Have you dreamed about smoking a brisket but have avoided it because you’re afraid you’re going to over cook the meat and dry it out as a result?
Or have you avoided such a large cook because of the patience required? Or because it takes some serious time to keep it moist during and after cooking–especially as the brisket settles?
In other words, it can’t be rushed.
Or are you just looking for guidance on how to keep a brisket moist after cooking?
Well, in any case, you’ve come to the right place.
Here, you’ll find some helpful answers to those and other questions with the ultimate goal being a perfectly cooked and moist brisket at the end of the day.
Time is On Your Side
If you’re a regular outdoor cook, you understand the importance of temperature control and time management when it comes to different types of meats.
For thinner cuts of beef or pork, you can use more direct heat over a short period of time. The opposite of that are thicker cuts of beef or pork, which don’t mind a good sear to brown the crust but also require a longer cook with an emphasis on indirect heat.
Oh, and let’s not forget poultry.
The same goes for birds, too. Cooking chicken breasts is far and away different from smoking a whole turkey.
The one big thing that always comes with indirect heat is a need for time and patience.
In the end, the ultimate payoff is a wonderful cut of meat that’s far from dry and tough while being heavy in flavor and tenderness.
Bringing it all together, of course, is moisture.
So, you can pretty much say time is the secret ingredient for a cut of meat, like brisket, to remain moist during and after cooking.
That doesn’t just mean “time” as in how long it stays on the grill or in the smoker. It also means how long you have to be patient and how long after cooking you still need to work to keep that brisket moist.
Speaking of time, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty.
Temperature Control and Your Brisket
If you’re not a regular smoker but an avid giller, you still understand that the heavier and thicker the meat, the longer it takes to grill.
That’s why indirect heat is always preferred, because cooking slower ensures, once again, a moister finished cut of meat.
If a thick cut is cooked too fast and too hot, you’ll end up with something that looks like a tire with about the same internal consistency (maybe even chewier than a tire).
So, what’s that mean for a brisket?
Well, if you’re going to use indirect heat, most smoking aficionados recommend a smoking temperature of between 225°F and 250°F. The higher the number, the quicker the cook, but not by much when you’re only dealing with a 25°F difference.
Remember, at those temperatures, you can safely assume it’ll take 1 to 1.5 hours per pound of brisket to cook to a desired internal temperature of 160°F.
For an eight pound brisket, you need to make sure you set a solid work day aside to smoke it. And, for even larger cuts than that, it’s not uncommon to do an overnight or crack of dawn smoke to have it ready for lunch… or dinner the next day.
Another thing to remember is the size of your smoker in relation to the size of your brisket when it comes to temperature control.
If your smoker is on the smaller end and you’re smoking vertically, you should probably keep the smoking temperature closer to 225°F. If you’ve got more distance between your brisket and the fire box, you can comfortably hit the 250°F temperature without fear of drying out your meat.
Remember, these are only guidelines to keep in mind.
Your familiarity with your equipment and feel for how hot it gets and how much fuel to add while smoking will help determine the right temperature as well as how long you can expect the cook to ultimately take.
Another welcome thing with cooking large cuts like brisket slowly is to ensure the fat on and inside the meat renders properly while also allowing time for the breakdown of any connective tissues.
Fat rendering keeps the meat tender and juicy while locking in flavors. Breaking down the connective tissue adds to the tenderness but also that “melt in your mouth” quality most are looking for.
Temperature control alone doesn’t always ensure this.
To keep the meat from drying out, a water pan is often placed underneath the brisket, especially in vertical smokers, to both provide some humidity to the smoke while also acting as a catch pan for drippings (which can, of course, be used for basting or to make a sauce later).
Water will also help trap excessive heat and release heat it absorbs if temperatures drop inside the smoker. In a way, the water pan is a moisture and temperature regulator all by itself.
After a couple of hours of smoking, you can start spritzing your brisket every thirty minutes with water and apple juice mixed for moisture and to prevent burning.
Wrapping and Timing
Another thing you need to consider is wrapping your brisket and when to do it. Some people wrap their brisket at the start of smoking for a faster cook time.
However, doing it this way can reduce the infusion of that smokey taste you might be going for.
The better option is to smoke your brisket until it reaches about 160°F. At this point, the internal temperature will probably begin to stall due to the natural cooling effect of evaporation in the meat since it’s technically done cooking.
To avoid this—but also keep the temperature rising to get that perfectly tender brisket—wrap it in something like foil or butcher paper and continue to smoke until the internal temperature reaches 190°F.
At this point, you can remove the brisket from the smoker but don’t unwrap it yet and start slicing. Instead, let it rest while wrapped. The temperature will continue to rise in the post-cooking phase as the fat and other juices settle within.
If you follow this process from beginning to end, you’re guaranteed to keep your brisket moist during the smoking process and have a tender cut of meat well after removing it from the smoker. As you slice it later, the moisture content will be clearly evident.
In the end, your time and patience will richly reward you.