Brisket at 160/170: Should You Make The Attempt?

What’s the perfect temperature for making smoked brisket? This is a debate that continues to rage on, even among fellow pitmasters. The one thing they seem to agree on is that low and slow is always better. The question is, how low? Let’s find out if it’s possible to smoke brisket at 160 or 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brisket at 160/Brisket at 170

Cooking brisket at 160 may allow it to sit too long in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is unlikely, it’s a possibility when it comes to large cuts like beef brisket. For safety’s sake, we would suggest setting the smoker to at least 200 degrees.

Why It Matters

For the record, we recommend setting the smoker to a slightly higher temperature when making beef brisket. 160 degrees might be suitable for homemade beef jerky, but brisket takes longer to cook due to its size. We’ve found that the brisket fares best when we set the smoker to the 225-275 degree range.

That said, we understand that some smokers have a hard time keeping the heat steady. If the unit is affected by ambient temperatures, you might see the thermometer dipping into the 160 to 170 range whether you like it or not. That’s why we’ve put together this guide—to help you make the most of this situation.

Is It Safe To Smoke Brisket at 160 Degrees?

smoker

Food safety is the main reason why you should set your smoker to at least 200 degrees for large cuts of meat like beef brisket.

Most barbecue aficionados are familiar with the danger zone—the range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit where bacteria are most likely to multiply. If you try to smoke brisket at 160 degrees, it could wind up sitting in the danger zone for too long.

With that in mind, as long as the meat reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees within 4 hours, it should be safe to eat. There’s a chance that might occur in a 160 degree smoker, especially if the brisket is on the smaller end of the spectrum. The trouble is, there’s no guarantee that it will leave the danger zone that quickly.

How Long Does it Take To Smoke Brisket at 160-170 Degrees?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that you set your smoker to 200 degrees, but the thermometer never climbed past 170. Since you also inserted a probe into the thickest portion of the brisket flat, you know that it climbed past 140 degrees in an acceptable amount of time. The meat will be safe to eat—but how long will it take?

For whole packer briskets, we would plan on at least 2 to 2-1/2 hours per pound. Follow the same guidelines if you’re smoking the point alone—the meat contains a lot of marbling and will need the extra time to get nice and tender. If you choose to smoke the flat by itself, plan on 2 hours per pound.

Note that for the times listed above, we’ve assumed that you’ll be leaving the brisket unwrapped for the duration of the smoke. If you opt to use the Texas crutch and wrap the meat in tin foil as we’ve suggested below, the meat will be done more quickly—possibly as much as 3 hours sooner, depending on the size of the cut.

chef slicing brisket

Temperature-Raising Tips

A smoker that won’t maintain a consistent temperature can be a real pain. If this is a recurring issue, your wisest course would be to invest in a new unit. However, we recognize that this isn’t always a feasible option. Here are a few other tips on how to keep the smoker’s temperature right where you want it.

Take Shelter

This is the most obvious answer. If the smoker is affected by wind and subzero temperatures, then try to find a sheltered area to use as your work station.

On a related note, if you don’t have a convenient wall to hide behind, consider buying a portable windbreak instead. These can be moved easily from place to place and are readily available online, usually at a decent price.

Open The Vents

This trick only works with charcoal-fired smokers, but it’s worth mentioning if this is your preferred method. During the first part of the smoking process, open the dampers as widely as possible in order to create a hotter environment. Once the brisket has crossed the 140-degree threshold, you can adjust the vents as needed.

Use a Controller

An automatic smoker controller can be a lifesaver, especially if you’re a beginner. These devices hook up to the intake and exhaust dampers and make any necessary adjustments automatically. If the fire is burning too hot, it will slide the vents closed; too low, and it will open them a little bit wider.

Brisket at 160/170: A Step-by-Step Guide

1. Start with a whole packer brisket weighing 12 to 14 pounds. Inspect the fat to make sure it’s a creamy white color. If there’s any discoloration, the brisket is probably not the freshest one you could find.

2. Set the brisket on a clean cutting board with the fat side facing up. Trim most of the fat cap so that only about 1/4 inch remains.

3. Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and set it aside.

4. In a small bowl, mix together 4 tablespoons each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5. Cover the brisket all over with the salt and pepper mixture. Let it sit at room temperature for no longer than 1 hour while you prepare the smoker. If you’re not planning on cooking the brisket until the next day, place it on a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

6. Set the smoker to 170 degrees. Aim slightly higher if the unit has a history of burning low.

7. When the smoker has achieved the right temperature, set the brisket on the cooking grate. Insert a probe thermometer, if you’re using one, and close the lid. Remember that the temperature will drop every time you lift the lid, so resist the urge to peek unless it’s absolutely necessary.

8. Check the brisket’s internal temperature after it’s been on the smoker for around 3 hours. If it’s hovering too far below the 140-degree mark, remove it from the smoker and place it in a 300-degree oven until it climbs out of the danger zone.

9. When the brisket has achieved an internal temperature of 160 degrees, take it off the heat. Check the temperature of the smoker to make sure it’s holding steady at 170 degrees.

10. Prepare a double layer of aluminum foil by folding a long sheet lengthwise in half (you’ll probably need about 6 feet). Wrap the meat in the foil package and return it to the smoker. Don’t forget to reinsert the meat probe into the thickest portion of the brisket flat.

11. Continue to cook the brisket until the internal temperature reaches 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’d like, you can remove the foil when the temperature hits the 180 degree mark, to crisp up the bark.

12. Take the brisket off the smoker and set it aside to rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Slice the flat and either chop or shred the point, according to preference. Serve as desired.

Final Thoughts

We don’t recommend smoking brisket at 160 to 170 degrees on purpose, but if you have a finicky smoker, there are ways to make it work. It’s a good idea to keep the oven preheated to 300 degrees for the first few hours, just in case. Once the brisket is safely beyond the danger zone, all you need is patience.

Happy grilling!

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