For many of us, perfectly smoked beef brisket is the holy grail of barbecue. The golden rule with brisket is low and slow – low temperatures and slow cook time until the tender meat is soft enough to pull apart with a fork.
The ultimate goal of well-cooked brisket is a thick, moist slab of meat with a crusty “bark,” a vibrant smoke ring, and meat that is so smoky you’ll keep coming back for more.
But here’s the most challenging part; waiting for the brisket to sit and rest! Many people make the mistake of not allowing the brisket rest time. I mean, it is understandable since the brisket already took you hours of prepping, trimming, watching and cooking—a long process!
And now you can’t wait to devour your brisket. It’s tempting to dig right in but resist if you can because the wait is worth it. So, here comes the million-dollar question: how long to let brisket rest?
The general rule of thumb is that the brisket should rest for at least one hour, but two hours or more is ideal. To help ensure a juicy, delicious brisket, plan for 1-2 hours of rest time while keeping the meat above 140 degrees F.
In this article, you’ll gain a better understanding of what resting brisket is, how long it takes and why you need it.
What Does Resting Brisket Mean?
Resting a brisket, in simple terms, is letting a grilled or smoked brisket cool sufficiently before slicing it open to prevent extra moisture loss.
After taking brisket away from the heat source, the temperature will first continue to rise through a process called carryover cooking. After it reaches its peak, the temperature will then steadily reduce back down.
During this process, the juices and fibers in the meat are hard at work. The collagen and natural fluids in the meat will redistribute and begin to thicken. If you cut or pierce the brisket with a knife or fork immediately after cooking, you’ll lose some of the great juices and steam that make the meat so tender.
While you might be able to get away with this important step if you’re cooking lean cuts like a chicken breast or a smaller piece of beef like steak, it’s crucial when it comes to a big piece of meat like brisket.
Resting vs. Holding: The Best Way To Rest A Brisket
As with many things, the BBQ experts have different philosophies on the best way to rest a brisket.
Some advise that in order for a brisket to rest, it needs access to circulating air. In this case, you would remove any butcher paper used during the cooking process. Then you would use tinfoil to loosely cover the meat. This will prevent the surface from cooling too quickly, but will allow some of the steam to escape which could cause the bark to lose its texture.
On the other hand, some of the best barbeque chefs place wrapped brisket in a cambro box or other custom insulated holding box and let it rest for hours. A cambro is a box designed to keep food safely at around 140 degrees for an extended period.
To mimic this method at home, you can add some towels to the bottom of a cooler. Place the meat in the cooler and wrap it with more towels. Allow the brisket to rest for 2-4 hours. For food safety, keep an eye on the temp to ensure the meat stays above 140°F.
How Long To Let Brisket Rest
If you’re in a hurry, the general rule of thumb states that the brisket should rest for at least an hour. But, ideally, the meat should sit for two hours or more.
Letting your brisket rest tests your patience more than cooking it, but it’s worth it. If you need more convincing, check out these facts from America’s Test Kitchen about how much moisture loss can occur.
- You will lose 10 tablespoons of liquid if you don’t rest your brisket.
- You will lose 4 tablespoons with a 10-minute rest.
- A 20-minute rest results in 2.5 tablespoon liquid loss.
- Wait 30 minutes and you’ll only lose 1 tablespoon.
- If you make it to 40 minutes, you’re looking at a 2.5 teaspoon loss.
When it comes to juicy brisket, every minute counts. Aim to rest the meat for 1-2 hours while keeping the meat above 140 degrees F.
How to Rest Brisket
Properly resting a brisket actually starts before you even take it off the grill or smoker. If you overcook it, the meat will be dry even with a proper resting time.
The optimal temperature for brisket is 202 degrees Fahrenheit, but you should remove the meat when the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. After you take the brisket off the heat, the temperature continues to spike inside, and it continues to cook.
When the brisket continues cooking during the rest period, we say it’s carry-over cooking. As a result, when you remove the brisket from the fire, the carry-over temperature rises by about 10 degrees. Use a good meat thermometer to watch the temperature rise during the resting period.
So although the brisket is technically no longer receiving heat, the interior of the brisket continues to cook. How long it takes will depend a lot on the temperature of your environment and how hot your cooker was. The brisket’s internal temperature will gradually reduce after resting for a couple of hours.
HOW RESTING BRISKET WORKS
First and foremost, raw meat contains 71% of moisture—water accounts for almost three-quarters of the entire weight of a raw brisket.
When you smoke the brisket, the water content within the fibers begins to rise to the surface. When you remove the brisket from the heat, the moisture needs time to seep back and redistribute into the muscle fibers and connective tissue.
Brisket also contains a lot of collagen, a protein that dissolves during the many cooking hours. When the meat begins to cool, the collagen has a chance to stiffen up again. It also acts as a thickener for other natural juices in the meat.
So, the longer your brisket rests, the thicker the liquid becomes. Resting the brisket helps lock in those rich, meaty juices and prevent them from escaping when you make your first slice with a good quality brisket knife.
Summary: The Importance of Resting Brisket
As you’ve learned, allowing a brisket to rest is a key step in the process. Waiting enough time before you dig in can make the difference between a dry brisket and the very best brisket.
To recap, here are the key points to remember when resting brisket.
- For best results, let the meat rest for a minimum of 1 hour. Most experts advise it’s a good idea to wait 2-4 hours if possible.
- Rest the brisket using a cambro box, cooler with towels, or on a platter loosely covered with aluminum foil.
- During the resting process, make sure the internal temperature of the brisket stays above 140 degrees F for food safety.
- Remember that carry-over cooking causes the temperature of your meat to rise even after removing it from the heat. Remove from the heat at around 195 degrees. A good rule of thumb is that the temperature will continue to rise 5-10 degrees and should reach a peak internal temperature at 202 degrees F.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How Long Should I Let Brisket Rest?
The short answer is to allow a minimum of one hour rest for brisket after cooking, smoking or grilling. However, 2-4 hours is recommended by most experts.
Q. Should I Let Brisket Rest Wrapped or Unwrapped?
The experts are divided on whether it’s best to rest brisket wrapped or unwrapped. Some swear unwrapped is the only way to go because it allows air circulation. Others rest the whole brisket right in the pink butcher paper they cooked it in.
It really comes down to personal preference. At the end of the day, the most important part is that you give the smoked meat a good rest after all your hard work cooking it.
Q. Can I Rest Brisket in a Cooler?
During the resting or holding stage, it’s common to put the brisket in a dry, empty cooler. A well-insulated cooler serves as your own faux cambro box. You can use towels to help insulate. It will allow carry-over cooking and keep the meat at a safe temperature until ready for slicing.
Q. Can I Rest Brisket Overnight?
You can let brisket rest overnight. When resting for a long period of time, make sure to store it properly so the temperature doesn’t fall below 140 degrees.
Whether you’re prepping for a large gathering or it’s your first time making brisket for family, we hope this article has helped you understand how much time to allow your brisket to rest. A proper rest time really does impact the quality of the meat and your overall eating experience.
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Micky Reed, a two-decade veteran in the food and baking industry, leverages her influential Three Snackateers food blog and Instagram presence to collaborate with industry giants like Ben & Jerry's and Crumbl Cookies. Her work has been featured on Delish, PopSugar and more. Her expertise as a product curator for one of the world's largest international snack subscription box companies solidifies her status as a key player in the field.