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How to Smoke a Brisket

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Brisket is the holy grail of BBQ, and getting it right is a huge notch in your pitmaster belt. While there are many ways to flavor a brisket, cooking it properly doesn’t leave quite as much room for experimentation or error. Brisket is a muscular, tough cut of meat, so low and slow is the way to go. When prepared correctly, a smoked brisket is tender, juicy, and irresistible.

How to Prepare a Brisket for Smoking

Trimming the fat is standard procedure with most every cut of brisket. If you have the opportunity to examine the meat closely, you want to look for good marbling. In many cases briskets are wrapped in tightly sealed bags or packaging, but you can still determine the quality of meat based on its grade.

Meat is rated on a standard system so consumers know the quality they are buying up front. The grades of beef are based on the degree of marbling and the maturity of the animal. The grades in order from lowest to highest are select, choice, and prime. There are some lesser grades out there but these three are the most universally recognized in grocery stores and butcher shops. Select and prime cuts are usually the ones you want to stick to so you know you have a good cut.

Trimming Brisket

Nearly all BBQ experts will trim their brisket before smoking. When you trim the brisket you'll:

  • Get rid of "hard fat" that isn't going to render during the smoking process
  • Remove fat that will prevent you from directly seasoning the meat
  • Eliminate any unattractive edge meat that could make the finished product look less attractive.

Much of this comes down to personal preference. Expect to trim about two pounds away from your brisket before cooking. Here's a step-by-step look at trimming brisket.

1. Start with a cold brisket fat cap facing up and pat the brisket dry with a paper towel.

  1. Trim fat cap until you have an even 1/4-inch layer.
  1. Flip brisket over and trim off all fat and silver skin from the top.

  2. Remove the large chunk of hard fat found where the flat and point connect.

Smoked Brisket Rub

Many championship BBQers use nothing more than salt and pepper as their brisket rub. Others, like Traeger expert Doug Scheiding, recommend a mix of different rubs. So you can keep it simple or mix it up however you choose, but keep these two things in mind:

  1. Give the rub time to set. Be generous with how much rub you use, and wrap and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

  2. Don't concern yourself with looks. The brisket's outer layer will likely come out of the smoker looking rough and charred. That's why it's called the "bark." It resembles the bark of a tree.

Smoked Brisket Injections and Marinades

Injecting brisket is a common technique to ensure more flavorful and juicy meat. There are brands like Meat Church that make an injection or you can use a bone or beef broth. If injection sounds like too much trouble, you can also marinate the brisket. This Traeger-approved marinade features garlic and red wine. This step is optional.

Tips For The Best Smoked Brisket

  • It’s recommended to get a full packer to cook. A full packer will include both the point and the flat. Ask your butcher if you aren't sure.
  • Use fold/bend test when buying. Try folding the two ends of the brisket together. The more fold you get, the more tender the meat is likely to be.
  • Know your butcher - befriend your butcher.
  • Use a 14-inch knife to trim.
  • A good knife is sharp, and should feel comfortable in your hand from a weight standpoint.
  • The colder the brisket, is the easier it will be to trim.
  • Slice against the grain.
  • Tip: Save pieces for making carne asada.
  • Trim fat cap (on the bottom) a quarter to a half an inch of fat.
  • Bevel the edges with sheers of the brisket so there isn’t any fraying and edges don’t dry.
  • Cook with the fat side on the bottom.
  • Save brisket drippings for marinades or an "au jus" dipping sauce.
  • If you do plan to save the drippings, only use one rub on the bottom (fat side) of the brisket. Having too many rubs will make it too salty.
  • Final temperatures - 203 degrees for prime internal temperature.

Best Wood Pellets For Smoked Brisket

When it comes to smoke flavors, hickory is often mentioned for its robust flavor. Some like to mix it with a milder wood like oak to balance the flavors, and others like to sweeten it with apple, cherry, or maple wood. Any or all of these smoke flavors are a safe bet for smoked brisket, and if you really want to get creative try pecan wood. The nutty flavor adds a whole new layer of depth to brisket, and pairs especially well with sweet and spicy flavors. Also try our Texas pellet blend which has hints of mesquite, oak, and pecan.

Should You Cook Brisket With Fat Side Up Or Down?

We recommend that you cook brisket with the fat side down. Here's why:

  1. Better flavor: Fat dripping down from the cap can wash away your seasoning (and it doesn't actually make the beef more tender, as some contend).
  2. Better presentation: With the fat side up, the presentation side is over the grill grates, so that gorgeous brisket bark can't form.

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Brisket?

The goal for throwing down a badass brisket is creating ultimate flavor and texture. The cooking process is the most crucial part for ensuring your meat delivers on both. Because every animal is different, there’s no exact universal algorithm for every cut.

Cook times are going to vary as the size of the cut may as well. Because briskets can weigh between 12 and 22 pounds, times can range from 8 to 16 hours depending on size and cook temperature.

Our general rule of thumb is to plan on between 30 and 60 minutes per pound. For example, a 16-pound brisket cooked at 275 degrees Fahrenheit will take between 10 and 12 hours. The entire process from trimming, injection, seasoning, and cooking will take between 18 and 20 hours.

Give yourself enough time. This is a “good things come to those who wait” kind of deal, but rest assured … you’ll be glad you did.

How to Tell When Smoked Brisket Is Done

To know if your smoked brisket is done, simply insert your probe. The probe should insert into the cut like it would in room temperature butter which usually happens between 200 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit in the flat. Once your beef has reached that level, let the meat rest for at least one hour.

It's best to rely on a thermometer because looks can be deceiving if this is your first smoked brisket.

Smoked brisket gets its signature bark because of the Maillard reaction which is known for explaining how seared meat gets its signature look and taste. When you sear meat at high temperatures, the natural sugars in the meat caramelize within minutes. The same thing happens at low temperatures over time when you smoke brisket or any kind of meat.

Simply put, the natural sugars in the meat form a crust underneath your spice rub. Only some elements of the rub itself (like salt) will penetrate the surface of the meat and take some of the flavor with it.

The majority of the rub will remain on the surface and infuse with the layers forming there. When the spices and caramelizing layers come in contact with the smoke, the bark begins to turn a very dark color.

How Long Should You Let Brisket Rest Before Slicing?

Let the brisket rest at least 1 hour before slicing to allow juices to redistribute throughout the meat. You can let it rest for a maximum of 4 hours. Most pitmasters prefer a resting time of 2-3 hours kept in a dry cooler and packed with towels for the best possible flavor.

Pro Tip: If your brisket is wrapped, unwrap your brisket and let it breathe for 5-10 minutes or until the steam is gone before wrapping it again (ideally in fresh butcher paper or foil), and then storing it in a dry cooler.

How to Cut Brisket

Brisket should be sliced against the grain for the best mouthfeel and tenderness, otherwise even a perfectly cooked brisket will be chewy.

The point should be sliced into ¼-inch pieces or about the width of a pencil. The ends or any miscut pieces can be used for burnt ends.

Keep in mind that the grain of the point will be running in a different direction than the grain of the flat.

How to Smoke a Brisket on a Pellet Grill

Smoking a Brisket on a Pellet Grill is one of the easiest ways to cook your brisket at a steady temperature while also infusing natural smoke flavor. One of the most fun aspects of pellet grilling is experimenting with smoke flavors -- like apple, oak, or maple.

  1. Decide what smoke flavor you like. You can buy pellet blends or create your own! See our pellet guide for more information.

  2. Set your pellet grill to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and preheat, lid closed, for 15 minutes.

  3. Place brisket on the grill grate and cook until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees Fahrenheit, or approximately 30 to 60 minutes per pound.

Burnt Ends

A “full Packer” brisket contains two distinct parts that cook differently: the point and the flat. The point is more marbled with fat than the flat lean cut, often used for slices. The point is used for chopped brisket or burnt ends. Also known as “meat candy” these cuts aren’t actually burnt -- they just look that way because of the Maillard reaction. And they’re extra sweet, usually served with a sweet BBQ sauce and cooked again separately from the rest of the brisket.

You’ll first want to remove all outside fat and then cut the good meat into 1-inch squares. Once you’re done, throw those heavenly chunks into the pan, douse them with BBQ sauce, and give them a turbinado sugar kiss. While they’re all getting friendly in the pool, you’ll want to throw them back on the Traeger at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. This process creates your burnt ends and allows your point the extra cook time it needs. Pull them out and you’ll have caramelized bite-size BBQ deliciousness.

See our burnt ends recipe and how-to guide.

How to Flavor a Brisket

Simply put, flavor a brisket however you want. Aside from the quality and type of meat you selected, your rub, brine,smoking fuel, and type of grill you use, all play a part in the flavor of your brisket.

Keeping It Simple

If you’re looking for a place to start with brisket, or a foolproof recipe that’s sure to please, check out this recipe for beginner's brisket. The simple rub and long braise in its own beefy juices make this brisket easy to pair with any sauce, or taste delicious and flavorful on its own.

How to Reheat Brisket

When cooking a good amount of brisket, there’s bound to be leftovers, and there are plenty of ways to get creative with them. But if you’re just trying to enjoy the same flavor you had off the grill, all you need to do is cook your smoked brisket in its juices using a drip pan covered with aluminum foil until it reaches serving temperature (about 140 degrees).

If you want to mix up the flavor a little, try smoking it with different wood pellets, or add a splash of BBQ sauce, beer, or broth to your pan before cooking.

Getting Serious About Smoked Brisket

Don’t let your talent go to waste. If you’ve come up with a signature brisket recipe, share it with us and share it with the world #TraegerGrills. When you’re cooking tough meat for a tough audience, flavor, quality, and technique all matter and it’s all covered in the guide for award-winning brisket.

Smoked Brisket Recipe

Looking for the best smoked brisket recipe? We have dozens of smoked brisket recipes you can browse. Or, start with our classic Smoked Brisket recipe. Happy Traegering!

Looking for the best smoked brisket recipe? We have dozens of smoked brisket recipes you can browse. Or, start with our classic Smoked Brisket recipe. Happy Traegering!

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Brisket Recipes & Guides

See our smoked brisket recipe and tips for anyone who plans on smoking a brisket, from expert grillmasters to beginners.