Can a brisket stall twice? And if it does, what steps should you take? Is it better just to let the smoker do its work, or should you interfere?
These are questions that have plagued every BBQ amateur. We’re here to talk you through the potential brisket stall at 190, the potential brisket stall at 125, and everything in between.
Brisket Stalls at An Unexpected Temperature
Unexpected stalls can occur for several reasons. They could be the result of inaccurate temperature readouts, insufficient heat, or the quality of the meat itself. Basting or spritzing the brisket can cause it to stall a second time, as the moisture has a cooling effect.
About the Brisket Stall
“The stall” occurs when the temperature of a large cut of meat–brisket, in this case–grinds to a halt. It usually takes place at around 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s possible for the meat to stall multiple times. That’s what we’re here to explore.
Pitmasters have spent a long time debating the underlying cause of the stall. At one point, people assumed that it came about as the collagen in the meat turned into gelatin. Collagen breaks down at around 160 degrees, which is the usual temperature at which the stall occurs. However, there’s not enough collagen in the brisket for this to be the cause.
Another stall-related myth involves protein denaturing. This process occurs when the long chain molecules in the brisket begin to break down. Again, it happens at around the same time as the stall, but it still isn’t the root cause.
Neither is the fat rendering. Fat doesn’t evaporate the way moisture does. Instead, it melts. This wouldn’t slow down the cooking process, but it could lead to flare-ups if the smoker’s temperature was set too high.
The true culprit behind the stall is a phenomenon known as evaporative cooling. It’s the same thing that happens to our bodies when we sweat due to heat or exertion. As the brisket cooks, its natural moisture is expelled onto the surface, which causes it to cool slightly as a result.
When the heat from the smoker is no longer high enough to combat the cooling effect, the brisket will go into a stall. This can happen at several points during the smoke, but the one at the 150-degree mark is the most common.
Eventually, all that excess moisture will be used up, and the meat will continue to cook. But in the meantime, you could be waiting around for several hours while the needle on the thermometer refuses to budge.
Can a Brisket Stall Twice?
Yes, a brisket can go into the stall more than once during cooking. It seems to happen more often when the cooking environment changes drastically during the smoke. Specifically, it might stall twice if the temperature inside the smoker has dropped too low, or if the brisket is exposed to excess moisture.
Handling Multiple Stalls
Now that you know what causes the stall, let’s talk about how to deal with it. What helps things along at 125 degrees won’t necessarily be the answer when the meat has reached 190 degrees. In this section, we’ll provide tips on handling the stall at various stages in the cooking process.
Brisket Stall at 125
The stall is most common in the 150 to 170 degree range. If it happens at 125 degrees, there’s a good chance your smoker temperature is too low.
If you’ve set the smoker to 225 degrees, consider raising the temp to 250 or 275. This is a bit higher than we like to go, but your goal is to pull the brisket out of the stall as soon as you can. If it stays at 125 for too long, it could become a breeding ground for bacteria, and your barbecue could be ruined.
Keep a close eye on the brisket temp. If it doesn’t start to rise within the hour, pull the meat from the smoker and wrap it in a double layer of foil. Put it in a 300-degree oven until the internal temperature reaches at least 140 degrees. At this point, you can either return it to the smoker or keep cooking it in the oven until it’s finished.
Brisket Stall at 140
When the thermometer holds steady at 140, it could be that you just hit the stall a bit early. However, there are two other possible culprits, and both of them are more likely.
First of all, your thermometer might not be as accurate as you’d like. Try calibrating it to ensure that it’s giving you the correct readout. For this, you’ll need either a small adjustable wrench or a good set of pliers.
Fill a small pot with water and bring it to a boil. While the water is heating, fill a glass with ice water and set it aside. When the water is boiling, set the thermometer probe in the boiling water and make sure it reads 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If it doesn’t, you can adjust it using the nut on the rear of the thermometer, behind the face.
Next, set the thermometer in the ice water. Make any necessary adjustments so that it provides a readout of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This should do the trick. Note that this procedure won’t work with digital thermometers, which should be repaired by a professional.
We should also point out that thermometers often come with an adjustable wrench of their own. The tool might be tucked into the shield that’s used to hold the thermometer, so check there before looking for another wrench.
If the thermometer is perfectly calibrated and still giving a readout of 140 degrees, it could mean that the probe is inserted into an air pocket. You don’t want to poke too many holes in the brisket, but consider moving the probe to another spot to see if the temperature is any higher.
Brisket Stall at 145
If the brisket stalls at 145 degrees, it could be caused by a malfunctioning thermometer or inaccurate probe placement (see Brisket Stall at 140, above). However, if it lasts for longer than a few hours, the temperature of the smoker could be running a bit low.
There are several things you can do to heat things up. On a charcoal smoker, you can adjust the dampers to increase the airflow. You might also consider adding more fuel to the fire. For pellet grills, try lowering the P setting. This will feed the pellets into the chamber more quickly, which will make the fire burn hotter.
It’s important to note that there can be marked differences between dome temperature and grate temperature. Air currents inside the smoker can cause variations of up to 70 degrees, which can make it difficult to gauge the cooking time.
Since the brisket is positioned on the cooking grate, it’s a good idea to place a pit probe on the grate as well. This is the temperature you should rely on. If you’re going by the readout on the smoker’s lid, it could mislead you into thinking that the unit is running hotter or cooler than it really is.
Brisket Stall at 155
155 degrees is one of the most common stall-related temperatures. It’s one of those things that you should anticipate and plan for. It could last for just a brief period of time, or it might delay the end result for 5 to 6 hours. Either way, the brisket will continue to cook again as soon as all of the excess moisture in the meat has evaporated.
Should you choose to use the Texas crutch (see Brisket Stall at 170, below), it’s fine to do it at this point. You might also consider using butcher paper instead of foil. This will still help to move things along, but the paper allows moisture to escape, so you’ll be continuing to smoke the meat instead of steaming it.
Brisket Stall at 170
A stall at 170 degrees is not that uncommon. In fact, that’s the temp at which some pitmasters decide to enlist the “Texas crutch,” which means wrapping the brisket in foil to help it cook faster.
When the brisket is wrapped in foil, the moisture won’t evaporate, because it doesn’t have anywhere to go. Instead, it collects inside the wrapper, creating an environment that gently braises the meat. It works if your goal is to cook the brisket faster, but it can also give the meat a softer texture instead of a dark, crispy bark.
If you find yourself dealing with a brisket that’s stuck at 170 degrees, you can either use the Texas crutch or wait it out. We would recommend the latter, as the meat won’t be exposed to the smoke when it’s in the foil, so the results won’t be quite as authentic.
Brisket Stall at 175
When brisket makes it past the 160-degree mark only to stall at 175 degrees, it may be because the smoker temperature was high enough to fight off the evaporative cooling effects earlier. This can happen if you’ve set the smoker to 300 degrees or higher, something we don’t recommend when it comes to brisket.
On the other hand, if this is the second stall you’re experiencing, it might have come about as a result of basting or spritzing the meat. That’s one of the most common causes of a second stall, since the added moisture cools the exterior of the brisket.
Fortunately, these second stalls tend to be shorter than their earlier counterparts. Our advice would be to relax and wait it out. Alternatively, you can use the oven method we’ve described in Brisket Stall at 180, below.
Brisket Stall at 180
This is another late-stall situation that may even occur after you’ve made it through the initial stall. It’s not that unusual, but it can be annoying, especially since you’re already so close to the finish line.
If you’re really in a hurry to get that brisket on the table, you can remove it from the smoker and finish it in a 300 degree oven. Wrapping it in foil will help to speed the process. It should reach the target temperature within 90 minutes.
Brisket Stall at 190
At 190 degrees, the brisket is just about ready. While we prefer to wait until it hits at least 195 before pulling it off the smoker, you can certainly do so a few degrees sooner.
If your brisket isn’t budging past 190, try using the probe test to find out if it’s ready to be taken off the heat. You don’t actually need a thermometer to do this, but if you’re already testing the temperature, you must already have one on hand.
Slide the probe (or fork or toothpick) into the thickest portion of the brisket flat. If it slides in easily with no resistance, then you can remove it from the heat and begin the resting period. Remember that the meat will continue to cook as it rests, so your final temp will be slightly higher than 190.
On the other hand, if you have to struggle to insert the probe, then you’ll need to leave the brisket where it is for a while longer. A stall at 190 degrees could last for 3 or more hours, which can be frustrating. If you’re willing to wait it out, however, the results will be worth it. Undercooked brisket will be far more disappointing than the lost time.
Is there anything you can do to avoid the 190-degree stall? Unfortunately, we don’t have any clear answers. It seems to be more common with inferior cuts of meat, so we recommend purchasing the highest-quality brisket you can find. Other than that, we would suggest keeping the smoker temperature as stable as possible throughout the smoke.
The Bottom Line
Although we associate the stall with the middle section of the smoke, it can actually happen later on. Sometimes, you’ll have to deal with two stalls for the same brisket. No matter when it happens, all is not lost. You can always find a way to navigate the obstacles and wind up with delicious and tender brisket.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!