Cooking Without The Foil

When I’m cooking competition bbq, you better believe I’m using aluminum foil. Call it the “Texas Crutch”, call it cheating, call it whatever you want; but I’m a wrapper. Here’s why:

  1. It prevents the meat from absorbing too much smoke so it doesn’t turn out bitter and
  2. It keeps the meat nice and moist, so it comes out really tender & juicy.

I know there are two sides of the fence when it comes to using foil. And while I always wrap my competition meat, there are plenty of times when I choose not to wrap. It’s best to know how to use both techniques.

The key to smoking without wrapping is to understand the drawbacks you might face – and how to easily overcome them.

No Wrap Ribs


When I’m not going to wrap the product, I pay close attention to the internal temp and to how much smoke the meat is absorbing.

The right amount of smoke gives meat a great flavor… But let it get too much and you’ll taste it hours later. When people say they have a “Lighter Fluid” taste from barbecue, it’s typically because it was over-smoked.

Once meat hits around 145 internal, it won’t absorb anymore smoke. All that flavor just builds up on your bark. So what is usually the tastiest part of your barbecue ends up being dark and bitter.

But if you manage your fire properly, you can overcome this issue. It’s as simple as monitoring the internal temperature of the meat closely, so when it hits that 145 mark you know it’s time to stop adding wood. At this point you want to keep a clean fire burning so only heat is produced. Make sure that adequate air can get into the fire chamber. It’s takes oxygen for fire to burn properly and if you don’t have the right ventilation, thick smoke will form.

In my smokers I burn charcoal briquettes for heat. A good bed of hot charcoal puts off plenty of heat for cooking, and I throw on chunks of wood for flavoring. As the coals burn down, I add unlit charcoal to the fire. You might think that doing it this way will put off smoke, and it would if I didn’t have the right mix of oxygen in my fire chamber, but if you’re cooker is set-up right the coals will ignite without producing smoke.

Even if you’re a stick burner, you want to make sure you have a good coal bed burning. Then as you add sticks to the fire, it will ignite instead of smoke.


When you wrap, moisture is trapped inside the foil and the meat cooks in its own juices. So by not wrapping, you’re in a constant battle. The meat wants to push all the moisture out during the cooking process, so if you don’t want dry bbq you have to do what my buddy Birm calls, “Render and Replace”

You can replace moisture in a couple of ways. Injecting before the meat goes on the smoker, basting or mopping as it cooks, and you can even do multiple injections during the cooking process. When you quit adding wood and after the meat gets to 180 degrees are good times to add injection.

Also, when I know that I’m not going to wrap, I don’t get near as aggressive with the trimming because fat adds a ton of moisture.

Cook Time:

Everyone has heard of the dreaded “stall”. It’s the point in the cooking process where big meats plateau and get stuck… sometimes for hours.

The stall usually occurs around 170 degrees, and if you’re not ready for it it’ll drive you crazy. There’s nothing worse than staring at the same temperature while the clock is running out on you.

Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid the stall especially if you’re not wrapping. The best option is to give yourself plenty of extra cook time to deal with it. Or you can crank the temps up and push through it, but you do risk drying out your barbecue this way. (this is wear that last injection can come in handy)

Color and Appearance:

When you wrap meat, it usually comes out looking pretty ugly. And not wrapping can produce a better looking finished product. This is one big advantage for the no wrap method.

No Wrap Butts on Smoker

You’re going to get a better bark looking bark that is hard to beat. It’s a true bark that isn’t soft or mushy.

The trick here is to not let it get too dark.

So once again, your basting is crucial. You have to continually spritz or mop through the entire cooking process to ensure it turns out a pretty mahogany color… and not burnt-tire black.

If it does start turning dark, you can always shield or tent the meat with foil. We’re not wrapping here, just laying a strip of foil over the meat for a little protection.

If you know how to do it, there is no reason why the no-wrap method can’t turn out just as good of Que as wrapped.

In fact, when I’m doing large cooks I never wrap. There is no way I’m taking the extra time to wrap 100 or more butts because foil ain’t cheap…

Malcom Reed
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Comments 10

  1. I LOVE your site, you have never mentioned anything about marinating or rather I can not find anything on it. Do you recommend it for grilling and smoking? If so, what do you use to marinate your ribs and chicken in?

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      I’ve never been a fan of marinate my ribs. But with chicken I will either brine then in a salt/sugar solution or if I’m just cooking at home, I’ve been known to marinade them in Italian dressing.

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  2. love watching your videos. what are your thoughts about wrapping I’m butcher paper. I’ve used both foil and paper and while the foil does hold more moisture, I find it easier to over cook your meat in it. any suggestions would be great.

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  3. Heya Malcolm, I am new to BBQ and a big fan of you and your products.

    When using a pellet cooker (I have a Traeger) is there really a big risk of getting “too much smoke”?

    I’ve always wrapped my ribs, but wasn’t really satisfied with the texture – they seem more like steamed ribs to me, instead of smoked. I recently tried a half slab naked alongside some wrapped. I thought the unwrapped were the best I ever made. Maybe I just got lucky. Any tips for unwrapped ribs?

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      With a pellet smoker you’re not as likely to get “too much” smoke. I really like the no wrap ribs on a pellet smoker. The texture is great and you don’t get that “steamed” effect. You can also try wrapping in butcher paper. It absorbs moisture and gives a great texture.

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