In this comprehensive guide, you will learn every detail surrounding How to Smoke Brisket, from selecting the ideal brisket to slicing it into juicy, melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Let’s dive in and embark on a smoky quest that will turn you into a barbecue hero.
Crafting the perfect smoked brisket is not just a culinary endeavor, but a transformative experience. As you open up the butcher paper and reveal the brisket, you’re also opening up self-confidence. I truly believe this is the most emotional cook in the world of barbecue.
Let me start by sharing a few points:
- This guide is inspired by the typical process for a Texas-style Smoked Brisket. There are many other variations and methods, which will be added in over time. I’ve included my personal best practices and preferences.
- The photos in this post are from MANY briskets. I’m showing variations on bark, resting, seasonings, etc. The goal is to teach the process and how to customize it for your preferences.
- There is not one way to smoke a brisket. With so many steps, there are so many variables. To master the process you’ll need to gain intuition and flexibility with expectations. Use this guide as a roadmap, but be open to pivoting and trying new things.
Discover a wealth of knowledge in this guide from brisket selection, seasoning choices, and even tips on resting. Let me know in the comments if there are additional questions you may have! I’ll be adding to this over time.
Choosing the Best Brisket for Smoking
We’ve all been at the store staring at the giant pile of briskets, wondering which one to throw into the shopping cart. Let’s talk about what to look for, in order of importance:
- Whole Packer: Make sure you are purchasing the whole packer brisket, not just the point or the flat. The whole packer will be very large, at least 10-12 pounds at a minimum. Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher for verification.
- Fat Marbling Quality: There are inconsistencies with USDA grading (sometimes a Choice should be Prime, etc.) so use your eyes. Make sure it is well-marbled. American Wagyu has a higher cost, but will naturally have the premium amount of fat marbling.
- The Flat Should be Thick: The thinner side of the brisket is the flat muscle. Try to choose a whole packer that has at least 1 1/2-inch or greater thickness on the flat. This isn’t always possible, but it will minimize the potential of dried-out flat slices.
- Feel for Tenderness: Pick it up and give it a feel. The brisket should have some flexibility and feel tender. If it’s rock hard or stiff, it may have a thicker layer of tough deckle fat which will need to be removed.
How to Trim Brisket
Trimming a brisket is one of the most critical, and most difficult steps in the entire process. Once you learn it, you may find it enjoyable and therapeutic.
It’s important to know where the two muscles are located. The flat muscle will run most of the entire length of the whole packer. The point muscle is the thicker side, with more fat (see above photos).
Thinly Slice Off the Edges
Cut about 1/4-inch thick slice off the sides of the brisket. This will remove any of the dry, brown edges and also reveal more details about the muscle structure. Every brisket will be slightly different, so it’s important to be familiar with the general anatomy.
Remove Excess Fat
Start with the fat cap (shown above) on the flat muscle. Trim the top of it down, leaving about 1/4-inch of fat to protect the meat.
Repeat the same process with the point muscle. This is where you’ll notice the extremely hard fat, which is referred to as the deckle. Remove all of the hard deckle, this does not render down when smoking brisket and will be very unappetizing to consume.
My hard rule for trimming fat: If it looks or feels funny, remove it!
Round Off Edges
Round out the sides, removing any bits of brisket that are extremely thin and prone to burning. This also encourages the smoke to flow more evenly across the surfaces.
Trim off any excess bits of fat on the bottom of the brisket as well. This side does not have a fat cap, but it will generally have some silver skin and thin bits of fat.
PRO TIP: Trim and season the brisket the day before. Not only will it save time and stress, but it also allows the brisket to absorb the seasonings, which aids in the development of bark.
Choosing a seasoning for the brisket is critical for the development of a crusty, dark bark. There are traditional Texas-style spice blends, and also competition-style blends. Each has their own benefits, with a wide variety of tastes.
Apply your seasoning the day before, which allows for the salts to absorb moisture and transfer into the meat. This process is called dry-brining, which dries out the surface to create a better bark while seasoning the meat.
No, a binder is not necessary. Salt will draw out moisture from the brisket, helping the seasoning to adhere. Over time the salts will dissolve and be absorbed back into the meat.
Brisket Seasoning Recipe
Start with a 50/50 blend of coarse Kosher salt and coarse black pepper, by volume, not weight.
It’s no secret that many Texas pitmasters add in Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and other ingredients. These additional flavors do not compromise the color of the bark, and add depth. If you’re going to add ingredients to the brisket rub, I recommend the following ratio:
1 part Coarse Black Pepper
1 part Coarse Kosher Salt
1/2 part additional seasonings
(measured by volume)
If you’re looking for something you can make or customize, here is a list of individual spices that tend to work well with brisket:
- Ground coffee (grind the coffee roughly the same size as the pepper)
- Ancho chile
- Granulated garlic
- Celery seeds (crushed)
- Mustard powder
- Onion powder
Make sure you are ready for a very long day (or night) of cooking. Smoking a brisket can take 12-20 hours, or even longer depending on the size and quantity.
Remove the brisket from the fridge. Do this while the smoker preheats. It doesn’t need to get to room temperature – that would take hours!
Preheat your smoker to 250°F. This applies to smoking a brisket on a pellet grill or offset smoker. This temperature allows for plenty of smoke flavor and will generally create a nice smoke ring. Allow the brisket to smoke for about 3-4 hours undisturbed.
This depends on your smoker and the heat source. Generally, I will cook with the fat side up. Use the fat to insulate the brisket against the hottest areas of your smoker. Some pellet grills have the heat source flowing from the middle, underneath the brisket, and may require it fat-side down. Test it out and determine what works best for your smoker.
Spritzing and Bark Development
Get ready to spritz with liquid after the first few hours. Doing so will keep the edges moist and also help develop bark. Spritz every 45-60 minutes until it’s time to wrap.
The most typical recipe is to simply use apple cider vinegar, or a mix of it with some water.
My preference is to mix a little water with coffee and Worcestershire sauce. The combo adds a dark, savory flavor and promotes a deeper black color for the bark.
PRO TIP: Liquid may start to pool on the top of the brisket. Gently tip the brisket and allow the liquid to run off, otherwise, the bark will not form in that spot.
The Brisket Stall
There is a moment during the cook where the brisket stops rising in temperature, and remains at the same temperature for potentially HOURS.
This is called the “stall”. Do not freak out!
Keep your cool. You can either continue to cook the brisket as-is, unwrapped, or you can move on to the next phase of wrapping with butcher paper to speed up the process.
Wrapping with Butcher Paper
Learning how to smoke a brisket is the first half, now we need to finish it out. This next step is commonly referred to as the Texas crutch.
Once the brisket enters the stall and you’re happy with the formation of the bark, it’s recommended to wrap it in butcher paper. This step is not mandatory, but drastically cuts down on cooking time.
Foil tends to soften the bark quite a bit, steaming the brisket and making it exceptionally tender. Butcher paper works better, containing the moisture without overcooking the brisket.
Roll out two sheets of butcher paper, long enough that you can roll the brisket at least twice. Lay them out on a flat surface, overlapping each other. Give the brisket and the butcher paper a final spritz, and start wrapping.
Roll the brisket into the paper, tucking in the sides after the first roll. Make sure you pay attention to which side is the top and place it back onto the smoker, with the top facing up.
PRO TIP: Pour on a little melted beef tallow instead of spritzing the brisket before wrapping. This adds moisture and flavor without softening the bark as much.
Smoke to the Finish
Place the wrapped brisket back on the smoker, remembering which side was facing up during the smoking phase.
Turn up the heat to about 275°F and continue to cook the brisket. At this point it is no longer taking on smoke flavor, it’s slowly cooking to finish.
Continue to smoke the brisket for a few hours until it reaches around 200°F.
Use a temperature probe and test the point and the flat. It should easily slide in with little resistance as if you’re sticking it into a jar of peanut butter. Using the 200°F temperature guide is just a signal for you to test how it feels.
Yes, you can. I get asked this question all of the time. Sometimes the weather forces your hand, or the pellet grill will have issues. Pivot and adjust as you need. Place the wrapped brisket on a wire rack with a baking sheet and it can be finished in the oven using the same temperatures.
How to Rest the Brisket
Learning how to smoke a brisket is half of the battle. Resting is the other half, and can absolutely transform a potentially tough brisket into a tender, juicy slice.
Allow the brisket to rest, still wrapped in butcher paper, for at least 2 hours at room temperature. Do not let it get below 145°F for a period of time.
This is tricky, especially during colder months. I’ll provide some tips and tricks to help you:
- Loosely tent with foil. This will help shield it from the cooler air temperatures, whether you have A/C running or if it’s winter.
- Place it in the oven, shut off. This will slow down the cooling process significantly
- Place it in the oven at the lowest setting, ideally 170-175°F or below if possible. This is my preferred option. I promise it will not overcook the brisket! This is a tested method used by many, replicating what most BBQ restaurants will use but at a slightly higher temperature. I recommend allowing the brisket to cool at room temperature first to about 170°F and then placing it on a baking sheet with a wire rack (still wrapped). Allow it to stay in the oven for at least 2 hours, up to 8-10. Let it cool to about 150°F before slicing.
Slicing and Serving
Using a sharp knife, slice the brisket in half where the point meets the flat (shown above). You will see a slice that has both muscles separated from the thin layer of fat that was rendered.
- Slice the flat muscle into pencil-thick slices across the grain.
- Slice the point muscle in half, lengthwise, which is ideal for slicing to serve.
Important Tips from Beginning to End
These tips on how to smoke a brisket will enhance the overall process but are not all required.
- Season the brisket the day before, allowing it to rest in the fridge uncovered. This will improve the overall bark and flavor.
- Coarse spices create a crustier, darker bark with more flavor. Nooks and crannies will pick up more smoke flavor and crisp up much more than finely ground seasoning.
- Add a water pan if your air is dry. Sometimes during winter when the air is dry and crisp, it’s beneficial to have a water pan near the heat source. Humidity will speed up the cooking process and aid with bark formation.
- Edges are dry? Wrap them with a little foil. Sometimes the flat will start to get dark and dry because it’s too thin. Take a piece of foil and carefully wrap the edge to help protect it from drying out too much.
- Tip the brisket if liquid is pooling on top. Let the juices run off, otherwise, the bark will have a bald spot.
Pairing Foods with Smoked Brisket
Nothing beats a generous plate of smoked brisket, but sides can definitely help! Here are our top choices to serve up:
- Smoked Baked Beans
- Creamy Smoked Mac and Cheese
- Creamy Southwestern Coleslaw
- Grilled Broccoli Crunch Salad
- Kimchi Potato Salad
- 1 whole packer brisket, at least 12 pounds
- 1/2 cup BBQ Seasoning, more as needed
Trim the brisket. Using a boning knife, slice a slender edge off around the outside edges, about ¼-inch thick. Depending on how thin the flat of your brisket is, slice off thin edges, rounding out the front of it. Trim the point sticking up, clean up the shape, and remove any thin areas of meat or fat.
Place the brisket on your board with the fat side up. Carefully trim the excess fat, leaving about ¼ inch behind. There’s a hard lump of fat on the top near the point, cut out most of that, again leaving about ¼ inch behind. You’ll notice there is a thick pocket of fat in the seam just below the point muscle. Clean up the outside of it, but leave it there for the cooking process. This can be removed when slicing.
Flip your brisket so the fat side is facing down. Trim all silverskin and excess pieces of fat on the lean side. Remove the fat on the underside of the brisket point.
Season the brisket generously on all sides with the seasoning. You can do this hours ahead of time, even a day before. Place the brisket on a wire rack in the fridge, uncovered until ready to use.
Preheat your smoker to 250°F. Take the brisket out of the fridge and set it on the counter to come up closer to room temperature. Place the brisket in your smoker with the point closest to the heat source. If you’re using a pellet smoker, pay attention to where the firepot is located underneath the deflector shield. Place the grill-safe pan with beef trimmings in the smoker. Shut the lid and leave the brisket to cook for 3 hours, undisturbed.
Spritz the edges of your brisket to prevent them from drying out. Shut the smoker and continue to cook, opening every 45 minutes to spritz until the brisket hits about 165°F internal temperature. This temperature is a milestone during the cooking phase as the brisket will start to stall, the moisture is exiting the brisket so rapidly that the temperature will not rise for a long time without some assistance.
Wrap the brisket once it’s around 165° with a nice bark. Set your brisket onto a very large sheet of pink butcher paper, it will be rolled up tight with 2 layers. Take about ¼ cup of the beef tallow that you rendered and pour a light, even layer across the top of the brisket. Roll the brisket into the paper, tucking in the sides after the first roll. Make sure you pay attention to which side is the top and place it back onto the smoker, with the top facing up. Turn up the heat in your smoker to 275°F and continue to cook the brisket until it reaches about 200°F internal temperature.
Check for tenderness with your temp probe on the flat, the middle, and the point. If the brisket feels jiggly or flexible overall, it’s done. Still, allow it to rest for at least two hours at room temperature, still in the butcher paper, tented with some foil.
Slice when you are ready to serve, not before. Use a long, sharp blade without serration. Slice the flat against the grain. The point muscle should be sliced in half lengthwise.
Preferred Brisket Seasoning
- 1 part Coarse Black Pepper
- 1 part Coarse Kosher Salt
- 1/2 part additional seasonings
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 12-20 hours
- Category: Beef
- Method: Smoking
- Cuisine: Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast, Leftovers
Keywords: brisket, smoked brisket, texas style brisket, how to smoke brisket, brisket point, brisket flat