Chow Town

Put down the foil and quit relying on ‘The Crutch’

Nobody knows for sure when and where the barbecue method of cooking was invented.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of meat fires thousands of years old on various continents.

But no one has declared with irrefutable evidence that barbecue began at a specific place and time. Serious and frivolous speculation and imaginative stories abound.

Did it start with the discovery of tasty flame-cooked meat after a prehistoric prairie fire?

Did Arawak tribes in the West Indies invent barbecue by cooking meat over hot coals on sapling grids?

How about the Bo-bo yarn as told in Charles Lamb’s 1822 “Dissertation on Roasted Lamb?”

My belief is that meat has been cooked with fire and smoke for at least 40,000 years. Barbecue happened in different places on our planet at about the same time.

One thing is certain though: the first barbecue cooks didn’t use aluminum foil.

Danish chemist Hans Christian Oersted discovered aluminum in 1825. Eighty-five years later, a Swiss company initiated the world’s first mass production of aluminum foil.

By 1913 aluminum foil was used in the United States for wrapping candy and gum.

Thanks to Mad Men marketing campaigns, American backyard barbecue cooks embraced aluminum foil 30 years later.

Kaiser Aluminum sponsored the first national barbecue cooking contests. Set in Hawaii, they were open to men only.

Aluminum foil is everywhere in barbecue contests and backyard barbecues today.

It is called the “Texas Crutch,” but since it is now used nationwide, it is more aptly named “The Crutch.”

Why do contest cooks use aluminum foil?

Most will tell you it’s the best way to get tender, juicy barbecue, and it saves time by steam-cooking the meat.

Yet, if contest rules forbade the use of aluminum foil, contest cooks would do fine without it.

Barbecue’s emergence as America’s Cuisine began forty to fifty years prior to the commercial production of aluminum foil.

Take a look at old 19th Century photos of open pit barbecues. Is the meat wrapped in aluminum foil?

Take a look inside the barbecue pits of America’s best barbecue restaurants today. Is the meat wrapped in foil?

Barbecue meat cooked without foil is tender and juicy, plus you get more smoke flavor and a nice bark on your butts, ribs and briskets.

The old-time barbecue method of slowly cooking meat with fire and smoke at low temperatures (225 to 250 degrees) until tender is what made barbecue an American tradition in the first place.

Smoke it, don’t foil it, and you’ll love the results.

Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, his most recent release “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”