Smoked brisket is a delicious cut of beef with a flavorful crust and juicy, tender interior. It may look difficult to make, but it doesn’t have to be.
That said, smoking perfect brisket does require some level of patience for optimal results. It’s also more of an art than a science.
There aren’t hard and fast rules, but more general suggestions to guide you in the direction of brisket heaven. In this in-depth article, we’ll give you the basics on how to smoke a brisket to perfection.
We’ll cover the following important topics in this step-by-step guide on how to smoke a brisket:
- Preparing Beef Brisket For Smoking
- What Is Brisket?
- Trimming Brisket
- Season Brisket
- Prepping The Smoker
- Smoking The Brisket
- How Long To Smoke Brisket Per Pound
- Tips and Tricks For Smoking Brisket
- Meat Selection
- Point vs. Flat
- Fat Content
- Brisket Rubs
- Time and Temperature
- Type of Wood
- How To Tell When Brisket Is Done
Preparing Brisket for Smoking
There are several steps you need to follow when preparing smoked brisket. The exact steps may vary slightly depending on several factors. But in the end, the result will be that soft tender brisket with a beautiful smoke ring and mouth-watering BBQ perfection.
What Is Brisket?
A cow has two briskets with distinct muscles, the flat and the point. They are located in the area that is most active during the cow’s movement. The muscles are thick and require adequate time for cooking to break the dense fat and muscle.
The general rule among pitmasters is to always smoke this cut of meat using a low and slow method. When smoked under the right conditions and given plenty of time, the resulting brisket is tender, juicy, and irresistible to bite.
Trim The Brisket
The whole brisket usually comes with a thick white layer of fat from the butcher, called the fat cap. This cap has a lot of fat that may make your brisket too fatty.
Start by removing this excess fat that will not render off as the brisket cooks, plus any fat that may prevent you from directly seasoning the meat or will make your brisket too fatty.
Trim the fat to a thickness of ¼ inch, leaving behind only the required amount. While excess fat makes the brisket too fatty, scraping off all the fat may again make for a dry brisket.
Trimming is meant to create an even clean-looking surface and remove pieces that may burn during smoking or will not be edible.
The time needed for trimming differs based on personal experience and the amount of fat to trim. A good rule of thumb is that trimming can take 20-30 minutes.
It is recommended to trim the fat from a cold brisket as cold fat is easier to slice through.
Season the Brisket
After trimming, it’s time to add your seasoning. Seasoning makes the brisket shine and also gives it that amazing taste of beef and smoke in all its glory.
Plan to add your seasoning at least an hour before smoking to allow your brisket enough time to absorb the salt.
For a simple Texas-style seasoning, simply add kosher salt and black pepper. You can also add a hint of garlic powder if you’d like.
Some people may, however, prefer seasoning their brisket with more complex rubs with seasonings like chili powder, cumin, and paprika. And yet others might have a personal preference to use injections or marinades.
You can find a variety of brisket seasonings at the grocery store and online.
Prepare the Smoker
The type of smoker you use can vary. You might have a pellet smoker or an electric smoker. The important thing is to have consistent temperatures from your heat source and a steady, controlled stream of smoke.
Burn coal until it turns gray, then start adding small pieces of wood. Heat the smoker to temperatures of between 225˚F and 250˚F and keep adding the wood throughout the smoking process.
How To Smoke A Brisket
Cooking brisket involves two main processes. The first step involves enhancing the meat with wood smoke flavor.
The smoke produces the coveted reddish band below the surface. The smoke ring is a result of a chemical reaction between myoglobin in the meat and the nitrogen dioxide in the smoke.
The second phase of smoking brisket involves rendering all the fat and cooking until the tough muscle fibers and connective tissue start to break down. The cooking process involves careful control of heat to obtain the best results.
Digital temperature-control systems play a crucial role in heat management by allowing you to dial the exact cooking temperature and hold it for a specific duration.
How Long To Smoke a Brisket Per Pound
There are several ways and styles of smoking brisket, and temperature preference is one of them. It is recommended to cook your brisket at a temperature of 225 or 250 degrees F.
At these temperatures, cook time can be estimated by the pound, but it’s important to remember that these are just general guidelines.
The amount of cooking time per pound can range from 30 minutes to two hours. Factors like smoker temperature, consistency of the heat, thickness and grade of meat, outside temperature, wind and humidity can all affect the actual cook time.
At the end of the day, you’ll need to go by the internal temperature of the meat. A perfect brisket is done when the internal brisket temperature is 203° F. The best way to measure this is with a meat thermometer. To test, insert the digital thermometer into the thickest part of the entire brisket.
While cook times will vary, a general rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 hours to smoke one pound of brisket.
How Long To Smoke A Brisket: Size Breakdown
Below is a handy reference to help you know how long to smoke your brisket depending on the weight of the brisket. Remember the exact time is dependent on many factors. The following guidelines assume a consistent temperature of 225-250° F.
How Long To Smoke Brisket By Weight
1.5 lb Brisket: Between 1.5 to 2.5 hours
2 lb Brisket: Between 2 to 3 hours
3 lb Brisket: Between 3 to 4.5 hours
4 lb Brisket: Between 4 to 6 hours
5 lb Brisket: Between 5 to 7.5 hours
8 lb Brisket: Between 8 to 12 hours
9 lb Brisket: Between 9 to 13.5 hours
10 lb Brisket: Between 10 to 15 hours
2 lb Brisket: Between 12 to 18 hours
14 lb Brisket: Between 14 to 21 hours
15 lb Brisket: Between 15 to 22.5 hours
Tips and Tricks For Smoking Brisket
There is a lot of hard work that goes into getting that perfectly smoked piece of brisket. From meat selection to slicing, trimming, and seasoning, every stage plays an important part in turning out great-tasting and juicy meat. Below are tips to consider.
Proper Selection of Meat
Getting an outstanding brisket starts with selecting quality meat at the butcher. There are also really great quality meats that are available to order online. Snake River Farms has some excellent brisket options.
A good butcher or online meat retailer will help you choose the best piece of meat for you.
To select the best cut, you’ll need to consider the different meat grades, size of the brisket, where the meat is sourced and price point. The different meat grades include choice grade with has good fat (marbling) in the meat and Prime grade that has even more marbling.
The Point vs. The Flat
The thicker end of the brisket, often called the fatty end due to its high-fat content, is the point end.
The thinner end, often called the lean end due to its less fat content, is the flat end.
The brisket is, therefore, point and flat at the same time.
Fat Is Good, But Not Too Much
During trimming, only get rid of the excess that will not render during smoking and leave around 1/4th of an inch of fat on the top side of the brisket.
This fat renders during cooking and develops a tasty and delicious bark. Good fat adds flavor and makes your brisket moist, soft, and tender.
Give It A Good Rub
While the Texas-inspired brisket mainly uses salt and pepper, it is possible to experiment with other combinations of rubs, flavors, injections and marinades.
To keep it simple, a great way to season is with just salt, pepper and a little garlic if you like.
In addition to these, there are lots of other options in the market that you can use according to personal taste preferences.
Monitor the Time and Temperature
You need to keep your heat at consistent temperatures during different cooking stages. This involves careful monitoring and managing of temperature through the hours of cook time. Pitmasters recommend starting with slow fire as you increase temperature gradually.
Also, ensure the smoke remains thin and blue during cooking. Fire management is an important factor to prevent over smoking as the process takes hours.
Ensure you cook the brisket to an internal temperature of 203 degrees F. The internal temperature of the brisket usually stagnates at around 160-165 degrees. This is a normal occurrence that should not worry you.
To Wrap or Not to Wrap?
Opinions are widely divided on whether you need to wrap your brisket or smoke it unwrapped. One advantage of wrapping is that it helps to lock in moisture and keep temperatures consistent for most of the cooking time.
Some pitmasters, however, urge that wrapped brisket does not make much of a difference in the end. If you choose to wrap, you can use peach butcher paper or aluminum foil.
Allow Your Brisket Time to Rest
Once your brisket attains an internal temperature of 203 degrees F in the center, remove it from the grill and allow the brisket to rest for at least one hour. Resting makes the brisket more tender and soft.
When you slice the hot meat straight from the burner, you may end up losing the fat and connective tissues, which become soft during cooking.
Allowing the brisket to rest keeps it moist and gives the fatty collagen time to thicken and remain inside the brisket.
To rest your brisket, let the meat cool to about 160 degrees F. Then wrap in a towel and place in a cooler for 1-2 hours or more. If you wrap the brisket before it cools a bit, it will continue cooking.
Get It Right With Slicing
Slicing your smoked brisket correctly will ensure a mouth-watering bite when you eat.
During slicing, ensure you slice across the grain of the meat. Slicing in the same direction the grain in the meat is running will make the slices very stringy and tough.
The grains in the point and the flat move in different directions hence you need to rotate the muscle as you move from flat to point to ensure you are still cutting against the grain.
Slice Brisket Only When Ready to Eat it
Right before you’re ready to eat is the best time to slice your brisket. This is because sliced brisket deteriorates very quickly after slicing. Make sure you have everything else ready before making the cut with a good quality brisket knife.
Type of Wood
You need to use a fuel that burns consistently over a long period of time with no added fillers or chemicals. You can also have fun experimenting with different varieties of wood or pellets. Some of the best wood varieties include oak, hickory, cherry and apple.
When using wood, you need to be careful to use the right quantity. Avoid igniting a huge flame with black smoke that is hard to regulate. Too much wood may leave your brisket over-smoked and taste bitter.
How To Tell When Brisket Is Done
Brisket comes from muscular areas that support large amounts of the animal’s weight. The meat is naturally tough with a chewy texture. To tenderize the meat, you need to cook it at a low temperature over a long period of time.
After cooking low and slow, it is recommended to use a quality instant-read thermometer to test if your brisket is done.
However, some people like to use a fork test. If the fork slides in easily, the meat has reached the required tenderness and is ready.
No matter which method you use, be sure it’s cooked to the recommended 203 degrees F in the center.
How long does it take to smoke a brisket at 225° F?
It takes around 1 to 1.5 hours per pound of brisket at 225 degrees F. The actual timing can differ depending on several factors, including the thickness of the meat, the temperature, and wind.
Is it better to smoke brisket at 225° F or 250° F?
Both temperatures will give you a great result. Some pitmasters say you should aim for a higher temperature of 250° F to allow the meat to cook in less time. Other experts swear the right way is 225° F. And yet others say you should cook as low as 195° F.
Do I put brisket fat up or down?
This is a controversial question among pitmasters. The general consensus is to smoke brisket with the fat side facing down.
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Whether this is your first brisket or you are an experienced BBQ master, we hope this guide to smoking brisket has been helpful.