When cooking brisket, timing is everything. An undercooked brisket will be chewy, and an overcooked brisket will be dry. The secret to the perfect brisket is knowing when the meat reaches ideal tenderness. In this post, I’ll show you how barbecue experts cook brisket to perfection. I’ll walk you through the brisket tenderness tests and show you the best tools.
In general, brisket reaches ideal tenderness between 195°F and 205°F. You will overcook brisket if the internal meat temperature goes beyond 210°F. Overcooking will cause the brisket to dry out. For best results, cook brisket at 225°F until it reaches 203° F. Otherwise, you can also perform a series of tenderness tests without using thermometers.
Meat Thermometers – The Secret To Perfect Brisket
So to avoid overcooking your brisket, you need a good meat thermometer. Without a decent meat thermometer, you’re cooking blind. And I’m not talking about one of those cheap $5 probes that you stick in the meat. I’m talking about a proper thermometer that you can leave in the meat while the brisket is cooking. This is important because we need to keep track of the internal meat temperature for the entire cook.
With low-and-slow barbecue, we cook to temperature, not time. And the only way to cook to internal meat temperature is by using thermometers. If you take your barbecue seriously, a meat thermometer is your most important tool. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a good thermometer.
I still use a thermometer I bought on Amazon for around $50. The meat smoking community recommended the TP20. This thermometer is one of the most popular thermometers on Amazon because it’s accurate, durable and user friendly. You can check it out here.
If you want to avoid overcooking your brisket, thermometers aren’t your only tool. There are a series of tenderness tests you can perform so you can tell if on brisket is tender. These tests will help you determine whether your brisket has reached the ideal tenderness.
Internal meat temperature is only a guide. Thermometers let you know if you’re in the ballpark. When the temperature is getting close, put the thermometer away and start testing for tenderness by using your “brisket assessment skills”.
The Toothpick Test
The first test is the toothpick test. Take a toothpick or an instant-read thermometer and poke the brisket. It should feel as though you are poking a stick of butter once you’ve reached perfect tenderness. If you don’t know what that feels like, poke a stick of butter with a toothpick. Then, with another toothpick, poke the brisket.
The Jiggle Test
The jiggle test is another way to tell if you have reached the ideal tenderness. When you slice your brisket, you should be able to hold up a slice and give it a little jiggle. If the slice breaks in half as you jiggle it, then it’s over tender. The brisket should be out of hold itself up by its own weight without breaking. Take your other hand and gently pull the brisket apart. If there is any resistance and it doesn’t come apart easily with your fingers, then it’s still needs more time. You should be at a break at apart easily, it should have that fall apart tenderness but not so tender that it crumbles.
How The Pros Master Brisket
If you watch pitmasters like Aaron Franklin cook brisket, you will notice they go more by look and feel rather than using thermometers and going by exact temperatures. Aaron performs a series of tenderness tests. He rarely uses thermometers.
The professionals know that no two briskets are the same. Backyard cooks can get caught up in the science of barbecue, or fixate on temperatures and times. They say the 203°F is the magical number, but your brisket might reach perfect tenderness at 198°F. Thermometers don’t always tell the full story. Arm yourself with thermometers—they’re essential tools. But also train yourself to know what a brisket should look like and feel like when tender.
No Two Briskets Are The Same
No two briskets are identical. However, most briskets will reach the ideal tenderness between 195°F and 205°F. Once you go beyond 210°F, you’re moving into overcooked territory and the meat could dry out.
With traditional forms of roasting, people usually cook according to time rather than temperature. If you apply this method to brisket, you will either undercook or overcook the brisket.
What Happens When Brisket Overcooks?
The key to tender, juicy brisket is retaining moisture. When meat cooks, the muscles tense and push out moisture. So when you leave a brisket cooking for too long, the heat will continue to draw moisture out. This is why techniques such as wrapping, brining, and injecting and resting are so important.
|Brisket Size||Temperature||Cook Time||Including Resting|
|12 lbs||225°F||18 hours||19 hours|
|18 lbs||250°F||18 hours||19 hours|
|12 lbs unwrapped||225°F||19 hours||20 hours|
|18 lbs unwrapped||250°F||19 hours||20 hours|
|16 lbs||275°F||10 – 12 hours||11-13 hours|
|16 lbs unwrapped||275°F||11-13 hours||12-14 hours|
Salt Helps Brisket Retain Moisture
Salt will not only add flavor to the brisket, it will also help the meat retain moisture during the cook. Brining is simply rubbing or soaking meat in a salt prior to cooking. If you give salt enough time, it will work its way into the meat and hold in moisture once when cooking. Wet brines aren’t suitable for brisket. Dry brining brisket works best, and it’s easy to do. All you need is some kosher salt (or sea salt), and rub it into the brisket. Leave it overnight, or at least a few hours prior to cooking. For more information, check out this article: Should I Brine Brisket?
Pump The Brisket With More Liquid
You can also inject the brisket with a marinade or brine mixture to prevent the brisket from drying out. Meat injectors are affordable and easy to use. If you want to know more, check out: Should I Inject Brisket?
Wrapping will also help the brisket stay moist during the cook, and will help brisket cook faster. You can wrap the meat in foil or butcher paper. We wrap brisket during the second half of the cook, usually once the bark has set. For more information, check out: Should I Wrap Brisket?
Resting Prevents Dry Brisket
Another reason your brisket may taste dry is you did not give it adequate time to rest. Allowing time for the meat to rest before slicing will help the muscles to relax and stop pushing moisture out. Resting allows the brisket to reabsorb moisture. If you were to slice without resting, the meat will become dry and taste overcooked. You also might be interested in: Should I Rest Brisket?
Marbling Keeps The Brisket Moist
Another reason your brisket may taste dry or overcooked is it doesn’t have enough marbling. For best results, buy a brisket with lots of marbling because they are less likely to dry out. Marbling is the fatty striations within the meat. This fat lubricates the meat and provides moisture and flavor. When shopping for meat, know your beef grades. USDA Select has no marbling, but Choice, Prime and Wagyu have a good amount of marbling. For more information, read out Brisket Buyers Guide: Choice, Prime Or Select?
|Beef Grade||Marbling Level|
- Barbecue rub
- Kosher salt ( for the dry brine)
- Yellow mustard or olive oil ( for the binder)
1. Select a brisket with good marbling.
2. Trim the fat but leave 1/4 inch of fat on top.
3. Dry brine the brisket by sprinkling kosher salt on both sides of the meat and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
4. Inject the brisket with broth or marinade. * Optional
5. Slather the brisket with olive oil or yellow mustard. *Optional
6. Apply an even layer barbeque rub. If the rub contains salt, skip the dry brine step.
7. Use hickory, oak, pecan or your favorite smoking wood.
8. Set the temperature of your smoker between 225°F to 250°F
9. Place the brisket in smoker away from the heat source.
10. Fill the water pan with hot water.
11. Insert a leave-in meat thermometer into the brisket.
12. Leave the brisket alone for the first 3 hours or so. Allow the brisket to absorb smoke and develop a bark.
13. Once the rub has fused to the meat, begin to spritz the brisket every hour with either apple juice, broth, apple cider vinegar or beer. Otherwise, mop with a mop sauce.
14. Once the bark is firm, wrap the brisket in foil or butcher paper. By this stage, the meat should have reached an internal temperature between 150°F and 160°F.
15. Insert the thermometer into the meat and place the brisket back in the smoker.
16. Continue cooking until the brisket is tender as butter when poked with a toothpick or probe. The internal meat temperature should read somewhere between 195°F and 203°F when perfectly tender.
17. Allow the meat to rest for about 1 hour before slicing. If you're not ready to serve, place the brisket into a dry cooler. Keep the brisket wrapped in foil or butcher paper, then wrap again with a towel or dish cloth. The brisket will remain hot for over 4 hours. Keep a thermometer probe inserted.
18. Slice against the grain and serve.
Serving Size:85 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 246 grams
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.