Dry Smoked Brisket? Here’s 10 Reasons

There’s nothing worse than nurturing a brisket for 10-hours only to have it turn out dry. You can slop as much slaw as you like into a dry brisket sandwich, but there’s no escaping that leather boot texture. The brisket is the pinnacle of meat smoking, so I wanted to find out how pitmasters smoke brisket without it becoming dry. What I leaned is a few simple tips and techniques that will increase your chances of smoking a moist, tender brisket every time.

To ensure a tender and juicy brisket, it is important to cook it at a low temperature, between 220°F and 250°F. It is also important to allow the brisket to rest for at least 2 hours, wrap it in the second half of the cook, brine or inject it with liquid, baste it regularly, and choose a brisket with marbling. These techniques will help the brisket retain moisture and prevent it from drying out.

Why Is My Smoked Brisket Dry?

Cooked at too high a temperatureCook brisket between 220°F-250°F to avoid moisture loss
Sliced too earlyAllow brisket to rest for at least 2 hours to retain moisture
Didn’t wrap brisketWrap brisket in the second half of the cook to keep it moist
Didn’t brine brisketRub salt on the brisket 24 hours before cooking to retain moisture during cooking
Didn’t inject brisketInject brine or broth inside the meat to help retain moisture
Didn’t baste brisketBaste every hour to prevent drying out
Chose the wrong brisketLook for a brisket with marbling to ensure moist meat

This brisket injection marinade is the secret used in competitions and made by a World Barbecue champion.

1. Keep The Temperature Low To Avoid Fluid Loss

If you cook brisket at high temperatures above the 250°F range, you risk drying it out. High heat will cause the brisket to lose moisture and contribute to the dryness.

Brisket needs to be cooked low-and-slow at about 225°F (107°C). There is no time frame because that will depend on the size of the brisket. Large packer briskets may take upwards of 15-hours to cook. Meat is considered done at a 165°F internal temperature, but brisket is full of connective tissue and would be too chewy if we removed it from the pit at a “safe” internal temp. For brisket to be tender and juicy, you need to cook it to an internal temperature of around 200°F (93°C). The fatty, connective tissue in brisket will only turn to gelatin once it pushes past the recommended 165°F internal.

2. Rest The Brisket So Moisture Doesn’t Escape

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not allowing the brisket to rest once you have removed it from the smoker. Brisket will continue cooking for a long time after you have removed it from the heat. Resting will allow the brisket to reabsorb moisture, which will help make it moist and juicy. If you slice the brisket too soon, all the moisture will escape, making it dry. You need at least 2-hours to rest a brisket, and you can go longer if you wish. The best way to rest a brisket is to wrap it in a towel and place it in a cooler. If you’re preparing a brisket for a party or function, you can plan it so the brisket is done a few hours before the meal and it will still be steaming hot when you slice it up.

World Brisket Champion Harry Soo is now sharing his secrets with his Competition Meat Rubs.

3. Wrap The Brisket To Keep The Meat Moist

Wrapping the brisket if foil or butcher paper is one of the most important steps when smoking brisket. Wrapping will prevent the brisket from drying out and keep it nice and moist. As the internal meat rises, moisture pushes to the surface of the meat and escapes. Wrapping helps to retain this moisture and creates steam, which keeps the outer layer moist.

Don’t wrap the brisket too soon, wait until the internal temperature reaches about 150°F. You want to let the meat develop a smoke flavor in the first few hours of the cook by leaving it uncovered. Cold surfaces attract smoke, so the first stage of the cook is all about smoke absorption. The second stage of the cook is about keeping the brisket moist and monitoring the internal temperature.

Wrap the brisket in two layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil. You could also follow the trend and use the pink butcher paper made famous by brisket expert Aaron Franklin.

The other advantage of wrapping is it will help push the brisket through the stall. Brisket, as with most large smoking meats, will hit a brick wall when and seem to take forever to finish. The best way to push through the stall is by wrapping and raising the temperature a little.

“Should I Wrap My Brisket In Paper or Foil? (Plus We Compare 11 Different Papers)”

4. Brine Your Brisket To Retain Moisture

Dry brining the brisket is another way to help the meat retain moisture. Dry brining is where you rub salt onto the outer layer of the meat the day before cooking. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight so the salt can penetrate the meat. The salt will come into play during the cook, as it helps the meat retain moisture.

Brining is a process of soaking meat in a salt water solution for an extended period of time before cooking. The salt in the brine solution helps to break down the muscle fibers in the meat, making it more tender and flavorful.

Additionally, the salt helps to retain moisture in the meat by causing it to retain more water in the cells. This is because the salt in the brine solution creates an osmotic pressure gradient between the inside of the cells and the outside of the cells, causing water to be drawn into the cells from the brine solution.

“Should I Brine Brisket? The Step-By-Step Guide”

5. Inject The Brisket For Juicy Brisket

Another way to get more moisture inside the brisket is by injecting. Just like brining, adding salt to the meat will help retain moisture. Dry brining involves salting the outer layer of the meat, but injecting gets the solution into the inner layer of the meat. Injecting marinades is a common practice and will boost the flavor of your brisket. A meat injector is a handy tool and defiantly worth it if you want to master the brisket. Check out my recommended gear page for more information on meat injectors.

“Should I Inject Brisket? Injection Recipe And Pumping Guide”

6. Baste The Brisket For Flavor and Moisture

Another way to keep your brisket moist is by basting. This will keep the outer layer of the meat cool and protect the edges from burning and drying out. Spritzing with apple juice, apple cider vinegar, bone broth or just plain water will also attract more smoke, intensifying the smoke flavor. Mopping the meat has a cooling effect and slows down the cooking process. When the brisket is cooking unwrapped, spritz every hour.

Basting or spritzing brisket during smoking involves applying a liquid, such as apple cider vinegar or water, to the surface of the meat as it cooks. This helps to keep the meat moist by adding additional moisture to the surface of the meat, which can evaporate during the cooking process.

The evaporating moisture helps to keep the surface of the meat cool, which can help to prevent the meat from drying out. Additionally, the liquid that is applied to the surface of the meat can also help to create a protective barrier that can help to retain moisture within the meat.

“How To Spritz Brisket – Plus The Most Common Liquids For Smoking Meat”

7. Buy A Brisket With Marbling For Juicy Meat

When buying a brisket, make sure you select one with lots of marbling. A brisket that has nice marbling will be more moist than a brisket without. Buy the highest quality meat you can afford because this will make a big difference.

Marbling, which refers to the fat that is interspersed throughout the muscle tissue of the meat, can help to keep smoked meat moist during cooking. This is because the fat in the marbling can help to keep the meat moist by melting and basting the meat as it cooks. The fat in the marbling can also help to add flavor to the meat.

“Marbling On Brisket – Why It Matters (And How To Find It”

8. Use a Water Pan For Extra Moisture

Make sure you use a water pan when cooking a brisket on any kind of charcoal smoker. A water pan will deflect some heat away from the meat and help keep the temperature of the smoker in a safe range. Place the meat directly above the water pan and keep it refilled with hot water throughout the cook.

The moisture in a water pan in a smoker can help to keep the meat moist by providing a source of water vapor that can be absorbed by the meat as it cooks. The water vapor can help to keep the meat moist by adding moisture to the air within the smoker, which can help to prevent the meat from drying out.

9. Use Fresh Brisket, Not Frozen

Keep in mind that fresh meat is always better than frozen meat. Using a frozen brisket isn’t a major problem but meat that has been frozen won’t be as moist as fresh meat. Freezing alters the structure of the meat which affects how water is retained.

Frozen brisket is more prone to drying out than fresh brisket because the freezing process can cause the muscle fibers in the meat to become more rigid and less able to hold onto moisture. Additionally, the freezing process can also cause the cells in the meat to become more fragile, which can make them more prone to bursting and releasing moisture during the cooking process.

“Is Frozen Brisket Any Good?”

10. Smoking Brisket Indirect Heat

Indirect or two-zone cooking is the best way to smoke a brisket low-and-slow. Place the brisket on the opposite side to the fire so that the meat isn’t sitting directly above the flames. If your smoker has a deflector shield, then put it in place. Kamado/Egg smokers and stickburners usually have deflector shields as a separate attachment. Two zone cooking isn’t necessary if you are smoking with a pellet grill, electric or gas smokers. The temperature is easier to control on these smokers, so two-zone cooking is irrelevant.

Thinner, more tender cuts of meat can handle high heat, but cuts of meat like brisket contain a lot of connective tissue that needs to render. This rendering can only occur through slow cooking. When you place the brisket in the smoker, face the point (the thickest part) closest to the fire. This will protect the thinner flat from drying out.

In Summary

  • To smoke a moist and tender brisket, cook at a low temperature (220°F-250°F)
  • Allow the brisket to rest for at least 2 hours before slicing
  • Wrap the brisket in foil or butcher paper during the second half of the cook to retain moisture and create steam
  • Brining or injecting the brisket with liquid can help retain moisture during cooking
  • Baste the brisket regularly to prevent it from drying out
  • Choose a brisket with marbling for moist, flavorful meat
  • Cook the brisket to an internal temperature of around 200°F to ensure tenderness
  • Avoid cooking the brisket at high temperatures to prevent fluid loss

My Favorite Brisket Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Injector: Injecting meat is a great way to take your barbecue to the next level and help you make competition-style brisket. An injector is the only way you will be able to get flavor and moisture into the middle of the meat. The Beast Injector is a stainless steel injector that is sturdy and affordable. Check the latest price on Amazon here.

Brisket Marinade: The best injection solution on the market is the Butcher BBQ Brisket Injection. This marinade is used in competitions and is made by World Barbecue Champion pitmaster, Dave Bouska. You can find the marinade on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Brisket Rub: These days I make my own rub when possible, but I always have a few pre-made rubs for when I’m running low. Barbecue guru Malcom Reed produces Killer Hogs, one of the best brisket rubs I’ve found over the years. Another great rub is Slap Yo Daddy, made by brisket master and multiple World Barbecue Champion, Harry Soo.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

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