Beef brisket is a huge cut of meat. In fact, a single whole packer brisket might weigh as much as 20 pounds. Although this might sound appealing if you’re serving a large group of people, you should also make sure the brisket will fit inside your grill or smoker.
Brisket Too Big For Smoker
When the brisket won’t fit in the smoker, you have several options. You can divide the meat into sections, fold it and tie off the ends, or leave a portion hanging outside the smoker until it shrinks. If all else fails, it might be time to buy a bigger smoker.
How Big is a Brisket?
A whole brisket will typically weigh between 8 and 15 pounds, although it’s possible to find larger ones. However, weight isn’t the only thing to take into consideration here.
You can expect the brisket to measure about 12-20 inches long by 12 inches wide. Many smokers will be able to accommodate a cut this size with no problem. On the other hand, if you have a travel-sized unit, you might have a harder time getting the meat to fit comfortably on the rack.
Point vs. Flat
A whole brisket consists of two sections: the point, which is triangular and contains a great deal of marbling; and the flat, a long rectangular segment with a fat cap running along one edge.
Pitmasters who worry that the brisket might be too big for their smoker should consider buying either the point or the flat. Alternatively, you can buy both and cook them separately. That’s not a bad idea in any case, because the point can cook to a higher temperature than the flat.
Speaking of which, the flat has a relatively uniform shape that makes it well-suited for slicing. That’s why it’s often used for traditional corned beef. The point is fattier and more difficult to slice, so it’s a better choice for chopped beef sandwiches or brisket tacos.
If you’ve purchased a whole packer brisket and want to divide it into smaller pieces, see Split It Up, below.
Sizing Up the Smoker
Before shopping for a brisket, take a look at your smoker’s user guide to find out exactly how much space you have available. Sometimes, this guide will tell you how many rib racks, briskets, or whole chickens will fit inside the smoker.
It’s also a good idea to get familiar with the smoker itself. While the guide will provide you with the total surface area, you also want to make sure that it can comfortably hold a brisket that measures 20 by 12 inches. This will depend on the configuration of the smoker’s interior, which you can’t guess from looking at a guide.
Once you know how much brisket your smoker can hold, it’s time to head to the butcher shop. Bring along a tape measure so you can be sure to buy a brisket that will easily fit inside your smoker.
If you’ve already bought a brisket and have found that it’s too large, don’t panic. There are ways around this problem, which is why we composed this guide in the first place.
Tips on Measuring a Brisket
To measure a brisket properly, you’ll need a measuring tape. A small, flexible tape will work better than the clunky models used for carpentry. In fact, if you smoke large cuts of meat on a regular basis, you might want to buy a measuring tape specifically for this purpose.
Set the brisket on a flat surface, making sure to spread it as wide as it will go. Measure the length by placing the tape along the long side of the cut, marking the start and end points on a pad of paper. Repeat the process a second time to ensure accuracy.
Next, measure the width by following the same procedure with the shorter side of the brisket. Make sure to take the measurement on the point section, where the brisket is widest. Again, write down your measurements so you don’t have to commit them to memory.
Methods for Coping with a Brisket Too Big for Smoker
When the brisket is just too big, or if you find yourself dealing with this problem on a regular basis, you have several options. Here are some of our favorites.
Buy a New Smoker
This might seem like an extreme solution, but it’s often the way to go, especially if your smoker is old and outdated. Investing in a larger smoker will open up an exciting new world of possibilities. Best of all, you won’t have to worry that the brisket might take too long to cook, or that the smoke flavor won’t have a chance to permeate the meat.
Rearrange the Fittings
When you take a good look at the inside of your smoker, you may find fittings and other features that you don’t need—at least not for this particular cook. Often, these extras can be removed and reinstalled later as needed.
Before making any drastic changes, check the user manual to make sure they won’t cause any damage or long-term issues. Some fixtures might be in place for a reason, even if they appear superfluous. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if you’re working with new equipment.
Fold It Up
Brisket isn’t stiff and rigid like a board. Depending on the size and shape of the cut, you might be able to create a slight fold, which will help it fit on the cooking grate. This method works even better if you use kitchen twine or some other type of heat-resistant string to secure your work.
Don’t forget that the brisket will still have the same total surface area even if you succeed in folding it. If you fold it over lengthwise, you’ll have to make allowances for the extra height and width. This could also affect the total cooking time, so make sure you always check the temperature at the thickest point of the brisket.
The Hanging Method
Some upright smokers allow you to leave the doors open as you cook. Although this can have a negative effect on the smoke flavor, it’s a good short-term solution for a brisket that’s too big for the smoker.
When you begin the smoke, drape the brisket over the cooking grate, allowing the excess meat to hang out the door. As the meat cooks, it will shrink, at which point you can slide the entire brisket back into the smoker and close the door. Make sure to close it tightly, as the meat can use all the smoke flavor it can get at this point.
Continue to cook the brisket as you normally would. It might take a bit longer than usual for the meat to reach the desired internal temperature, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Split It Up
We would recommend this method only if the brisket still has both the point and flat intact. An electric trimming knife will come in handy here. If you don’t have one, use a sharp knife with a long, stiff blade.
To help the meat retain its shape, split the brisket lengthwise. Starting at the point end, make a clean cut all the way through the meat. Once you’ve reached the cutting board, slowly draw the knife down the length of the brisket, all the way through the flat end.
Divide The Sections
You can also divide the point from the flat. This will allow you to cook the two sections separately, if you prefer.
Set the brisket fat-side down on a cutting board. You should be able to identify the fat seam that connects the two segments. This is known as “the nose.”
Begin by cutting straight downward into the nose, following it with the knife where it curves back over the flat segment. Gently lift the flat with your free hand and continue to slice through the nose until you’ve reached the end of the point. Slice through the thinner meat on the point to disengage it from the flat.
The Bottom Line
Brisket too big for smoker? You can still get cooking if you know how to work around the problem. The methods we’ve described will help to move things along, and you’ll gain valuable experience along the way.