Page 30 - JULY 2021 Digital Issue
P. 30

bbq crutch
A Simple Wrap Makes Tender Ribs In Less Time... If You Do It Right
This July 4th, which is both
Independence Day and Na-
tional Spare Ribs Day, back-
yard cooks across the country will be wrapping their ribs in aluminum foil. This method is called the Texas Crutch. Practically all the top competitive barbecue teams use the technique.
The crux of the crutch
The idea is to cook the meat most of the way, then seal it in foil or butcher paper with a little juice, wine, or beer. Apple juice is popular. Some people add margarine and syrups like honey or agave. After a little cook time in the wrap, some competitors unwrap the meat and roast it again to firm up the bark. It is routine in competition where every little incremental improvement is needed to win. If you are chasing that big prize money, you have to go for it. It’s like a swimmer shaving his body.
A lot of cooks believe this method was developed in Texas, the land of BBQ brisket. Hence the name Texas Crutch. But the concept is a descendant of the much-older technique of
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JULY 2021
wrapping meat in banana leaves developed in tropical regions. Just look at classic Yucatan roast pork (cochinita pibil) wrapped in banana leaves and cooked low and slow in a wood fired pit called a "pib". Pork or beef, or even chicken, it doesn't really matter: Wrapping meat helps make it more tender and juicy. It also has the added benefit of speeding up the cooking.
On the downside, wrapping can seriously damage the bark, and that crispy exterior of dehydrated meat, smoke, and rub is in many ways the best part of low and slow cookery. That's why we love burnt ends. When you wrap, you have to get the timing right. Too long in the crutch and you end up with mush.
They call it a "crutch" because it's a bit of a cheat. Wrapping is easier than watching the meat and fire to make sure the meat comes out tender and juicy over a long cooking time. But the truth is, even when meat is not wrapped, the long cook time allows for more collagen to break down into suc- culent gelatin. In some cases, unwrapped meat can be just as tender in the center as wrapped meat. You don't always have to crutch.
Crutch science
What's happening inside the wrapper is a form of braising and steaming. It's the same process that occurs inside a
slow cooker where the meat sits partially submerged in a water based liquid. The liquid mixes with the meat juices and gently cooks the meat. Liquid transmits heat to meat better than air, so this method speeds up cooking, making tough cuts tender in less time.
More importantly, the crutch, if wrapped tight, prevents moisture from evaporating. As meat cooks, it sweats and dehydrates, just like you do on a hot day. As that moisture evaporates, it cools the meat surface. Evaporative cooling is what causes the the infamous “stall” a period of several hours during cooking where the meat’s internal temp plateaus and beginner pitmasters start to panic. With the crutch, the meat plows through the stall because the mois- ture can’t evaporate and cool the meet. It also becomes tender faster.

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