How To Make Brisket More Tender – How The Pros Tenderize Brisket

If you’re not getting tender, juicy brisket whenever you fire up your smoker, then you must be doing something wrong. It’s important to understand the brisket fundamentals. Nailing the perfect smoked brisket isn’t rocket science. However, there’s a few things you need to know.

To become tender, brisket needs to be cooked at 225°F until it reaches an internal temperature of 203°F. The secret to tender brisket is time at low temperature. This is the only way to break down the tough connective tissue. It also helps to buy quality beef, and use techniques such as spritzing, wrapping, injecting and brining.

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

Key PointExplanation
Cook brisket to an internal temperature of 203°FBrisket needs to be cooked to a high internal temperature in order to become tender. The USDA recommends cooking beef roasts to an internal temperature of 145°F, but this will not be enough to make brisket tender.
Use a meat thermometerTo accurately cook brisket to the correct internal temperature, it is important to use a meat thermometer. A wireless digital thermometer can be especially helpful for tracking the temperature remotely.
Buy high-quality brisketHigher-quality briskets, such as those graded as USDA Prime or Choice, tend to be more tender and juicy due to their higher levels of marbling. Lower-quality briskets, such as those graded as Select, may require more precise cooking techniques to achieve tenderness.
Allow the connective tissue to meltCooking brisket at a low temperature allows the connective tissue to break down and become tender. This transformation is necessary to achieve a tender and flavorful smoked brisket.

Brisket Needs Time At A Low Temperature

The UDSA recommends cooking beef roasts to an internal temperature of 145°F. If you were to pull the brisket when the internal temperature was 145°F, although it would be safe to eat, the meat would be far too chewy.

For brisket to become tender, it needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of around 203°F. No matter how long it takes. If your smoked brisket isn’t tender, there’s a good chance it wasn’t cooked long enough. Brisket contains an enormous amount of connective tissue that needs a long time to break down. If you remove the brisket too early, the meat may be safe to eat, but it will be tough. The only way to break down the connective tissue is time at a low temperature. The low temperature and time helps melt the connective tissue so it becomes tender.

Allow The Connective Tissue To Melt

Something magical happens when tough cuts of meat like brisket is given time at low temperature. After several hours, the connective tissue in the meat breaks down and renders into the meat. When cooked slowly, the brisket sinew melts, transforming into a gelatinous texture. This transformation is why slow smoked brisket is such a deliciously. We can only achieve this delicious gelatin-like texture of smoked brisket by slow cooking.

More Tips To Make Brisket Tender

  • Keep the brisket moist during cooking by using spritzing, mop sauce, a water pan, wrapping in foil or butcher paper, and allowing it to rest.
  • Brisket will become more tender the longer it is cooked, as long as it reaches an internal temperature of 203°F.
  • Hot-and-fast brisket may not be as tender as slow-cooked brisket because it does not have enough time to tenderize.
  • A chewy brisket may be the result of not cooking it long enough, removing it from the smoker before it reaches an internal temperature of 203°F, or cooking it too quickly at a high temperature.
  • If a smoked brisket turns out to be tough and chewy, it can be shredded and served as pulled beef.
  • Brisket takes a long time to cook and tenderize, typically 10-18 hours or more, depending on the size of the brisket and the temperature of the smoker. It is important to wrap the brisket at the halfway point to keep it moist and help it tenderize.

Use A Meat Thermometer

When smoking brisket, we cook to internal meat temperature rather than time. To become tender, brisket needs to be cooked to an internal meat temperature of 203°F. If you remove the brisket any sooner than 203°F, it will be tough and chewy. The best way to cook meat to temperature is by using a wireless digital thermometer to track the internal meat temperature remotely.

Buy High-Quality Brisket

Choosing quality beef grades is something that often gets overlooked. You can practice all the barbecue techniques under the sun, but if the meat is poor quality, then there’s not much you can do. Buying quality meat is one of the best ways to ensure tender, juicy brisket.

In the USA, there are three different beef grades; Select, Prime and Choice. A Select grade brisket won’t be as tender and juicy as a USDA Prime, or a USDA Choice grade brisket. Prime, Choice and Wagyu have high levels of marbling, which makes a huge difference. The lower beef grades have almost no marbling. This is why Select grade briskets are such a headache. You need to do everything right to get good results.

Inject The Brisket

A brisket injection will add flavor, liquid and help tenderize the meat. When you inject brisket, the solution gets in between the muscle fibers and helps break down the connective tissue. There are two common brisket injections used by the pros in barbeque competitions. One is a product called Fab B and the other is Butcher BBQ, which is available on Amazon.

Brisket injecting is more of a ninja tactic used by barbeque competitors who need to wow the judges with one bite. For the average weekend warrior, injecting isn’t necessary. If you keep the temperature low and slow and get the brisket fundamentals right, your brisket is going to be tender, juicy and full of flavor. Injecting is more of a “next-level” technique.

If you’re interested in brisket injection, I wrote a full-length article on the subject where a i walk you through all the different injection solutions, the best meat injectors and the best way to inject brisket. You can check out the article here: Should I Inject Brisket?

Spritz The Brisket

Spritzing or mopping the brisket can help the brisket to become more tender. Wetting the brisket with regular spritzing will slow down the cook–which is what we want. Smoking brisket is about buying time. We need all that connective tissue to break down. So we want the hold the brisket at a low temperature for as long as possible. You can spritz the brisket with apple juice, or apple cider vinegar. This will also help the brisket attract smoke, and will help the bark develop. Be careful not to spritz too early, otherwise the rub will wash off. Don’t spritz early in the cook, wait about 4 or 5 hours before spritzing every hour until the brisket is wrapped.

Keep The Brisket Moist

Brisket needs to be cooked for several hours, so keeping the brisket moist during a long cook is very important. We can do this in several ways. During the first stage of the cook, spritzing the brisket or applying a mop sauce will help keep the meat nice and moist. Using a water pan will add moisture to the cooking environment. Wrapping the brisket in aluminium foil or butcher paper at the halfway point of the cook will also help keep the brisket moist. Also, allowing the brisket to rest for about 1 hour will prevent the meat from losing moisture.

Will Brisket Get Tender The More You Cook It?

Brisket will become more tender the longer you cook it. You are trying to buy as much time as possible when slow smoking brisket. The magic happens when the meat has been in the smoker for 12 plus hours and the brisket and the connective tissue has rendered into the meat. If you were to remove the brisket from the smoker too early, you will stop the magic happening. Remember, the brisket is only done once the meat temperature hits 203°F.

Can Hot-And-Fast Brisket Become Tender?

Just getting the internal temperature of a brisket to 203°F does not guarantee tender meat. In order for the connective tissue to break down, the brisket also needs time. Hot-and-fast briskets are extremly popular at the moment. They’re great for when you need a smoked brisket in a hurry. However, a hot-and-fast brisket will be a little chewy because brisket needs time to tenderize.

Why Is My Smoked Brisket Chewy?

If you ended up with a chewy brisket, the most likely explanation is you didn’t cook it for long enough and you removed the meat at 190°F or below. The other possibility is you raised the temperature of your smoker above 275°F and the brisket cooked too fast, even though the meat reached the required internal temperature of 200°F plus.

How To Make Brisket Tender After Smoking

If you have smoked a brisket and it’s tough and chewy, there’s not a lot that you can do. One idea is to shred the brisket and serve it as pulled beef. Shredded brisket works well in nachos, tacos, etc.

How Long Does Brisket Take?

Brisket needs anywhere from 10 to 18 hours to tenderize, even longer. The exact time will depend on the size of the brisket and the temperature of your smoker. When smoking, we cook brisket in two stages; unwrapped and wrapped. A brisket will stall at around 150°F to 160°F, and the internal meat temperature will hit a plateau. It is at this point we wrap the brisket to help keep the brisket moist but also help the meat tenderize and push through the stall towards the 203°F done temperature.

Brisket Total Cook TimeStart Time Begin SpritzingWrap BrisketFinish in OvenDone Time (203°F)Holding Time In Dry Cooler (1-4 hours)
12 hours6pm9pm12am12am6amBetween 7am – 10am
15 hours5pm8pm11pm11pm8amBetween 9am – 12pm
18 hours2pm5pm8pm8pm8am Between 9am- 12pm
Smoked brisket planner

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.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

Recent Posts