Why Use Butcher Paper for Smoking Meats?
  Posted by: Chief Editor, Rated Paper, on April 24, 2017 3:49 pm Leave your thoughts
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Why Use Butcher Paper for Smoking Meats?

Smoking meats using butcher paper is preferable to other methods such as foil where the yield of flavour is much lower due to it’s impermeable structure. With butcher paper (a specialist paper product for food services & environments), the meats can benefit from the steam wrapping effect – whilst still allowing some of smoke constituents to pass through and give the benefit of taste and aroma.

Untreated butcher paper, without the waxy or silicone surface, is just the right type of membrane for facilitating the smoke roasting process. It is porous and therefore breathes, giving the meat exposure to the smoke vapours without losing the enveloping of moisture for juice build up to promote tenderness.

Butcher Paper for Smoking Meats

Smoking meats gives an unmistakeable distinction as far as flavour is concerned and one which most guests will rate as a premium in the dining experience.

We aim to pool together some useful points helping you understand the processes involved in smoke roasting and therefore enabling you make more informed choices regarding your BBQ experiences.

The following are the main points of this blog post, entitled: “Why Use Butcher Paper for Smoking Meats?

  • Science of Smoke Roasting
  • What Are The Best Hardwoods for Smoke Roasting a BBQ?
  • What Are The Ideal Meats to BBQ Smoke Roast?
  • Why Butcher Paper Is Best for Smoking Meats?
  • Vs. Foil???

Science of Hot Smoke Roasting

Smoke roasting is a unique flavour enhancing benefit which BBQ grilling naturally affords.

Whilst it can be largely assumed with throwing on a BBQ that you will achieve a smoked taste with your food anyway, to ensure an optimal result, it’s best to make a deliberate plan & if you are lacking experience, here’s a little intro into how hot smoking meats actually works.

Smoke roasting is a process of chemical diffusion where by meat grilled on a smoker grill (fueled typically by either charcoal or hardwoods) has imparted to it the flavour and aroma of the smoke produced by the grill.

Hardwood chemistry of wood combustion

When hardwoods, for example, are burned in an outdoor grill, they produce smoke which consistenly envelopes meat, as well as other foods on the grill (including cheeses etc.), enhancing flavour and aroma.

Hardwood Chucnks for BBQ

The smoke produced has a complex composition. Its constituents are liberated as either vapour, fine particles or soot. When these various smoke-bound chemicals come into contact with the surface area of the meat, the chemicals diffuse into the meat’s surface penetrating the cells of the outer layers up to half an inch think usually.

There are three main polymer compounds found in wood: cellulose, hemicelloloses and lignin. Each of these when they burn are responsible for liberating acids, alcohols, phenols and tars and more.

The chemical composition of these will vary between tree species and even within species, depending on micronutrient avilability and exposure to the tree.

Which chemical compounds predominantly contribute to colour?

Acids, alcohols and tars particularly give a rich colour. As hemi-celluloses are sugar polymers, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that this component of hardword when burnt at around 500-degrees F is responsible for the caramel, fudge colour usually associated with BBQ grilling meats.

As for taste, Guaiacol, released by the pyrolysis of lignin (…the woody, rigid component of wood molecular structure) is the smoke flavour taste we detect in BBQ foods. This compound also contributes to the taste given by roasted coffee beans.

The customary smell of barbecued smoked foods originates from the aromatic compound, Syringol.

Aside from these two main contributing compounds, there are also many others, including: clove-like and vanilla-like smelling chemicals.

Although, hardwood smoke is composed of 100’s of chemicals in total, many of them dissapate with time, diasappearing completely even after the process of smoking.

Depending on the delicately balanced proportions of cellulose, hemi-celluloses and lignin (the three main polymers of wood) the levels of the various chemicals released by burning will be skewed one way or another.

There is a sort of chemical tipping point reported within this process of hardwood smoking at around 650-750-degree F, where the most advantageous compounds for BBQ flavour and aroma are liberated. This temperature sweet spot for the smouldering hardwoods is a goal which technically disicplined BBQ experts often aim for in producing a top quality meal.

Are there any disadvantages to BBQ smoke roasting?

Another chemical output of the smoke roasting process is: creosote. Creosote is a tar-like substance which is bitter to the taste (rather metallic tasting to some), which is created by the distillation of the phenol compounds liberated by burning  wood polymers. It presents itself as a liquid, yellowish in colour, which is commonly found where wood is being burned i.e. BBQ grills or chimneys.

Creosote by definition from its Greek root meaning, literally is translated into English as ‘meat preserver‘. Smoking meats for prolonged periods (cold smoking meats) have been known throughout the ages as an effective means of preserving longevity of meat by assuaging bactarial growth and is still used in these times for extending the viability of specialist ‘cured’ meat dishes, or as a replacement to refrigerated meat preservation.

The process of curing plus smoking meats for preservation is a highly specialised and potentially dangerous (in some cases deadly) practice, which must only be handled by a quailfied expert with vast experience. It is simply not for novices.

What are the markers of optimum results with BBQ smoke roasting red meats?

Introducing, the BBQ ‘smoke ring’.

This is a practical outcome witnessed when smoke roasting red meats, in particular beef brisket wrapped in butcher paper. Chemical scientists attribute the smoke ring appearance to the absorption and diffusion of NO (nitrogen monoxide) and CO (carbon monoxide) gases via the surface of the meat, penetrating the subsequent layers producing a marginal band of pink discolouration.Smoke Ring in BBQ Ribs


The depth of the ‘smoke ring’ is typically between 1/8″ to 1/2″ deep, and as reported by well quoted BBQ smoking interested chemists, it is due to the effect of NO nad CO gases reacting with myoglobin proteins in the meat which turn red under such conditions.

The smoke ring gives a physical marker for the maximum depth to which smaller smoke compounds, like NO and CO, will actually permeate the meat during smoke roasting. According to experts, no matter how long you smoke meats beyond the point of producing the smoke ring, you will not be increasing it’s depth into the meat because the gases responsible for the colour change simply cannot burrow further than that.

However, surface adsorption of flavour permitting compounds, like guaiacol, can continue to increase with furthering the smoking process. It is the smokey flavoured surface area which predominantly contributes to the overwhelmingly flavourful taste of a BBQ meaty meal and not the deeper layers of the smoke ring anyway.

How can the smoke ring be enhanced?

The smoke ring during the BBQ process can be enhanced by one of two control methods:

  • Increasing oxygen levels within the smoker (more oxygen = more NO/CO = more smoke ring)
  • Decrease moisture levels within smoker (more NO/CO = more smoke ring)

What Are The Best Hardwoods for Smoke Roasting a BBQ?

Whilst there are many varieties of hardwood and also various preparations of wood pieces for burning (pellets, logs etc.), there may not actually be much gain of distinctive benefits in deliberating over the variables.

The general advice given by many regarding wood burining a BBQ is to use hardwoods at all times, as opposed to softwoods. The reason being is that softwoods contain high levels of sap and turpenes which when ignited produce bitter tasting exhaust compounds which turn bitter the taste of smoked meats.

Softwoods used in BBQs are also reported by some industry writers to cause adverse reactions such as vomiting, due to poisonous qualities of sap compounds.

Hardwoods are generally prepared for BBQ burning as either pellets, bricks or logs. To prevent smaller pieces of hardwoods burning out so quickly in comparison to whole logs, some advise soaking them in water beforehand. But logs won’t need this kind of preparation and are said to produce a far steadier stream of smoke, therefore there is a preference to use logs by many BBQ enthusiasts.

What are the factors affecting flavour and aroma imparted by hardwood smoke to BBQ meats?

The following are conditions which give rise to different flavours produced by hardwoods when burned for BBQ:

Species: fruit and nut bearing hardwoods are generally deemed to be the most suitable for BBQ smoking e.g. Apple, Cedar, Hickory…

Climate and Environent: the types of micro-nutrients available to the hardwood tree whilst growing in soil will largely impact the chemical composition it carries and therefore the flavours produced.

Other physical conditions which change flavour profile of your chosen meat:

  • Tree bark
  • Water content
  • Temperature
  • Humidity

To make an exhaustive list of each type of hardwood along with descriptive notes on the apparent flavour imparted to BBQ meats would probably be straying into vanity. There are guides online, however, displying such subjective ideas if you are interested.

There are notable BBQ experts who have published that hardwoods ought to categorised in two schools, regarding BBQ flavour, namely:

Strongly flavoured – accompanying well seasoned meat better (typically nut producing trees like Hickory)

Mild flavoured – being a better match for meat which is lightly seasoned (typically from fruit bearing trees like Apple).

Are there any general rules for buying woods for barbecue smoking fuel?

  1. Never buy scraps because they could be impregnated with all sorts of chemical impurities
  2. Never use mouldy wood for BBQ smoking – this is compromised
  3. Don’t take chunks, logs or cuttings from an orchard as the wood most probably will be soaked with pesticides (unless organically grown)


What Are The Ideal Meats to BBQ Smoke Roast?

There are generally accepted recommendations for the types of meat you should consider using for your BBQ project. However, the following is a more adventurous list from www.tastymeat.net (A Chef’s Guide To The 8 Best Meats To Smoke) which has a few surprises in it:

  • Feral hogs – the meat of wild hogs is said to be more tender, moist, succlulent, smokes well and is darker than the domestic pig flesh. It is said to resemble deer meat or young beef.
  • Beef brisket – because of it’s size, fat content and connective tissue is best smoke roasted on a low temperature to allow conversion of an otherwise tastless piece into a flavour fest!
  • Whole turkey – although quite stringy in texture, whole turkey takes on much moisture and turns pink when smoked, bcoming creamy in taste.
  • Cornish hen – has a more delicate flavour to regular chicken and when smoked expresses a richer taste.
  • Deer – the shoulders and ternderloins in particular smoke best, especially if brined overnight, it loses its gamey taste.
  • Goat – sweet taste when smoked, great flavour for grinding down to taco meat. It is essential to brine for tenderness.

Why Butcher Paper Is Best for Smoking Meats?

Smoking meats to the most desirable levels for flavour enhancement and aroma involves more than just getting your smoke conditions right.

Other major factors which improve smoke roasting results massively are: filtering and humidity.

Whilst there are numerous methods for achieving the aforementioned meat smoking factors, there is a simple and affordable answer to producing the optimal conditions for a successful smoke roast…butcher paper wrapping!

In chemical experiments performed by notable BBQ industry experts, butcher paper wrapping meats whilst smoke roasting on a smoker grill outdoors, enhanced both flavour and tenderness of tenderloin greatly, compared with open grilling (unwrapped) because of the following reasons:

Butcher paper acts as a filter to screen out undesirable compounds, whilst filtering in the desirable gases and aromatics…

  • The paper is porous at an anatomical level letting smaller molecules like CO and NO (carbon monoxide and nitrogen monoxide) pass through to affect the meat, producing a pronounced smoke ring.
  • Smoke particles and creosote were too bulky to pass through the butcher paper membrane and therefore did not affect the meat with their bitter tastes.
  • Guaiacol passed through the paper bag to pass on a very smoky flavour.
  • Because the bag is an enclosed environment wherein water vapour cannot readily pass, this increased humidity around the meat adding tenderness to its texture.

Vs. Foil???

Foil is also a proven option for smoke roasting meats in a BBQ, however, there are some key differences in comparison with butcher paper wrapping:

  • Foil is not permeable – therefore BBQ chefs must smoke the meats beforehand and then finish with foil to tenderise.
  • Foil traps higher humidity – therefore produces more moist results (although butcher paper also tenderises well).
  • Foil does not absorb moisture or fat – therefore it takes less time to cook meats than with butcher paper.

At a glance there may seem more advantages with foil than with butcher paper, but in direct comparison, butcher paper would allow for a combined smoking and cooking process, still provides humidity for marked increased tenderness (compared with open grilling) and although it would cook foods more slowly, it still probably takes less time and hassle overall than seperating smoking and cooking process as with foil.

This is why we think natural coloured, untreated butcher paper (without the dyes etc.)  is a good choice for smoke roasting wrapped meats on a BBQ.

…your thoughts? Comment below.



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