Smoking a whole brisket is a time-consuming project. Even when we plan out the timing in advance, sometimes the meat takes a longer-than-usual time to reach the finish line. Here are some basic tips to follow when the brisket is taking too long to finish cooking.
Brisket Taking Too Long
If the brisket is taking too long to cook, you can try correcting the smoker temperature or wrapping the meat in foil to speed things along. You should also make sure your meat thermometer is accurate. Sometimes, the issue is due to higher-than-average levels of collagen in the brisket, which can be tough to predict.
Why Does Brisket Require Such a Long Cooking Time?
Brisket is located in the pectoral region of the steer. During the animal’s lifetime, these muscles are responsible for supporting a lot of the animal’s weight, especially when they rise from a lying-down position. That makes the meat naturally tough.
When a cut like this is cooked for a long time in the smoker, those tough fibers start to relax, along with the collagen that’s naturally present in the meat. The fat also renders out slowly, providing both flavor and moisture.
Brisket should cook to an internal temperature of 210 degrees Fahrenheit in order to achieve the desired texture. This process requires time as well as heat. Otherwise, the meat will still be tough and stringy.
How Long To Smoke Brisket Per Pound
We like to set the smoker to 225 degrees when beef brisket is on the menu. Assuming the temperature holds steady for the duration of the smoke, we estimate the cooking time at 1.5 to 2 hours per pound.
As you’ll come to learn in the following sections, you can speed the process along using various techniques. If the meat is left unwrapped and the temp remains at 225, however, 1.5 to 2 hours per pound is a good guess.
You should pull brisket from the smoker when the internal temperature registers 195-200 degrees. With a cut of meat this large, the temperature should continue to rise for a while during the resting period, giving you a final temp of 210.
Brisket Taking Too Long To Cook: Possible Causes & Solutions
There are several reasons why your brisket might be taking too long in the smoker. In this section, we’ll address the most common ones, along with the steps you can take to correct them.
The Smoker Temperature Is Erratic
This is a frequent complaint among amateur pitmasters: The smoker that they’ve spent so much money on is having a hard time retaining its heat. The problem is especially prevalent with pellet smokers, which rely on auger systems to feed the fire.
If the smoker temperature dips below 225 for long periods, it will slow down the cooking process to a significant degree. Even worse, if it’s allowed to drop too low, it could ruin the barbecue altogether.
Don’t be tempted to lift the lid of the smoker too often during the initial stage of the smoke. Every time you do, the unit will lose some of its heat. You’ll also be sacrificing some of the smoke that forms the bark and gives the brisket its flavor.
Those of you who live in chilly regions might consider buying a grill cover, especially if you use the smoker all winter long. Outside temperatures can have an adverse effect on the environment inside the smoker.
Our last bit of advice would be to keep an eye on the smoker temperature and make whatever adjustments are necessary to maintain that 225-degree heat. If you know the unit runs on the cooler side, try setting the temp at 250 or 275 instead.
The Brisket Is Unwrapped
For our part, we like to keep the brisket unwrapped for the duration of the cooking time. It promotes a crunchier bark and delivers a hefty dose of smoke flavor. That said, there’s no denying that it also prolongs the cooking time.
When a large cut of meat reaches a certain temperature—usually 150 to 160 degrees—it effectively stops cooking, sometimes for hours at a stretch. This comes about as the result of evaporative cooling.
Evaporative cooling occurs when the heat of the smoker is no longer sufficient to combat the cooling effects of the moisture that’s being drawn out of the meat. That leads to the period called the stall, when the temperature refuses to rise.
Wrapping the brisket in foil or butcher paper will trap some of the moisture, thereby hastening the cooking process. If you opt to use this method, which is called the Texas crutch, you can expect the meat to cook at a rate of 1.25 hours per pound.
It’s best to wrap brisket several hours into the smoke. Otherwise, the bark won’t have a chance to develop, and the meat will be mushy. Wait until the internal temperature hits 150 degrees, and then pull the brisket for wrapping.
We prefer to use butcher paper instead of foil. This creates a more permeable membrane that allows smoke to enter and steam to escape. Use a double layer of paper, and make sure each sheet is about 4 times as long as the brisket is wide.
The Brisket Contains Large Amounts of Collagen
Collagen is one of the defining characteristics of the brisket primal. It’s the element that breaks down into gelatin, keeping the meat’s fibers from getting too dry throughout the long cooking process.
However, some briskets might contain more collagen than others. In these cases, the meat will take longer to hit the optimal temperature. That’s because the collagen needs more time to break down and do its work.
In these cases, there’s not a lot you can do. Just be patient and wait it out. You can always pull the meat from the smoker and wrap it in foil if you haven’t already, but the process may still be longer than you’d bargained for.
The Thermometer is Inaccurate
Putting the aforementioned issues aside, it’s possible that the brisket is cooking at a normal rate, and your thermometer is the culprit.
Every pitmaster should have at least one reliable meat thermometer in their arsenal. Without it, you can never be sure if the meat has cooked to a safe temperature, let alone the appropriate one.
Protect your thermometer by wrapping it in a clean towel and keeping it in a safe place whenever it’s not in use. Every six months, perform a calibration test to ensure that it’s giving you an accurate readout.
When a thermometer has outlived its usefulness, it’s time to replace it with a new one. Be sure to buy only high-quality products from reputable manufacturers, instead of relying on what you can find at the local discount store.
Can You Overcook Brisket?
Any meat can be overcooked, including brisket. While you want to cook it to a high temperature in order to attain the right texture, it’s possible to overdo it.
When you cook brisket past 210 degrees, the fibers will start to toughen up again. This can result in dry, flavorless meat that resembles shoe leather.
To avoid overcooking, keep a close eye on the internal temperature of the brisket during the later stages of the smoke. We suggest pulling it when the internal temp hits the 195-200 range, but you can let it cook up to 203 degrees without worrying.
We should also mention that the point end of the brisket can withstand higher temperatures than the flat. The point contains more marbling, which will keep the meat moist even if it’s slightly overcooked.
What If the Brisket Cooks Too Fast?
Let’s say you’re dealing with the opposite problem, and your brisket hits the 200-degree threshold much sooner than you expected. Is there any way to preserve the meat’s flavor and texture until serving time? In this case, you have a couple of options.
If your planned serving time is more than 4 hours away, you can let the brisket cool for up to 2 hours before wrapping it in foil and putting it in the refrigerator. Reheat the whole brisket in a 300-degree oven or smoker until the internal temp climbs to 145.
Smoking brisket in advance this way isn’t ideal. The refrigerating and reheating will cause the meat to lose some of its moisture. Still, it’s better than seeing the entire meal go to waste.
If you have just a few hours left, you can enlist the faux Cambro technique. Fill a large cooler with hot water, let it sit for 30 minutes, then dump out the water. Line the cooler with towels and set the wrapped brisket inside, then close the lid. The meat should stay warm for up to 4 hours.
Every brisket is different, and some may take longer to cook than others. Even if you’ve smoked a dozen or more 14-pound whole packers, the next one you buy could have a drastically different cooking time than the rest.
Timing guidelines should be seen as just that—guidelines, and not die-hard rules. Our advice would be to relax and enjoy the process, knowing that the results will be well worth the wait.