Smoked Brisket – Perfect Every Time
Aug 03, 2022, Updated Jan 23, 2024
The go-to guide for perfect Smoked Brisket every time. Use our seven step guide, from selecting, trimming and how to smoke it. This Smoked Whole Brisket Recipe can be perfected by following some key steps.
We also have a complete guide for a Smoked Brisket Flat as well if you can’t find a full-packer brisket.
- Smoked beef brisket is not about perfecting a recipe, it’s a process you can only learn by practicing on whatever BBQ you own, and using a few key milestones while you smoke it. Use this guide to master your smoked brisket skills.
- For a more savory flavor, you can use our Beef Seasoning with herbs and heat.
- Check out our guide for Brisket Burnt Ends as well.
- You can make tender brisket on any cooker, from pellet grill to offset smoker, with this tried and true recipe and tutorial.
Table of Contents
Smoked brisket is complicated. It’s more about a process than a recipe. As professional caterers and authors of a BBQ cookbook, we have smoked hundreds of briskets throughout our careers. No two briskets are ever the same, so we developed these milestones on how to smoke brisket perfectly every time no matter where you are in your brisket journey.
So please read this in its entirety first, before skipping down to the smoked brisket recipe. You can also check out our top 15 tips for perfectly smoked brisket.
- 12 – 15 pound packer brisket, flat and point
- Extra virgin olive oil, for binding
- SPG Seasoning, you can also use our Brisket Rub with more herbal and savory flavors
What is a Brisket?
The brisket is the pectoral muscle that comes from a steer or cow. Briskets are made up of two distinct muscles with important connective tissues — The point and the flat (or deckle). Each has different layers of marbling as this is an area of the cow that is used a lot as the cow moves, so low and slow cooking helps get it tender.
Longer cooking times, at low temperatures, is what break down all the dense muscle and fat for a tender bite.
For the ideal situation, you want to buy an entire packer brisket (the point and the flat together). When possible avoid buying just the flat. The flat is leaner and is only half the muscle when compared to a whole packer.
To get that full flavor you need the entire packer (both cuts of muscle). Go big when buying, like at least a 14 pound cut, because you will trim off a fair amount of fat, so a 12 pound packer is likely to be 10 pounds after being trimmed, and more like 8 pounds after cooking.
Plan 60 minutes of cooking time for every pound of brisket as a general rule of thumb.
- Sharp knife for trimming – You are removing a lot of fat and silver skin.
- Dependable brisket carving knife – A long carving knife makes it easier to slice into thin slices.
- Peach butcher paper – For wrapping the brisket.
- Two-zone thermometer – We use the Thermoworks Smoke Unit.
- Instant read thermometer – We use the Thermoworks Thermapen One.
- Large tongs – Or you can use your hands.
Steps for Smoking Brisket
We focus on seven steps for a perfect smoked brisket.
Step 1: Selection
This brisket recipe contains only two ingredients – brisket and seasoning. Therefore, the quality of the meat is the most important decision for a great brisket.
Marbling is the term used for the intramuscular connective tissue, or fat. The marbling of the entire cut is going to dictate a large part of the cooking experience. In order to get that rendering for a juicy tender meat morsel, you have to make sure that the brisket you are buying is of the highest quality you can afford with good marbling.
- Grass Fed – Not as ideal for smoking because most often it has very little intramuscular fat, therefore it won’t break down into tender meat.
- USDA Rated – Select, Choice, or Prime are your USDA-rated beef options. You can see more on the difference in our article on Choice vs Prime beef. We recommend you buy Choice or Prime if selecting a USDA-rated brisket.
- American Wagyu – Incredible marbling, and also some of the most expensive. It will also cook faster, but results in some mouth-watering brisket!
Chef’s Tip: When buying one at a grocery store, physically lift it and bend it to see if it’s tender and pliable. If it is too stiff move on to a different one that bends a little bit. If it’s pliable when you buy it that will carry through the cooking. If it’s stiff then we find it stays relatively tough even after smoking.
Step 2: Trim the Brisket
Good 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 before seasoning. Be sure to have a sharp boning or filet knife.
Start by trimming the flat side by removing the silver skin and any fat pockets just sitting at the surface. See video for full tutorial on trimming.
- 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 the 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 it 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 accidentally 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. This is why it’s best to have a quality trimming knife.
Step 3: Season the Brisket
After trimming, we coat the brisket with olive oil, which acts as a binder and helps the dry rub stick. We mix equal parts coarse black pepper, kosher salt, and granulated garlic (not garlic powder) in a small bowl. It’s our go-to SPG seasoning. Alternatively, you can use our brisket rub recipe which adds paprika, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.
We typically don’t inject with liquids, such as apple cider vinegar, as we have found that when buying quality cuts you 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. We also don’t add brown sugar because sugar caramelizes when cooked for a long time and we want the beef and smoky flavor to be the main profile.
Step 4: Smoking A Brisket
- Preheat Smoker: Set the smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (F) with both lump charcoal and wood. We use fruit woods for brisket for a sweeter flavor. Insert a remote thermometer probe into the flat of the brisket. The flat is leaner and the more important part of the brisket to monitor while cooking. The temperature for smoking perfect brisket is 250 degrees F for slowly rendering fat. At 225 it takes longer than we prefer and makes no material difference in flavor or texture.
- Flat Side Up or Down? Different styles of smokers have the heat source radiating from different parts of the smoker. Make sure the fat cap points toward the hotter part of your smoker. It will insulate the more delicate flat. For pellet smokers, as an example, the heat radiates from the top down, therefore the fat cap should be up.
- Smoke: The brisket will smoke for about five hours in the smoker where the smoke connects with the brisket giving both bark and smoke flavor.
- Spritz (Optional) – This is a bottle of liquid that you spray (or spritz) 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 should be done while the brisket is in the smoking step and not wrapped. For fun brisket spritz check out our Merlot spritz from our cookbook Fire + Wine.
Step 5: Wrap the Brisket
When the smoked brisket reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, we remove it from the smoker and then wrap it in pink butcher paper. This is called the Texas crutch.
Wrapping allows the internal temperature to rise faster. Peach or pink butcher paper is more breathable than aluminum foil, which translates to less of a “pot roast” flavor and texture. 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. For smoked brisket, you can cook it all unwrapped. It just may take slightly longer and the finishing temperature guide is still the same.
Step 6: Remove and Rest
As the wrapped brisket reaches an internal temperature close to 195 degrees F, you will want to start probing the flat portion of the brisket with an instant-read thermometer (like a Thermoworks Thermapen One) 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 and you should continue cooking. It should feel as if you are inserting the probe into room-temperature butter.
Be patient and wait for that soft butter-like feeling. We find many people get nervous and want to pull at a specific 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 softer 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 it rest for at least 30 minutes after removing it from the smoker!
The brisket rest is very important. If you slice the brisket right after removing from the smoker, 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!
What if my brisket is done early? If it’s 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. You can hold the temperature for four hours in the cooler in case your brisket is done early. Just be sure to leave it wrapped.
Step 7: Slicing Brisket
For best results, the most important step after cooking is to slice against the grains of the brisket. This is true especially for the flat cut because the muscles are in different directions than the point. Start with a long carving knife.
- Cut it in half about where the point ends. This separates some of the flat from the point.
- Slice the flat into pencil-thin slices across the grain. The grains are at a slight angle.
- 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.
See video for more details on slicing.
Smoke Times for Brisket
This is the post-trim weight of the brisket with the temperature of the smoker at 250 degrees F.
|Up to 10 pound brisket
|8 – 10 hours
|10 to 12 pound brisket
|10 – 12 hours
|12 to 16 pound brisket
|12 – 14 hours
|16 – 20 pound brisket
|14 – 16 hours
Note on Wagyu: We find that American Wagyu Brisket cooks slightly faster than Prime or Choice, so we shave off about 10% of the time when smoking American Wagyu.
During the smoking process, the brisket will encounter a period of time called “the stall”. The stall can happen when the smoked brisket reaches an internal temperature between 160 to 175 degrees F. As the heat from the smoker renders the pockets of fat and muscle fibers, 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. This is normal. You have pushed through the stall when the fat has rendered enough that there is balance and the meat starts to increase in heat again.
This is why, regardless of the stall, we wrap when the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 165. Once the brisket hits 180 degrees, you’ll see the temp increase much faster. This is also important to note that we cook to temperature, not time. Some briskets will just take longer (or not) and why we focus on temperature milestones rather than a specific time.
Monitoring Brisket Temperature
We use the Smoke Unit from Thermoworks to monitor the internal temperature of brisket throughout the BBQ cook. It even has a remote unit so you can see the temp from afar.
In addition to the Smoke Unit, you should also use a Thermapen or equivalent instant-read thermometer, then you can probe in multiple areas while keeping the Smoke unit in the same location as it nears the end of the cook.
What to Serve with This Recipe
Wine Pairing: Brisket is incredibly rich and because of the heavy weight of the dish we opt for a clean and crisp wine to cut through the richness of the meat. For whites try sparkling wine or a dry and crisp rosé. If you like red wine then we love tempranillo or a nice red zinfandel.
Smoked Brisket Frequently Asked Questions
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, and place it back into the smoker to render out. Check out our Brisket Burnt Ends recipe for details.
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 by 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. So be sure to account for that.
In the end, your flavor preference is what is key. We generally do not inject smoked briskets because we buy brisket with good marbling, which translates into a juicy brisket. If you don’t see much marbling, supplement moisture with beef stock or other liquid using a culinary syringe. Don’t use liquid smoke (ever).
We opt for apple and cherry, or other fruit wood, as it burns sweeter and avoids the campfire-like flavor you can get from mesquite. In Texas? Obviously post oak.
We’ve got you covered with the best recipes for leftover brisket.
On average it takes 60 minutes per pound for a whole packer brisket. A 10-pound trimmed brisket should take roughly 10 hours when you include resting. Be sure to calculate your time based on the trimmed brisket.
Plan 90 minutes per pound at 225 degrees. We find there is no material difference in flavor or texture and recommend cooking at 250.
This post was originally published in 2016, and updated in 2023 with more Q&A and details on tools used. The original recipe remains the same.
Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.
The Ultimate Smoked Brisket Recipe
- Two zone thermometer
- Sheet Tray
- 12 – 15 pound packer brisket, flat and point
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Rub
- 1 cup beef rub
- Season Brisket: The day before cooking, trim the excess fat off the brisket. In a separate bowl, combine your dry rub ingredients. Apply olive oil to the brisket, and then liberally apply to the brisket. Leave in the fridge overnight (before cooking) covered in plastic wrap.
- Preheat Smoker: The day of cooking, preheat your smoker to 250 degrees F, we use fruit wood like apple or cherry.
- Smoke Brisket: Place the brisket on the smoker when the temperature is a consistent 250 degrees, and then 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. Smoke for up to six hours until it's ready to wrap.
- Wrap Brisket: When the internal temperature of the brisket is 165 degrees, carefully remove the brisket and place it 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 to continue smoking until it's done.
- Continue Smoking: Keep 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.
- Remove and Rest: Once the brisket is done, remove, still wrapped in butcher paper, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes (or place into a cooler with NO ice to hold the temperature until ready to serve).
- Slice and Serve: Slice against the grains and serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.