Rest Brisket On Counter Instead Of In A Cooler: How and Why

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rest brisket on counter

Many seasoned pros wrap their finished brisket in foil and let it rest in a faux Cambro until they’re ready to serve it. This is an acceptable method, especially if the meat reaches the target serving temperature hours in advance.

But did you know it’s not necessary to rest the meat in a warmed cooler? The step can be useful, but it’s not a prerequisite to mouthwatering brisket. Here’s why you should rest brisket on the counter whenever time allows.

Rest Brisket On Counter

Resting brisket on the counter will help to preserve the bark by allowing air to circulate around it. When you eliminate the foil wrapper, the meat will cool down more quickly, meaning you can carve and serve it that much sooner. If desired, you can carve the brisket loosely with foil to keep any debris and curious fingers away.

Why Does Brisket Need To Rest?

The resting process is an important step when it comes to smoked meats. Actually, you should rest all large cuts of meat, regardless of the cooking method. Here’s why.

Raw meat contains a great deal of moisture. When the meat is exposed to heat, the muscle fibers firm up, which forces the fluid outward. A lot of this moisture evaporates as the meat cooks, which is why the finished product weighs so much less than it did in its raw state.

However, some of the moisture will remain inside—it will just be gathered around the outer edge of the meat. Once you remove it from the heat, the juices will need time to redistribute. Otherwise, the liquid will spill out onto your work surface, leaving you with dry, tough meat.

What’s more, the meat will continue to cook for several minutes as it rests. This “carry-over” effect is another reason why recipes tell you to remove steaks, roasts, and other cuts from the heat when they’re still a few degrees below the recommended serving temperature.

Best Temperature For Slicing Brisket

Now that you know why you’re supposed to rest the brisket, the question remains: How low should the temperature drop before you carve into the meat?

rest brisket on counter

Brisket is considered done when its internal temperature registers 210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Pulling it from the smoker at the 195-200 degree mark should ensure that it reaches this point before the temp begins to drop again.

As the brisket rests and the juices flow back into the center, its internal temperature will go down. When the temp has dropped to 150-170 degrees, it should be safe to cut into the meat.

Why You Should Rest Brisket On Counter

When the brisket is done several hours before the planned serving time, you can wrap it in foil and let it rest in a cooler that’s been preheated with warm water. This “faux Cambro” method will keep the meat warm while you’re waiting for guests to arrive.

However, if you’re lucky enough to pull the brisket from the smoker with just 30-60 minutes to go, it’s better to tent it loosely with foil and let it rest on the counter. The airflow will help the bark retain its crisp texture, and you won’t have to deal with the extra step of preheating the cooler and lining it with towels.

Possible Drawbacks

Is there a downside to resting brisket on the counter? Yes, but only if it’s done incorrectly.

Be sure to let the brisket rest long enough to allow the juices to redistribute. It’s best to allow one hour between the time you take the meat off the smoker and your planned serving time.

If you must, you can cut into the meat after 30 minutes, especially if the brisket is on the smaller side. However, be aware that your impatience will cost you a bit of moisture.

Don’t wrap the brisket too tightly. This will cause the meat to steam inside the foil, softening the bark and lessening the flavor profile you’ve worked hard to create.

Additionally, when you rest brisket out in the open, you run the risk of hungry and curious individuals trying to snag a taste. If there are a lot of other people around, be prepared to stand guard so you can prevent others from stealing a pinch before the meat is ready.

How Long To Rest Brisket On Counter

We’ve established that the recommended minimum resting time is one hour, or 30 minutes if you’re really pressed for time. But is there a limit on how long you can let the brisket rest?

After two hours, you should slice and serve the brisket if you haven’t already. Even if you don’t plan on serving it right away, the meat will need to be refrigerated at around the 2-hour mark.

When meat sits at room temperature for longer than two hours, it runs a greater risk of becoming contaminated by dangerous bacteria. When the ambient temperature is 90 degrees, this window shortens to one hour.

Can You Refrigerate Brisket Before Slicing It?

Putting the brisket in the fridge prior to slicing can actually make the process go more smoothly. It will be easier to carve the meat into thin slices this way, and as an added bonus, all the juices and flavors will stay right where they’re supposed to.

If you opt to refrigerate the brisket before carving, let it rest on the counter for at least 15 minutes. Then place it in the fridge, unwrapped, until you’re ready to slice it.

How To Rest Brisket On The Counter After The Faux Cambro Method

If you have to use the faux Cambro method to hold the brisket until serving time, you can still rest it on the counter before you slice it. In fact, it’s a good idea, as the faux Cambro should be keeping the meat at a temperature that’s too high for carving.

rest brisket on counter

When you’re nearly ready to serve the brisket, remove it from the faux Cambro and remove the foil wrapper. Set the meat on a large work surface, then insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest portion of the flat.

When the internal temperature of the brisket drops to the 150-170 range, you’re ready to start serving. Divide the point from the flat, if applicable, and slice the flat against the grain. Use shredding claws or the tips of your fingers to shred the point meat.

Many BBQ pros wrap brisket in foil and let it rest in a faux Cambro. But if your brisket reaches the target temperature early, you might want to consider using another method. Letting your brisket rest on the counter is a great alternative, helping achieve that tender brisket everyone loves. Here’s why this method is effective when you have extra time.

The Bottom Line

As long as the brisket’s temperature has dropped low enough for the juices to redistribute, the resting period has been a success. Resting it on the counter will speed this process by cooling the meat down more quickly.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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