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Smoking Brisket at 180 Degrees: Does This Method Work?

Smoking brisket at 180 degrees can be a challenge, especially if your smoker runs on the cooler side. Here’s what you can expect from the process if you decide to try it for yourself.

Smoking Brisket at 180 Degrees

If you want to impart a heavy dose of smoke flavor to your brisket, you can set the smoker to 180 degrees for the first few hours. However, leaving it at 180 will prolong the cooking process beyond what we would consider reasonable. We would suggest turning up the heat to 225 for the remainder of the cooking time.

Can You Smoke Brisket at 180 Degrees?

It’s permissible to set the smoker temperature to 180 degrees Fahrenheit when making smoked brisket. Although it’s important to keep meat out of the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees as much as possible, at 180 degrees, the brisket should cook to a safe temperature before spending too much time within that bracket.

Having said that, we should point out that it will take a long time for the brisket to cook to the proper internal temperature if you keep the fire burning that low. That’s why many pitmasters choose to ramp up the temperature partway through the smoke.

What’s The Ideal Temperature For Smoking Brisket?

Brisket needs to cook at a low temperature in order to achieve the proper texture. The meat comes from a portion of the steer that gets a lot of exercise. As such, it’s naturally tough, which means it requires a long, slow cooking process.

When brisket is allowed to cook low and slow, the collagen breaks down and transforms to gelatin. This gives the meat a tender, juicy texture.

Good brisket also contains a great deal of intramuscular fat, also known as marbling. If the meat cooks too quickly, the fat won’t have a chance to render, so it will be tough and chewy as a result.

Our recommendation is to set the smoker temperature to 225 degrees when making smoked brisket. This is a good rule of thumb for most smoked meats, including ribs and pork shoulder.

At this temperature, the brisket will cook slowly—at a rate of about 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. That’s sufficient for the collagen to break down and the fat to render properly.

Since brisket is a large cut—a whole packer can weigh as much as 20 pounds—you can expect a prolonged cooking time even when the smoker is set to 225. If you keep it at 180 for the duration of the smoke, the process will be exponentially longer.

Why Set The Temperature So Low?

If it takes such a long time to smoke brisket at 180 degrees, why would you consider using such a low temperature in the first place? In a word: smoke.

The lower the smoker temperature, the more smoke you’ll get. This is only true up to a point, of course, but it’s the reason why some chefs prefer to start the cooking process at 180 degrees.

During the initial stages of the cooking process, the meat will become infused with smoke flavor. That’s why we don’t recommend wrapping the brisket until it’s been exposed to the smoke for at least a few hours (if you choose to wrap it at all).

In short, if you want the smoke flavor to take center stage, then starting the smoke at 180 degrees could be the method for you.

Best Woods For Smoking Brisket

Let’s say you’ve decided to take the plunge and start smoking brisket at 180 degrees before ramping up the heat. What would be the best wood to use?

It’s safe to assume that anyone who uses this method enjoys a hearty dose of smoky goodness. With that in mind, we’ll start with the wood types that impart the strongest flavor.

Mesquite

This wood burns quickly and gives off a smoke flavor that’s exceptionally intense, with earthy undertones. Mesquite is a hallmark of authentic Texas barbecue and pairs well with brisket, as the beef is robust enough to hold up to the intensity of the smoke.

That said, beginners should use caution when using mesquite. The taste can be overpowering, especially if this is the only wood you use. We would recommend mixing a few handfuls of mesquite in with a milder wood, or adding it toward the end of the cook.

Hickory

Hickory is another intensely-flavored wood, and one that’s commonly associated with bacon. You may also detect a hint of nuttiness in the flavor.

If you’re going to experiment with hickory, brisket is a good meat to use. The flavor can overwhelm light meats like chicken and fish. As with mesquite, it’s a good idea to use this wood sparingly, as it may impart a bitter flavor if it’s overused.

Oak

This wood falls somewhere in the middle of the intensity scale. The flavor is noticeable, but it won’t overpower the natural taste of the beef. It also burns slowly, so it’s an excellent option for the smoker.

Cherry

With a mild smokiness and fruity undertones, cherry has a nice flavor when combined with hickory. You can try mixing the two to keep the hickory from imparting a bitter flavor, and to round out the sweetness of the cherry.

Pecan

The wood from the pecan tree has a nutty taste that can be overly sweet when the wood is used alone. Try combining it with oak to achieve the right balance of savory and sweet.

How To Smoke Brisket at 180 Degrees

Ingredients

  • 1 whole packer brisket (preferably 12-14 pounds)
  • About 1/2 cup prepared yellow mustard (optional)

Seasoning Rub:

  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Directions

1. Trim the brisket, if necessary, and pat dry with paper towels.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the seasoning rub.

3. Slather the brisket with mustard, if desired, making sure to coat the entire surface.

4. Cover the brisket all over with the seasoning rub, pressing gently so that the spices cling to the meat. Set aside to rest while you wait for the smoker to heat up.

5. Set the smoker temperature to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. When the smoker is hot enough, set the brisket on the cooking grate with the fat side facing the heat source.

7. Let the meat cook for about 2 hours.

8. Turn the smoker temperature up to 225 degrees. Let the brisket continue to smoke until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, about 2-3 hours.

9. Remove the brisket from the smoker. Wrap the meat in a double layer of aluminum foil and set it in a disposable aluminum pan.

10. Set the foil pan with the brisket inside on the cooking grate and close the lid.

11. Let the brisket cook until the internal temperature reaches 195-200 degrees. This should take around 4-5 hours, depending on the weight of your brisket.

12. Take the brisket off the smoker and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.

13. Separate the point from the flat and carve the flat into thin slices, making sure to cut against the grain.

14. Shred the meat from the point end and mix with barbecue sauce, if desired. Serve immediately.

The Bottom Line

Smoking brisket at 180 degrees will take a prohibitively long time if you hold steady at that temperature. However, using the lower temp in the first stage of the process will boost smoke production, giving you a brisket that’s bursting with woodsy flavor.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!