At What Temp to Pull a Brisket Off the Smoker?

It’s done when it tells you it’s done. The question to ask here is, do you know how to listen?

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When you’re smoking up a brisket, you, the meat smoker, have many factors to consider to make the smoke a success. But I reckon there’s one factor that trumps them all, wouldn’t you say? And that factor is figuring out when to pull the brisket off the smoker.

Pull the brisket too early, and the collagen in it won’t have time to melt away and turn into juicy, mouth-watering gelatin. And let me tell you, a brisket that’s removed from the heat too early is one that turns out tougher than a pair of leather boots!

But leave the brisket in the smoker for too long, and it’ll eventually overcook. An overcooked brisket ain’t nothing to brag about either. The inside is dry and chewy — and not in a good way — and the bark is just too damn crusty for its own good.

So, where’s the sweet spot?

That temperature that yields a juicy, succulent, mighty fine brisket that’s cooked just right?

Well, don’t you worry none, fellow meat smokers, because you’ve come to the right place. Stick around and give this little ol’ blog post a read — and you and I will go over my best tips and tricks for removing that brisket off the smoker at the ideal time.

The Ideal Temperature: When to Pull Brisket Off the Smoker

Listen up, now, because I’m about to tell you a little secret.

Most pitmasters out there will remove the brisket from the smoker when its internal temperature hits somewhere between 170°F to 210°F (77°C to 99°C). That’s how you get a perfect brisket.

It might make an impression on those of you knowledgeable on food safety that this temperature range is well above 145°F (63°C), the minimum internal temperature recommended by the USDA for safely cooking beef. But trust me, there’s good reason for it.

Brisket, much like the other cuts of beef cooked by smoking, including the chuck, the ribs, and the tri-tip, are not your regular cuts of beef. No siree; they are chock-full of collagen, the protein that gives meat its structure. And collagen, as reported by Duluth Reader, won’t melt below 160°F (71°C).

What I’m trying to say here is that if you’re smoking up a brisket and you go and pull that hunk of meat at any internal temperature lower than 160°F (71°C), that collagen inside won’t have had a chance to transform into that delicious, gelatinous goodness we all crave.

The outcome?

The brisket will have the mouthfeel of a $2 steak — impossible to chew and downright disappointing. And, in my book, that’s a brisket not worth having!

Melting the Collagen: The Role of the Meat’s Internal Temp

Steak is tender and juicy because of its rich marbling — the white, creamy streaks of intramuscular fat that melts on the grill and adds succulence to the final product.

The same can’t be said for the brisket.

The brisket comes from the lower chest of the cow, the area just above the front legs. It consists of muscles that do a lot of heavy lifting: 60% of the cow’s weight when it’s standing on its feet and moving about, to be precise.

Because the cow’s chest muscles are so worked, they need plenty of strength and structure, and a great deal of that comes from the protein called collagen. Collagen, as anybody who’s tried to cook a cheap cut of beef on the grill will attest, is typically extremely tough and chewy… unless you cook it right.

And that’s where smoking comes in.

When you’re smoking a brisket low and slow, you’re not just giving it that incredible smoky flavor from the wood burning in your smoker’s firebox. No, no, no, you’re also buying time. You’re giving the heat the time it needs to penetrate right to the heart of the big piece of meat lying around in the cooking chamber.

And as you keep that brisket smoking away, the internal temperature will eventually start to climb higher and higher, hitting that magic number of 160°F (71°C) and beyond. That’s when the collagen starts to melt and transforms into the irresistible, mouth-watering gelatin — the juice we all love.

Just thinking about it has got me salivating!

Bottom Line: When to Pull Brisket Off Smoker

When your trusty meat thermometer reads 170°F (77°C) or higher, it’s time to pull that brisket from the smoker. But hold your horses, partner, and don’t go cutting into the meat just yet! Rest it for at least an hour before carving it.

Once you’ve carved it up nice and good, you can finally sit back and enjoy every bite.

Next Up: Your Brisket Stalled. Now What?

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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