Brisket is a tricky cut of meat to deal with, and it can be daunting to cook your first one. We assure you, however, that the tasty reward is worth the extra mile. Whether for your dinner or a big cookout, brisket is always a hit. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind to achieve smoked perfection on the first try.
In this guide, we'll go over every critical aspect of smoking a brisket. From investing in the ideal cut of meat to slicing once it comes off the smoker, we’ll walk you through it all.
1. Buy the Right Brisket and Materials
Before you can even begin with the smoking process, you should have the best brisket and materials on your side. You can get a quality cut of brisket from Costco, Sam’s Club, or a local butcher shop. However, that’s not all you need to cook this notoriously hard-to-cook slice of meat.
Once you have an ideal brisket, you also need the proper materials. You have the smoker, but you need a few more things to make the brisket taste incredible and also to simplify the smoking process for yourself. Let’s dive into some advice we have about brisket types and materials you can choose for your meat.
Picking the Right Brisket
Look at the beef grades when searching for the proper brisket. Typically, the United States grades the meat at facilities that are USDA-certified. This grade rests on the age of the animal that is killed and the marbling in the beef, which will impact your brisket quality.
The three meat grades include the following:
- Select: This grade is lean and less tender and juicy than higher-grade selections. We recommend skipping select brisket.
- Choice: This grade is one of the most readily available selections for meat, though the marbling isn’t as intricate as the highest-value version.
- Prime: This grade has the most marbling and also offers the highest-value meat.
These grades go from highest to lowest, and typically, the price point follows the grade.
For best results, you’ll want to grab a prime brisket if it's available, though if it's not, choice brisket will also work. Additionally, you’ll want to look for certified, humane, antibiotic, and hormone-free for the best experience.
Ensure you pick one large enough to allow for at least half a pound per person, and select a whole-packer brisket to provide excellent control over the trimming process throughout the endeavor. If a whole-packer brisket isn’t available, grab a flat brisket.
Ideal Materials For Brisket Smoking
Smoking a brisket isn’t as simple as taking the meat out of the package and throwing it on the grill. Otherwise, anyone would be able to do it without a second thought. A good, solid brisket requires several materials to make it tasty.
Here are some ideal materials necessary for brisket smoking:
- Boning knife
- Brisket rub (We recommend our Best Brisket Rub)
- Rub shaker or bowl large enough for tossing
- Spray bottle
- Apple cider vinegar or apple juice (optional)
- Water pan and water
- Foil/butcher paper
- Leave-in thermometer(some pellet grills come with these)
The first time you smoke a brisket, you might need to invest in these materials, but once you have them, it will be much easier to cook a brisket on the fly. Try not to skip out on anything, or the brisket may not turn out how you expected.
2. Trim and Rub Your Brisket Properly
Once you have all your materials and the best cut of brisket, it’s necessary to trim and rub your brisket properly. This process involves adding critical flavor to the meat and cutting off the thick, fattiest portions to ensure every bite of brisket is the best possible.
Ultimately, you can’t have a successful brisket experience if you don’t take the time to trim and rub your brisket. Let’s go over it together, along with a few additional tips and tricks of the trade.
How To Trim Your Brisket
First, trimming your brisket. While it is possible to throw the brisket on the grill without any additional knifework, you’ll have some chewy and fatty bits that might ruin the brisket for some people.
Here are some of our tips for trimming your brisket:
- Use a boning knife at least half a foot long. Ensure it’s sharp, as a blunt knife could result in injury and bring your brisket smoking adventure to an early end.
- Keep your brisket cold when trimming to make it easier to slice.
- Cut the thick membrane, also known as the deckle, off. Sometimes, the butcher will slice off this portion for you. It never hurts to ask if you aren’t sure.
- Try to keep about a quarter inch of fat on the brisket, as too much will ruin the flavor, and too little will make the brisket lose moisture much faster.
- Keep more fat on the locations of the brisket that will be touching the hottest parts of the grill.
- Cut off super thin parts, as they’ll cook faster and get hard and chewy before the rest of your brisket.
The more you practice, the easier trimming your brisket will be.
You want to leave a slight layer of fat to keep in moisture and help the flavor, but not too much. Also, ensure the brisket is generally the same thickness to keep the cooking process even and the texture the same once it comes off the grill.
How To Rub Your Brisket
Once the brisket loses the excess fat and thinner areas, it’s time to add your rub.
Here’s our advice for adding rub to your brisket:
- Swirl the rub when adding it. The salt tends to be heavier and can sink to the bottom, which will lead to an uneven flavor profile as you add the rub.
- Add an even layer, but not too much - you still want the meat to pop underneath the rub of your choice. Always go for less rather than more.
- Try to cover all areas of the brisket. This can be hard when you are just shaking it on the brisket, so don’t be afraid to toss some rub in that large bowl and flip the brisket through it.
- Once the rub is on, wait for the meat to warm up to room temperature before moving it to the grill.
Always Salt and Rub Your Brisket the Night Before
Finally, we recommend salting and rubbing your brisket the night before it goes on the smoker. Although you can do it all on the same day, the meat will absorb more flavor if you allow it to soak in the spices overnight. Of course, this means trimming the brisket a day early, too.
Preparing the day before will also make it much easier to place your brisket on the grill come game or event day. Rather than waiting an hour or two before being able to cook, you can go right for it and start cooking whenever you want the day of the brisket meal.
3. Understand the Brisket Cooking Process in Advance
Next, become familiar with the cooking process before throwing your meat on the smoker. Whether you use an offset smoker or a pellet grill, it’s valuable to be aware of things like cook time and positioning on the hot surface so you aren’t trying to figure it out with the pressure of your family looking over your shoulder.
Let’s discuss cook time, smoker position, management during cooking, and retaining moisture along the way. With these tips in mind, you’ll be an expert brisket smoker in no time. (Also, check out our Smoked Brisket Recipe for more information on making your first brisket).
Knowing the cook time of brisket is critical because it will help you take the brisket off at the right time and will determine when you need to start the cooking process. The last thing you want is having a hungry family waiting for a brisket which isn’t done in time.
Typically, cooking brisket at 250 degrees Fahrenheit will take about an hour and fifteen minutes per pound. Thus, a ten-pound brisket at this temperature range will take about twelve and a half hours to hit the right temperature and texture.
The higher the heat and thinner the brisket, the less time it will take to cook, but we recommend allowing plenty of time, especially with your first brisket, as you won’t have all the timing down yet.
Position on the Smoker
Although it might seem extreme, even the position of your brisket on the smoker will make a difference in the texture and cooking process. Deciding whether to place the fat side up or down is controversial, and every grill fanatic has their opinion.
Here’s what we recommend for brisket positioning on the smoker:
- Consider placing the brisket fat side up for the best flavor. Unless there is an intense heat underneath your brisket, then place it fat-side down to protect the interior muscle and moisture.
- Always have the flat portion of the brisket closest to the smoke stack for optimal smoking.
- Have the fattier portion closer to the flame to protect the meat inside.
- Use a water pan inside the smoker to help keep moisture in the brisket.
Although positioning might not seem like a big deal, it will make a difference in the texture and flavor of the brisket. But also know that it is a personal preference. For your first brisket, try one method, and for your second, try the other. Then, by your third brisket, you will know whether the fat side up or the fat side down is the best position for brisket on your grill/smoker.
Brisket Cooking Tips
As the brisket cooks, it’s crucial to manage it carefully. Unless you have a special smoker, you can’t leave it by itself for hours on end.
Here are a few brisket management tips to consider:
- Keep the lid of the smoker closed as much as possible. Lifting it to check will cause the head to flood out of the smoker, and it will take a long time to rebuild it to a proper cooking temperature.
- Look for a clean heat from the smoker, not a dense smoke.
- Consider wood that isn’t too cured or green for smoking.
- Don’t cut off oxygen flow during the cooking process.
- Keep an eye on the smoker to ensure the temperature remains consistent.
Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll be perfect at brisket management on your first try. The more time you put into practicing the brisket cooking process, the easier it will become.
4. Keep the Brisket Moist as it Cooks
Keeping a brisket moist is a huge aspect of creating a delicious brisket Of course, it’s tricky to achieve this when the meat cooks for twelve hours, but there are a few things you can do.
- If you don’t care about the bark on your brisket, make a liquid mixture and baste it on the brisket from time to time as it cooks. This liquid mixture could be just water or something more flavorful, like beer or beef stock.
- Put a water pain inside the smoker below the brisket to help it retain moisture.
- Spritz the brisket with water, apple cider vinegar, or apple juice after the first 2-3 hours of cooking. After that, spray it every half an hour to retain the moisture.
You can use one of these techniques or a combination for ultimate moisture retention. In our opinion, the easiest and most effective method is placing a water pan inside the smoker with the brisket.
Consider Wrapping Your Brisket
Wrapping the brisket in butcher paper or foil might be the best choice in some cases. Encasing the meat in aluminum foil or butcher paper can help the meat retain moisture and help it cook faster. It will also prevent too much smoke from reaching the brisket for those who are worried about making their brisket too smokey.
However, know that wrapping a brisket will also decrease the bark or crispy skin. It may also keep too much of the rub/baste on the meat. So if you are wrapping your brisket, definitely be cautious with how often you baste or spritz.
The choice to wrap your brisket depends on your preferred cooking style.
5. Judge Your Brisket By Internal Temperature
With really long smoke times, you may be tempted to remove your brisket from the smoker when the timer dings, but it’s important to know that the only way to know if a brisket is done is by internal temperature.
Briskets are done when they reach 195°F-205°F internally. You’ll want to use a temperature probe and check multiple areas on your brisket. If your thermometer is always reading about 195°F, then, and only then, is your brisket done cooking.
6. Rest Your Brisket
After ten hours of cooking, you are probably dying to cut into your brisket. But unfortunately, it isn’t ready to eat the moment you take it off the grill. Here’s what you should do.
Rest Your Brisket
Immediately after your brisket comes off the smoker, if it isn’t already, wrap it in aluminum foil, place it on a plate or cutting board, and put a towel on top of it. Set your timer for at least 30 minutes.
This period of time is known as resting your brisket, and it allows the juices to redistribute into the meat. Cutting your brisket before this rest period will have those juices running all over the cutting board and leave your meat dry.
How to Keep Brisket Warm
If it’s your first time making brisket, you want to leave plenty of time in case something goes wrong. However, it’s possible to be too early. You don’t want the brisket to lose its warmth for your guests - what do you do?
Once your brisket is done, wrap it in foil and a towel and put it in a cooler. The brisket should remain warm for at least an hour using this method.
7. Slicing Brisket Perfectly
The brisket is finished. Now, it’s time to slice and serve it.
To slice brisket, you’ll want to unwrap the foil and place it on a cutting board. Grab a carving knife and slice against the grain. If you aren’t sure if you are cutting against the grain, try a single slice, if the slice falls apart, you’re probably cutting in the wrong direction.
Overall, brisket is one of the tastiest cuts of meat, but it can be an intimidating section to cook with for the first time. Luckily, these steps should make it much easier to nail it on the first try.
Want to make a brisket but don’t have a smoker? Check out the 10 best pellet grills to see if a pellet grill might be the right choice for you.