When to Take Brisket off a Smoker

A slow-cooked, tender, BBQ-smoked brisket is, without doubt, one of the best pleasures in life. Normally the star of the show in any grill and BBQ restaurant beef brisket really is a labor of love.

Taking upwards of 1 hour per pound of meat, a fair-sized brisket can easily take 8 to 12 hours plus resting time. In reality, though it is not as straightforward as just calculating times based on the weight of the cut when dealing with such a slow and low cook period. Many factors such as the quality of the meat, the temperature of the smoker, and whether you chose to wrap your brisket or not can all play into cook times.

With this in mind, we have tried to give you a bit more background on all things brisket below, so you can plan your very own mouth-watering, soft and flavorsome beef brisket. After all, they do say good things come to those who wait, and we do think they may have been talking about brisket.

Beef brisket requires a low and slow cook time to achieve the best results. A brisket should be considered fully cooked and removed from the grill when a meat thermometer measures an internal temperature of between 200°F and 210°F. It will then need to rest for a minimum of 1 hour.

Why Does it Take So Long to Cook a Brisket?

Beef brisket is certainly not a snack you can rustle up in a hurry. This is a cut of meat that demands to be treated carefully with a long, slow, steady cook time in order to be rewarded with the tender, juicy, flavorful mouthful we expect from a well-cooked brisket.

The reason that a brisket takes so long to cook is due to the makeup of the cut. Brisket is a piece of meat cut from the pectoral (chest) muscle. This is made of sinewy collagenous connective tissues to support the muscle fibers. These fibers take much longer to break down in cooking and have to be exposed to prolonged heat in order to soften.  Brisket is often a sizeable cut of meat too which means it takes longer for heat to fully penetrate to the center.

How Can I Speed up my Brisket?

There can be a number of reasons that you want to speed up the cooking time of your brisket. Perhaps you have miscalculated when guests are due to arrive and don’t want anyone going hungry or perhaps you just can’t contain yourself any longer.

We do have some do’s and don’ts below to help speed up the process but fair warning now, these will only knock a few hours at best and there is no way to achieve a fast-food equivalent brisket when cooking from scratch.

  • Don’ts
    • Don’t open your grill/smoker

It may sound simple but a surefire way to lengthen the cook time of your brisket is to be too overzealous at peaking at your cooking meat. Lifting the lid allows precious heat to escape and drops the heat of your meat. Not only will it take longer to get back up to heat, but the varying temperature can also result in toughness in your meat.

  • Don’t baste/spritz or mop

Some people swear by basting or spritzing their brisket in broth , apple sauce, or apple cider vinegar. This can imbibe additional flavor into your brisket but is not essential and if you are looking for a speedier cook this is definitely not recommended.

  • Don’t scrimp on your cut

Cheaper cuts of brisket will generally contain more sinewy/collagen fibers. While this can add to the flavor, these cuts will poorly tolerate hotter cooking. If you purchase a premium cut of brisket you can expose it to higher heats and reduce the cooking time by a few hours.

  • Do’s
    • Do consider wrapping your brisket.

A guaranteed way to get more heat into your brisket and lower cooking time is to wrap your brisket in butcher paper or foil after maximum temperature is reached. This can give your brisket more of a pot-roast taste and appearance but will still have that melt in the mouth texture.

  • Do finish off in the oven

If you are really short of time moving your brisket from the grill into a conventional oven is a way to shorten the cooking time by an hour or two. It is advisable to leave it on a grill for at least 3 to 4 hours first though to get that smokey quality entrenched before moving it to an oven to finish.

How Long Does the Stall last on a Brisket?

If you are new to smoking your own brisket you may not be familiar with the concept of a “stall”. The stall refers to a point in cooking where the brisket’s internal temperature plateaus and doesn’t rise any further regardless of it still being exposed to heat in the grill.

This seemingly odd situation occurs as once the brisket reaches a point of around 150 °F the meat begins to sweat out moisture. Once this moisture reaches the outer surface of the meat, the heat in the grill causes it to evaporate which then causes the cut to lose heat. This process can go on for hours as juices continually make their way to the outer surface. 

To the novice this can cause panic and result in turning up the heat however this can only accelerate moisture leaving the brisket and you can inadvertently end up with a tough, dry cut of meat at the end.

Should I Wrap my Brisket?

Ultimately it is personal preference whether to wrap your brisket or not. The options to wrap include foil or more breathable options like butcher’s paper. General consensus is that foil, while quicker for cooking doesn’t allow for moisture escape thus your brisket will be more akin to a pot roast. Butcher’s paper is the preferred option for still achieving that trademark bark of a slow-roasted BBQ brisket.

Should I Pull it Before or After?

You’ve finally got your brisket off the grill, it’s fully cooked and you are salivating. You are ready to dive straight in but unfortunately, you have a little longer to wait yet. It is recommended that you rest your brisket for a minimum of an hour at room temperature before slicing or pulling.

This is required as during cooking the heat causes the muscle fibers in the brisket to contract pushing the moisture to the outer edges of the meat, resting allows everything to settle and for the moisture to settle back throughout the cut. Don’t worry after 1 hour your brisket will still be warm enough for eating.

Some brisket fans will take the resting process even further by prolonging it with the use of insulated containers or steam cupboards. This is not essential but does allow for longer resting by keeping the meat above a temperature where bacteria can multiply and potentially spoil the brisket.

As mentioned above, one reason to consider wrapping your brisket is if you want to speed up the cooking process slightly. There are some other benefits associated with wrapping too, including avoiding the thinner edges of your brisket from becoming unduly dried out.

 What Temperature to Pull Brisket?

There are a few different approaches to determining when your brisket has hit that sweet spot and should be removed from the grill.  Some die-hard bbq fans will swear they can determine when a brisket is prime to be removed based on appearance alone.  They will say it is when the bark (outer edges) of the brisket takes on a dark mahogany brown color.

They might follow this up by checking that a probe glides in and out of the meat easily as if passing through softened butter.  Others rely on the “pull test”. This involves cutting a small slice of brisket and letting it dangle between two fingers. If cooked perfectly it should not fall apparent but instead should break with little resistance when you “pull” it between your fingers.

For the more precise amongst us, the more definitive means of telling when your brisket is done is to utilize a meat thermometer (infrared or probe) to check that an internal temperature of between 200°F and 210°F has been reached.