on foil.