How long does smoked brisket last? Sooner or later, every self-respecting meat smoker finds him or herself asking this question as they take a piece of leftover brisket out of the fridge.
And for good reason! Spoiled meat not only smells and tastes disgusting—it’s also bad for you and your family to eat. At best, it can cause nasty stomach pain (and all the fun that comes with it). At worst, it can be the reason for an unpaid visit to the doctor.
I guess that’s why we will talk about the shelf life of smoked brisket in this post. As we do, we will cover the dos, the don’ts, as well as my best storage tips to help you make your brisket last long and stay moist.
Do read on if that’s what you came here to find out.
Smoked brisket should be stored in the fridge, where it will keep for 3-4 days according to the USDA.
There you have it, fellers. Straight from the mouth of the federal government.
All jokes aside, now. The folks at the USDA do a great public service on their website and give us simple, down-to-earth food safety and storage tips for us outdoor cooks. I recommend that all of you head on over to that website and check those tips out.
How Long Can Smoked Brisket Be Left Out?
The long and the short of it is “much less than it’ll keep in the fridge.”
Like any other cooked meat, smoked brisket shouldn’t be kept at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours or bacteria will grow on the surface and render it unsafe to eat.
It wasn’t until I delved into the subject of food safety that I realized there was a difference between the bacteria that make meat unsafe to eat and those that cause it to spoil.
(Makes you wonder: Why don’t cookbook authors talk about those things?!)
It turns out the bacteria that cause food poisoning—or pathogens, as they call ’em—live and breathe on the surface of meat.
Nowhere is this more true than with raw meat, which is why you should always and uncompromisingly wash your hands after handling it.
Despite lore to the contrary, high heat doesn’t kill all of the pathogens on the surface of our meat. Oh no, it doesn’t; it merely reduces their population to a safe, tolerable level for us humans (and very often for our pets).
“Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria,” says the USDA, “to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.” This, the federal agency explains, is because bacteria grow most rapidly at room temp.
When you leave smoked brisket to stand—whether on the dining table or out on the counter—the bacterial population on the surface doubles every 20 minutes.
A few dozen bacteria can quickly grow into thousands upon thousands of pathogens waiting to make you and the rest of the diners sick.
That “sick” is nothing to joke about.
The CDC estimates that every year, 48 million Americans fall ill with food poisoning. 128,000 of them get hospitalized and 3,000 die. It goes without saying that you don’t want yourself or your loved ones anywhere near these statistics.
Since pathogenic bacteria and spoilage bacteria are not the same thing, that smoked brisket may look, smell, and taste perfectly fine, and yet nevertheless be harmful.
Refrigeration, the experts say, slows bacterial growth down but doesn’t halt it altogether.
It is only freezing that puts biological activity on pause. This is why smoked brisket stay safe to eat for 3-4 days in the fridge and keeps indefinitely in the freezer (even though frozen brisket it will dry out and lose its appeal over time).
Resting After Cooking vs. Leaving Out
“But how can that be,” some of you may be thinking, “when most recipes tell you to rest the brisket for a long, long time, sometimes much more than what you and the government are telling me right now?!”
It is a good question, and I love me a good question on any day.
You take brisket out of the smoker once it has reached an internal temperature of 190-225°F. Then, you rest it for 30 minutes to 1 hour, sometimes more.
During that time, the beef continues to cook its residual heat in a process called carryover cooking as the internal temperature slowly but surely drops.
The danger zone, as the USA calls it, doesn’t come till the internal temperature of the meat drops to 140°F.
It’s in the temperature range between 40°F (above fridge temp) and 140°F (the temp that caterers and restaurateurs use to keep food warm) that causes the trouble.
So resting the brisket immediately after you’ve taken it out of the smoker is fine. The meat stays warm for a good amount of time and the temperature doesn’t drop as quickly as most people think it does.
Leaving rested brisket out for prolonged periods of time… well now, there’s your no-no.
Keeping the Brisket Moist
There are more opinions than there are opinion-givers when it comes to keeping brisket moist the following day (and why not the day after). So, if you’re in the market for another one, here’s good ol’ Sammy’s two cents.
What I like to do to keep brisket moist is to separate the flat from the point, then to transfer them to food storage containers with the lids shut or to large enough ziplock bags with little to no carving or slicing.
A brisket reheated twice is a brisket that’s lost nearly all of its moisture. So, over the following 3-4 days, I slice and reheat only as much brisket as me and the missus (and the kids, in case they’re over) are able to eat.
The reheating also matters.
Generally speaking, you want to reheat your brisket till it reaches and internal temperature of 140-160°F and no more. Don’t forget you ain’t cooking it a second round, so you don’t need to go all the way up to 190-225°F. Else, it will dry out too much.
Have keep-the-brisket-moist tips and tricks of your own? Be sure the share them in the comments below!