When To Wrap Ribs Guides

Ribs in Paper

Wrapping ribs is as controversial as cutting into a steak without allowing it to rest. Even though there is a controversy about whether you should wrap ribs or not, the most important question is when to wrap ribs.

Is it Better to Wrap Ribs or Not?

Most people assume wrapping meat originated in Texas, often called the Texas crutch. However, the concept of wrapping ribs was actually derived from a tropical practice where individuals wrapped meat in banana leaves.

The banana leaves made the meat more tender and juicier, so the practice was transferred over to ribs. Therefore, wrapping ribs prevents the ribs from drying out by sealing in the rendered fat and juices.

The ribs absorb the rendered fat and juices in the final stages of the smoking process. The downside of wrapping ribs is that the bark will soften up and give the ribs a mushy texture as moisture will be sealed in the ribs.

Nevertheless, you can circumvent this by unwrapping the ribs and removing them from the foil or butcher paper during the final hour of smoking to allow the bark to re-crisp.

In addition to this, wrapping ribs also speeds up the smoking process. Therefore, if you do not have a lot of time, you should probably wrap your ribs.

In contrast, if you have the entire day to smoke ribs in your electric smoker, it may be best to leave them unwrapped for the entirety of the cook. Furthermore, this might be the best option if you desire a crisp, nit soggy bark.

Is it Better to Wrap Ribs in Butcher Paper or Aluminum Foil?

Whether or not wrapping ribs in butcher paper or foil is best depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, wrapping ribs in foil can seal in the rib’s fat and juices. This allows the juices to be reabsorbed back into the ribs as it rests. 

However, wrapping ribs in foil is like placing them into a steamer. The moisture will ruin the bark and cause it to develop a mushy texture.

On the other hand, wrapping ribs in pink butcher paper allows them to breathe. Essentially it traps less moisture which prevents the bark from getting mushy. In addition to this, since it is a breathable material, it allows smoke to penetrate the meat.

Therefore, wrapping ribs in foil or butcher paper depends on your preference. 

When To Wrap Ribs

The question of when to wrap ribs can be a bit complicated. Some people use the time or color of the ribs, while others use the temperature.

Both methods require some experience. However, once you’ve smoked a few racks of ribs in your propane gas smoker, knowing when to wrap ribs will be much easier.

If you are going by the time, smoke your ribs between a temperature of 225°F and 275°F. Wrap your ribs about 2 to 2 1/2 hours after placing them into your smoker. 

The ribs should have a beautiful mahogany color by this time. However, if you added cherry wood chips along with hickory wood chips to your smoker’s wood box, then it will have a richer, slightly deep mahogany color. There should also be a little amount of charring in some of the rib’s bones.

Other BBQ experts use the temperature to tell when ribs are ready to wrap. The best temperature for wrapping ribs ranges between 150°F and 160°F.

Although there is some confusion about when to wrap ribs, one thing is clear. You should definitely wrap the ribs before they enter the dreaded stall.

Essentially as the ribs smoke in your pellet smoker, most of the meat’s moisture evaporates. This is the reason meats like chicken, brisket, ribs, and pork shoulder shrink and weigh less than they did in their raw state.

The moisture within the ribs is drawn to the surface of the ribs, which causes evaporative cooling. In other words, the same way sweat cools down the human body, the moisture on the surface of the ribs cools down the smoker’s ambient temperature. 

In addition to this, as the moisture evaporates, the rib’s internal temperature decreases. After some time, evaporative cooling causes the temperature to remain the same for hours. The rib’s temperature will start to increase once all of the moisture evaporates from the surface of the meat.

This is why wrapping ribs is so important. It helps you navigate the stall by trapping moisture inside the ribs and allowing its temperature to increase faster.

How To Wrap Ribs

There is no point in discussing when to wrap ribs without showing you how to wrap ribs. Therefore, I’m going to teach you how to wrap ribs in foil and butcher paper. However, before we get to wrapping ribs, let’s talk about the initial stages of the smoking process.

First, you want to remove the silver skin from your ribs and season it with your favorite BBQ rub. You can slather the rack of ribs with mustard or Worcestershire sauce before applying your BBQ rub. 

Let the ribs marinate for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. Remove the ribs from the fridge about 30 minutes before you intend to smoke them. Next, set up your smoker or grill and let it preheat to a temperature between 225°F and 275°F.

Add your ribs to your smoker and let them smoke for 3 hours.

How To Wrap Ribs In Foil Paper

To wrap your ribs in foil, tear sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil paper that are about twice the size of each rack of ribs.

Place one sheet of foil onto your work surface. The longer edge of the foil should be parallel to the bottom of your work surface. In addition to this, the shiny side of the foil should be facing toward you. Once the ribs go back into the smoker, the dull side will help it absorb heat. 

Mist the foil with apple cider vinegar, then add your BBQ sauce on top of the apple cider vinegar. Place the ribs on top of the BBQ sauce with the bones facing towards you.

The ribs should be about 3-inches from the bottom of the foil. Mist the ribs one final time with apple cider vinegar.

Wrap one side of the foil over the rack of ribs and then fold the other side of the foil over the ribs so it overlaps the first layer of foil. Wrap the foil tightly around the bottom edge of the rack of ribs so it fits snug to the ribs. Fold the remaining edges of the foil over the bottom and top edge of the foil to ensure they are snug.

Make sure the ribs are wrapped tightly, or steam will escape. Repeat with the remaining racks of ribs.

Return the ribs to the smoker and let them cook for another 2 hours. Remove the ribs from the smoker and remove the foil.

Return the ribs from the smoker and let them cook for another hour. Remove the ribs from the smoker and place them onto a plate or butcher block. Let your ribs rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving. 

How To Wrap Ribs In Butcher Paper

Butcher paper is a better alternative than foil because it prevents the bark from becoming too soggy. Wrapping ribs with butcher paper is a similar process to encasing them with foil.

Simply cut sheets of butcher that are twice the length of each rack of ribs. Place a sheet of butcher paper onto your workstation. Add a rack of ribs to the middle of the butcher paper with the bone side facing towards you.

Fold the one side of the paper over the rack, then repeat with the remaining side so they are overlapping. Tuck the top part of the paper around the bottom edge of the wrap, then fold the corners to seal the ribs in the paper. Make sure the butcher paper is wrapped tightly around the ribs to prevent steam from escaping. 

Repeat with the remaining racks of ribs, then return them to the smoker and let them cook for another 2 hours. Remove the ribs from the smoker and remove the butcher paper.

Return the ribs to the smoker and let them cook for another hour. Remove your ribs from your smoker and place them onto a plate or butcher block. Let your ribs rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.

How Long Do You Leave Ribs in Foil or Butcher Paper

The most common way to wrap ribs involves using the 3-2-1 method. Essentially, you smoke the ribs for 3 hours, wrap them, and smoke them for another 2 hours. Next, the ribs are removed from the foil or butcher paper and allowed to smoke for another hour.

Another popular method is the 2-2-1 technique. This method calls for smoking the ribs for 2 hours, then wrapping them and smoking them for another two hours. Finally, the ribs are unwrapped and smoked for another hour.

All in all, I would recommend leaving the ribs in the wrap for about 2 hours. Any longer than 2 hours, the rib’s bark will be mushy beyond repair.

Final Thoughts

Wrapping ribs is an important part of the smoking process. However, you must get the timing right.

If you wrap your ribs too early, the bark will not form. However, if you wrap your legs too late, they could take longer to cook. Luckily this won’t be an issue anymore since you know when to wrap ribs.

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