“Does using aluminum foil in smoking foods still allow the wood flavor to penetrate?”
It is a common question heard when it comes to hot smoking. In fact, there is even a technique called the Texas Crutch that relies on wrapping meats like ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket in foil with 1–2 ounces of liquid into the foil and then sealing all ends tightly so no liquid or steam escapes. This process tenderizes and speeds the overall cooking process, which with hot smoking, can be quite lengthy.
Here’s the thing — when you use this technique, you do so after the meat product has cooked to about 135–150°F. That means a great deal of smoke flavor has already penetrated. What about if you start out smoking foods in foil? Let’s look at the pros and cons of smoking foods in foil, information you can use for traditional oven cooking as well.
Aluminum leaches into foods that are wrapped in it. Current research indicates that the average person can tolerate about 2400mg of aluminum exposure per day due to our body’s ability to excrete the small amounts of this metal efficiently. Therefore, any ingestion levels over this would be considered a health risk by the World Health Organization.
Aluminum foil is disposable so it is a convenience. There is no clean up when you cook foods in foil and often there are recycling programs that accept used foil. It can save on degrading your cookware and grill grates.
Aluminum is found in other items like corn, yellow cheese, salt, herbs, spices, tea, cooking utensils, and in over-the-counter medications like antacids. A derived from aluminum is also used during the purification process of drinking water. These all must factor into the recommended daily intake of this metal, meaning you need to assess whether cooking in foil will put you over the daily recommended limit.
Aluminum foil aides in producing a convection heat as it is an excellent heat conductor. Thus, cooking times can be significantly reduced when foods are placed in foil.
Foods with higher levels of acid have a higher rate of leaching aluminum into them. This is true whether the acidic ingredient is in solid or liquid form. In fact, acidic liquids have a higher leaching rate than solids. Give this consideration when working with foods such as tomatoes, vinegar and citrus items.
Using aluminum foil can tenderize tougher cuts of meat when you include an ounce or two of liquid. Additionally, aluminum foil is leak proof when you seal all ends.
When you cook acidic ingredients in foil, both the appearance and taste of the foods can be altered by the reaction to aluminum. The tastes are often described as metallic.
From the smoking perspective, if you start the foods on the grill grates without any aluminum foil, cook until 135–150°F internal temperature, and then wrap in foil to finish, you likely will find very little change in taste. Ingredients containing acid would have cooked down and not be at a level that would interact as aggressively with the aluminum.
If you do elect to cook on the smoker, charcoal grill or LP grill with foil, know that you can see firsthand the reaction of the aluminum with food ingredients. You can see the wood molecules by the smoke vapor particles that develops on the outside surface of the foil. As foil is a heat conductor, it also is somewhat of a sponge and will steal some of the smoke vapor particles from the food.
Remember, one of the key benefits to using aluminum foil is its ability to seal tightly whether preventing spillage to a piece of cookware or sealing in liquids for cooking. Cooking smoked items wrapped in foil from start to finish will not allow for full penetration of the smoke vapor particles that account for the unique color, texture, and taste to smoked foods. Plus, you likely will increase your risk of health issues with repeated exposure to high aluminum levels.
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