Okay, you’ve just finished smoking your brisket. And it’s come out exactly how you wanted, and better. You’ve sampled a taste and know it’s cooked to perfection. The taste, as a matter of fact, is absolutely heavenly.
However, your company isn’t scheduled to arrive for a while. Or they’re running late, and you can’t exactly dive in and start the devouring of said brisket on your own… no matter how much you may want to.
So, now you’re wondering how you can go about storing your brisket while waiting patiently. And it doesn’t involve putting the cut of meat in deep cold storage. That’s why you’re here, right? This isn’t an article on how to eat your brisket after smoking, after all.
Well, it’s a good thing you stopped by because we’ve got recommendations for you that aim to keep your brisket stored yet ready at a moment’s notice for serving once your guests arrive.
We’ll also give you some tips on storage timing and safe temperature ranges to maintain your brisket, which will help it avoid the food bacteria danger zone.
The Danger Zone
No. Unfortunately, we’re not talking Top Gun.
When you take the words “danger” and “zone” and apply them to smoked brisket, it’s almost impossible not to discuss whatever they apply to first.
So, rather than save the danger zone for the grand finale, let’s go ahead and discuss what it is, why you need to avoid it, and how it applies to how you store your brisket.
When a brisket’s internal temperature drops below 140°F (60°C), your meat enters what the federal government calls the “danger zone” for food safety.
Once your brisket drops below that temperature, bacteria can start to develop within the meat. Quickly. The more the temperature drops, the faster the bacteria can grow and spread, making foodborne illness more likely.
Within the danger zone, the number of bacteria on your brisket doubles every 20 minutes. And while a dozen germs on that hunk of meat are not likely to cause much trouble, a few hundred can cause plenty.
You might think a temperature drop is unavoidable—and you’d be correct. After all, you can’t keep cooking it and you can’t serve it to guests that aren’t there. However, if it drops below 140°F (60°C), the more time the bacteria has to grow big and strong.
The counter to bacterial growth is to either keep the brisket warmer than 140°F (60°C) or refrigerate. Once its internal temperature drops below 40°F (4.4°C), a.k.a. fridge temp, bacterial growth will slow down and your meat will be okay to reheat and eat later. At least, for a few days. But more on that later.
To avoid the danger zone, it’s important to know how you should store your brisket while waiting. So, let’s get to your options.
How Keep Your Brisket Warm and Edible
Keeping your brisket at around 140°F (60°C) or more for as long as possible is the best way to fight pathogenic and spoilage bacteria.
Essentially, keeping it at 140°F (60°C) will help any guests partaking of your brisket avoid food poisoning. No one wants to end up as a statistic due to a foodborne illness.
How long do you have before you have to make your decision on whether to keep it warm or place it in the fridge?
About two hours. One hour if it’s a hot and humid day in summer, and you’re entertaining outdoors. If your guests are there within that time, storage isn’t too primary of a concern.
However, if the smoke goes faster than planned or someone gets stuck in bad traffic, it’s good to have your storage option planned and ready to go.
Warm Temporary Storage
So, your first choice, then, is to keep your brisket warm in something we like to call, “Warm Temporary Storage.” This, as the name implies, isn’t a long-term solution, but should be good for the few hours you might have to wait for company to arrive.
In this case, you’re simply moving your smoked brisket from the smoker to another place while keeping it warm and out of the danger zone. To do this, you first want to keep the brisket wrapped in the butcher paper or foil you smoked it in. If you didn’t use either, or have already tossed your wrap away, go ahead and grab some paper or foil and wrap the meat up anew.
Next, place your wrapped brisket into one of four things:
A roasting pan or disposable foil tray. Put in your wrapped brisket as well as some broth or water to maintain a moist environment. Place everything in the oven and set your temperature between 170°F (76°C) and 175°F (80°C). This will keep your brisket warm and above 140°F (60°C) without the risk of overcooking.
An Instant Pot or slow cooker. Again, put in your wrapped brisket and fluid. Keep the temperature set to WARM or LOW, depending on the design. Lastly, keep the lid on. These options allow for excellent temperature control without having to use all the energy that an oven demands.
Heat lamps. Not the greatest option, but if you have them and you have your brisket wrapped and fluid available to encourage moisture retention, heat lamps are a perfectly fine option for a short period of time.
A cooler. No, you’re not going to ice it down or start the chilling process. An empty cooler that’s dry and at room temperature provides an excellent insulated option to keep your brisket warm temporarily. To add an extra layer of heat retention, wrap your already wrapped brisket in a towel before placing it in the cooler. Don’t worry about adding the fluid for this option.
These options will help keep the brisket at or above 140°F (60°C) while providing temporary warm storage until your guests arrive. But remember, these options are only good for a few hours. After that, your brisket should be considered completely rested. It needs to either be consumed or transferred to…
Before moving your brisket into the cold storage of a fridge, wrap your meat up nice and tight in plastic wrap or foil and store it in air-tight containers. It also never hurts to add any leftover fluid into the containers to help your brisket avoid drying out. Using this approach, your brisket should last for a solid 3 to 4 days.
If you’ve got more brisket to eat than days to eat it, you can also move it to the freezer. Properly stored, it can keep its best quality for some 2 to 3 months. Remember, tight wrap and air-tight containers are the keys to preservation.
If your brisket is smoked but you can’t serve it right away, remember not to panic. All you have to do is keep your brisket at 140°F (60°C) to keep it out of the foodborne illness danger zone. Thankfully, you have several warm storage options to choose from before making the decision to move your brisket to the fridge or freezer.