Forget foil, the hottest BBQ tool right now is peach or pink butchers paper. Here’s the total breakdown of what exactly it is, and what makes is so special.
BBQ enthusiasts are known to be obsessed with meat quality, smoke flavor and various temp gadgets, but no one expect them to flip out over a roll of paper, yet that’s exactly what is happening in the barbecue world. Orders for this stuff are placed from all over the globe despite completely prohibitive shipping fees, rolls are smuggled back in suitcases with overweight luggage charges just so people can get their hands on this magical wrap. So, with barbecue already being a crazy expensive hobby, why are these people going these exorbitant lengths for a roll of tree pulp?
You can blame/thank Mr Aaron Franklin. You know, the James Beard award-winning brisket guru who’s restaurant is famed not only for it’s meat, but for the five hour lines. See, Aaron wraps his cooked briskets in paper to hold them during service, something he learned from his time with John Mueller who learned the technique from his own dad, Bobby, of Louie Mueller Barbecue fame. Two key things happened: Aaron and his barbecue got really, really, ridiculously famous, and he started using a pink/peach colored paper instead of the regular white one. This combo was all that was needed for folks around the world to get feverish over what is commonly referred to as “peach paper”. So let’s take a look at exactly what it is, and why you’d want to use it.
So what exactly is peach butchers paper?
Here’s when things get tricky. Peach paper is the popular term used for the pink-hued paper we see used at barbecue joints. However, within the paper industry, “peach paper” refers to a variety of steak paper. Technically speaking, the barbecue pitmasters we know, love and are trying to emulate are actually using pink paper. Or more specifically, pink butchers paper. Let me shut down another rumor real quick: neither pink nor peach paper contain any kind of peach essence, it’s simply that the pink color denotes a natural base whereas white butchers paper is bleached.
Why do we wrap barbecue meats in the first place?
Pitmasters wrap meats either close to or at the end of the cook time, mainly to protect the meat from drying out and losing moisture as it rests and holds at a lower temperature during service. It can also be employed if the cook has gone quicker than expected, to try and retard any further darkening of the bark/exterior crust.
Why use peach butcher paper for BBQ instead of foil?
Wrapping with foil is known as the “Texas crutch”, and is more frequently used for pork ribs rather than beef barbecue. Foil is non-porous (meaning, it doesn’t breathe or allow air in/out), and so when a meat is foiled, any additional smoke cannot penetrate, stopping the smoking process in its tracks. BUT, foil actually reflects the heat back down onto the meat (radiant heat), and also since metal is conductive, it will retain more heat for a lot longer, so whatever you are wrapping will continue to cook to some degree. The biggest downfall of using foil is that when hot meats are wrapped, the steam cannot escape and turns to condensation, which in turn wets the surface of the meat, ruining any crusty bark that has formed during the cook and turning it to mush. Between you and me, let’s just say there is validity to the argument that if you’re foiling your meat longer than you’re smoking it, you’re pretty much just making a roast which is flavored with a hint of smoke, so why even have a damn barbecue? Rant over, the point is that paper solves most of these issues because it allows the steam to escape the parcel and doesn’t make the exterior of the meat soggy, all while keeping the contents protected from the full assault of the smoker. And because it doesn’t retain or reflect heat like foil, you don’t have to compensate for any extra cooking time.
Whats the difference between butchers paper and steak paper, then?
Well, let’s start with the similarities. Both butcher and steak papers have something called “sizing” added, which is basically a treatment that dictates the wet strength of the paper, which as the name suggests, is what keeps it from falling apart when it gets wet. Neither of them have wax coating, it’s an internal treatment to the product that, based on the formula, determines the moisture or vapor barrier of the paper. Butcher paper is designed for same day use – because you buy your piece of meat and carry it home, then discard the paper – so it’s more porous. The natural base sheets of most butcher paper in the US are made using only Southern Pine. Steak paper is made for retail display, and therefore is designed to be more robust, and not let as much air reach the product (because it discolors the meat). Steak paper is far denser than butcher, and is manufactured using more hardwood fibers which results in a more rigid product.
Alan NeSmith is the President of Oren International, who produce multiple types of food service papers. “Franklin actually uses our Pink Butcher paper”, he says. “The paper always sold well, but about a year ago our Texas distributors starting buying more and more and we thought ‘what’s going on?'”. Now, the product is so popular and the company receives so many individual requests that they made exceptions to their wholesale minimums and created a consumer roll.
Here are a couple of points to bear in mind when choosing paper:
Always use a food grade product. In America, the FDA approves certain papers as safe for direct food contact. Though you can technically use kraft or any cheaper paper, you have no idea what the composition of the paper is, or if there are certain chemicals used in the manufacturing which may be dangerous. Basically, there may be stuff in there that you just do not want touching your food.
- Food grade doesn’t automatically mean it’s ok to use in the smoker, either. Freezer paper, for example, is designed for use with food and very popular with hunters (check out this camo paper!!), but it has a layer of polyethylene plastic that will melt at a 180f.