Are you new to the world of pellet smoking? Congratulations–you’re taking your first steps into an exciting new world of flavor.
It takes a long time to smoke a brisket, so you may be wondering how many pounds of pellets you’ll need to get the job done. This guide is here to fill you in–and to help you fill your hopper.
How Many Pounds of Pellets To Smoke a Brisket?
For long, slow cooking applications like smoking, a pellet smoker should burn through pellets at a rate of around 1 pound per hour. Assuming that it could take up to 2 hours per pound to smoke the entire brisket, plan on buying 2 pounds of pellets for every pound of meat.
How Long Do Pellets Last?
Pellet smokers use small cylinders of compressed hardwood as fuel. How long these pellets last depends on their quality and that of the smoker itself, among other factors.
In general, though, you can expect to burn through about 2 pounds of pellets per hour for high-heat cooking applications like searing, or 1 pound per hour for low-and-slow cooking. If you’ve ever smoked a brisket before, you know that it falls into the second category.
How Many Pellets Can A Smoker Hold?
That depends on the brand, as well as the size of the smoker.
There are units available for commercial use that can hold 80 or more pounds of pellets in their hoppers. Many of the pellet smokers that are sold for recreational use, though, have hoppers with capacities of 15 to 40 pounds.
If you plan on using your pellet smoker for large cuts like beef brisket on a regular basis, consider investing in one with an oversized hopper. This will give you more peace of mind during those long, slow cooks.
Remember that even if the hopper can hold a lot of pellets, you’ll still need to clean it out on a regular basis. The pellets can get damp and moldy if they’re allowed to sit in the hopper for too long.
What’s more, leaving the hopper untended can create a buildup of excess sawdust. This is one of the issues that leads to tunneling, which may cause the smoker to switch off while you’re smoking the brisket.
Smoking A Whole Packer
A whole brisket, known as a whole packer, is typically a huge cut of meat. You can find whole packers that weigh up to 20 pounds, although it’s more common to see them in the 10-to-16 pound range.
If you buy a 12-pound whole packer and smoke it at 225 degrees Fahrenheit, you can expect it to cook at a rate of 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. That translates into 18 to 24 hours of cooking time.
Using the formula we’ve outlined above, a brisket this size will require 18 to 24 pounds of pellets. Depending on your smoker’s hopper capacity, that could mean that you’ll need to replenish the fuel supply at some point during the cooking process.
Smoking The Brisket Flat
The flat end of the brisket is the one you’re most likely to find on supermarket shelves. In addition to being smaller and easier to manage, the flat is lean in comparison to the brisket point (see below), and it slices up beautifully.
A brisket flat weighs around 6 to 10 pounds, give or take. An 8-pound flat should take about 12 hours to cook, assuming the smoker temperature holds steady at 225 degrees the entire time.
For a 12-hour low-and-slow smoke, you’ll need about 12 pounds of pellets. Most hoppers are capable of holding far more than that, so you probably won’t need to add pellets while the flat is cooking. That makes the flat a great option for a hands-free smoking experience.
Smoking The Brisket Point
The point is the fatty, irregular-shaped segment that’s often cut away from the brisket during trimming. It’s more common to find the flat or the whole packer sold separately, but it’s possible to buy the point alone if that’s what you’re looking for.
Brisket point meat is rich and full of flavor, owing to the high percentage of marbling that runs through the cut. Since its grain runs in several different directions, it’s easier to shred the meat than to slice it.
Depending on the size of the packer it was cut from, the point usually weighs around 5 to 7 pounds. A 5-pound brisket point might be on the smoker for up to 10 hours before it attains the proper texture, and larger ones could take even more time.
Have at least 15 pounds of pellets on hand if you’re planning on smoking a brisket point by itself. That should give you enough to fuel the entire smoke, even if you decide to make burnt ends out of the cubed brisket toward the end.
Does Pellet Flavor Affect The Burn Rate?
Wood pellets designed for use in a pellet smoker are available in a myriad of flavors. Mesquite and hickory are among the strongest, with milder woods like apple and cherry coming in at the other end of the spectrum.
When it comes to smoking brisket, we prefer to use oak, sometimes mixed in with one of the stronger woods for variety. The beef is robust enough to stand up to the intense smoke flavor, and oak contributes a savory richness of its own.
The flavor of the pellets doesn’t affect the burn rate. A pound of oak pellets should last as long as a pound of pellets made from pecan wood.
However, the quality of the pellets could play a role. Inferior wood pellets may contain oils designed to artificially boost the flavor. These oils will combust more quickly than regular wood, which means the pellets will burn hotter and faster.
To achieve optimum results every time you fire up the smoker, don’t skimp on pellet quality. Buy the best wood pellets you can afford, even if it means cutting down on the number of briskets you make.
The Bottom Line
A good pellet smoker should maintain its temperature throughout the smoke, giving you a more accurate idea of how many pellets you’ll need. Once you’ve smoked enough briskets, you should be able to estimate the burn rate with accuracy.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!