What Is Pink Butcher Paper? Why Is It Used for Smoking BBQ?

pink butcher paper

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If you’ve spent any time around a butcher’s counter or the beef section at your local grocer, odds are you’re familiar with pink butcher paper.  For years, it’s been the material of choice for butchers to wrap your fresh cuts of meat after you make a purchase.

But did you know that pink butcher paper has another purpose?  It’s become an extremely popular material to have handy for pit masters and BBQ joints – but why is that?

In this article, we’ll provide all of the answers you have about pink butcher paper and why it’s a must when it comes to grilling accessories.  We’ll go over what it is exactly, what it does, and why it’s used for BBQ.   By the end, you’ll be ready to roll out the butcher paper for your next cook!

What Is Pink Butcher Paper?

Before we get started on what it does, it’s important to answer the question – what is pink butcher paper exactly?

Starting with the foundations of pink butcher paper, it’s made from food grade Southern Pine pulp that goes through an FDA approval process.

Pink butcher paper is a type of paper that has undergone a treatment known as sizing.  Essentially, this processing increases the wet strength properties of the paper – which results in a paper that doesn’t wither or tear easily when it’s exposed to lots of moisture.

The sizing treatment is different from the wax coating, as pink butcher paper does not have a wax property to it.  This type of paper is uncoated, unwaxed, and unbleached.  It only receives the internal wet strength treatment.

Pink butcher paper is more porous relative to other types of paper like the paper your butcher would wrap a steak in, which has a few huge benefits when it comes to smoking meat – but more on that in a moment.

The “pink” part of the name simply comes from the aesthetic of the unbleached paper – no coloring or foreign elements are added to the paper to make it look a certain way.

Why Is Pink Butcher Paper So Popular?

When it comes to the popularity of this BBQ accessory, there are really two main factors to look at.  First, there are some distinct and obvious benefits to using pink butcher paper on the smoker.  And second, the rise in demand over recent years can be attributed to a certain legendary BBQ pit master popularizing the accessory.

Pink Butcher Paper – A Happy Medium

For many smoked meats, chicken for example, you can easily make delicious BBQ by simply placing the food unwrapped onto your smoker.

For larger, tougher cuts of meat, however, it’s common practice to wrap the meat in some sort of material to speed up the process.  Take brisket for example: a brisket could spend upwards of 8-12 hours on the smoker before it finishes cooking.

Many people employ the “Texas Crutch” method and wrap their brisket in foil about halfway through the cook – which reduces the amount of time the meat remains in the brisket stall.

But foil isn’t the only material you can choose to wrap your brisket in – and it’s not necessarily the best material to use either.  Here are the advantages for wrapping your brisket (or other smoked meats) in pink butcher paper:

  • Pink butcher paper has a porous quality to it, which allows for the perfect amount of moisture to escape the meat during the cooking process.  Foil on the other hand creates a trapped, steamy environment that can lead to an over tender mush if you aren’t careful.
  • Since butcher paper is porous, it also allows for smokey flavor to penetrate into your food.  If you aren’t getting that delicious, traditional smokey flavor on your BBQ, then what’s the point of making it in the first place?!  Meat wrapped in pink butcher paper will absorb smoke and achieve delectable smoke flavoring.  Foil on the other hand can block any smoke from reaching your meat.
  • You don’t have to adjust your cooking time when you wrap with butcher paper.  Unlike foil which speeds up the cooking process and might leave you having to do some mental math on the fly to get your cook right.
  • Pink butcher paper by nature can’t be wrapped as tightly around your meat.  This means your food will be able to breathe a little bit and will have a greater probability of achieving the coveted BBQ bark – all the while the inside of your meat will stay nice and tender.
  • Compared to smoking meat bare, paper wrapped brisket will cook a little bit faster.  While it won’t cook as fast as foil wrapped BBQ, the cooking process will take a little bit less time compared to cooking meat completely unwrapped.

Here’s a great video from Aaron Franklin showcasing the difference in results between an unwrapped, pink butcher paper wrapped, and foil wrapped brisket:

Aaron Franklin’s Influence

You’d be hard pressed to find a more famous name in the BBQ world than Aaron Franklin.  His restaurant, Franklin BBQ in Austin, TX, is known for being one of the absolute best BBQ joints on the planet.  The food is so good that most days, you can plan on waiting in a line that extends far out of the door just to get a plate of BBQ.

Over the past few years, Aaron Franklin has become fairly active in creating content around his BBQ.  He launched a YouTube channel with BBQ how to guides, but more prominently, he offered up many of his secrets in his highly popular Aaron Franklin Masterclass.

You might have noticed that multiple times, Mr. Franklin uses and mentions pink butcher paper in the context of wrapping his BBQ.

The results of his cooking process don’t lie, and as word got out that he relies on paper as part of his cooking process – many other pit masters followed.  Experienced and novice pit masters alike began to hop on board the trend and scoop up a roll of pink butcher paper to use for their own BBQ.

Which Foods Should I Use Butcher Paper With On the Smoker?

Generally speaking, you can try to wrap just about any food that would normally go on the smoker.  Beef, pork, and many different types of ribs are great candidates for smoking with butcher paper.

Brisket is an extremely popular cut of beef to wrap with butcher paper, but you don’t have to stop there.  You can also wrap other beef cuts like smoked chuck roast or beef back ribs.

Pork butt (for pulled pork) and pork ribs are also great to experiment with the use of butcher paper.

Other Types of Butcher Paper

While pink butcher paper is popular for smoking meats, there are actually a handful of other types of butcher paper that you could come across.  It’s important to know the difference so that you don’t end up using the wrong type – which could lead to poor results on the smoker.

Steak Paper

Aesthetically, steak paper looks quite similar to pink butcher paper – but despite being similar to the eye, these papers share some very important differences.

Steak paper is used for meat storage or for displays at the butcher counter.  As such, it’s thicker and heavier than pink butcher paper and seals in juices while preventing color loss on raw meats.

You’ll want to avoid using steak paper on the smoker though as it won’t lead to the same end result as pink paper.

Peach Paper

I’ve heard the terms pink and peach paper used interchangeably when referring to butcher paper, but if you’re out ordering some you should be careful doing this.

In reality, peach-treated butcher paper is a variant of steak paper.  It’s treated with an agent that preserves fresh meats for storage and allows just enough oxygen to reach the meat so that it remains fresh and at a bright red color.

So if you’re out shopping and want pink butcher paper, just be sure to double check any products that have the word “peach” in it and make sure you aren’t buying a version of steak paper.

Freezer Paper

Freezer paper is coated on one of its sides, which protects your food from freezer burn while it’s in cold storage.

This type of paper is super effective when it comes to doing the job it’s advertised for.  The coat serves as a moisture barrier, which combined with thick paper results in a fortress for storing your food.  Notes can be written in permanent marker to help you figure out how long your food has been in the freezer.

In terms of smoking BBQ, using freezer paper to wrap your food would be disastrous.  While freezer paper is FDA approved and food safe, it would start to break down and burn over temperatures of 180°F – which would lead to ruined food.

We’ve written an entire article on butcher paper vs freezer paper if you want to learn more on this topic.

Gardenia Paper

Gardenia paper is a little bit less common than the other forms of butcher paper, but you still might come across it from time to time.

It’s a premium paper that does a fantastic job of protecting food from moisture.  Gardenia also does well at preventing the leakage of oils or juices from your food.  At the same time though, it’s breathable enough to ensure that the food doesn’t get soggy or mushy.

Gardenia paper has a distinct green hue, so it’s easy to spot when you see it.

Where to Find Pink Butcher Paper

A few years ago, you might be hard-pressed to find pink butcher paper for sale – it just simply wasn’t popular enough for retailers to sell it.

But nowadays, it’s pretty widely available.  Many online retailers such as Amazon and BBQ specialty stores sell pink butcher paper, so you can easily pick some up through one of these outlets.

I’ve also noticed that many grocers and supermarkets are beginning to carry pink butcher paper for BBQ too.  While you can’t find them everywhere, it would be worth peeking on the BBQ aisle the next time you’re at the grocery store to see if you can get it locally.

Final Thoughts

By now, hopefully, you have a better idea about what pink butcher paper is, why it’s so popular, and how it can help you achieve legendary BBQ.

The results don’t lie, and there’s a reason that so many of the world’s great pit masters and culinary experts utilize this accessory to complement their cooking process.

Have you tried using BBQ paper at home before?  What did you cook?  And how did it go?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

For more paper knowledge, check out our comparison guide to butcher paper vs parchment paper next!