We all know that smoking a beef brisket is a labor of love, and one that takes a significant amount of time. However, sometimes the smoker does its work more quickly than expected. When this happens, it’s best to have a plan in place. Here’s what to do in the case of a brisket done too early.
Brisket Done Too Early
If the brisket is done sooner than you were expecting, you can keep the meat warm in a low oven or faux Cambro until it’s time to serve it. You should also check the temperature of the brisket regularly after the first few hours to make sure it’s not cooking too quickly.
Finding the Perfect Temperature
Before we begin, let’s go over the basics. How long does it take a brisket to cook, and at what temperature should you set the smoker?
If you’ve ever smoked pork butt or another large cut of meat, you’ll know how important it is to weigh it beforehand. Cooking times are based on weight as much as temperature. A whole packer brisket usually weighs 10 to 16 pounds, but if you buy one of the subprimal cuts (see below), you can expect it to weigh much less.
As a rule, beef brisket should cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours per pound at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Because it comes from a section of the steer that gets a lot of exercise, it’s a naturally chewy cut. When you give the meat the low-and-slow treatment, it should come out nice and tender.
Exploring the Subprimal Cuts
Brisket is a primal cut, which means it’s taken from the steer during the initial stage in the butchering process. When it’s left whole, it’s often labeled as a “packer” or a “whole packer.” When it’s divided into two halves, the butcher should make the distinction between the “flat” and the “point” ends.
A brisket flat is long and rectangular, with a highly visible grain running through the meat. Although it doesn’t contain a lot of the intramuscular fat known as marbling, it does have a broad band of fat that runs along one side. The fat helps to keep the meat from drying out as it cooks, but it should come off easily afterward.
The point has a more irregular shape, like a triangle with rounded edges. The meat is well-marbled and very juicy when it’s cooked right. Although the point isn’t as popular as the flat, it’s a must if you’re planning to make burnt ends (see the separate section below).
A Word About the Stall
Even if you’re a first-timer, you might have heard about a phenomenon known as “the brisket stall” or simply “the stall.” What is this, and what does it mean for your total cooking time?
The stall occurs because of a process called “evaporative cooling.” Raw meat contains a great deal of water, which evaporates during cooking. This has a cooling effect that’s similar to the effect of perspiration on the human body.
At a certain point—usually when the meat’s internal temp reaches 150 degrees—this evaporation begins to cool the meat down faster than the smoker can keep up. That’s when the cooking process seems to “stall,” often for several hours.
If you’re checking the meat and it seems to be stuck around 150 degrees, don’t panic. Often, amateur grillers will crank up the heat on the smoker when this happens, not realizing that it’s perfectly normal. When they do, they often find that the brisket is done much sooner than they expected.
If you do want to speed the cooking process, you can wrap the brisket in foil for a few hours to trap the moisture inside. This step, known as the “Texas crutch,” will help the meat cook more quickly, but it may also have an adverse effect on the bark.
When Is Brisket Done?
An internal temperature of 210 degrees is considered ideal for smoked brisket. At this point, the meat should be tender enough to slice without falling apart.
If you’re hoping to chop or shred the meat, you can get away with cooking it a bit longer. That’s why the point can be left on the smoker longer than the flat.
Don’t forget that the internal temperature of the meat will continue to rise during the resting period. When the thermometer reads 195 degrees when inserted into the thickest portion of the brisket, it should be safe to take it off the smoker.
Brisket Done Too Early: What To Do Next
Our first piece of advice would be to check the meat’s internal temperature often. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you find that the brisket is cooking too fast, you can adjust the temperature of the smoker to try and slow the process.
That said, sometimes the brisket might hit the sweet spot of 210 degrees Fahrenheit several hours before you’re ready to serve it. While this is inconvenient, it doesn’t have to ruin your barbecue. Here are some tips on how to deal with it.
The Oven Method
When the brisket is done, remove it from the smoker. Set the meat in a roasting pan or disposable aluminum pan and add a cup of beef stock. If you don’t have any stock on hand, it’s fine to use water. Cover the brisket with a sheet of aluminum foil and set aside.
Set the oven to the lowest temperature it can reach. For most ovens, this is 170 degrees. If yours goes even lower than that, by all means, take advantage of this perk.
Put the tented brisket in the oven and let it rest undisturbed until your planned serving time. The meat should be cooked perfectly and still moist throughout.
Let the brisket rest for at least one hour. Slice, chop, or shred the meat, then serve as planned. At these temperatures, you should be able to hold the brisket for up to 8 hours without incident.
One caveat: If the minimum temperature setting is 180, you’ll have to make a few adjustments. Let the oven preheat, then add the brisket and turn the oven off. Repeat this procedure every half hour or so.
The Faux Cambro
Cambro is the name of a manufacturing company that distributes food storage containers and other essentials. One of their most renowned inventions is an insulated chest that can be used to transport hot food to a different location without suffering any undue effects.
To replicate the Cambro effect, fill a regular cooler with 3 gallons of hot water. Close the lid and let the cooler heat up for 30 minutes. Dump out the water and line the bottom of the cooler with clean towels.
When the brisket is done, remove it from the smoker. Wrap the meat in foil, then place it in a disposable aluminum pan. Set the pan in the cooler and drape another clean towel on top of the wrapped brisket.
Close the lid of the cooler and let the meat rest there until you’re ready to serve it. When you use the faux Cambro method, the brisket should retain its temperature for about 3 hours.
Making Burnt Ends
Even if the point end has gone past the 210-degree mark, it’s not too late to make burnt ends. This Southern delicacy makes a great sandwich filling—if it lasts long enough, that is. The crispy cubed brisket is so delicious, it might disappear before it can make its way into a toasted bun.
To turn your point meat into burnt ends, cut it into 1-1/2 to 2-inch cubes. Toss the cubes in barbecue sauce and set them in a disposable aluminum pan. Return the meat to the smoker and let it cook for 1 to 2 hours, until the brisket is crisp and the sauce has been absorbed. Serve hot.
While it can be disconcerting to find that the brisket is done much sooner than you’d planned, it’s not the end of the world. Frankly, we think it’s better to hold the meat at a low temperature and serve it later than to have an undercooked brisket and a bunch of hungry guests.