Smoking a brisket may seem like a daunting task but it can be quite straightforward if you know all the right steps.
How long to smoke brisket per pound? In most cases, you should smoke a brisket for one hour per pound at 225°F. This means that if you have a piece of meat that weighs 10 pounds (before it is trimmed) then you will have to cook the trimmed and seasoned brisket for no less than 8-10 hours.
There are a lot more things to keep in mind than just smoking time! Read below to learn more about how you can smoke brisket like a master.
The Science Behind Perfectly Smoked Brisket
Many people put emphasis on the “feel” of the meat when cooking a brisket, and while this strategy may work for seasoned experts who have cooked their fair share of briskets, not everyone can perfectly cook it the first time!
Cooking a perfect brisket is all about timing, temperature, technique, and patience – and you need to have all of these aspects nailed down before cooking the meat.
We’ll discuss each in detail, but first, let’s talk a bit about the art of smoking meat.
Humans have been smoking meat for decades. There is no clear starting point for this cooking technique, but most historians believe that we began smoking food when people first started living in caves.
Smoking is seen as a superior cooking method because it slowly cooks, tenderizes, and flavors the meat – and while it does take longer than usual, this method produces juicier and tastier food!
Meat can be smoked in BBQ pits or a special smoking grill. Both of these vessels use the same technique: they burn fuel (wood, coal, pellets) and direct the heat and smoke towards the brisket.
The beauty of this cooking method is that it doesn’t require a lot of ingredients to cook up an excellent-tasting piece of meat.
In most cases, purists will swear by the use of just salt and pepper to season the brisket. Others may opt for a hint of garlic or a combination of other spices and herbs. The truth is, seasonings are just a quarter of what makes a great brisket.
Here are the main stages of cooking a brisket:
- Meat Preparation and Trimming
- Cooking Method
- Cooking Time
- Cooking Temperature
- Smoking Process
- Resting Period
Meat Preparation And Trimming
Before you even fire up the grill, we need to first start by sourcing a beautiful brisket.
Visit your local butcher and ask them to carve it for you. You can also go for Cryovac briskets too! For most people, any USDA-approved brisket is an excellent starting point.
The brisket comes from the breast or chest section of a cow and while every cow is different, you can expect more or less the same characteristics in every brisket. For example, every brisket will have a “point” and “flat” section.
The “point” section is the fattiest and thickest part of a brisket – which is also sometimes called the deckle. This section is a mixture of fat and muscle and connects down to the flat.
In simple terms, the flat, which is also known as the “first cut”, is the leanest part of the brisket. It is called the “flat” because it has the deckle (fatty part) removed, which gives it a flat surface and allows the meat to rest in an upright position.
Both of these sections have slightly different textures but when they are smoked the right way, they can offer a lot of delicious flavors, despite having varying fat profiles.
So, what side is up and down on a brisket?
As a general rule of thumb, the layer with the fatty part (AKA the “fat cap”) is the topside of the brisket while the “bottom” is where you will find most of the visible muscle and some sparsely located fat.
Before cooking the brisket, you must first trim off excess fat and square off the meat so that it cooks through properly – and so that all of the seasonings can be applied equally and thoroughly across the surface of the meat.
There are varying degrees to how much fat you should trim but in most casual BBQ scenarios, you can get away with trimming just a few pounds!
Here are a few detailed preparation steps:
- Begin by ensuring the quality and safety of the meat. People often buy a brisket beforehand and leave it in the fridge for a few days before they actually smoke it. Keep in mind that while you can leave the brisket in the fridge for 2-3 days, you should freeze it to avoid contamination.
- It’s time to trim the meat! Get a very sharp serrated knife. Do not bother using a flimsy or dull knife because it will end up destroying the meat fibers, which will eventually ruin the texture of the meat after it has been smoked and may even affect the brisket’s ability to retain juices too.
- The idea here is to trim some of the stubborn fat. This is the fat that is not going to render and will come out tasting chewy and dense. Flip the brisket in a way where you are facing the bottom of the meat. Remember, the bottom will have a higher degree of muscle than fat.
- Trim the same hard chunks of fat from the bottom too. Find the connective layer between the fat and muscle and cut through using a sharp knife while making sure that you don’t cut off any meat. This type of kernel or vein of fat has very little culinary use so you may discard it completely or prepare tallow on the side.
- Additionally, you may also trim off some excess tissue (AKA “silver skin”) from the bottom. Most of this connective tissue remains intact unless you cook at high heat. Remove the thin layer of tissue by sliding your knife between and cutting through. You may use this discarded tissue for broths or beef stock.
- NOTE: Be careful when cutting through any hard fat! You should only remove the top layer of dense fat without compromising the structural integrity of the meat. This type of fat layer goes deep and if you continue cutting it you might just cut through the point and flat section.
- Once most of the dense fat has been removed from the bottom, flip the meat over so that you are facing the fat cap. Now start trimming the corners. You will notice the same combination of hard and fat around the corner of the meat too.
- You will need to leave some of the hard fat on the fat cap to act as an insulator. Cut small pieces of fat until there is only a thin layer of it over the muscle. A 1/4th inch thickness of fat should be more than enough for any backyard BBQ project.
- Double-check the meat by flipping the brisket over. Always remember to cut any floppy fatty parts because they will not survive the cooking process and will just burn up. You may also cut off the “tips” at the end of the flat.
- These pieces are majorly just fat and have very little muscle in them which means that they will also burn up during the cooking process.
In the end, you should be left with a beautifully carved brisket that has about a 1/4th inch fat cap on the top and sides, and a clean and balanced bottom!
Discard all the hard fat since it can’t be used for stocks or even sausages but keep some of the soft fat and silver skin and reuse it as you wish!
All in all, if you started with a 10-pounder, then after cutting all of the excess fat, you might end up with a brisket that weighs just under 7-8 pounds!
Once you have squared off the meat, it is time to season it!
Here are some important steps:
- If you are working with thawed meat or brisket that came out of a cryovac bag then it would be a good idea to pat it down. Dry off the meat using a clean cloth and make sure that there is no moisture around the meat.
- Lightly spray the meat with some neutral oil on all sides. The idea here is to create some adhesion for the seasonings. Do not go overboard or the seasoning might not stick to the meat.
- Get a commercial brisket seasoning or just mix in some salt, pepper, and garlic powder! Yes, garlic powder is not taboo when seasoning a brisket. You can use it for a mature and deeply developed flavor!
- Leave the brisket to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes. For the best results, refrigerate the brisket overnight.
Now that everything is ready, you might think that all you need to do is throw the brisket into the smoker and cook it, right? Not so fast!
First, you will need to decide on the right cooking method.
if you are using a hardwood smoker, you will need to slightly adjust your cooking strategy. In the same way, if you opt to use an electric smoker then you will need to change a few cooking parameters.
In the case of hardwood, propane, and charcoal smokers, you should always keep the meat upside down so that the fat cap faces down. This will protect the meat from burning up from the deflector plate and burn pot and will also ensure that the brisket cooks evenly.
For electric or pellet smokers, you can keep the meat with the fat cap on top. Make sure that you air out the cooking chamber every 1-2 hours.
Releasing the excess steam will allow you to control the cooking rate and will also ensure that you maintain the bark (cooked condiments) without overly saturating it.
Pro Tip: Always keep the fatty side towards the heat source to protect the rest of the brisket from drying or overcooking. Don’t worry about the type of wood to use for smoking a brisket either. You can go with old trusty hickory for most backyard smoking projects.
We are halfway there! By now we have trimmed the meat, seasoned the brisket, and chosen the best way to cook it.
The next step is to mentally and physically prepare yourself for the long haul and the most important step: smoking the brisket!
As explained above, smoking a brisket can take roughly 30-60 minutes per pound. To be sure, we recommend calculating the total time using one hour as the default cook-time per pound.
This means that a 10-pound brisket will take 10 hours to smoke – but that is just step one in the cooking process! Always remember, a brisket can take up to 12-14 hours in total to properly cook.
Here is the breakdown for each stage:
|Trimming||30 minutes to 1 hour|
|Seasoning and marination||30 minutes to 8 hours|
|Cooking Stage||Cooking Time|
|Wrapping and smoking||2 hours|
|Testing and resting||2 hours|
Since a brisket can take up an entire day, you should plan accordingly. The best way to go about this is to prepare the meat a day before and then cook it early in the morning.
Some enthusiasts may not mind waking up at 4 AM – but for mere mortals and casual BBQ-ers, the best time to start the cooking process would be around 7 or 8 AM.
This is the ideal starting time because then you will have the brisket ready before dinner time or midnight.
How Long To Smoke Brisket At 225°F
The perfect cooking temperature for brisket lies between 225-250°F. Keeping the ambient temperature between these two ranges will allow the meat to not only cook through but also take on an amazing bark and flavor.
Keep in mind that the cooking time and cooking temperature are not inversely proportional as you might imagine.
The reason for this is that the brisket will initially spend 7-10 hours smoking without any cover and then you will wrap it in butcher paper and foil and continue cooking it for another 2 hours (more on this below).
Going Above 225°F
Yes, you can crank the heat up to 300°F but that may seriously compromise the quality and flavor of the meat and would be a bad idea if you are just starting with cooking briskets at home.
Play it safe and go with 225°F for the best experience. If you do decide on 300°F, then you may have to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Here is a chart for the cooking time for each temperature zone:
|225-250°F||8-10 Hours of smoking unwrapped followed by 2 hours of cooking with wrap. *|
|275-300°F||5 Hours of Smoking unwrapped followed by 3-4 hours of cooking with wrap. *|
|325-350°F||3 Hours of Smoking unwrapped followed by 4 hours of cooking with wrap. *|
*Estimated cooking times. Actual time will depend on the quality of meat, trimming quality, and heating efficiency of the appliance.
The best way to ensure that you end up with a beautifully smoked and juicy brisket is to cook the meat at 225°F using the above-mentioned timetable for each stage.
Sure, you can crank up the heat but if you don’t know what you’re doing then there is no way to guarantee the success of your brisket!
Whatever time and preparation method you choose, make sure that you follow the tests at the end for a perfectly cooked brisket.
Here is how you smoke a brisket!
- Reheat the smoker to 225°F. Place the brisket fat-side down when using a charcoal smoker or any smoker that directs heat from below using a burn pit. Remember, the fat cap should always face the direction of the heat source.
- Smoke the meat for about 8-10 hours using the relevant cooking method/strategy mentioned in our guide above.
- After the brisket has spent 8-10 hours, it should have the following signs:
- The internal temperature of the meat should be around 165-170°F.
- The surface of the brisket should be shiny but not “wet” or dripping excess moisture.
- The brisket should have a dark bark. If you’re using a pellet smoker, then you may see a lighter bark – which is also fine.
- The bark should be fixed and set over the meat and should not come off even when touched.
- Once ready, begin the wrapping stage! Start by taking a large piece of butcher paper and then gently place the hot brisket over it. Cover the brisket with the paper then create a makeshift pan using foil. Gently fold the foil around the corners of the covered brisket.
- Continue cooking the brisket for 2-3 hours with the butcher paper side up.
- Once done, perform the following tests to make sure the brisket has cooked properly:
- Probe the meat using an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature which should read around 210°F. Also, the probe should go in and out of the meat easily – it should feel like you’re probing butter.
- Inspect the brisket using protective gloves and gear. Carefully lift the meat from the middle to see if it is floppy or if it bends by itself on each side. This will indicate that the brisket is done. If it’s stiff, then continue cooking it for 30 minutes to an hour more.
If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this awesome tutorial from The Dawgfatha’s BBQ on YouTube.
This is the final step in the cooking process. Yes, the resting stage is also included in the cooking process because you will need to air out the meat for 15 minutes before placing it inside a cooler for at least 1-2 hours.
Releasing excess steam will keep the brisket from overcooking while in the cooler!
The cooler is the perfect container for a cooked brisket because it is heavily insulated. It will keep the brisket warm and will gradually bring down the temperature allowing the meat to reabsorb all the juices.
Remember, the brisket pushes out all the juices from the meat during the cooking process, but as it cools down it starts to suck all of it back into the center.
After the 2-hour resting period, all that is left for you is to cut the brisket and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
If you think that this is too much work, then you might be right. But consider this: a brisket is a labor of love, not a quick dinner that can be whipped up within the hour. It’s a calculated art form that needs time and patience.
Trust us, all this extra preparation will be worth the while. Follow all of these steps and keep practicing so that cooking brisket becomes second nature! You’ll generally sharpen your BBQ intuition in the process too!
For more information, check out our other article: How Long To Rest Brisket.
Tips And Tricks
Here are a few important tricks that you can use to smoke a better brisket!
- Finding the grain can be very difficult when the bark has been set. The best way to go about it would be to score the meat on the underside near the flat before smoking it. Cut against the grain for a tender and juicy piece of brisket!
- Want to take the brisket to the next level? Prepare tallow from the fat trimmings and pour it over the brisket and butcher paper before wrapping the meat.
- Probe all the sides of the brisket to ensure that it has been cooked. Start with the thickest and thinnest portion. If you feel any resistance, then you may have to continue cooking it for longer.
- Temperature stall is common when cooking brisket. The internal temperature of the meat may stall due to the internal moisture creating an equilibrium. The best way to break through the stall is to wrap the meat and then continue cooking it until the core temp is 210°F.
- Save on wood pellets and charcoal by finishing cooking the brisket in the oven. Crank the oven to 300°F (preheated) and finish cooking the brisket during the wrapping stage. Keep the meat on the middle rack and don’t worry about burning it – the foil and paper will keep it insulated!
Cooking a brisket is like an exciting journey. It has its ups and downs, but the destination is always going to be worth the wait and effort!
Now that you know how long to smoke brisket, here are some related questions:
Can you rest brisket for 15 minutes?
Yes. While it won’t be as juicy and succulent, if you are in a hurry, then you may rest the brisket for around 15-30 minutes instead of spending 2 hours.
Make sure that you keep the brisket wrapped though, as it will keep the meat as succulent as possible while it rests.
Can you store brisket in a cooler for 8 hours?
No. Do not leave the brisket in the cooler for more than 2-4 hours. While the cooler is an excellent storage space for a hot brisket, you should try to only store it for a maximum of 3-4 hours.
After this time the brisket will begin its descent into the danger-zone temperature where it can become compromised due to bacterial growth.
Can you refrigerate brisket right from the smoker or oven?
Yes. If you finish up late and want to serve the brisket the next day then you can just store the brisket in the fridge with the foil on.
You don’t need to air the brisket for this step as the refrigerator will gradually bring down the temperature without compromising the quality of the meat.
Heat the cold brisket in the oven (with the butcher paper and foil on) at 250-300°F and reheat until the internal temperature of the brisket is 165°F.
Air it out for 15 minutes with the foil off, then cover again and rest the meat for 15-30 minutes at room temperature before serving!