Sometimes when we’re stocking up on meat for our next barbecue, we end up buying more than we need—especially if the cut we’re searching for is on sale. For most of us, this means that some of the meat will wind up in the freezer.
But is it a good idea to freeze beef brisket? If so, should you do it before or after the meat is cooked? In our ultimate guide to freezing brisket, we’ll answer these questions, along with many more.
Brisket can be frozen both before and after smoking. In both cases, the meat should be tightly wrapped and thawed in the refrigerator for best results. If the brisket was cooked before it was frozen, it’s a good idea to reheat it to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you eat it.
Can You Freeze a Brisket Before Smoking?
You can freeze raw brisket no matter how you plan to cook it. Because smoking a brisket can be an all-day affair, it’s a good idea to keep the meat in the freezer until you have enough time to prepare it.
Of course, you’ll need to allow enough time for the brisket to fully thaw (see How Do You Thaw Fresh Brisket?, below). You should also thaw and cook the meat as soon as possible, preferably within 6 months. If you adhere to these guidelines, your brisket should turn out fine.
How Do You Freeze Cooked Brisket?
The main thing to remember is that air is the enemy when it comes to frozen meat. What you want is to create an environment that’s virtually oxygen-free in order to avoid freezer burn.
Freezing the brisket whole will help it retain a great deal of its natural moisture. It also reduces the risk of contamination, since less of the surface area is exposed to the air. The slices will also have a more attractive and “fresh” appearance than they would if the meat was pre-sliced.
However, if you opt for this method, make sure you have enough freezer space to accommodate the brisket. Also, remember that you’ll have to reheat it all at once. If that’s a problem, see Should You Slice Brisket Before Freezing?, below.
To wrap a large piece of brisket for the freezer, use a piece of plastic cling wrap that’s about 6 times bigger than the meat itself. Set the plastic wrap on a work surface and position the brisket in the middle.
Fold the bottom half of the plastic wrap up and over the meat, then follow with the right side of the wrap. Move the brisket toward you, making sure the plastic wrap is adhering securely to the meat without tearing.
Bring the left side of the plastic wrap over the brisket and roll the meat forward again, wrapping the meat as tightly as possible. Continue to roll and wrap the meat until you run out of plastic wrap.
Using another piece of plastic wrap, repeat the process, this time starting on the right side. Once the brisket is double-wrapped, place it in a zip-top freezer bag labeled with the date. Squeeze the bag to remove any excess air, then seal it tightly and set it in the freezer.
Remove and reheat the brisket within 3 to 6 months if possible. It should be reheated to 165 degrees for optimal texture. Once the brisket has been thawed and reheated, it’s best not to freeze it a second time, or the meat will be tough and dry.
Should You Slice Brisket Before Freezing?
Once you’ve allowed the brisket to rest, your first order of business is slicing or chopping the meat. But what if you’re planning on freezing the leftovers? Should you leave those sections whole, or carve the entire brisket into slices?
We would recommend slicing the whole brisket, even if you think you’ll have meat left over. Not only does the brisket freeze well this way, it allows you to thaw only as much as you need. Since brisket should only be reheated once after it’s frozen, this helps to cut back on waste. This method also takes up less freezer space.
That said, frozen brisket slices dry out more easily than larger pieces. Make sure you have plenty of beef stock or broth on hand when you attempt to reheat them.
One more caveat: You might not be able to carve the point end of the brisket into neat slices. The grain is irregular on this end, and the meat is laden with intramuscular fat that makes it difficult to carve. If you’ve smoked only the point, try chopping or shredding the meat instead. It should still thaw and reheat well.
Here are a few key tips for freezing and reheating brisket slices:
- Allow the sliced brisket to cool completely before freezing.
- Let the brisket cool in its own cooking juices. This will allow the slices to remain moist during the thawing and reheating process.
- Freeze the slices in a single layer, using a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Once the slices are frozen solid—which should take about 3 hours—remove them to freezer bags or freezer-safe containers. Label the containers with the date, then return the brisket slices to the freezer. Thaw and serve within 3 months for best results.
- Remove and thaw only as many brisket slices as you need. For more detail, check out the How Do You Reheat Cooked Brisket After Freezing? segment below.
Can You Cut a Brisket In Half and Freeze It?
Absolutely. In fact, some people prefer this method, as it allows you to prepare the point and the flat separately. It can also help you save money, especially if the brisket was on sale when you bought it.
To split the brisket into halves along its natural line, lay it on a clean cutting board with the fat side facing down. You should see a line of fat connecting the flat and the point. This fat seam is called the nose, and it serves as a useful guideline when separating the two.
Using a sharp knife, cut downward into the nose, following the line where it curves beneath the flat. Use your free hand to lift the flat and continue to slice through the nose until you’re able to cut through the thinner meat of the point.
Once the two halves have been divided, trim the visible exterior fat from the point end. The flat will be long and rectangular, while the point is curvier with less defined edges.
At this point, you can decide which half to cook off and which one to freeze. The flat is leaner and easier to slice, but the point has more fat and is ideal for making barbecued beef sandwiches and burnt ends.
Another option would be to freeze both halves. You can always thaw and cook them separately, and the thawing process will go more quickly when the pieces are smaller.
What’s The Best Way To Store Fresh Brisket?
Brisket can be found in the meat section of many major supermarkets, but we prefer to buy it from our local butcher whenever possible. A whole packer brisket weighs 10 to 15 pounds on average, but if you purchase the point and the flat separately, each one will weigh roughly half as much.
Remember that the meat will shrink as it cooks, so you’re better off buying more than you think you’ll need. You can expect to wind up with a yield of 50 to 60 percent of the total weight of the raw brisket, so a 10-pound whole packer should leave you with 5 to 6 pounds of cooked meat. The point cut will shrink more than the flat because it’s fattier.
You can store fresh brisket for up to 5 days in the coldest part of your fridge—say, a temperature range of 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If your fridge runs colder than 34 degrees, the brisket should keep for up to 7 days. For optimum results, don’t open the package until you’re ready to cook the brisket.
If the meat is wrapped in cryovac packaging, it will keep for 30 to 60 days from the date it was butchered. Some pitmasters choose to leave it in this packaging as long as possible. This process is known as wet aging, and it intensifies the beefy flavor of the brisket. If you’d like to try it, ask the butcher for the meat’s “kill date.”
How Can You Tell If The Brisket Has Gone Bad?
A sour smell, a filmy or slimy texture, and discoloration are all hallmarks of spoiled meat. If your brisket shows any of these signs—whether raw or cooked—discard it immediately.
Remember that bacteria loves to grow at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why it’s vital to keep brisket refrigerated until you’re ready to start the cooking process. If raw brisket is allowed to sit at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, it may not be safe to eat.
What’s The Best Way To Store Cooked Brisket?
Although freezing the brisket is a great way to preserve the meat, you can wait a while before taking this step. Brisket can be just as delicious when it’s served a day or two after it was smoked.
Cooked brisket can keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, or two days if it’s stored in a gravy or other liquid. Since smoking is a dry heat method, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any gravy, but you might want to retain the juices for reheating later on. If you do, it’s best to keep them separate while the brisket is stored in the fridge.
On the other hand, the cooking liquid will help the brisket keep longer when it’s transferred to the freezer. If you plan on storing the meat in a sauce or gravy, it should be consumed or frozen within 2 days. Once it’s in the freezer, it should keep for up to 3 months. When you freeze the brisket dry, you should consume it within 2 months.
Always wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap and place it in an airtight container or zip-top bag before storing it.
Does Brisket Freeze Well?
As long as you follow the proper guidelines for storing brisket, it shouldn’t suffer any ill effects from the freezer. This is especially true if you’ve frozen the meat before cooking it.
The meat might lose a bit of its texture in the freezer, but the effects are minimal. Since brisket cooks for such a long time and has an appealing texture when it’s done right, you might not even notice the difference.
As a rule of thumb, you should freeze the meat as soon as you can and thaw it as slowly as possible. For tips on thawing and reheating, see the separate sections below.
How Do You Thaw Fresh Brisket?
The Refrigerator Method
For best results, thaw your brisket in the refrigerator. Plan on 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat. A 12-pound brisket should take 2 to 3 days to thaw when you use this method. Once it’s been fully defrosted, it will keep for an additional 3 to 5 days.
The Cold Water Method
Alternatively, you can thaw the raw meat in a cold water bath. Fill a large bowl with enough cold water to cover the brisket, making sure the packaging is airtight. For whole packer briskets weighing more than 15 pounds, you might want to use a cooler instead.
Drain and replace the water every 30 minutes or so until the brisket is fully thawed. Make sure the water temperature always remains below 40 degrees, or you’ll be inviting food-borne pathogens to the party. The brisket should thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound.
When you thaw meat using the cold water method, you should always cook it off right away. If you don’t have a time constraint, it’s better to wait it out by thawing the brisket in the refrigerator instead. It’s safer and more reliable, and it allows you adequate time to properly season and prepare the meat.
Can You Thaw Cooked Brisket in the Microwave?
While this is possible, we don’t recommend it. When you thaw cooked meat in the microwave, the water molecules are transformed into steam. That means you’ll be steaming the brisket instead of thawing it properly, which will lead to dry and rubbery meat.
How Do You Reheat Cooked Brisket After Freezing?
Reheating Whole Brisket
You have several options when it comes to reheating a large piece of brisket. The first and easiest way is to preheat the oven to 325 degrees, then set the thawed brisket in a roasting pan and cover it tightly with foil. Heat for about 1 hour, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Similarly, you can use your smoker to reheat the brisket. Set the smoker to 225 degrees and wrap the brisket in foil, using a double layer if desired. Place the meat in a cooler section of the smoker until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees, then move it to the “hot zone” until it hits 165 degrees.
Reheating Brisket Slices
To help the meat preserve its integrity, reheat thawed brisket slices in a skillet over medium heat, adding a small amount of beef stock or broth as necessary.
Pro tip: If you have a lot of leftover cooking liquid, try freezing it in individual ramekins or muffin tins. That way, you can remove it at the same time as the brisket and use that to keep them moist as you reheat it. This works whether the meat was carved into slices or left whole.
So, can you freeze some of your leftover brisket and still enjoy the results of your barbecue at a later date? The answer is yes, as long as you understand that the process requires time and effort. Wrap the meat properly and make sure to keep it moist as it reheats, and you should be thrilled with the results.