Read along for the guide on how to smoke brisket, including steps, tips, and recipes.
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Juicy Smoked Brisket, Every Time

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn every detail surrounding how to make the juiciest Smoked 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.

Complete Guide to Smoking Brisket

Crafting the perfect smoked brisket recipe 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.
  • Don’t feel bad if you’re using a pellet smoker. Gatekeepers will shame you, but it’s very possible to create a smoky, juicy brisket using a pellet smoker.
This juicy brisket is from the Chiles and Smoke cookbook.

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. Take your time to find that perfect brisket!

This is the time to be picky, and only buy something you’ll be proud to serve. There are countless times I’ve gone through the supply and decided to pass on purchasing one because it simply didn’t meet the standards.

Let’s talk about what to look for, in order of importance:

Whole Packer Brisket

Make sure you are purchasing the full packer brisket, not just the point or the flat. The whole brisket will be very large, at least 12-14 pounds at a minimum. Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher for verification.

It might be tempting to buy a 17-20 pound brisket but realize that’s a HUGE cut of meat that will take significantly more time to cook (and rest). I highly recommend purchasing two 12-14 full packer briskets that are of an average size instead of choosing a mammoth, which will help you control your cooking time and still provide plenty of food.

Most of the time a whole brisket is actually going to be cheaper per pound than the flat, or the point separated. These come untrimmed, which is exactly what you want.

Learn how to smoke a brisket with this comprehensive guide.

Fat Cap & 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.

Choice grade briskets typically don’t have much marbling, and will tend to be on the dry side. Despite the price, I recommend avoiding these.

Prime grade briskets should have noticeable marbling and are generally more tender as you lift it up.

American Wagyu has a higher cost, but will naturally have the premium amount of fat marbling. These are extremely rich in fat and flavor, and can be overwhelming for guests to eat. If you’re serving a general crowd, it’s likely you’d want to choose Prime grade.

The Flat Should be Thick

The thinner side of the brisket is the flat muscle (see below). Try to choose a whole packer that has the thickest flat muscle possible, at least 1 1/2-inch or greater thickness.

This isn’t always possible, but it will minimize the potential of dried-out flat cut slices. If it’s too thin, much of it will need to be sliced off during the prep and there can be quite a bit of waste. Don’t pay for meat you’re likely going to discard, unless you’re saving it to grind for burgers.

Locate the flat and point muscles on the whole packer brisket before trimming.

Feel for Tenderness & Pliability

Pick it up and give it a feel, the brisket should have some bend and flexibility. Compare the feel between many of the briskets you’re considering before you choose.

If the whole packer feels very stiff, it could be for several reasons. The muscles might still be tense, or there could be an extremely thick layer of deckle, hard fat, that will need to be trimmed off. Trimming more fat means more cost, which means you’re paying for waste.

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.

Don’t stress about perfecting the process of trimming a brisket for your first time. It does take practice and experience working with many different sizes and shapes of whole packers before you get the hang of it.

The goal for trimming a brisket is to remove the hard pockets of fat (referred to as the deckle), trim any of the soft and awkward pieces of fat and meat that will likely burn, and create a fairly smooth surface around which will promote smoke flow and even cooking. There might be some connective tissue and silverskin to trim as well.

It’s important to know where the two muscles are located. The flat muscle fibers will run most of the entire length of the whole packer. The point muscle is the thicker side, with more fat (see above photos).

Locate the fat cap on the whole packer brisket and get ready to trim.

Trim 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!

The bottom of the brisket, the side without the fat cap.
The top of the brisket, the side with the fat cap.

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.

Seasoning the brisket should be done the day before if possible.

Seasoning Choices

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 its own benefits, with a wide variety of tastes. Whatever you do, skip the barbecue sauce!

The classic Texas-style brisket uses a combination of Kosher salt and black pepper. Sometimes garlic powder, or even seasoned salt is added.

Try our Canyon Crust Beef Seasoning, specifically made for smoked brisket and other large cuts. This coarse blend of salt, pepper, garlic, and a variety of chiles is meant to be used over the grill or low and slow in a smoker.

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.

Applying a Binder to brisket

Binders are used to create a wet or sticky surface that allows the spices to stick better to the meat. It can also be an additional layer of flavor if you choose the right type of binder.

Most cooks will choose a binder such as yellow mustard due to the lack of flavor and high water content, which will dissipate during the process of smoking a brisket. Hot sauce or Worcestershire are also quite common but can add additional sodium to the surface.

Binders are not necessary if you’re planning to season ahead of time. Dry-brining is the process of seasoning and allowing the meat to rest in the fridge, uncovered, for a period of time before smoking the brisket. 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 recipes start with salt and pepper as a base.

Homemade Brisket Seasoning Recipe

Start with a 50/50 blend of coarse Kosher salt and coarse black pepper, by volume, not weight.

16-mesh black pepper works the best and has the same grain size as Kosher salt. My preferred salt would be Morton Coarse Kosher Salt.

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)

Variations and Additions

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:

Place the brisket in the smoker and allow it to cook undisturbed for a few hours.

Smoking Process

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.

Place the meat in the smoker with the brisket point facing the heat source. Allow the brisket to smoke for about 3-4 hours undisturbed.

Should I smoke the brisket fat side up or down?

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.

Start spritzing after the first few hours to help develop bark and keep the brisket moist.

Spritzing and Bark Development

Get ready to spritz with liquid after the first 3-4 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 will stall around 165°F.

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.

Brisket stalls will typically happen between 150-165°F. Look for the temperature to actually stall, meaning that it has slowed down or halted its rise in temperature. Don’t just wrap at a specific temperature, check and monitor the meat!

Smoking the brisket is the first phase, now it's time to wrap with butcher paper.

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.

Should I wrap the brisket in foil or pink butcher paper?

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 pink 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 entire 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.
Place the wrapped brisket with the top facing up, back into the smoker.

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.

How can I tell if the brisket is done?

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. The cook time will vary with every brisket.

Can I finish the brisket in the oven?

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.

Allow the brisket to rest for a few hours before unwrapping if possible.

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.

DO NOT take the smoked brisket and transfer it to a cooler directly from the smoker. This is NOT resting, this is actually promoting additional carryover cooking and you’ll have an overcooked, dry brisket sitting in a pool of juice.

Allow the brisket to rest, still wrapped in butcher paper, for at least 45-60 minutes 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 perfect the brisket rest:

  • 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 a cooler after the initial rest. The smoked brisket will remain quite hot for a significant amount of time. You may use towels to insulate it further at this point.
  • 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.
This smoked brisket is sliced in half to show the smoke ring and bark.

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.

From here, you can either reserve the brisket point for something like Brisket Burnt Ends or Smoked Brisket Chili. Or just go ahead and slice it up to serve!

Slice the smoked brisket flat against the grain for serving.

Important Tips from Beginning to End

This smoked brisket recipe will become your natural process over time. Keep practicing, and you’ll nail the cooking process. Many of these tips will enhance the overall process but are not all required.

  • The brisket rest phase is just as important as the smoking phase. Magic happens, as the brisket cools, tenderizes, and reabsorbs the juices it was about to squeeze out.
  • 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.
  • Brown sugar may create a sticky, bitter bark. Competition cooks might disagree, but if you’re looking for that classic flavor, stay away from the brown sugar.
  • 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. This may happen throughout the cook, but if you keep monitoring and adjusting you’ll have the best results.
Here is a plate of smoked brisket point, flat, and burnt ends.

Pairing Foods with Smoked Brisket

Nothing beats a generous plate of juicy brisket, but sides can definitely help! Here are our top choices to serve up:

Check out some of our latest Side Dishes as well:

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Read along for the guide on how to smoke brisket, including steps, tips, and recipes.

Juicy Smoked Brisket, Every Time

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This recipe includes every detail surrounding how to prepare smoked brisket, from seasoning to slicing it into juicy, melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

  • Total Time: 12-20 hours
  • Yield: About 812 1x

Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

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 150-165°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 when it stalls and has developed 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 45-60 minutes at room temperature, still in the butcher paper, tented with some foil. (see Notes for resting)

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.

Notes

Preferred Brisket Seasoning

  • 1 part Coarse Black Pepper
  • 1 part Coarse Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 part additional seasonings

Resting Options

  • 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 a cooler after the initial rest. The smoked brisket will remain quite hot for a significant amount of time. You may use towels to insulate it further at this point.
  • 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.

  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 12-20 hours
  • Category: Beef
  • Method: Smoking
  • Cuisine: Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast, Leftovers
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