Where should you probe a brisket?
Good question. Maybe not the one you want to hear your doctor ask at your next visit, even if the doctor is well aware of your grilling expertise. Timing and context are everything, after all.
All the same, it’s a good question and one worth… ahem, exploring.
Some wise grill sages will tell you to simply stick your meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. And it’s not bad advice because, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what you should do.
If you don’t know much about the parts of a brisket, it’s actually pretty solid advice. However, there’s more you should know before following that advice, specifically about the brisket itself.
When it comes to any cut of meat that you have to take a temperature on, you always want to pick the best spot possible for a probe. With a brisket, that can be tricky.
So, let’s dive in and find out why.
There’s So Much Meat!
Anyway, yeah, cuts of brisket bring with them the promise of a lot of meat. If you’ve got a wimpy brisket, you need to question who sold it to you and who labeled it.
Cuts of brisket come with two parts that are often debated for thermometer targeting. A brisket, like all meat, is a cut of muscle. In a brisket’s case, it’s cut from a cow’s pectoralis muscle.
Although a brisket comes from the same group of muscles, that group of muscles has different parts within it. For a brisket, those parts are the point and the flat. What differentiates these parts will determine our choice for probing.
What’s the difference?
Well, one part’s pointy and the other’s flat, right?
The difference is the point has that awesome layer of fat known as the deckle attached to it. The flat has no awesome layer of fat, which also means it’s a lot leaner but also a lot denser.
These parts are important to know when it comes to where you want to stick your thermometer. Essentially, you’re going to debate with yourself whether you should probe the leaner part or the fattier part. After all, with the point, maybe the fat of the deckle will be rendered faster, causing that part to cook faster!
Or, maybe because the flat is less fatty, the meat won’t have as much moisture to slow down its internal temperature and lead to a brisket that’s done faster and ends up dryer as a result!
Well, don’t let the debate get you down. Knowing the different parts is important but not critical. Yet it sure does help when it comes to…
Picking the Spot
Each brisket has to be judged on its own merit and heftiness as well as fat content. If you know the difference between the flat and the point, insert your thermometer in the thickest part of the flat since it’ll be the leanest and densest part of the brisket.
There, debate over.
Once you find your spot, make sure when you stick your thermometer in, stick it in at an angle. Don’t push it straight down or completely sideways. Straight down and you might completely pierce your brisket. And sideways would be…weird.
You can’t go wrong with a 45° angle, give or take a few degrees.
Also, insert your thermometer in across the grain. You don’t want to go with the grain or against it. Rather, you basically want to go perpendicular to it.
This ensures you’re not only getting the thickest, densest part of the meat, you’re also getting resistance when probing. The resistance lets you know you’re “in” the meat and not lost in a valley in the grain somewhere. If you are, you might get a hotter than expected temperature, which will be completely misleading.
Don’t fall for it.
Lastly, make sure you identify the spot you’ll use well before you start cooking.
The Dreaded Stall
There’s a stall? And it’s dreaded?
Yeah, when it comes to smoking or slow-cooking a brisket, you’ll almost always hit the stall. When?
Right around the time you hit 150°F (65°C), give or take five degrees. It’s at this point that the internal temperature of the brisket stops rising, plateaus, and drives rookie and inexperienced brisket cooks insane.
Related: Why Briskets Stall, And What to Do About It
Now you might be wondering, why on earth would the brisket stop rising in temperature? Why would it essentially stop cooking and enter a state of hibernation?
Well, it has everything to do with the fact you’ve been cooking your brisket for a long while, albeit slowly. So, you haven’t been using high temperatures at all. Once the brisket hits or nears 150°, it’ll basically start sweating. And like people who sweat, it can have a cooling effect on the brisket.
It’s still technically cooking, just not to the temperature you want and you’re losing a lot of the internal juices at the same time.
If this happens to you—and it probably will—remember to be patient. Don’t drive yourself crazy by constantly checking the internal temperature only to find it isn’t changing much. Instead, it’s time to, what we like to call, cheat.
No, it’s not really cheating. Actually, it’s a tried and true method to finish your brisket at the temperature you’ve been working toward.
What is it?
Wrap your brisket in butcher paper or foil if it isn’t already wrapped.
This will trap the moisture that the brisket’s sweating. In addition, it’s a great way to keep the brisket from becoming overly dry due to fluid loss. The drawback, of course, is the bark may suffer from being wrapped in a moisturized cocoon.
The other option is to be extra patient and just power through the stall, knowing, eventually, you will make it through. You should still, however, avoid constantly checking the temperature for a while.
And don’t succumb to the temptation to increase your heat. If you’ve been maintaining a constant temperature, keep at it. It’s not time to turn your smoker or grill into an inferno.
Picking the best spot to probe your brisket isn’t a tough task. Knowing the two main parts of a brisket will make it even easier to pick. Keep life simple by sticking to the thickest part of the flat. This will ensure you’re getting a reading in the densest muscle without interference from juices and fat.
Don’t fear the stall. You have two great options to choose from if it happens:
- Wrap your brisket
- Wait the stall out
Avoid jacking up the heat. If you maintain your temperature, the stall will be overcome.