Why Does My Brisket Fall Apart? We Explain Mushy Meat

A perfectly cooked slice should have a little jiggle, but not fall apart. If your brisket falls apart, it may be overcooked. In this article, we’ll provide tips on how to achieve the perfect balance of tenderness and firmness in your brisket, and avoid common mistakes that can lead to an overcooked, dry or mushy result. With the right techniques and a little practice, you can master the art of smoking the perfect brisket.

There are several reasons why your brisket may become too mushy and fall apart. Firstly, it may be overcooked. Brisket should only be taken to a temperature of around 203°F, as anything beyond 210°F can cause it to fall apart. Additionally, if you leave your brisket in a cooler in the holding phase, it may become mushy. To prevent this, it is important to allow the brisket to rest, vent the foil, and wrap it in a dry towel or plate before placing it in the cooler. Remember that carryover cooking occurs during the holding phase, so it is a good idea to use a thermometer to track the temperature of the brisket and perform a tenderness test using a toothpick to determine when it is done. To check for the right level of tenderness, use a thermometer or probe the meat with a toothpick; it should feel like a stick of butter.

Key Points

  • A perfectly cooked brisket should have a little jiggle and hold together when picked up
  • To avoid a mushy brisket, don’t hold it in a dry cooler for too long after cooking.
  • Brisket should be cooked to an internal temperature of 203°F and rested for an hour
  • If you want firm slices, don’t take the meat beyond 205°F to 210°F internal temperature
  • If you are making pulled beef, the meat can be taken beyond 205°F
  • To check if the brisket is cooked to the right tenderness, use a thermometer or probe it with a toothpick; it should feel like a stick of butter
  • The jiggle test can be used to check for tenderness and juiciness of the brisket
  • Brisket needs to be cooked slowly over a long period to break down the sinew and connective tissue

Is Brisket Supposed To Fall Apart?

A slice of brisket should be tender enough to pull apart with your fingers, but firm enough to hold together when it is held up and jiggled around. If you were using brisket to make pulled beef, then being overly tender won’t be a problem. Once you take brisket over 210°F, it will most likely fall apart. Also, if you leave the brisket in a dry cooler for the holding phase, it will continue cooking and turn to mush.

Can Brisket Be Too Tender?

If you take brisket beyond a 210°F internal temperature, it may become too tender and fall apart. Ideally, you want to cut the brisket into nice, firm slices that have an outer layer of bark. If you are slow cooking your brisket for pulled beef, then you can take the meat beyond 205°F. The only way of knowing the exact internal temperature of brisket is by using meat thermometers—your most important tool.

Brisket AssessmentPerfect BrisketOvercooked Brisket
TendernessFirm but tenderToo tender, falls apart
Internal Temperature (°F)203°FOver 210°F
Jiggle TestJiggles, holds togetherStiff, falls apart
Tenderness Test (Thermometer/Toothpick)Feels like a stick of butterToo firm or too soft
Avoiding DrynessLow temperature, wrap in foil, baste regularlyN/A
Avoiding MushinessDon’t hold in dry cooler too long after cookingN/A

Probe Tenderness — What Does It Mean?

“Probe tender” is the term used by barbecue pitmasters to describe the perfectly cooked brisket. Using an instant-read thermometer, a pitmaster will begin checking the brisket for probe tenderness once the internal meat temperature approaches 200°F. The actual temperature reading is only a guide. More importantly, you want to test how the brisket feels when you insert the thermometer. When you insert a thermometer probe or a toothpick into the meat, it should have almost no resistance and feel as though you’re poking a stick of butter. Train yourself to know how the perfectly cooked brisket should feel. Don’t just go by temperature alone.

The Brisket Jiggle Test

The brisket jiggle test is a technique used by pitmasters to check the tenderness of a cooked brisket. To perform the test, a pitmaster will hold up a slice of brisket and observe how it moves. If the slice has a nice jiggle as it dangles, it is a sign that the brisket is tender and juicy. On the other hand, if the slice is stiff and does not jiggle, it is a sign that the brisket is not tender and may be overcooked. Additionally, you should also look for a little moisture dripping from the meat, as this is a sign of a juicy brisket. Overall, the jiggle test is a quick and easy way to gauge the tenderness of a cooked brisket and ensure that it is perfectly cooked.

What Temperature Is Brisket Done?

The internal temperature of 203°F is generally accepted as the “magic number” for a perfectly cooked brisket. However, it is important to note that every brisket is different and may require slightly different cooking times and temperatures to achieve the perfect level of tenderness. Some briskets may be “probe tender” at 195°F, while others may need to reach 205°F.

It is important to not rely solely on the internal temperature as a guide, but also to learn how to test for tenderness using a thermometer or a toothpick. The pros often use the term “probe tender” to describe the perfectly cooked brisket, which refers to the feeling of the meat when probed with a thermometer or toothpick. It should feel like a stick of butter, with almost no resistance. The internal temperature of 203°F is simply a rough guide to let you know that you are in the right range, but it is important to also pay attention to the texture and tenderness of the meat.

Why Does Brisket Need To Be Cooked So Long?

Brisket is a tough cut of meat that contains a lot of sinew, or connective tissue, which needs to be broken down in order to achieve a tender and flavorful result. The best way to do this is to cook the brisket slowly over a long period of time at a low temperature. If the brisket is not cooked slowly and at a low enough temperature, the connective tissue will not have a chance to break down and the meat will be tough and chewy.

When the brisket is cooked slowly and at a low temperature, the connective tissue has a chance to break down and render, creating a gelatin-like texture that adds flavor and moisture to the meat. If the brisket is removed from the heat too early, the connective tissue and fat will not have had a chance to fully render and the meat will not be as tender or flavorful. Therefore, time at low temperature is key to achieving a perfectly smoked brisket.

How To Avoid a Dry Brisket

If you dry out your brisket, it may fall apart, but it will be crumbly. Make sure you cook your brisket at a low temperature so that it doesn’t dry out and crumble. There are several reasons a brisket may turn out dry, but the most common reason is if your smoker was running too hot for too long. If you expose your meat to high heat for a long period, all it will draw the moisture out of the meat. The key is to keep the temperature between 225°F and 275° F. If this is your first brisket, I would recommend sticking to 225°F. Brisket master Aaron Franklin smokes at 275°F, but that guy really knows what he’s doing. However, there are several things you can do to ensure that you have a tender, juicy brisket every time.

How To Cook The Perfect Brisket

Careful Using Inbuilt Thermometers. A decent meat thermometer is your best friend when smoking meat. Without a good wireless thermometer, you will not know what’s going on inside your brisket. You also need to monitor the temperature of your smoker. Ignore the inbuilt factory thermometer that comes with your smoker because they can be wildly inaccurate. You can try a recalibrate your inbuilt thermometer, but test it often and you will see what I mean.

Buy A Decent Wireless Thermometer. I wouldn’t put my trust in an inbuilt thermometer. I highly recommend you invest in a good wireless thermometer with at least two probes so you can monitor the internal temperature of your meat, and the temperature of your smoker. There are dozens of thermometers on the market, ranging anywhere from $50 up to three or $400. You don’t have to get one of the expensive thermometers. There are some great products in the $50 range that are accurate and make your life easy. If a thermometer is inaccurate, then what’s the point? There are a couple of companies that are well known for making quality thermometers, and are used in the food industry. ThermoWorks is arguably the leading company that produces thermometers, and they are accurate but a little expensive. ThermoPro also makes some great thermometers at a more affordable price. I use a ThermoPro thermometer, and have done since I started. The TP-20 only cost me around $50, and it’s still going strong. I know you can get all kinds of fancy thermometers these days with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but I like to just keep it simple. The TP20 is accurate, and easy to use. And I think that’s the reason it’s a number one selling thermometer on Amazon. Check the latest price here.

Use An Instant-Read Thermometer. An instant-read thermometer is really important in the final stages of the cook. Your regular wireless thermometer will give you a good sign of where your brisket is at and let you know that you’re in the 203⁰F range. However, an instant-read is important because you need to probe different parts of the meat. As you would know, with large cuts like briskets, there are thick parts and thin parts. And they are all going to measure different temperatures. When you were smoking chicken, for example, the thigh might have a different temperature to the breast. A regular wireless thermometer will not give you that reading instantly. Instant reads are also going to allow you to test for probe tenderness as you are getting a read.

Wrap Your Brisket. Wrapping is an important stage of the cook. Once your brisket has been sitting in the smoke for about 6 or 7 hours, it should have developed a nice crispy bark and absorbed a lot of smoke flavor. Once that bark has developed, the brisket will not take on much more smoke. So then we are going to move into the second phase of the cook, which is all about keeping the brisket moist, and allowing lots of time for all that connective tissue to tenderize. Wrapping will also help push the brisket through the stall, which will occur once the brisket reaches around 160° F internal.

Wrapping will trap moisture inside the package, and the brisket will almost braise. All the steam inside the package will also help the brisket cook faster. Wrapping will soften the bark, which is the only downside, but there are ways around it. By using butcher paper instead of foil, you will end up with a better bark. Aaron Franklin made butcher paper famous, but they have used it in Texas for a long time. If you haven’t tried put your paper, do an experiment and see how it compares to a foil wrap brisket. Just be sure to buy the right paper. It can’t have wax on it, and it’s nothing like the parchment paper that you use for baking.. put your paper is specific, food grade and heat proof. You can check out a link here where you can buy on Amazon. I’ve also written a full article on Butcher Paper vs Foil, which you can check out here.

Inject Your Brisket. Another way to make your brisket really tender and juicy is to inject it with marinade prior to smoking. Injecting is the best way to get flavor and moisture deep inside the meat. The salt will also help the brisket keep moisture during the cook, which will contribute to a moist brisket. Injecting is easy. You just need a basic meat injector and some type of suitable liquid. You can use broth, or you can buy a competition style marinades like Butcher BBQ. Meat injectors cost about 20 or $30 depending on the quality, but you can buy a decent stainless steel injector on Amazon. I use the Beast Injector, and haven’t had a problem. You can buy a fancy injector, but I think this is more for the serious barbecue enthusiasts. Should You Inject Brisket?

Brine Your Brisket. Applying salt to the brisket prior to cooking will go a long way in ensuring that your brisket turns out moist and tender. Salt not only flavors the brisket, but it also helps the meat hold in the moisture during the cooking. To Brine your brisket, rub kosher salt into the meat the night before you smoke your brisket. A word of warning though, if you’re going to dry brine, be very careful not to over salt your brisket. Most rubs that you buy from stores contain a lot of salt. If you are going to dry brine, I would make a homemade rub and leave out the sold. Don’t be intimidated by making your own rubber home. It’s dead easy. Here’s a recipe I’ve always used, and it’s just as good as anything you will buy. If you’re going to brine, follow the ingredients and just leave out the salt or at least just reduce the quantity. Should I Brine Brisket?

Buy Quality Beef. If people end up with a dry brisket, more often than not they try to blame it on the temperature or the wrapping or some other factor. The quality of the actual beef is sometimes overlooked. They say you should always buy the best quality you can afford, and there is a lot of truth to this. If you can get a brisket that has good marbling, this will make your brisket taste much better, and also it will be moist. Marbling is the fatty striations between the meat texture. As the brisket cooks, this fat will melt, and make the meat taste moist and juicy.

Allow Your Meat To Rest. Always allow adequate resting time for the brisket, otherwise it will turn out dry if you slice it too soon. Allow at least 30 minutes to an hour before slicing if you are going to serve it immediately, but it’s better to keep the brisket in its wrapping, and place it in a dry cooler for an hour or two. Resting will allow time for the brisket to reabsorb some of the moisture. Resting Brisket In A Cooler.

Brisket Planning Guide

Standard Barbecue Rub

Standard Barbecue Rub

I found this great rub recipe through How To BBQ Right. I use this recipe and alter it slightly depending on what I'm cooking. Made by the guys at Townsend Spice & Supply: https://townsendspice.com/

Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes


  • - ½ Cup Paprika
  • - ½ Cup Salt
  • - ½ Cup Sugar
  • - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
  • - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
  • - ¼ Cup Chili
  • - ¼ Cup Cumin
  • - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
  • - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
  • - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper


  1. Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
  2. Store rub in rub shakers

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

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