How To Smoke A Brisket

May 28, 2015

Smoking a brisket can be a simple process if you have the knowledge. I am excited to give you step by step instructions on how to smoke a brisket and make it perfect every time!

How to slice a brisket

How to Smoke Brisket

Bienvenue and welcome to part 3 of #BRISKETWEEK! Hopefully you have had the chance to peruse my first post, Brisket 101, and ponder on my second post, How To: Trim a Brisket! If you have, then consider yourself enlightened for the knowledge bombs about to be dropped in today’s post, How To Smoke a Brisket!

This is likely the most and least knowledge intensive post of the series. I am going to fill you in on a wide base of information that will set you on the path to smoking the perfect brisket. I’ll give you all of the little details that make a big difference when it comes to smoking an amazing brisket…. and then you are going to try them out on your brisket. Once you have done that you can start the process of adding in your own flair, flavors and techniques. There is enough information about how to smoke a brisket to fill several volumes, but I’ll try my best to break down my steps for you so you can make better than restaurant quality brisket at home on your smoker.

Step 1- Trim your brisket. Don’t spend 2 hours on this. Be efficient. You want your brisket to still be pretty chilled when it goes on the smoker. Cool meat tends to take on more smoke than warmed meat.

how to season brisket

Preparing Brisket for Smoking

Step 2- Season your brisket. This is where things can get a little bit crazy. Many a brisket have been underwhelming or overly intense because of the seasonings used. If I could recommend one thing, it would be start simple. I rub my briskets LIBERALLY with equal parts kosher sea salt and coarse ground black pepper. That’s it. Occasionally, if I’m feeling wild and adventurous, I’ll add in garlic powder. I go nuts with complex seasonings and flavors in many other aspects of my cooking, but when it comes to brisket I’m a little bit of a purist.

Like I said, start simple on your first brisket. See what you like and then add in something to the rub next time and see how that tastes. There are no wrong answers when it comes to feeding your family for your taste, although some beginning suggestions would include garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, celery seed, mustard powder. Once your brisket is equally covered with the seasonings of your choosing it is ready for the smoke.

water pans for brisket

Best Wood for Smoking Brisket

Step 3- Start your fire. I like to cook brisket over hickory or oak. These flavors are very complementary to beef without being overwhelming. I find fruit woods too sweet and mesquite too acrid and bitter. Hickory and oak provide a good smoky flavor and are pretty readily available. I cook on a pellet grill so my temperatures are easy to maintain by setting a dial to 225 degrees. If you are cooking in an offset smoker, keeping a fire at 225 can be a little harder to do but try to stay as close as you can to that temp. I always place a water pan filled with water and a few tablespoons of olive oil underneath the grill grate to help maintain the necessary moisture inside the grill (and to catch the brisket drippings!). Smoke clings to moisture particles, so it follows that the more humidity you’ve got circling your brisket, the better smoke penetration you’ll have.

smoked brisket

Smoking Brisket

Step 4-Begin the long smoke. Place the brisket in the smoker with the point facing the direction of your firebox or the hottest part of your grill. The fatty, thick point will be better able to handle the brunt of the heat from the fire without drying out. If you’ve got a remote thermometer, insert the  meat probe into the center of the brisket directly into the meat (not the fat) Close the lid, grab a drink, and tend to your fire for the next 3 hours. Don’t even crack the lid once. Don’t do it. You’ll be tempted, but seriously don’t. This first exposure to the smoke is so essential to the final result of the brisket. A majority of the smoke penetration happens during this time.

brisket stall

The Brisket Stall

Step 5- Spray and wait. After the initial smoke period, it is time to really build that beautiful coveted bark on the exterior of the brisket. Over the next 4 hours (give or take) your brisket will slllooooooowwwwwlllyyy rise in temperature. Using a spray bottle filled with water or beef stock, lightly spritz your brisket every 45 minutes to an hour. The moisture will help more smoke cling to the exterior of the meat and develop that dark mahogany, almost black color.

If you are watching your internal thermometer, you will probably notice a period of time when the temperature seems to stop rising altogether (between 145-160 degrees.) This period is called the stall and it is almost painful to watch, but totally normal and necessary. Keep watching your fire to maintain consistent temperatures and just let your brisket do its thing. It will eventually come up in temperature, I promise! Once your brisket gets to 165 and your bark is dark and beautiful, it’s time for the next step!

brisket cooking temperature

Wrapping Brisket in Butcher Paper

Step 6- Wrap the brisket. Using untreated butcher paper, parchment paper, or tin foil (no wax paper or plastic wrap) wrap that brisket so there are no gaps or holes where the brisket is exposed. Untreated butcher is the best because it is big enough to handle an entire brisket. I have wrapped in both foil and parchment paper, but I’ve always had to overlap to get full coverage and it just gets a little bit cumbersome. Regardless of not having perfectly packaged brisket, it has always turned out awesome… so looks aren’t everything during this stage! Return the wrapped brisket to your smoker (or oven, I guess, since it is wrapped and won’t be exposed to any more smoke) and continue to cook.

wrapping brisket in parchment paper

Brisket Cooking Temperature

Step 6- Watch and wait. At this point in the game, it is all about patience and time. You’ve gotta have the patience to not peek in on your brisket and disrupt the temperature in your smoker. You’ve gotta have the time to dedicate to getting that brisket up to the right temperature before pulling. I always place my internal thermometer in the brisket after wrapping to keep an eye on the temperature as it climbs. Each brisket will be done at a different time, so I use a combination of temperature and feel.

I like to pull my briskets between 200 and 205 degrees and when the temperature probe slides into the meat like it is softened butter. I also get in there with my hands (yes, it is hot) and massage the brisket a little. It should feel mighty soft and tender when you squeeze. This stage of the cook can take anywhere from 3-5 hours. I know it is killer to not know exactly when your food is going to be done, but that is just how BBQ works. Hopefully you started early enough to have a few extra hours of time from when your brisket should be done to when you are planning to serve.

unwrapped brisket

Brisket Resting Time

Step 7- Let it rest. Once your brisket has reached a good temperature and feels soft and pliable in your hands, it is time to remove it from the smoker. If you aren’t planning to serve your brisket for 3 hours, wrap it in a towel and place it in a cooler. This will help it to maintain a good temperature without it continuing to cook.

Place your wrapped brisket to a cutting board about an hour or two before serving and allow the temperature to slowly come down. This allows the juices to redistribute back into the muscle so they don’t run all over your cutting board after the first slice and leave you with dry brisket. Don’t rush this step! I like to serve my brisket around 145 degrees which usually happens about 2 hours after taking it out of the smoker.slicing brisket
Step 8- Slice and serve! Come back tomorrow for part 4 of #BRISKETWEEK, How To: Slice a Brisket. I’ll show you the best way to maximize the tenderness and the bark-to-meat ratio of every single slice! We’re almost ready for your ultimate brisket experience!

How to Smoke a Brisket

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26 thoughts on “How To Smoke A Brisket

  1. I want to smoke a brisket unwrapped but haven’t found any instructions on it. I’m assuming it’s the same way as described here but without wrapping. Any information would be great.

  2. What time do you suggest starting the brisket to eat in the evening? Like 5pm. From my calculations I’ll start about 2am? And then I’ll be back up at 5am doing the water spraying step every 45 minutes? This doesn’t sound ideal. Any other ideas or recommendations?

    1. We’ve definitely had a lot of those middle of the night cooking times. Another thing you can do and what we often do, is start it the night before and then when it is done cooking wrap it tightly in a few towels and store it in a cooler. It can hold there for 4-6 hours.

          1. I’m confused. Step 5 says to spray/spritz every 45 minutes to an hour but your comment above says there’s no spraying in this recipe. Can you clarify that?

    2. I used to do the 2 or 3am thing. Now, I set my pellet smoker to 180 degrees and put my brisket on before I go to bed. In the morning, I crank it up to 225, wrap it (if it’s ready — it usually is) and let it finish over the next several hours. It usually finishes a little after noon and I let it rest in the cooler until dinnertime.

      I never use a water pan, spritz, or inject, so it’s literally about as “hands-off” as can be.

  3. Do you smoke with the brisket point and flat together? Or do you ever separate and smoke and wrap separately? Wouldn’t the difference in thickness require different cooking times?

    1. Smoke them together! There’s a how to trim guide linked in the beginning of this recipe that will give you all the info you need!

  4. These are great step by step instructions and I particularly love the lack of brisket shaming in the post. I’m utterly exhausted reading all the posts and forums that claim there’s only one true way to do anything. Or people beating their chests about never wrapping or spritzing, or the only way to season etc. I make my brisket (albeit not as expertly as you perhaps) with whatever method makes the best brisket under the circumstances. People have different tastes, methods, and smokers, so one size just can’t fit all. Short of it is that I appreciate your tone and openness to more than one method in all cases!

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