What could be more delicious than a low and slow smoked brisket, so tender that the meat falls apart against your teeth and melts in your mouth? What could be more beautiful than that perfect pink smoke ring and the yielding texture of juicy beef when you slice into your brisket?
Whether you’re preparing a meal for family, a backyard party, or just for yourself (we won’t judge), planning is everything. So, just how long does it take to smoke a brisket? How soon will you be enjoying this delectable cut of meat for yourself?
Remember, the length of time for each step listed in this guide is only an estimate. The most accurate way to determine whether or not your brisket is ready for consumption is to use a reliable meat thermometer to determine the internal temperature of the meat you’re smoking. Always follow food safety guidelines and, in general, aim for an internal temperature of around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
You may also choose to check whether or not your brisket is finished to perfection by testing with a probe. If you’re able to cleanly insert and remove a probe from your cut of meat with ease, then your brisket is likely ready to become the life of the party.
How Long to Prepare a Brisket
While each pitmaster will have their own go-to methods for preparing their brisket, trimming excess fat and applying your choice of flavorful rubs should only take about ten minutes. With minimal effort, you can already be well on your way to a delicious barbeque feast.
This step may be one of the shortest, but it can still have a huge impact on flavor. Deciding exactly how much fat you want to leave on your brisket and picking the perfect combination of spices for the best rub both play a role in the final texture, flavor, and impact of your finished brisket. Prepare with purpose!
Tip: If you’ve got some time to spare, consider storing your seasoned brisket in the refrigerator for a few hours, allowing the rub plenty of time to permeate the entire cut of meat. This step isn’t necessary if you’re in a hurry, but experiment to see what you prefer.
How Long to Prepare Your Smoker
The amount of time needed to prepare your smoker for its hours-long duty will depend somewhat on the type of smoker you’re using. Regardless, the process should take about thirty minutes while you heat the charcoal, soak your preferred hardwood chips for an enhanced flavor, fill and place the water pan, and arrange the charcoal and chips combo to maximize the principle of indirect, rather than direct, cooking.
You’ll know that your smoker is ready to begin its work when the escaping smoke is light and wispy rather than thick and gray. Also, you may choose to initially let your smoker reach a higher temperature than what you’ve chosen for your cooking temperature. This way, when you raise the lid or close the door to place the brisket inside, the heat which escapes doesn’t result in a temperature too low for smoking.
To save time, some experienced smokers will often begin the process of preparing their smoker before trimming and prepping their brisket. Then, while the smoker is firing up and the woodchips are soaking, they work with their brisket until the fat is trimmed to their liking and the rub is patted evenly onto both sides. How’s that for efficiency?
How Long to Smoke a Brisket
This question is likely the most complicated to answer, and you’ll find just as many opinions as you will brisket-loving pitmasters.
The length of time your brisket needs to smoke depends on a few different factors, but remember the golden rule of smoking briskets—low and slow. In other words, utilize a low temperature and take your time in order to elicit the subtlest aspects of the meat’s flavor and guarantee a juicy bite.
Brisket Size – How large is your brisket? You can estimate by the pound or by thickness. Thicker and heavier cuts will need more time in the smoker in order to allow the smoke plenty of time to permeate every nook and cranny of your carefully-prepared brisket. As a general rule, you can estimate that smoking will take about one to two hours per pound of brisket.
Brisket Quality – As a quick aside, you may also find that the grade of your brisket has some effect on the length of time it needs in the smoker. For example, higher quality brisket often has a greater degree of marbling. In other words, the internal fat content is higher. This means that the brisket may cook more quickly than a lower grade cut with less internal fat.
Smoker Type – Whether you’re working with a vertical water smoker, an offset, a box smoker, a drum smoker, or even a pellet grill, each machine you use will have some variation in performance and function. Like your brisket, each type of smoker is unique, further proving that it’s best to avoid the misconception that a single, hard and fast rule exists for how long your brisket should spend in the smoker.
The first time you utilize any particular smoker, you may lack the very particular understanding that comes with the use of that machine. If your first brisket doesn’t turn out as perfectly as you’d like, or if the time needed for smoking is more or less than you expected, make adjustments for your next attempt. Likely, you’ve done nothing wrong and are only experiencing natural variations! Adopting an open-minded attitude and approach to smoking is the best way to improve, especially when acclimating to new equipment.
Smoker Temperature – Of course, there are those rebel barbecuers who forego the “low and slow” method, instead smoking their brisket “hot and fast” when they’re in a crunch. Using this method, it is possible to drastically shorten the amount of time your brisket should spend smoking—at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for example, you may find yourself with a finished, fifteen-pound brisket in as little as seven hours. Utilizing the more generally accepted low and slow method at around 250 degrees means that you’ll likely be waiting roughly fifteen hours to sink your teeth into a finished product of the same weight. The extra wait will pay off though, since cooking between 225 and 270 degrees over a longer period of time is the optimum way to convert the collagen with the brisket’s meat into soft, tender gelatin.
Wrapping the Brisket – Determining the perfect amount of time to smoke your brisket depends largely on whether or not you choose to wrap your brisket at some point during the smoking process. The presence of a wrapping and the type of wrap can result in a significant difference in necessary smoking times for the best flavor.Types of WrapYou may choose to wrap your brisket a few different ways. While some barbeque aficionados prefer to use butcher’s paper, others stand by foil or parchment paper as their go-to materials for wrapping their briskets. Each type of wrap will result in varying cooking times and bark textures, so deciding how to wrap your brisket is far from an arbitrary choice.
- Wrapping your brisket in aluminum foil will speed the smoking process. Foil helps to trap the heat near and dear to your brisket, reducing the necessary smoking time by as much as twenty-five percent and helping to overcome the temperature plateau, something we’ll discuss later.
- While parchment paper won’t reduce cooking time as much as aluminum foil, your brisket will still finish smoking earlier than it would without any wrapping at all. Also, wrapping your brisket in parchment paper will result in a level of moisture within the bark similar to what might result from the aluminum foil method. However, parchment is less capable of trapping the same amount of heat as aluminum.
- Butcher paper, on the other hand, is much more porous than parchment paper and is the happy medium for those who struggle to answer the question, “To wrap, or not to wrap?” While butcher paper won’t reduce the cooking time as much as aluminum foil or parchment paper, the porous nature of the material will help to maintain the firmer bark that many know and love.
To achieve a crisper bark, forego wrapping entirely. This will increase your smoking time, but a longer wait is a small price to pay if you’re a fiend for thick, crispy black brisket bark.
Wrapping your brisket can also help to claim victory over the phenomenon which some smokers call “the stall.” Once a smoking slab of meat reaches an internal temperature of around 150 to 160 degrees, the temperature may plateau. To one who has never experienced the stall, this sudden break from a steadily increasing temperature can evoke concern at best and panic at worst.
The Huffington Post sought out an answer to this phenomenon and found the answer steeped in science. According to Dr. Greg Blonder, a physicist and barbeque expert with some highly impressive credentials, evaporative cooling is responsible for the stall.
Just like when you sweat over your grill during a long day of meal prep or when a morning run leaves you feeling moist and sticky, meat sweats, too! This “sweating”, and the resulting evaporation are responsible for the cooling phenomenon and resulting temperature plateau.
So, how does the stall affect the length of time it will take your brisket to smoke? You can approach this crossroads in a couple of ways. First, you may choose to wait it out. Eventually, the stall will stall no more, and the internal temperature will begin to rise again; this could take a few hours, however.
Another commonly accepted solution is to save time by trapping the moisture, preventing evaporation, and increasing the temperature surrounding the meat all at once. That’s where wrapping with aluminum foil comes in. Some swear by the “Texas Crutch,” adding a half cup of apple juice or apple cider vinegar within the heavy foil wrap for some added flavor and moisture in the final stages.
While the act of smoking itself is a relatively hands-off activity, you can’t remain entirely uninvolved during the process! Every hour, check your smoker’s temperature. Then, you won’t run into any surprises when it comes to the final cooking time.
Since brisket cooks best in a smoker with a carefully regulated temperature spread evenly throughout the cooking environment, we don’t recommend opening your smoker too often while the brisket is smoking. More inexperienced barbecuers may find it reassuring to check on the meat throughout the smoking process so that they can make adjustments, if necessary, but when you open your smoker too often, you risk frequent fluctuations in temperature. However, checking no more than once an hour will afford you a quick peek at the bark and keep you happy, hungry, and satisfied that you’re smoking at a good pace.
How Long to Rest a Brisket
Once again, deciding how long to rest a brisket once you pull it from the smoker is largely a matter of personal preference. Some will swear that resting brisket for an hour is sufficient, while other experienced meat smokers recommend resting brisket for two to four hours.
One rule of thumb is to use the brisket’s internal temperature as your guide. Avoid cutting into the brisket when it’s fresh out of the smoker. No matter how tempting it may be to see those juicy slices collapsing from the cut into a neat, delicious pile, wait until it’s cooled down to around 160 degrees.
In general, you should wrap your brisket in towels (without removing the foil or paper, if present), place it in a warm cooler, and rest the meat for one to four hours.
The Bottom Line
All in all, there is no singular, correct answer to the question, “How long does it take to smoke a brisket?” because smoking is far from an exact science. Instead, it’s a labor of love where understanding the components of brisket preparation is necessary in order to achieve the best result.
Since each brisket you smoke is unique, do a bit of investigation before tossing it in with the charcoal and woodchips. Consider the factors discussed in this guide—check out the amount of marbling, decide in advance which rub you’d like to use and how much time you want it to spend with the meat. Get to know your smoker so that you can prepare it efficiently, and formulate a combination of temperatures and wraps that makes sense.
After experiencing the process a few times, you’ll find what works best for you. Smoking barbeque is all about experimentation, honing your craft, and reaping the rewards of your dedication.
So what, you might ask, is the single most important factor when it comes to smoking brisket? It’s patience! Don’t worry, though. We promise it will be worth it.