Today we’re going to look at the ultimate guide to wrapping ribs, common methods for doing it, and some best practices in regards to how to cook a rack of ribs.
If you’ve never seen this method carried out before, then you’re in for a treat, and if you stick around and follow the tips highlighted in this guide, you unlock one of the best ways to cook ribs and your culinary preferences may change forever.
If you’re new to this technique, or a seasoned pro, what’s important is that you understand the wisdom and the house behind these techniques, so that you continue to get the perfect rib every time.
Why Are Wrapping Ribs A Good Idea?
The simple answer to this is that when you wrap ribs using either foil or butcher paper during the cooking process, optimum temperatures are much quicker.
This can shorten the cooking time and allow you to keep in much more of the flavor as opposed to other methods of cooking.
The way that it does this is that it traps heat and moisture inside the wrapper, which is always lost during a more conventional approach to cooking.
And as it saves time it can help to tenderize the meat; which will explore more detail when we go through one of the most popular methods of wrapping which is known as The Texas Crutch.
Should You Wrap Them For The Duration Of The Cook?
One common misconception about using a wrapping technique is that you might be tempted to wrap the ribs for the whole duration of the cook.
This is a mistake and you should avoid wrapping them for at least the first few hours of cooking time.
Although this adds an extra step into the cooking process, which is one of the many reasons why people skip this cooking technique, once you have the technique mastered, this step will become so important that you’ll be sure that you do not miss it.
You also want to avoid keeping them wrapped for the remainder of the cook, and should remove them for the last hour that they are cooking.
This is because it can steam the ribs inside the foil which can result in a mushy texture.
This wrapping and unwrapping method is known as the 3-2-1 method and is easy to remember for beginners.
So the way it works is that you will smoke your ribs for around 3 hours, and then at this point, you will need to wrap them in foil and cook them for a further 2 hours.
Wait for this period and then remove the wrap for the final hour.
Do You Have To Wrap Ribs?
As we’ve already alluded to, this technique ultimately comes down to how much time you have and whether you want to go to the extra steps of wrapping and unwrapping your ribs.
Whilst we feel that this step is strongly recommended as it adds so much more flavor and Tenderness to your ribs, we understand that not everyone is looking for the ultimate taste, and that cooking them more conventionally might be best suited for them.
The caveat is that using this method, will speed the cooking process along, and taking the extra preparation steps, it will mean that the time spent wrapping and unwrapping will be gained back with the short cooking period.
So if you have plenty of time to spare, you may want to consider leaving the ribs unwrapped for the duration of the cook.
But if you only have 5 or 6 hours to prepare and cook them, then you can either use the 3-2-1 method or slightly shorten the cooking time and go for something that is slightly adjusted such as a 2-2-1 cooking method.
Both of these cooking methods will use a fantastic set of ribs if followed with all the steps in mind.
How To Make A Texas Crutch
As we mentioned earlier, the method we recommend for wrapping your ribs is the Texas Crutch, as this, we ordered the best results for keeping the meat as moist as possible and making the meat tender.
We find this method the best as it prevents most of the operation or cooling, and once the heat is trapped and the temperature rises it cooks it the best, meaning that you can save several hours of cooking for a better finish.
There’s not much to perfecting this method, and here are the steps to take to make the perfect Texas Crutch:
- The first step is to ensure that you have cooked your ribs for around 2 to 3 hours at a temperature of around 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. You should be able to tell when the ribs are ready for rapping as the crust and color will change, which should be recognizable to your satisfaction. Another common sign is that the temperature plateaus don’t increase any further.
- Next, remove the meat and then tightly wrap it into two layers of your chosen wrapping material. Foil works well, as does butcher paper.
- If you want to add some more flavor, feel free to drizzle some apple juice or alcohol such as beer to the foil which should enhance the flavor and tenderness.
- Place the foil-wrapped back in the grill and cook for a further 2 hours.
- Here you have two choices; you can either remove the meat from the smoker and remove the rap (making sure you’re careful of the hot steam that will emit), and grill for a further 60 minutes, or you can remove the meat from the smoker, leave it in the wrap, and keep it rested until it is ready to be eaten.
Can You Use This Technique If You Are Using An Oven?
If you’re using an oven to cook your ribs, then yes the principles listed above will remain the same.
The one caveat is that you will not have to worry about the smoke flavor as you are not cooking in this method, and so the meat will not have this flavor.
By using an oven, you should set the temperature to around 250 degrees Fahrenheit, or 275 degrees Fahrenheit if you are cooking larger racks.
If you have around 3 lbs of baby back ribs this will take around 5 hours to cook at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, but will only likely need around 3 to 4 hours at 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you have spare ribs, you’re going to need to take a little bit longer to cook them, and you can expect them to be done within 6 to 8 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and 5 hours at 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
Just like you would with smoking ribs; take the ribs out of the oven at around the halfway points and wrap them in your chosen option.
Let them look for the remaining runtime, or until they reach around 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can then remove the foil and add a sauce or glaze, and return them to the oven to cook for the remaining time.
What Temperature Should You Smoke Ribs?
We always recommend that you smoke wrapped ribs anywhere between 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the size of the ribs.
Because they are best cooked slowly, you might want to go on the side of caution and cook them at a lower temperature which is closer to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you cook them too high, you may lose some of the texture.
Is There An Ideal Time To Wrap Ribs?
Will they be giving you simple guidelines to remove your ribs for wrapping, which is around the 3-hour mark for most types of ribs, if you want to move past the beginner stage and remove them at a more optimal time; I’m then you should consider the temperature of the ribs.
The ideal time to wrap your ribs will be around the 150 to 160-degrees Fahrenheit mark, which is around the point when the meat will hit the stall.
As you are cooking your ribs, the meat will begin to lose its moisture, and this loss in moisture means that the meat will begin to weigh less.
The fluids inside of the tissue will make their way to the surface and evaporate in the heat, just like a human body when it sweats.
As the moisture evaporates, it will lower the temperature of the meat, and so the cooling effect will take place which will compete against the heat of the grill, meaning that the temperature will plateau.
It will begin to rise again when the excess moisture on the surface of the ribs has finally evaporated.
Because of this; the rapper will act as a protection against this, almost like an oven within an oven, trapping moisture before it has the chance to escape.
It will prevent the cooling effects due to the evaporation and allow the temperature to increase much quicker.
This is known as the stall: as this is more common with large cuts of meats like brisket, it has the chance to happen with large cuts of ribs as well, which means that wrapping your ribs will ensure that the meat will be cooked much quicker.
Will Wrapping Ribs Make Them Tender?
You might have asked a question about whether wrapping ribs really makes them more tender, or whether you can just get away with the more conventional cooking method.
As ribs take a long and slow process of cooking, regardless of whether you wrap the meat or not it is still going to take a long time.
Regardless of the method, wrapping helps the ribs to reach the desired temperature by my sterling, as it prevents the cooling effects and evaporation, so when the reach is around 195 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, it will be enough that it will fall off the bone.
Because foil makes this happen much quicker, it’s argued that wrapping ribs do make them more tender, which for a lot of people can improve the taste.
Foil Or Butcher Paper?
Whilst foil is a lot easier as most people have foil available to them already, there are many benefits to using butcher paper, and if you are using the Texas Crutch technique, then you should favor butcher paper over foil.
If you are an individual that enjoys any crispy bark, the paper will allow more moisture to pass through and the bark will have less softening inside butcher paper as opposed to foil.
We recommend that you only stick with food-grade butcher paper, more commonly known as pink paper, and avoid using wax paper as the max will melt under the heat, which will leak onto the meat and ruin it.
Wrapping Ribs In Butcher Paper
One of the most common ways to wrap ribs is to use foil, however, butcher paper is another valid method, and for those using the Texas Crutch but don’t want to steam the meat in its fluids, then using this is a good alternative.
As butcher paper is more breathable, it will avoid the smoke from reaching the meat, and absorb some of the liquid so that the ribs aren’t drenched in fluid and run the risk of becoming mushy.
The good news is that if you are an expert at rapping using foil, there aren’t that many differences when wrapping with butcher paper.
Ensure that you use enough that it covers about twice the size of the ribs, place them in the center of the paper with a bone side up, fold over the longings of the ribs and then repeat so that they are overlapping.
You also want to tuck the top portion of the paper around the bottom portion of the rack, whilst bringing up the bottom edge and talking in the corners.
This will ensure that the ribs are fully encased and no parts are exposed.
Can You Add Ingredients To Your Wrapped Ribs?
Some people like to add extra ingredients when they are in the process of wrapping their ribs.
The most popular ingredient to add is sugar, which will add intense flavor to the ribs and caramelize it on the outside.
We recommend brown sugar as this has the best flavor.
Another popular ingredient to add is a liquid, and what works the best in our opinion is something like beer, apple juice, or even apple cider vinegar.
You can also add wine or chicken stock depending on the flavor that you are going for.
Make sure that this step is done during the rapping phase as you want to let the ribs cook initially without any added ingredients.
A Simple Wrapped Rib Recipe
We didn’t want to leave you completely high and dry, however, there are many different types of recipes out there that you can use today, but the below is a popular method of cooking baby back ribs that is ideal for beginners.
- 2 racks of baby back ribs
- Brown sugar
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat your smoker to around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. You won’t need to go any higher than this as the recipe only calls for a smaller sized portion of ribs.
- Combine a tablespoon of smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, one teaspoon of garlic powder, and two tablespoons of brown sugar, and combine them.
- Pat your ribs dry and remove the membranes.
- Season the ribs with mustard and then add the dry ingredients you have just combined.
- Place ribs into the grill with the bone-facing down and cook for around 3 hours in line with the 3-2-1 method.
- Take the ribs out of the grill and use the Texas Crutch; ensure all areas of the ribs are wrapped.
- An optional step is to add a glaze such as honey, or alcohol like beer. You can also add brown sugar or grass-fed butter.
- Ensure that the ribs are tightly sealed so that the liquids will not escape and then place the ribs back onto the heat for a further 2 hours.
- After cooking for a further 2 hours, remove the ribs, unwrap them, and cook for a further 60 minutes.
The idea of rapping meats to speed up the cooking process and to ensure that your meat will be as moist as possible has been a concept to use for a long time now, even as early as when we used to roast animals in their hides.
In terms of what type of material to use for wrapping, the two most common are foil and butcher paper, and if you are going to be using the Texas Crutch technique, it’s butcher paper all the way.
Also, if you are new to all this, stick with the 3-2-1 method until you feel more confident with the entire process.
Hopefully, the above information will help you decide whether wrapping ribs is right for you, and with these extra steps, it will improve the rib experience tenfold, and make you become the most popular griller amongst your friends and family!