how to cook a beef brisket in a smoker

For a 12- to 14-pound brisket, allow anywhere from 9 to 12 hours in the smoker. Here, you’ll first smoke the brisket for 6 to 8 hours, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Then, you’ll wrap the brisket in unwaxed butcher’s paper and return it to the smoker for 3 to 4 hours, until it reaches 203°F.

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Its no secret that I love smoked brisket in all its beefy, delicious goodness whether its sliced, chopped, or made into burnt ends. I love the stuff.

Smoked brisket is a great game day food, and in this recipe, Im going to walk you through the process of preparing and cooking a brisket in the smoker so that it comes out a winner.

Place the brisket fat cap side down on a cutting board or better yet, down into a large, deep foil pan to help contain the mess.

Notice how you can see the strands of the meat and the direction that they run? This is called the grain.

Since we slice across that grain to get the most tender bite, well need a way to remember the direction of the grain once its covered with rub and cooked.

For this reason, its a good idea to mark this somehow so youll know how to slice it later.

I sometimes notch the meat, but an even better idea is to simply run an extra long toothpick through it in the same direction that the slices need to be cut. This stays in throughout the cooking process.

This side will be facing down in the smoker but lets season it up before we flip it over to fat cap up.

I sometimes use mustard, spicy mustard, olive oil, barbecue sauce, etc. to create a sticky surface on the meat so the rub will stick. Rub is no good to anyone if it just simply falls off when you flip it over or when you are placing it on the smoker grate. A sticky surface under the rub fixes this problem.

This time well use molasses as it is very sticky, gives it great color when mixed with my original rub and tastes amazing as well.

Sprinkle ¼ cup of Jeffs original rub onto the brisket and use your hands to spread it out over the top and sides.

The fatty side of the brisket called the “fat cap” only needs to be about ¼ inch thick. You can trim it down to this thickness using a sharp knife if you want to.

As you can imagine, the smoke and rub does not get through that layer of fat so you might wonder why we leave it on instead of just trimming it all off..

Well, during the cooking process, this fat will begin to melt and as it does, this super tasty juices will flow over the brisket and down the sides sort of self-basting.

Now, lets cut a crosshatch pattern into the fat cap. Try not to cut into the meat but its not the end of the world if it does happen.

This allows the juices to get trapped a little down next to the meat helping to keep it more moist. It also gives the rub a place to hold on to so the melting fat cap doesnt just wash all of the rub away. I also believe this gives the smoke just a little bit of access to the meat that it wouldnt have on that side otherwise.

And pour another ¼ cup of Jeffs original rub onto the fat cap and rub it in real good.

The brisket is now in the correct configuration and is ready for the smoker and you can start dreaming about the delicious smoked brisket youll soon be enjoying!

Set up your smoker for cooking at 240°F (116°C) using indirect heat. Lower heat is ok if you must but, just know that this means it will take your brisket a little longer to get done.

When the smoker is ready to cook, place the brisket on the smoker grate fat side up and close the door or lid.

I used a pecan/cherry mix for smoke but any good smoking wood will work fine for smoked brisket.

For large, normal sized packer briskets, you can expect it to take about 5-6 hours to reach 155-160°F which is the point at which the brisket can be wrapped in foil or paper.

I used my orange ThermoPop to get periodic temperature readings for this cook and because it reads in just a few seconds, I can raise the lid, get a reading and close the lid in under 5 seconds. Thats lightning speed in the world of instant read thermometers.

You can also use a leave-in digital probe meat thermometer if you have one. Check out the “Smoke” by ThermoWorks.

Wrapping a brisket helps it to get done faster, creates a more tender smoked brisket, and it helps to retain the moisture so it ends up a little more juicy. The down side is that the bark can end up soggy instead of nice and crisp.

Wrapping in paper does help the bark to maintain most of its crispness and is a great choice for wrapping brisket. I sometimes wrap in paper or foil but often I choose to leave it alone.

You can purchase the food-grade natural brown paper in 18-inch or 30-inch width and it works great for this purpose.

This is completely your decision, so if you havent tried wrapping, you probably should so you can make a good decision on whether to wrap or not wrap on future briskets.

If you do decide to wrap, just simply wrap it in foil or paper making sure it is tightly closed. Place it back in the smoker as quickly as possible in the same configuration as before.

Continue cooking the brisket until it reaches about 200°F (93°C) at which point I start checking it for tenderness using the butter test.

The butter test means that when a brisket is perfectly done, pushing a sharp probe or skewer into it should feel like its going into soft, room temperature butter.

I put a half-stick of butter on the counter for a couple of hours to soften so I could compare the feel..

I then slid a wooden skewer into the top of the stick of butter before probing the center of the brisket flat. You can do this at home to get a feel for what a done brisket feels like.

It should go into the smoked brisket with little to no resistance when it is done.

Usually this happens at about 200°F (93°C) but can happen at higher temperatures if your brisket is particularly tough. Feeling the resistance is a great way to learn how to tell when brisket has reached its sweet spot.

Once the brisket hits this “sweet spot” I recommend removing it from the heat right away.

Before serving the smoked brisket, it needs to be rested for 1.5 to 2 hours in a dry, empty cooler wrapped in a layer of foil during which time, the juices will redistribute throughout the meat and it will end up being more juicy and tender than it would if you skipped this step.

If the brisket isnt already wrapped, place the brisket on a long piece of heavy duty foil.

I like to place pillows, towels, etc. on top of the brisket to insulate it while it rests.

Once the brisket is rested, it can be removed from the foil wrapping and sliced up for serving.

If the brisket slices are not as juicy as you hoped, pour some of the reserved juices from the foil wrap or the pan over the brisket slices just before serving.

How to Smoke a Brisket

Smoking brisket isn’t hard, it just takes time, and lots of it! Follow the steps below to get the best smoked brisket of your life:

  • Select your brisket. I have a full write up about choosing the perfect brisket in my Brisket 101 post. Here are the basics: Plan on purchasing a whole packer brisket with both the point and flat muscle included. The grade of your meat matters, prime beef will have more fat marbling. (This means more flavor and juiciness than a choice graded brisket!). Buy about 1/2 pound (or more) of brisket per person you are serving.
  • Trim the brisket. Some Texans claim they don’t trim at all. At most of the top smokehouses, however, they do trim. This step is so important for how the final product will turn out. Spend the 20-30 minutes you need to trim it properly. I have step by step instructions (and pictures) for trimming your brisket in this post: How To Trim a Brisket. There is also a sped-up version in the video (below the recipe card) that will help you get a visual for a trimmed brisket.
  • Season your brisket. Texas style is seasoned with only coarse salt and coarse black pepper. My only addition (and this is personal preference, you can skip it if you’re a purist) is to add garlic powder as well. It doesn’t really change the flavor or take away from that amazing smoked beef, but adds a little extra layer of goodness.
  • Get Smoking! Use a nice hardwood in your smoker. I used oak as the base wood with a little bit of cherry mixed in. The goal here, whatever type of smoker you are using, is consistent heat and a steady flow of thin blue smoke.
  • Wrap the brisket. This is one of the most crucial steps, in my opinion, to achieving that super juicy tender brisket with that killer dark caramelized bark. Opinions differ between using foil and peach butcher paper, but for this recipe I am fully converted to the butcher paper after years of using foil. My briskets have never had a better smoke flavor and a more delicious bark. The brisket gets wrapped up like a present, folding edge over edge until it is fully sealed. Return the brisket to your smoker with the folded edges down and continue smoking at 225 degrees F until the internal temperature of your brisket reaches 202 degrees F at the thickest part (make sure your thermometer is in the meat, not fat).
  • Rest your smoked brisket. DO. NOT. SKIP. THIS. STEP. Resting your brisket allows so many of those hot and bubbly juices to settle down a little and redistribute to the meat. It also brings your brisket down to perfect slicing and serving temperature.
  • Slice your brisket. I have a full post about slicing your brisket HERE. You want to slice your smoked brisket against the grain for maximum tenderness. But remember! There are two overlapping muscles and two different grain directions. You can split the point and flat sections and slice each individually against the grain before serving but that sometimes leaves pieces with no bark on top. Traditional Texas joints split the brisket down the middle, as close as possible where to point overlaps the flat, they then turn the point 90 degrees and slice it that way and then finish slicing the flat the opposite way. You will have some pieces where they grain isn’t perfect but if your meat is tender enough it won’t matter too much.
  • Serve your gorgeously smoked brisket. In Texas joints when you order, you can request fatty or lean brisket. The fatty is the point and the lean is the flat. I like to tell my guests which slices are which so they can pick their favorite. The fatty is my personal preference, but I always grab a slice of the lean too because it has such an amazing smoke flavor! For an even more traditional experience, serve on a platter with butcher paper, lots of pickles, white bread, picked red onions, and pickled jalapenos. Sauce on the side. Always.

Variations for Smoked Brisket

Not all brisket methods are the same, and I often try different techniques to get the best results. Here are a couple of variations you can try:

  • Slather! Some people like to use a binder to help the rub adhere to the brisket. My favorite is yellow mustard. This helps the seasoning stick, but the acidity also helps break down the surface of the meat and create a gorgeous bark. It’s not necessary, but worth a try to see if you like it!
  • Wrap! I recommend wrapping in butcher paper, but foil is also an option. In fact, foil is the original Texas crutch to help push smoke dmeat through the stall. It’s still used in many BBQ joints. Your brisket may have a softer bark, but it will maintain a lot of moisture inside the meat itself.
  • Temperature! I like low and slow for my briskets, but some people like the process to hurry a long a bit. You can try smoking at 275 degrees F to shorten the cook time. There’s no perfect formula to have a perfect time line, so keep an eye on the internal temp of your brisket.

Watch the video below the recipe card and I’ll show you step-by-step how I make this smoked brisket at home. I’m on a mission to help you become the best backyard BBQer of your life, so head on over to YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook to get more recipes, videos, and tips from Hey Grill Hey. We can’t wait to hear from you!

how to cook a beef brisket in a smoker

Tools Needed to Smoke Brisket

I have linked the products that I use when smoking my brisket below so you can see exactly what I’m using at home. Not all of these are necessary, but after smoking a bunch of briskets, I have found they make the job a lot easier!

  • Smoker. I like to use my CampChef SmokePro, but any variety that can hold a steady temperature of 225 degrees F will work great.
  • Large Cutting Board. You’ll need a big surface to slice your hunk of brisket on once it’s ready to serve.
  • Meat Thermometer. The Thermapen Mk4 is the perfect thermometer for this brisket, but any reliable thermometer will do.
  • Butcher Paper. This Texas style brisket is wrapped in butcher paper during the stall. You can pick up some Hey Grill Hey Peach Butcher Paper over at Patio Provisions today!
  • Chef’s Knife. A good, sharp knife is necessary to slice your brisket. This Dahstrong Chef Knife is perfect for the job.

For a 12- to 14-pound brisket, allow anywhere from 9 to 12 hours in the smoker. Here, you’ll first smoke the brisket for 6 to 8 hours, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Then, you’ll wrap the brisket in unwaxed butcher’s paper and return it to the smoker for 3 to 4 hours, until it reaches 203°F.

FAQ

How long does it take to cook a brisket in a smoker?

Our general rule of thumb is to plan on between 30 and 60 minutes per pound when learning how to cook a brisket. For example, a 16-pound brisket cooked at 275 degrees Fahrenheit will take between 10 and 12 hours. The entire process from trimming, injection, seasoning, and cooking will take between 18 and 20 hours.

How do you smoke a brisket so it is tender?

The guaranteed best way to make a brisket tender is to cook it low and slow. This means using a low temperature (usually around 225-250°F or 107-121°C) and allowing plenty of time for the connective tissues in the meat to break down and become tender.

Should I wrap brisket in foil when smoking?

Wrapping a brisket in butcher paper or aluminum foil will speed up the cooking process. Wrapping the brisket will prevent what’s called “the stall” — when evaporation from the surface of the brisket halts the cooking process.

What is the 3 2 1 rule for brisket?

Try the 3-2-1 rule for brisket! This popular smoking method requires you to smoke the brisket at 225°F for 3 hours, wrap it in foil and continue cooking for 2 hours, then unwrap it and cook it uncovered for 1 hour before serving.

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