How To Defrost a Brisket Safely: Tips and Techniques

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Whenever I find beef brisket on sale, I buy as much as I can afford. That doesn’t always mean I have to cook it right away—I just prefer to stock up whenever I can. Often, that means freezing some of it for a later date.

If you have a nice piece of beef brisket in the freezer and you aren’t sure how to defrost it properly, stick around. In this guide, we’ll go over the preferred methods for thawing brisket, along with a few other related topics.

How To Defrost A Brisket

We would recommend using the lowest shelf in the refrigerator to thaw beef brisket. Plan on about 24 hours per 5 pounds of meat. If time is of the essence, you can thaw the brisket in a cold water bath for about 30 minutes per pound.

Freezing Brisket

Beef brisket should keep in the freezer for 6 to 12 months if it’s properly sealed. The key is to make sure all the air is forced out of the packaging. Otherwise, ice crystals can form on the meat (what we call “freezer burn”) and compromise the texture.

If you need to store the brisket in the freezer for longer than 12 months, it will still be safe to eat. In theory, frozen meats can keep indefinitely. However, the quality may deteriorate after the 12-month mark, which is why we recommend defrosting and cooking it within that time frame.

A Word About Wet Aging

If the brisket is in cryovac packaging, it will last longer than meat that’s been wrapped in plastic. That’s because the juices are locked in tightly, away from any air circulation that could hasten spoilage.

Some people prefer to leave the brisket in the cryovac for 30 to 60 days to allow the flavors to intensify. This process is called wet aging, and it’s favored by pitmasters on the competition circuit.

It’s important to note that the wet aging process begins on the “kill date,” which is when the meat was butchered. Don’t rely on the purchase date, as the brisket has already been in the cryovac for some time at this point. If the kill date isn’t clearly marked on the package, ask the butcher for help. They’ll know what you’re talking about.

It’s fine to freeze brisket after wet aging if you don’t think you’ll have time to cook it off within 60 days. In fact, it’s preferable to do so, since the meat could spoil if you attempt to leave it in the fridge any longer than that. Just remember to cook the meat off as soon as possible after thawing.

How To Thaw A Brisket: Two Simple Techniques

raw brisket beef cut black angus

In The Refrigerator

The best way to thaw a fresh brisket is to place it in the refrigerator. This is the preferred method for most large cuts, as it keeps the meat out of the “danger zone” of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, bacteria can grow and multiply rapidly. Make sure your fridge is set to 35 to 40 degrees before adding the brisket.

Try to set the brisket in the coldest part of the refrigerator. The rear section of the bottom shelf is usually a good bet. It’s also a good idea to thaw meat on the lower shelf so the juices won’t drip down and contaminate other ingredients. Just to be safe, use a platter or plate large enough to hold the entire brisket.

In the refrigerator, beef brisket thaws at a rate of about 24 hours per 5 pounds of meat. This means that a 10-pound brisket will take two full days to thaw. Make sure to plan ahead so you aren’t stuck with a still-frozen cut of meat when you’re ready to fire up the smoker.

Once the brisket is fully thawed, it should keep for another 3 to 5 days. Never try to thaw a brisket at room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, try using the cold water technique we’ve described below.

In Cold Water

To defrost the meat more quickly, try placing it in a cold water bath. For this method to work, the packaging needs to be airtight. Otherwise, you could find yourself dealing with waterlogged brisket. A leaky package can also cause the meat’s juices to leak out into the water, which is an unsanitary prospect.

For briskets weighing 8 to 15 pounds, a large bowl works well. If the cut weighs more than 15 pounds, it might require a bigger receptacle. If you have a cooler that holds at least 45 quarts, try using that instead.

Place the brisket in your chosen thawing container and cover it completely with cold water. Let the meat thaw for about 30 minutes, then empty and refill the container, making sure the water temperature always stays below 40 degrees.

When you use the cold water method, the brisket should thaw at a rate of 30 minutes for every pound of meat. That means your 10-pound brisket can be ready to cook in about 5 hours.

Don’t use the cold water method unless you’re planning on smoking the brisket right away. If you have the time, it’s a good idea to stick with the refrigerator technique. That way, you’ll have more flexibility regarding the starting time. This also allows you to leave the brisket rub on overnight, if desired.

Can You Thaw Beef Brisket in the Microwave?

We would advise against using the microwave to thaw large cuts of meat like brisket. First of all, the machine probably won’t be able to thaw the meat evenly, so some sections might be fully thawed (or even start to cook) while the rest of it is still frozen. In addition to being inconvenient, this could be detrimental to your health.

Also, on a practical level, the meat just won’t have the right texture. The microwave works by transforming water molecules into vapor, which means that the brisket will essentially be steamed from the inside out. This will lead to dry, rubbery meat.

Freezing Cooked Brisket

well done smoked brisket

What if you’ve already prepared the brisket and won’t be able to consume all the leftovers within 3 to 4 days? Good news: You can freeze the cooked brisket. However, the thawing technique will need to be altered slightly, which is why we’ve included this section.

It’s best to carve the brisket into slices before freezing it. Otherwise, you’ll have to thaw the whole thing at once, instead of merely reheating and serving as much as you need.

Set the brisket slices on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Make sure to place them in a single layer without overlapping. Freeze until solid, about 3 hours.

After removing the tray from the freezer, place the slices in a freezer bag or airtight container. Label them with the date and contents and return to the freezer.

Cooked beef brisket is best consumed within 2 months when it’s stored dry—that is, without a sauce or gravy. If you store the brisket in the cooking juices or in a pan sauce, it will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.

While we’re on the subject of cooking liquid: If you have any left over, try freezing it in ice cube trays or muffin tins. That way, you can reheat the liquid as needed, along with the brisket.

How To Defrost A Brisket After Cooking

To thaw brisket slices, remove them from the freezer and reheat slowly in a saucepan with the reserved cooking juices or beef broth. Alternatively, you can thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. Just make sure to add a bit of liquid when you reheat the brisket, or the slices will have an unpleasant leathery consistency.

Final Thoughts

Once you’ve learned how to thaw a brisket in the refrigerator or a cold water bath, you’ll be able to plan your next barbecue with ease. The main thing to remember is never to thaw the meat on the counter or in the microwave. As long as you give yourself plenty of time, you won’t be able to tell the difference between fresh and frozen brisket.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


4 thoughts on “How To Defrost a Brisket Safely: Tips and Techniques”

  1. First this article says that to defrost a frozen brisket it takes 24 hours per pound in the refrigerator; then further on it says that it requires 24 hours for every five pounds of brisket. Which is correct?


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