Chewy Brisket? Why It Happened, How to Avoid It

Don’t let that chewy brisket ruin your cookout! Learn why it happened & how to avoid it with these hard-earned, battle-tested tips.

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Howdy, meat lovers! Today, we’re going to talk about a topic that can make or break your barbecue game: chewy brisket. Now, we all know the perfect brisket should be tender, juicy, and packed with flavor.

But sometimes, despite our best intentions, what we end up with after a cook is a tough, chewy piece of meat that’s about as enjoyable to eat as a mouthful of sawdust. This begs the question: what causes brisket to turn out tough and chewy? And, more importantly, how can we avoid it?

Well, whether you’re a seasoned pitmaster or a barbecue newbie, grab yourself a cold beverage and settle in, because we’re about to tackle this here important challenge that many a brisket smoker face.

Why Your Brisket Turned Out Chewy

Gather round and listen up, y’all, because I’m about to lay down some brisket-smoking truth!

The number one reason why your brisket turned out chewy is that it simply wasn’t cooked enough. See, brisket is a tough cut of meat that comes from the cow’s chest. It’s full of connective tissue, called collagen, which gives it that distinctive toughness.

Now, there’s one thing you need to know about collagen: it’s a stubborn little thing that needs *a lot* of heat and time to break down. In order for your brisket to turn out tender and juicy, that collagen needs to be transformed into gelatin, which is what gives the meat its rich, flavorful juiciness.

If you pull your brisket off the smoker too early, that collagen won’t have had enough time to break down, leaving you with a tough, chewy piece of meat. So what’s the magic number when it comes to cooking brisket to perfection? Aim for an internal temperature of 190 to 210°F. At this point, the collagen should have melted away into that delicious gelatin we all know and love, resulting in a tender, melt-in-your-mouth brisket that’ll have your guests begging for seconds (and the meat smokers among them asking for the recipe).

Don’t Let the Stall Fool You

Now, y’all might be thinking, “I cooked my brisket to 170°F, just like the recipe in that book said, but it still turned out chewy! What gives?” Well, my friends, let me introduce you to the infamous brisket stall.

See, at some point during the cooking process, all briskets will hit a stall. This is when evaporative cooling kicks in and the meat starts to sweat out the heat, causing its internal temperature to stop rising. This can happen at 140, 150, 160, or even 170°F, and the stall can last for hours on end. (I’ve had briskets stall on me for 6 hours!)

But here’s the thing… just because your brisket hits the stall, that doesn’t mean it’s done cooking. No siree. In fact, if you pull it off the heat at this point, you’re likely to end up with a tough, chewy piece of meat. Instead, you need to exercise patience and let the brisket do its thing. Keep it in the smoker and wait for its internal temperature to start rising again.

Trust me when I tell you that once it does, you’re back in business. Smoke that brisket until it hits an internal temperature of 190 to 210°F, and you’ll be rewarded with fall-apart tender brisket that’ll have your taste buds singing.

So don’t be fooled by the stall, y’all. Trust the process, and your patience will be well-rewarded.

Remember to Wrap the Brisket

Alright, here’s a little trick of the trade that might just take your brisket game to the next level: wrapping the brisket mid-cook. I know that to all of you seasoned meat smokers out there, this might not be news, but for all you beginners, it will be.

When smoking a whole packer — by all means, a hefty hunk of meat — heat control is key, and with good heat control, wrapping mid-cook might not be necessary.

But if you’re smoking a flat or a point cut and your smoker’s cooking chamber temperature is a little all over the place, you might end up with a brisket that’s a bit too dry and tough around the edges.

Now, here’s the thing: this isn’t because the collagen inside the meat hasn’t melted. It’s because the proteins on the outside of the brisket have somewhat overcooked. But fear not, my friends, because wrapping the brisket halfway to two-thirds of the way through the cook can help prevent this from happening.

Wrapping your brisket in foil, butcher paper, or even a clean towel will insulate the meat from the hot air rising from the firebox and help it cook evenly. As an added bonus, it’ll also help your brisket power through the stall faster, getting you to top-notch tenderness even sooner. So don’t forget to wrap the brisket, y’all.

Bottom Line

Let me sum it up for y’all. There are two main reasons why your brisket might turn out tougher than a boot sole. First, it simply hasn’t been cooked long enough to melt away all that connective tissue in there. And second, the temperature in the cooking chamber might have been a tad too high, overcooking the meat around the edges.

The good news is that there are two simple remedies to ensure a brisket comes out as tender as grandma’s hugs. First, cook that brisket all the way through the stall and to an internal temperature of 190 to 210°F. And if you’re unsure, just aim for the middle. Second, wrap that brisket up tight halfway to two-thirds of the way through the cook. This little trick will help insulate the meat and speed up the cooking process, getting your brisket out of the stall sooner and on its way to melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

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