How do you keep your brisket warm after slicing?
Before getting to how to keep it warm, let’s take a closer look at why you should.
Keeping your brisket warm is the best way to keep pathogenic and spoilage bacteria from setting in. Essentially, keeping your brisket warm keeps your meat from going bad—and helps you avoid things you don’t want at your cookout, like food poisoning.
The only other way to avoid such things is to either eat the food right away, keep it properly warm, or refrigerate it.
It’s a race against time if you don’t keep your brisket warm, eat it, or start getting it cold. You can leave it at room temperature for about 2 hours (1 if it’s hot and humid).
After that, you’re playing with food contamination fire. (And this isn’t us at Barbehow being overly cautious; it’s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention talking.)
Yes, this is a long, roundabout way of saying the last thing you want to do is smoke a brisket, slice it up, and then just leave it out while you wait for your guests to arrive and eat it. That’s not only a race against time, it’s also a race against that dreaded spoilage and bacteria.
So, how do you go about keeping it warm?
Let’s get to some answers.
It’s a Dance of Temperature Control
When you decide to smoke a brisket, the last thing you think about is dealing with the timeless battle between internal meat temperature and bacteria.
(If you do, good for you. You probably have well-earned experience and some interesting stories in this area.)
For those of you who don’t have much experience in this area, you might be wondering what the battle between temperature and bacteria has to do with keeping a brisket warm after slicing?
Well, it pretty much has everything to do with keeping your brisket warm after slicing.
Think of it this way: when you’re smoking meat, you’re doing a temperature control dance the entire time to make sure your brisket comes out the way you want it.
Well, after you’re done smoking it, the temperature control dance doesn’t end right away. Instead of cooking, though, you’re fighting spoilage.
Like anything else involved with grilling and smoking, there are two vital components: heat and time.
So, if you put all the time you needed into smoking your brisket exactly the way you wanted to and now you’re facing a situation where your guests aren’t arriving for a few more hours, for example, what do you do?
You either take the time to preserve it by warming or cooling.
The thing to remember is when a brisket’s internal temperature drops below 140°F, you’re in what the federal government calls the “danger zone” for meat.
Why the danger zone?
Because it’s between 40°F and 140°F where those nasty bacteria start to grow. The cooler the meat becomes within this range, the more rapidly the bacteria grows.
What You Shouldn’t Do
Before getting to what you can do to keep your brisket warm, even after slicing it, let’s take a look at what you shouldn’t do.
Like ever. Never do this.
Slice your brisket, remove it from its juices, and set it on a plate at room temperature.
Not only will your brisket cool down quicker, it will no longer be resting in the juices that were helping to keep it warm and also keeping it moist.
Instead, it’s sitting on a serving plate, cooling down, drying out.
Now, if you want to use your brisket to make a good chili, this is an approach you can take. But if you want to keep your brisket warm and moist, don’t choose this route.
The other thing you shouldn’t do is add heat lamps to this equation. Putting your sliced brisket on a serving plate without any fluid to continue to rest in is bad enough. ,Now you’re also heating it with heat lamps.
Yes, they’ll keep the meat warm—but they’ll also add to the drying out process if there’s no juice.
What You Can Do
The key to keeping your brisket warm after slicing is to keep it together as much as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to reassemble it like some kind of meat puzzle.
Instead, keep the sliced portions close together. The heat from the slices will transfer back and forth as well as help to preserve internal moisture.
Apart, the slices cool and dry out alone. Together, they keep each other warm and moist (insert irresponsible joke here).
To keep the pieces together, reuse the foil or butcher paper the brisket was smoked in. If you’ve already tossed it, get some new foil or paper and wrap it.
Next, place your wrapped brisket into one of three things:
A roasting pan or a deep disposable foil tray. Put your juice or broth in as well as your wrapped brisket. Place everything in the oven and set your temperature between 170°F and 175°F.
This won’t “overcook” your brisket and will keep it from dropping below 140°F. In addition, the added fluid and wrap will help preserve moisture content.
Another option is to place the brisket in an Instant Pot or slow cooker. Again, wrap the brisket and add the fluid. Keep the temperature set to Warm or Low, depending on your cooker’s design. Keep the lid on.
Lastly, use heat lamps if you have them. Yes, you shouldn’t use them if the brisket is sliced and sitting on a serving plate to dry out.
But if you have your brisket wrapped and fluid available to encourage moisture retention, using a heat lamp is a perfectly normal way to keep meat warm and bacteria away.
If none of these are available to you—and you only need to keep your brisket warm for a short amount of time (less than two hours)–wrap it and place it in a cooler.
Now, make sure the cooler is empty and don’t add ice. But the insulation of the cooler will help maintain the temperature inside once the lid is closed and left closed.
You can add the fluid to the bottom of the cooler. Outside of that, you shouldn’t open it unless you take it out and serve it, transfer it to an oven or slow cooker, or put it in the fridge.
If you can’t serve your brisket immediately after slicing it, the next thing you need to do is keep it warm.
It’s not hard to keep warm, but if you go too long without warming or refrigerating it, you run the risk of introducing bacteria that can lead to spoilage and other contamination, especially if you’ve already sliced it.