Undercooked Brisket: What To Do When It Won’t Cook Through

Ideally, beef brisket should be smoked until its internal temperature registers at least 195 degrees. But what happens if it doesn’t get there by the time you’re ready to serve it? Here are a few pro tips on how to handle undercooked brisket.

Undercooked Brisket

When brisket is undercooked, the meat will be chewy and tough. Keeping an eye on the temperature of the meat, as well as the smoker’s temperature, can help to ensure success. Sometimes it’s possible to return the meat to the smoker right away, but if not, you can finish cooking it in a day or two.

Possible Causes

Why is your brisket undercooked? Let’s take a look at the most common culprits.

Fluctuating Smoker Temperature

When the smoker’s temperature dips too low, it can prolong the cooking time. Conversely, if it swings too high, you might be looking at overcooked brisket—or at least one that’s finished cooking way too early. Check the thermometer regularly, and adjust the smoker’s settings as needed.

Inaccurate Weight

The length of your smoke depends on the weight of the brisket in question. If the weight isn’t listed on the packaging, use a kitchen scale to weigh the brisket yourself. This might be a good idea anyway, especially if you’ve trimmed any of the fat from the meat. Having an accurate number will help to ensure the success of your barbecue.

For more details regarding weight and how it affects the cooking time, see Allocating Time, below.

Inaccurate Thermometer

An accurate probe thermometer is one of the best tools a pitmaster can have at their disposal. Even if your smoker comes with a built-in thermometer, it’s best to invest in a separate one, just in case. You should also have a second one on hand for testing the internal temperature of the meat itself.

Pulling the Brisket Too Soon

Often, this problem arises because the chef was too quick to remove the meat from the smoker. This may be because the guests were arriving and they couldn’t afford to wait any longer, or it could be because the meat “looked done.” Either way, they wind up with a brisket that’s tough and chewy instead of fall-apart tender.

How Can You Tell When Brisket is Undercooked?

chef in black gloves using knife to slice smoked brisket

When the thermometer’s probe slides right into the meat with no resistance, the brisket is probably done to perfection. Just to be safe, however, wait until you see those numbers. The brisket can be removed from the smoker when the internal temperature reaches 195-210 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you don’t trust your thermometer, or you just want to make sure the meat is cooked, there’s another test you can perform.

After you allow the brisket to rest for at least 30 minutes, carve off a single slice. Hold the slice at either end and try to pull it apart. If it’s undercooked, it won’t come apart easily. In this case, you can return the rest of the brisket to the smoker and allow it to finish cooking.

On the other hand, if the meat crumbles in your fingers instead of coming apart in two neat halves, you’ve probably overcooked it. This isn’t the end of the world, as there are plenty of uses for overcooked brisket. However, it’s something to keep in mind the next time you fire up the smoker.

Allocating Time

Before you begin your smoke, it’s important to estimate about how long the brisket will take to cook based on weight and temperature.

We like to smoke brisket at 225 degrees. At this temperature, the fat and connective tissue will break down slowly, so the meat will be tender and juicy. It also prolongs the brisket’s exposure to the smoke, which will give it a great flavor boost.

When the smoker is set to 225 degrees, the brisket should smoke for 1-1/2 to 2 hours per pound. Since the average brisket weighs about 10 to 16 pounds, this means your total cooking time could range from 15 to 32 hours. That’s why you should always find out the approximate weight of the brisket beforehand.

About The Stall

If you’ve ever smoked a beef brisket or another large cut of meat like pork butt, you’re probably familiar with the stall. You might not have known what this process was called, but there’s a good chance you noticed it all the same.

Raw meat contains a great deal of moisture—about 55 to 70 percent, depending on the cut. During the cooking process, most of this moisture evaporates, which is why cooked meat is so much lighter than what you started with.

At a certain point—usually when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 150 degrees—the smoker can no longer keep up with the cooling effects of the evaporation. That’s when the temperature begins to hold, or “stall.” This can last for several hours, which is intensely frustrating, especially to amateurs who don’t know what to expect.

If you find that your brisket is refusing to budge past 150-170 degrees, be patient. The meat only contains so much excess moisture. When all of these reserves have been used up, the temperature will begin rising once more.

One important note: This doesn’t mean the brisket will turn out too dry. The fat and collagen will stay right where they are, lending plenty of moisture to the finished product. As long as you remove the brisket from the smoker before the temp climbs above the 210-degree mark, it should be perfect.

Using the Texas Crutch on Undercooked Brisket

Although we advise waiting out the stall whenever possible, you can always employ the “Texas crutch” if you’re truly pressed for time. This method involves wrapping the partially cooked brisket in foil until the temperature begins to shoot up.

While the Texas crutch does speed the process along, it can sometimes result in soggy bark. It might also have an adverse effect on the smoke flavor. That’s why we prefer to plan ahead and work the stall period into the overall cooking time.

That said, if you intend to use the Texas crutch, here are a few tips on how to go about it.

  • Wait until the meat’s temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the brisket has already been in the stall for awhile, so it will have plenty of smoke flavor. The bark should be nice and dark, too.
  • Use high-quality aluminum foil. Cheap foil won’t insulate the brisket properly, meaning you won’t save as much time as you’d hoped. We would also recommend using extra wide foil rather than the standard size. Remember to use 2 sheets so that the brisket is wrapped securely.
  • Form a tight seal around the brisket. Otherwise, the liquid might form a pool at the bottom of the wrapper, which will steam the meat instead of smoking it.

What To Do With Undercooked Brisket

smoked beef brisket sandwich

When you’ve allowed the brisket to rest and discovered that the meat is too chewy, is there anything you can do to salvage the experiment? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Here are some of our favorite techniques for rescuing underdone brisket.

  • Carve the brisket into slices about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Set slices in a roasting pan and add enough beef broth and red wine to cover the meat. Wrap the pan with foil and heat in a 325-degree oven for 3 to 4 hours. The brisket slices should be moist and tender enough to melt in your mouth.
  • Leave the brisket whole and allow it to cool, then refrigerate it overnight. The next day, return it to a 225-degree smoker and let it cook until the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees.
  • Cut the brisket into 1-1/2 inch cubes and add them to a slow cooker. Add sliced carrots, cubed potatoes and turnips, diced onions, and fresh herbs. Pour in enough beef stock to cover the meat at least halfway. After you replace the cover, set the slow cooker to low and let the mixture cook for 2 to 3 hours.

Final Thoughts

As a rule, it’s easier to save underdone brisket than it is to resurrect it when it’s overcooked. That’s because you can always cook it longer, but there’s no way to regain the right texture once it’s gone past a certain point. If you follow these tips, your brisket can taste great even if you’ve removed it from the heat too soon.

Happy grilling!

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