Creating the perfect brisket sets apart the amateurs from the pitmasters.
Now, imagination is your only limitation when it comes to flavoring brisket – more on that below – but there is not so much latitude when it comes to cooking it properly. Get this right and you’ll end up with a juicy and tender cut of meat. Get it wrong, though, and you could generate a charred lump good only for the dog’s bowl.
Meat is rated using a standard system. This allows you to be sure of the quality you’re getting in advance. When it comes to beef, the grades are predicated on the maturity of the animal as well as the level of marbling. These cuts run as follows from lowest to highest:
You will also find some lesser grades of meat, but these are the most widely recognized. With choice and prime cuts, you’re in safe hands.
Regardless of the cut you opt for, you’ll need to trim the fat as standard.
Now, before we highlight how long it takes to cook a brisket, you’ll need some basic kit.
- I. What You Need to Smoke a Brisket The Right Way
- II. How Do You Trim a Brisket?
- III. What Is a Smoked Brisket Injection?
- IV. Marinades and Rubs for Brisket
- V. How Long Does Smoking a Brisket Take?
- VI. How Do You Smoke Brisket on Your Pellet Grill?
- VII. Handy Hints for Smoking Brisket Like a Pitmaster
- VIII. Is It Possible To Reheat a Brisket?
- IX. Conclusion
I. What You Need to Smoke a Brisket The Right Way
If you don’t already have them in the house, you should make provision for the following:
- Smoker: Any type of smoker capable of holding a consistent temperature of 225F is ideal for the purposes of cooking brisket
- Smoker thermometer: Even if your smoker comes with temperature control baked in, you should still invest in a smoking thermometer if you want to cook with precision
- Chef’s knife: You’ll need a good sharp knife to slice up your brisket
- Large cutting board: When your brisket is ready to serve, you’ll need an oversized cutting board to streamline slicing
II. How Do You Trim a Brisket?
Almost all grilling experts making brisket will trim it before smoking.
Trimming the brisket delivers the following benefits:
- You’ll get rid of any hard fat that would not render during the cooking process
- Trimming brisket removes any fat that stops you from directly and thoroughly seasoning your meat
- By removing the less attractive meat from the edges, you’ll ensure your finished brisket makes a striking visual statement
While this comes down to personal preference, you should expect to trim away roughly 2 pounds of fat.
To achieve this is straightforward. Place a cold brisket with the fat cup facing upwards, then pat it dry with a paper towel. Trim the fat cap until nothing but an even quarter-inch layer remains. Flip the brisket over so you can trim of the remaining fat and the silver skin from the top of the brisket. Finally, remove the large hunk of round fat you’ll find where the point and the flat of the brisket connect.
With the fat trimmed, you’ll want to think about adding some flavor. Your two main options are using an injection or a marinade.
III. What Is a Smoked Brisket Injection?
One of the most common techniques for livening up the taste and juiciness of your brisket is to use a smoked brisket injection.
You can purchase pre-made injections, or you could use a solution of beef broth or bone broth.
Grill Master University offer a great tutorial on brisket injections right here.
IV. Marinades and Rubs for Brisket
If injecting your brisket sounds like too much hassle, you could opt for a tried-and-true marinade.
If you’ve never whipped up a marinade before, pellet grill specialist Traeger has a great recipe for a red wine and garlic marinade.
Alternatively, you could ape many championship pitmasters by using nothing except salt and pepper for a traditional brisket rub. If you decide to go the rub route, apply the rub liberally and give it ample time to set. You’ll need to wrap and refrigerate your rubbed brisket for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours for best results. Patience is key at every stage of making great brisket.
Note: When you’re cooking brisket, you shouldn’t overly concern yourself with appearance. The outer layer of the brisket is called bark for the way it resembles tree bark after cooking. What counts with brisket is that unbeatable taste.
V. How Long Does Smoking a Brisket Take?
When cooking brisket, your aim is to create the perfect blend of texture and flavor. The cooking process is instrumental in delivering both of these elements.
Now, all animals are different, and so is every cut of brisket. This means there is no universal blueprint for how long it takes to smoke a brisket.
Briskets weigh anything from 12 to 22 pounds or more. This means smoking times also vary, ranging from 8 hours through to 16 hours, depending on the following variables:
- Size of brisket
- Quality of brisket
As a rough guideline, aim for somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes of smoking per pound of brisket. Using this boilerplate, a 16-pound brisket smoked at 275F should take 10 to 12 hours in the smoker. When you factor in the trimming, seasoning, injecting, and cooking, the entire process takes anywhere from 18 to 20 hours.
VI. How Do You Smoke Brisket on Your Pellet Grill?
One of the best ways to cook brisket is using a wood pellet grill. This will help you to easily maintain temperature while also imparting plenty of smoky flavor. Using flavors like oak, maple, and apple can add a new layer of deliciousness to your smoked brisket.
Whether you have a Traeger grill or a classic pellet grill from another brand, you should envelop your brisket in plastic wrap before refrigerating it for 12 to 24 hours as outlined above.
Preheat your pellet grill to a temperature of 225F for 15 minutes. Keep the lid closed.
Pop the brisket on the cooking grate with the fat side facing down.
Cook the brisket for 6 hours, or until your probe shows the internal temperature of the meat has reached 160F.
Take the brisket off the grill plate. Wrap it using a double layer of aluminum foil.
When you return the brisket wrapped in foil to the grill, you can then continue cooking for another 3 or 4 hours. This will allow the internal meat temperature to hit 200F.
Remove your brisket from the grill and allow it to rest for an hour or more.
Slice against the grain and serve.
Now, before we round out for the day, here are some tips on getting the most out of your brisket experience.
VII. Handy Hints for Smoking Brisket Like a Pitmaster
- Master temperature control
- Cook your brisket until it’s done
- Get the right cut of meat
- Always allow the brisket to rest after cooking
1) Master temperature control
Mastering temperature control is arguably the most crucial element of successfully smoking brisket.
You should avoid any significant peaks and troughs of temperature. Swings of more than 20F can be problematic.
Also, develop an awareness of the sweet spot and any hot spots on your smoker to start turning out brisket to die for.
2) Cook your brisket until it’s done
This might sound obvious, but don’t stop smoking your brisket until it’s properly done.
You should use temperature as a guideline rather than a fixed rule. Great brisket can be done at anything from 195F to 215F.
3) Get the right cut of meat
Not all brisket is created equal, and not all cuts of brisket work well for smoking.
The ideal cut is a packer cut. This is a sizeable cut of two-muscle brisket. The fat cap will be intact – see above for advice on trimming this – and it will weigh at least 11 pounds before you get to work shaving off a couple pounds of fat.
Aside from packer cuts, the only other cut that makes for great smoked brisket is a lean and flat-only cut typically used for pot roasts.
If in doubt, stick with a packer cut.
Now, it’s not only the cuts that counts here. The higher the grade of brisket you buy, the more marbling it will have. Marbling minimizes the chances of dry brisket. This marbling will also enhance the finished taste, making it even richer. Prime and Wagyu cuts are the fattiest and the most revered of all cuts.
Grass-fed fats and grain-fed fats met at different temperatures. This is just one more variable you’ll need to account for when you’re undertaking the nuanced art of cooking great brisket.
4) Always allow the brisket to rest after cooking
Just like any other cut of meat, brisket needs to rest after it’s been cooked.
What’s the point of this extra step when you’ve already been waiting all day?
Well, resting the brisket simply involves removing it from your smoker and wrapping it in some foil. When you do this, the muscle fibers in the meat start relaxing. At the same time, allowing the brisket to rest improves moisture retention.
Although many people pop their brisket into a cooler after cooking, this is not the same as resting. The insulation means you are holding the brisket rather than resting it. When you adopt this approach, the brisket actually continues cooking thanks to its own retained heat. If properly executed, this technique can yield an even softer and more succulent taste.
If you’re not sure which of these methods to use, or which you would find most appealing, there’s only one solution: try both! Experimenting is all part of the fun whether you’re smoking, grilling, or barbecuing. Where with steak, timing is everything, with smoking briskets it’s only one variable.
So, try both holding and resting so you can more accurately assess the finished results. It makes sense to use a similar cut of brisket each time so you can more precisely compare the two effects.
Whichever of these methods you opt for, you should make sure you allow the brisket to rest for a minimum of one hour. Skip this step and you risk wasting all that hard work.
VIII. Is It Possible To Reheat a Brisket?
When you’re cooking a large amount of brisket, you’re almost certain to have some leftovers.
If you want to recreate the same flavor you enjoyed when the brisket first came out of your grill, there’s an easy way to achieve this…
Cook your brisket using its own juices in a foil-covered drip pan. Shoot for a temperature of 140F then serve.
For an added dimension to the flavor, you could try smoking it with a different variety of wood pellets. Alternatively, jazz it up with some beer, BBQ sauce, or broth ladled into the pan before cooking. Enjoy!
If you arrived at Madiba today with no idea about how long to smoke a brisket for, you should now be perfectly clear on that: anywhere from 8 to 16 hours depending on the cut of meat in question.
You should also now have a clear understanding that it’s not the recipe that impacts the end results of your brisket as much as the timing and the attention to detail. We hope our guide helps you to create the most tender and appetizing brisket next time you break out the smoker.
When it comes to smoking brisket, you can’t go wrong using one a Traeger grill. Failing this, any type of wood pellet grill or smoker will also return outstanding results, assuming you apply the above guidance.
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