Since brisket takes such a long time to cook—and because you can never predict exactly when it will be ready—you might want to consider smoking it ahead of time and reheating it. This guide will help you decide whether this is the best course of action.
Smoking Brisket The Day Before
If you’re concerned about timing, you can cook your brisket the day before you plan to serve it. This method will ensure that the meat will be ready when your guests arrive. However, the meat will be drier and the bark softer than if you’d served it fresh.
How Long Does It Take To Smoke A Brisket?
Before you decide whether to smoke the meat the day before, you should have an idea of how long the process will take.
A whole packer brisket is a huge cut of meat. It usually weighs 12 to 14 pounds, but it’s possible to find cuts that fall above or below that threshold. The larger the brisket, the longer it will take to cook.
When you smoke the meat at 225 degrees, as we typically recommend, the brisket should cook at a rate of 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. That means a 12-pound brisket could be on the smoker for 18 to 24 hours.
You can speed things along somewhat by wrapping the meat in foil or butcher paper when it hits the 150-degree range. Either way, though, you’re in for a long wait.
Smoking The Flat and Point Separately
The flat is the long, rectangular section of the brisket. This is the cut that you’ll often see on supermarket shelves. The meat itself is fairly lean, with a coarse grain that makes it easy to slice.
The point isn’t usually sold by itself, but it has a great deal of marbling that makes it irresistible to barbecue enthusiasts. When separated from the flat, the point has a jagged, irregular shape.
If you’re hoping to save time, you can always divide the point from the flat and smoke both parts of the brisket at the same time. Since the brisket will be separated into two halves, each half will cook through more quickly.
A typical brisket flat weighs about 6 to 10 pounds. The point will usually be smaller, around 4 to 7 pounds. That means they may require slightly different cooking times.
However, since the point has more marbling, it can cook to a higher temperature than the flat and still taste delicious. When smoking an 8-pound flat with a 6-pound point, plan on a cooking time of at least 12 hours unless you plan to wrap the meat.
Smoking Brisket the Day Before: When To Try It
The best time to experiment with this technique is when you’re planning on serving the brisket at lunchtime, or in the early afternoon.
The reasoning behind this is simple: For daytime gatherings, you don’t have as much leeway in terms of time. Your guests might have somewhere else they need to be. In these cases, it would be disastrous if your brisket wasn’t ready at the appointed hour.
You also might want to consider smoking brisket ahead of time if you’re planning on making a lot of other dishes for the gathering. This is true especially if you’re going to need the grill or smoker for any of these recipes.
How To Smoke Brisket The Day Before
There’s no real trick to smoking brisket the day before. Just cook the brisket as you normally would. When the meat comes off the smoker, wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil. Allow the brisket to rest in a cooler for 2 hours before putting it in the fridge.
You can also carve the meat before you refrigerate it, but we don’t recommend this practice. The brisket will retain its moisture better if you leave it whole. Slices dry out quickly, especially during reheating.
How To Reheat Brisket
About two hours before your planned serving time, set your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Without removing the foil wrapper, set the brisket in the oven.
Reheat until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the foil wrapper and carve the brisket into slices, taking care to reserve as many of the juices as possible.
Drizzle the juices over the brisket slices and serve.
Is There a Downside to Smoking Brisket Ahead of Time?
In a word, yes.
While it’s fine to either fully cook or partially cook the meat ahead of time, it won’t retain the same texture. When the meat is refrigerated, it will lose a lot of its moisture. Even worse, the bark will soften, which compromises the quality of the brisket.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide if the trade-off is worth it. Are you willing to sacrifice some of brisket’s most appealing qualities, all in the name of convenience? If the answer is yes, feel free to experiment with smoking brisket the day before.
The Overnight Alternative
Depending on the size of your brisket, one option might be to smoke the meat overnight. That way, the smoker will be doing its work while you’re asleep, and the meat should be ready in plenty of time for a noon gathering.
To begin, estimate the total cooking time. A 10-pound brisket could take anywhere from 15 to 20 hours to cook if it’s left unwrapped, and it also needs to rest. That means you should add it to the smoker somewhere between 3 and 8 pm the night before.
That’s a broad window, but we think it’s better to err on the side of caution. Assume that the meat will cook at a rate of 2 hours per pound. If it’s done too early, you can always use the faux Cambro method (described below) to hold it until serving time.
Set the smoker temperature to 225 degrees. Once you’re satisfied that it’s holding steady at this temperature, add the prepared brisket.
After 4 to 5 hours, the internal temperature should have reached the 150-degree mark. At this point, you can wrap the brisket in butcher paper or foil (see the section below), or simply let the smoker do its work.
The brisket is ready to come off the heat when the internal temperature hits the 195-200 degree range. During the initial stage of the resting period, the temp should climb to 210 degrees, which will give it the ideal texture.
If you have just 30 to 60 minutes to go until serving time, loosely cover the brisket with foil and let it rest in a draft-free place. If you need to hold it any longer than that, it’s best to create a faux Cambro to help keep the meat warm.
To Wrap or Not to Wrap?
Wrapping brisket makes it easier to pin down the total cooking time. The wrapper helps the meat speed through “the stall” period, when the internal temperature halts as a result of evaporative cooling.
The best time to wrap brisket is when the meat hits the 150-degree mark. At that point, a nice bark should have had a chance to build up on the exterior. If you wrap it too early, the texture of the finished brisket will suffer.
When all is said and done, brisket wrapped in foil or butcher paper should cook at a rate of about 1 hour and 15 minutes per pound. Your 10-pound brisket might be done after just 12.5 hours.
Bear in mind, though, that if you’re smoking the meat overnight, you may have to get up in the wee hours of the morning to do the wrapping.
The Faux Cambro Method
A Cambro is an insulated container designed to keep food warm until the designated serving time. Caterers often use them when they’re preparing the food at one location and serving it at another.
You can utilize a similar technique to hold your cooked brisket. Fill a large cooler with about 3 gallons of hot water, then close the lid and let it sit for 30 minutes. Your next step is to drain the water and line the cooler with clean towels.
When the brisket comes off the smoker, wrap it tightly in foil and lay it inside the insulated cooler. Close the lid and let the meat rest inside until about 30 minutes before serving time. The brisket should maintain its juicy integrity for up to 4 hours.
Another option would be to smoke the brisket to about 150 degrees the day before you plan to serve it, then finish it off the next day.
This method offers convenience, as it allows you to break the long cooking process into two stages. The results won’t be quite as impressive as freshly cooked brisket, but it’s better than reheating the leftovers.
Smoking brisket ahead of time might give you peace of mind, but in our opinion, the trade-off isn’t worth it. There’s no substitute for brisket that’s fresh off the smoker, no matter how long you have to wait for it.