Brisket 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Perfectly Smoked Brisket

March 1, 2023

Ali Khan Eats Brisket

Yes, you can smoke brisket at home


The idea of cooking a brisket for the first time is daunting. And it should be. Preparing this substantial cut of beef perfectly, takes time, skill, and attention to detail. But don’t worry! You can learn the art of making smoked brisket with enough practice and some free expertise. I’ll go over all the information you need to know, including when to wrap the brisket, in this beginner’s guide.

First, let’s talk about what brisket is.

A particular cut of beef called brisket is taken from the cow’s breast or lower chest. It is a substantial, delicious, and tough cut of meat that is well-suited for slow roasting, braising, and other slow-cooking techniques. The point and the flat are the two basic components of a brisket. The point is fattier and more marbled, while the flat is leaner and more evenly shaped. Sometimes the two components are sold separately and often at barbecue restaurants they are sold individually as some prefer one over the other.

A hallmark of Jewish cuisines as well as American Barbecue, brisket is a heavyweight entree worthy of special occasions and holiday dinners. In American barbecue, brisket is rubbed in spices smoked for many hours, traditionally in an offset smoker fueled by wood. Jewish cooking frequently involves braising brisket in liquid and aromatics until it is fall apart tender. Recently Mexican cooks have turned to brisket to make barbacoa, which involves slow-cooking the meat in a pit wrapped in leaves for hours till tender or using it in a stew called birria. 

In any scenario, brisket needs a lot of cooking time to break down the connective tissue and become soft because it is a tough cut of meat. When it does become tender it also becomes astonishingly flavorful, with an intense beef flavor that arguably has no rival.

Prepare your brisket

To pull off the holy grail of smoked meats, shop wisely. It’s crucial to choose a brisket that is fresh and well-marbled. The quality of the beef is crucial. Don’t skimp on price especially during your first go round. Choose USDA choice or Prime and go to a trusted butcher when possible.

The trim is critical. Trim off any excess fat from the brisket, leaving about ¼ inch of fat on the meat. This will help the smoke penetrate the meat and prevent the brisket from becoming greasy. Next, season the brisket with your favorite rub. You can use a store-bought rub or create your own by combining salt, pepper, garlic powder, and other spices. Highly recommend watching this video from BBQ legend Aaron Franklin on prepping a brisket here.

Smoking your Brisket

The process of smoking entails continuously exposing the meat to smoke produced in a smoker. The flavor of smoke is a hallmark in the experience of barbecued brisket. Maintaining a constant temperature and smoke level during the cooking period is crucial for properly smoking a brisket. This entails utilizing a smoker with accurate temperature control and adding wood or charcoal as necessary to keep the smoke level constant. Pellet grills like Traeger have become synonymous with first timers making brisket because of the consistent temperature control and the long cooking times required. 

In my Traeger grill, I set my temp to 225 with the super smoke setting to do a brisket. In a traditional offset smoker you could go as high as 250, even 275 degrees. If you’re setting up a charcoal grill to smoke, you will need an accurate temperature gauge to monitor the heat. Consistent heat at temps around 200-250 degrees are key. And that has to be maintained for 12+ hours depending on size of the brisket. 

When do you wrap a brisket?

The question “When do you wrap a brisket?” is a big question newbie brisket smokers. Briskets are frequently wrapped during smoking to preserve moisture and softness and to hasten the cooking process. The level of bark (crust) desired, cooking time, and personal choice all play a role in determining whether to wrap a brisket.

The Texas Crutch

After a few hours of smoking, this method entails wrapping the brisket with foil or butcher paper (also known as the Texas crutch). The brisket will cook faster, retain moisture, giving you a juicy brisket when you wrap butcher paper, especially in foil. The brisket produced by this approach tends to have a softer bark and less smoky flavor, but it will cook faster, keeping your cook around 12+ hours vs 17+ hours.

No Wrap

As an alternative, you might decide to smoke your brisket without any sort of wrapper. If not carefully supervised, this procedure could take longer to cook and produce a brisket that is drier. But you will get a superior bark.

As a general guideline, the brisket should be wrapped when the internal temperature is between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, depending on the size of the brisket, this takes 5 to 6 hours. To help keep the meat wet while it is wrapped in foil or paper, add some beef tallow, though a well marbled brisket should be juicy enough. I prefer peach paper but foil works too.

When and if you wrap your brisket will ultimately rely on your preferences and the results you want for your brisket. You could decide to wrap the brisket after a few hours of smoking if you want it to be juicy and tender with a softer bark. You can omit the wrap entirely if you want a thicker bark and don’t mind a longer cook time.

The road to 200+ degrees

The brisket should be wrapped and smoked until it achieves an internal temperature of 202 to 205 degrees F. Many experts recommend going till you hit 203 degrees internal temp Depending on the size of the brisket, this could take another 4-6 hours, or longer. Remove the brisket from the smoker once it reaches the correct temperature, and then let it rest . . . 

Rest it in a cooler.

If you haven’t wrapped(and you probably should) I would wrap the brisket now and place it in a well insulated cooler. A whole packer brisket(point and flat) in a well insulated cooler should rest for a couple hours. It’s important to use a high quality cooler and I would not only wrap the brisket in Peach Paper or foil but also then wrap it in a towel, preferably one you don’t mind smelling like barbecue. Some pitmasters will rest their brisket overnight, as long as you can maintain an internal temp of no lower than 140 degrees, you can keep resting. Any lower and you risk food safety.

My Brisket blessing

Smoking brisket is journey whose hallmarks involve perseverance and practice. When you do get there, the results are well worth the trouble. Like climbing a mountain, smoking a perfect brisket is a well earned accomplishment and when you ascend that summit, you will be the talk of your neighborhood block. 

Pro tip: you can freeze the leftovers and make chili. Also brisket is very delicious in taco form with salsa. Plan ahead, and remember that it will take a few tries to get it right but you can do it! Conquer the brisket and you can smoke almost anything!




Share this:

Leave a Reply

5 responses to “Brisket 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Perfectly Smoked Brisket”

  1. jay richardson says:

    Is it possible to cook a good beef brisket in a slow cooker?

  2. Wow, I never knew that a butcher could help you find the best meat you could use for your future dishes! My friend wants to cook a feast when having his relatives during the holidays. I will talk to him about finding a grocery store that has a reputable butcher for nice and firm cuts!

  3. the help essay

    Brisket 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Perfectly Smoked Brisket – Ali Khan Eats

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Email Updates

Join the list and get new stuff right when it drops: