The go-to guide for perfect Smoked Brisket every time, from selecting, trimming and how to smoke beef brisket. A Smoked Brisket Recipe can be perfected by following some key steps.
At the end of the day, smoking beef brisket is not about a recipe, it’s a process you can only learn by practicing using a few key milestones while you smoke it. Use this guide to master your smoked brisket skills. Want to check out our burnt ends recipe? Click here!
Smoking beef brisket is complicated. It’s like a long-term relationship. Don’t take what you think are the rules, and take them for granted (because the rules change with each brisket you cook). Treat each time you smoke a brisket as a new day and a new chance to perfect all the things you learned from the last cook.
Instead of focusing on a smoked brisket recipe with exact instructions, I think it better to layout the key components of how attention to detail and the actual cut of brisket will help you navigate how to cook one on your specific smoker. And while we dared to add a recipe below, remember the variables that all go into amazing tender brisket.
So please read this first, before skipping down to the recipe!
How to Smoke a Brisket
As we said, every brisket will be different. From marbling to the way it cooks, each one needs its own TLC when smoking it. We focus on seven steps to smoke any brisket.
- Step 1: Selecting a Brisket
- Step 2: Trimming
- Step 3: Seasoning
- Step 4: Smoking
- Step 5: Wrapping
- Step 6: Resting
- Step 7: Slicing
Let’s start with selecting a brisket.
What is Brisket
Brisket is from the cow. There are two on a cow, and simply put is made up of two distinct muscles. The point and the flat. Each have different layers of marbling as this is an area of the cow that is used a lot as the cow walks, and so you have to cook low and slow to render out the flavor. It’s because of how dense the muscle is that the braising or longer cooking time is so important, it breaks down all the dense muscle and fat for a tender brisket.
Buying brisket you typically want to buy the entire packer (the point and the flat). When I first started cooking, I was buying what the grocery store had in case, and the reality is it was only the flat. The flat is leaner and is only half the story when cooking a packer brisket. To get that full flavor you need the entire packer (Both cuts of muscle). Go big when buying, like a 14 pound cut, because you will trim off a fair amount of fat, so a 12 pound brisket packer is likely to be 10 pounds after being trimmed, and more like 8 pounds after cooking.
Best Beef for Brisket
You really have to understand what makes great smoked beef brisket, it starts with quality beef and what is in that beef. It’s the fat.
And most importantly the marbling of the entire brisket is going to dictate a large part of the cooking experience. In order to get that rendering for a juicy tender meet morsel, you have to make sure that the brisket you are buying is of the highest quality you can afford with marbling.
- Grass Fed – Grass or pasture raised beef are amazing. But when you compare the marbling, you find quickly that the same level of fat is not there. So if you’re of the belief of only pasture, then know your cooking process will change and likely shorten. You really need to be mindful of when it’s done, compared to a USDA prime brisket. It will just take less time to cook, and the flavor will be a little more earthy. We don’t recommend grass fed for smoking.
- USDA Rated – Select, Choice, or Prime? Maybe, but remember marbling matters. I stay away from Select. Choice tends to have some good marbling for brisket and prime is even more marbled. USDA rating is specific to meat packing facilities that elect to have an inspector on site rating the marbling quality. There are plenty of great articles about rating. But as your marbling increases, that is what renders out during the cooking process and creates that juicy cut of meat at the end. Target at least Choice or consider a Double R Ranch Prime.
- American Wagyu or Kobe – The marbling on these briskets is amazing. If you can splurge, then treat yourself. That is what we use courtesy of our partners at Snake River Farms. You can learn more here about our favorite producer of American Wagyu beef.
Buying Brisket – Why Does Marbling Matter?
Because as your brisket cooks over many hours, what you are trying to achieve is the art of slowly rendering those fat pockets, causing the melted flavor to lubricate or moisturize the surrounding cells in the brisket. When we are buying brisket at a store, we will physically lift the brisket, and bend it to see if it’s tender and pliable.
This we find important as that will translate into tenderness as it cooks. When we get ours mail order, we also know that the rancher or producer of the beef has already hand selected the right cut. But when at a grocery store or box store, be sure to inspect and look for more pliable brisket.
How to Trim a Brisket
Each brisket has a fair amount of fat. Some that will render, some that will not. So you have to prepare the brisket by trimming off the fat that won’t render and then season. There are a number of great tutorials on you tube and online. The key is to not be afraid to trim. If you lay two briskets side by side, even the fat pockets will look different.
Start by trimming the flat side by removing the silver skin and any fat pockets just sitting at the surface.
The brisket flat and the point are also separated by a layer of fat. The best briskets are those that are able to render that fat pocket down enough that it is pleasant to eat. But before you season, you need to remove portions of those fat pockets. With flat still facing up, remove the dense white fat pocket that is on one side of the brisket. You will remove a fair amount of the dense fat pocket, almost starting to cut into and under the flat. That is about the time to stop trimming.
Next flip the brisket over and trim the fat cap. This fat cap sits just above the brisket point. We leave about 1/4 inch of fat on the fat side of the brisket. This will allow a small layer of fat to protect the brisket while cooking. Take care when removing the fat, do it in slow and small cuts so you don’t remove too much or get into the meat.
The sides of the brisket may have some fat hanging over the side. We typically remove another 1/4 inch from both sides of the brisket to smooth out the sides and expose the meat.
At this point it is not uncommon that you have removed up to 4 pounds of trimming.
After trimming, we coat the brisket with olive oil, then we go coarse pepper, kosher salt, and granulated garlic (not garlic powder), in equal parts. It is simple and allows the brisket to shine. This seasoning is more inspired by Texas style (although many Texans may scoff at the garlic).
We don’t inject as we have found that the great cuts you buy don’t need it and only run the risk of creating more of a roast flavor due to the moisture essentially steaming out of the meat.
How to Smoke a Brisket
We have grabbed the perfect brisket, trimmed and seasoned it. Now comes the part where we cook it.
Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (F) with both lump charcoal and your wood. We use fruit woods for brisket for a sweeter flavor. Insert a remote thermometer probe into the flat of the brisket, it is leaner and the more important part of the brisket to monitor while cooking. We find 250 degrees F ideal for slowly rendering fat. At 225 it takes longer than we prefer.
Flat Side Up or Down? It doesn’t matter. Some will say to have the fat cap point toward the hotter part of your smoker, we have done both and the outcome has been the same.
The brisket will smoke about five hours in the smoker where the smoke connects with the brisket giving both bark and smoke flavor.
Spritz (Optional) – Spray bottle of liquid that you spray onto meat after the bark forms. We don’t do this for all of our briskets, but can be done for more flavor. If you spritz, it is done while the brisket is in the smoking step and not wrapped.
When the brisket reaches 165 degrees F, we remove the brisket from the smoker and wrap it in pink butcher paper.
This is called the Texas crutch. Wrapping allows the internal temperature of the brisket to rise faster. Peach or pink butcher paper is more breathable than foil, which translates to less of a pot roast flavor. The wrapping period is also important because it is the final stage to allow the intramuscular fat to fully render out. Don’t have butcher paper? Use foil, that’s ok.
As the brisket cooks, it will encounter a period of time called the stall. The stall can happen anywhere between 160 to 175 degrees F. As the heat from the smoker renders the pockets of fat, the fat liquefies. As the fat liquefies and interacts with the meat, there is a cooling effect that happens almost like when you sweat.
So don’t be alarmed if you see a couple of hours of incremental movement in the internal temperature of the meat. You have pushed through the stall when the fat has rendered enough that there is balance and the meat heats up again.
This is why regardless of the stall on your brisket, we wrap at 165. Once the brisket hits 180, you’ll see the temp increase much faster.
Remove and Rest
As the wrapped brisket reaches close to 195 degrees F, it is time to start probing the brisket with an instant read thermometer to see if it is done. If the thermometer is meeting resistance as you insert it, that means the intramuscular fat hasn’t fully rendered out yet. It should feel as if you are inserting the probe into room temperature butter.
The most common feedback we give people is to be patient and wait for that soft butter like feeling. We find most people get nervous and pull at an exact temperature. The range a brisket can be done will range anywhere from 195 degrees F to 215 degrees F. Trust the probe and keep checking every 15 minutes until you get that feel.
Pro Tip – Avoid taking the temperature in the fat pocket between the flat and the point, that will come up in temperature much faster than the surrounding brisket. So be sure to temp in the middle of the flat and the middle of the point in multiple places.
Lastly, please make sure you let your brisket rest for at least 30 minutes.
The brisket will hold its temperature and as it slowly cools, you start to get the cells to pull back in the juices. If you slice the brisket right after removing, you’ll see all the juices just pour out on the cutting board versus staying in the meat. The horror!!! All of your hard work, gone, just like that, because you were too impatient to let it rest!
If the brisket is done early then hold the temperature to slowly let it cool. What do you hold it in? A cooler (with NO ice) works well. This acts like a Cambro warmer at restaurants. You can hold the temperature for four hours in case your brisket is done early. Just leave it wrapped.
How Long to Smoke a Brisket
I like to plan 90 minutes for every pound of brisket, including the rest or hold temperature, when cooking at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. The total cook can be anywhere from 8 hours to 16 depending on the size of the brisket. It is normal that every brisket you cook will vary in time.
Monitoring Brisket Temperature and Tools
Smoked Beef Brisket Tips — and Common Questions
How to Slice a Brisket?
First cut the brisket in half about where the point ends. This separates some of the flat from the point. Next slice the flat into pencil thin slices.
Next, take the larger cut that is both the point and the flat, and then slice that in half. From there simply make more pencil thin slices. Having both the point and flat meat together gives people options when eating and looks awesome on a serving plate.
Refer to the video for more details.
How to Make Burnt Ends
Like Kansas City style BBQ? Cut out the point or parts of point from the brisket before the wrap. You then slice it into cubes, re season, place back into smoker to render out. Delish. Check out this post for our Burnt Ends.
Should I wrap a brisket?
There is no right or wrong answer here, it’s about your flavor preference. If you elect not to wrap you get a greater bark. People love that texture. You won’t really add more smoke flavor, as that pretty much gets absorbed around the fifth hour of cooking. But we have found wrapping in pink butcher paper is the best of both worlds. Note that if you do not wrap, it may add 20 minutes per pound to the cooking time, be sure to account for that.
How long to smoke a brisket per pound?
Generally I look at 90 minutes per pound. But know that so many variables go into a brisket, that it will always depend on the quality of meat, the temperature outside (raining? Super hot?), and your cooker temperature. Remember that the key milestones for us are:
- Wrapping when we like the bark that is set, which is usually around 165 degrees F.
- Start checking temperature at 195 when the meat thermometer easily goes into the brisket as if room temperature butter. Remove the brisket when it does (can be 195 – 212).
- Let it rest wrapped for 30 minutes. Then cut to serve.
Should I inject a smoked beef brisket?
In the end your flavor preference is what is key and the meat. We generally are not injecting briskets because we buy at least Choice or higher cuts of brisket. If you buy Select, or find that the fat layers don’t look at pronounced, consider injecting with beef stock.
Best dry rub for smoked beef brisket?
SPG rub for us (equal parts Salt, Pepper, Garlic) keeping it simple so we highlight the meat flavor and smoke.
Best Wood For Smoking Brisket
Go local. We are in the Pacific Northwest with an abundance of apple and cherry trees. So we use fruit wood as it burns sweeter and avoids the campfire like flavor you can get from mesquite. In Texas? Obviously post oak.
In the end, use what is local to you or experiment.
What To Do With Leftover Brisket
We’ve got you covered.
Where to buy the best brisket?
Smoked Brisket Recipe
Smoked Brisket Recipe
- Peach Butcher Paper
- Long Tongs
- Two Zone Thermometer Like Thermoworks Smoke Unit
- Instant Read Thermometer Like The Thermapen
- 12 – 15 pound packer brisket, flat and point
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Rub
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup coarse ground pepper
- 1/3 cup granulated garlic powder
- The day before cooking, trim the excess fat off the brisket, apply olive oil. In a separate bowl, combine your dry rub ingredients, and liberally apply to the brisket. Leave in fridge overnight prior to cooking.
- The day of cooking, preheat your smoker to 250 degrees F, we use fruit wood like apple or cherry.
- Place brisket on the smoker (using large tongs) when the temperature is a consistent 250 degrees and insert your two zone meat probes. One for the meat inserted into the flat, and one to monitor the ambient temperature of the cooking chamber.
- When the internal temperature of the brisket is 165 degrees you will carefully remove the brisket and place onto two pieces of pink butcher paper to wrap. Remove the meat probe, tightly wrap the brisket, and then add the meat probe back into the same general area. Place back into the smoker.
- Continue cooking at 250 degrees for another several hours until the brisket approaches 195 degrees. At that point, you will use your instant read thermometer to insert and probe the flat and the point for that smooth buttery texture as you check for doneness. Anywhere from 195 to 205 it may be done. Then remove, still wrapped and rest for an hour. Or place into a cooler to hold the temperature until ready to serve.
- Slice against the grains and service.
Tools Used for Smoked Beef Brisket
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