When to Pull Brisket Off Smoker: Best Internal Temp & More

Brisket is a tough cut of beef. It has a reputation for being hard to cook, but anyone can learn how to do it. In order to make brisket tender, it needs to be cooked for a long time. The trick is to cook it slowly with indirect heat so that the collagen converts into gelatin. If you overcook it, it will come out dry and chewy.

A perfectly smoked brisket is juicy and moist in the middle, crunchy on the outside, and has the exact right amount of smoky flavor. To get it right, you need a lot of time and patience. This article will help you get started with some tips on when to pull brisket off smoker and the best internal temp for brisket.

When to Pull Brisket Off Smoker

When you ask this question to the pros, you might get many different responses. Each pitmaster has a unique method and style when it comes to smoking brisket. While some recommend going by the internal temperature to decide when to pull it off, others go by the appearance or the texture.

Pros often use a technique called the Texas crutch. This involves pulling the brisket off early when the temperature stalls. Then you wrap it in foil, reinsert the probe, and return it to the smoker until it’s done. The stall happens when the internal temperature stops rising. It usually occurs at around 150 F and can last for several hours.

Brisket is ready to be pulled off the smoker when the bark is a dark mahogany color and the meat is tender. A toothpick or probe should slide in and out of the meat like soft butter wherever you poke it. Be sure to check both the point and the flat every 30 to 45 minutes.

The hang or pull test is another way to tell that brisket is done, but this isn’t very practical because you can only do it after the fact. This involves letting a slice of brisket hang from your fingers. It should not fall apart from its own weight but should break apart if you pull on it.

The Best Internal Temp for Brisket

While going by appearance and texture might work for the pros, we recommend using the internal temperature as a guideline. The question of the best internal temp for brisket is hotly debated, and you will get a different answer depending on whom you ask.

For Aaron Franklin, the owner of the Franklin Barbecue restaurant, 195 F is the magic number while some other pros insist that 202 F is best. Some say the internal temperature should range between 180 and 190. At this point, the collagen renders down and makes the meat tender.

It is likely that the point and the flat will register different temperatures and that the flat will be done before the point. In this case, some people will pull the brisket off the grill when the flat is ready, remove it from the point, and return the point to the grill.

In the end, there is no single right or wrong answer because each brisket has its own unique properties. Still, we can give you a few tips to help you get it right.

One popular method is to pull the brisket off and wrap it after it reaches 185 to 195 F. Double or triple wrap it in butcher paper, push the probe through the wrap, and return it to the smoker. Check it every hour until reaches 200 F. Others recommend pulling it off and wrapping it at 160-170 F.

Still another option is not to pull it off and wrap it at all, but to wait out the stall. Eventually, the internal temperature will continue to rise. This method takes more time, but the brisket will have a smokier flavor and a crisper bark.

We recommend using a leave-in instant-read thermometer to watch the internal temperature. Some grills and smokers come with a built-in thermometer. Some pellet smokers come with two probes so you can put one in the flat and one in the point.

Whatever temperature you aim for, you should remember the temperature can rise another 10 degrees after you pull it from the smoker. If you want an internal temperature of 200 F, you should remove it from the smoker at about 190 F.

How Long Will it Take?

A packer is a big piece of meat with two muscles and a fat cap. Depending on the size, it could take as long as 18 hours to smoke a brisket. Packers can weigh from 10 to 20 pounds before trimming. If you are smoking a whole packer, it will take at least 8 hours to reach its ideal temperature if you wrap it and longer if you don’t.

By raising the cooking temperature to 300 or 350 F, you can smoke or grill your brisket in less time. This is a good option if you are in a hurry. However, the brisket is more likely to overcook and won’t have the same level of smokiness as a slow-cooked packer.

How to Wrap Your Brisket

If you want to speed up the cooking process and keep your brisket from drying out, wrapping it is the way to go. This keeps in the heat, moisture, and smoky flavor and reduces bitterness. Don’t wrap it too early or the bark won’t be as crispy.

While you can wrap the brisket in foil, many pros use butcher paper. Foil is heat reflective and can result in overcooking and over-steaming. Butcher paper allows the meat to breathe and prevents it from getting soggy. It allows the heat and smoke to penetrate to give the meat a smoky flavor and help it develop a crispy bark.

Pink butcher paper is all the craze these days. It is sturdy, moisture and heat resistant, and won’t affect the meat’s flavor. Sometimes called peach paper, it is made from FDA-approved, food-grade virgin Southern Pine pulp. Be sure that the pink butcher paper you get is heavy-duty, unwaxed, unbleached, and food grade.

Other Tips for Smoking a Brisket

One of the best ways to smoke a brisket is on an electric pellet smoker. These high-tech smokers maintain a consistent temperature and track internal and cooking temperatures. They use clean heat during cooking. Leave the lid closed as much as possible to keep the cooking temperature of the smoker stable.

Most recommend putting the fat side up, but if the heat source is coming from underneath the meat, the fat side should face down. This helps keep the muscle from drying out. The point should be closer to the fire, and the flat should be closer to the smoke. In the end, how you put it on the grill is a matter of preference.

Keeping brisket moist through the long cooking process can be a challenge. Some smokers require a water pan to retain moisture. Another option is to spray the meat with water, apple juice, or apple cider vinegar to keep it from drying out. Mopping involves preparing a pot of liquid and seasoning and mopping it onto the meat.

There are also many different opinions about what wood to use. This is a matter of taste. In general, dry woods like hickory, apple, oak, pecan, and cherry work better than green wood or overly cured wood.

If you don’t have a smoker, you can get a smoky flavor by using liquid smoke, smoking spices, or bacon. Liquid smoke is made from a smoker’s condensation. Smoking spices and bacon get their smoky flavor from having been in a smoker themselves.

After you remove your brisket from the smoker, don’t cut it right away. First, you should let it rest. During this process, the outside cools off while the inside continues to cook. This evens out the temperature.

According to some, one hour is long enough for resting a brisket, but the pros recommend two to four hours. It can rest for as long as six hours if necessary. Wrap it in butcher paper, foil, or a towel and leave it in a large cooler.

Practice Makes Perfect

At the end of the day, creating the perfect smoked brisket might take some practice. Maybe you will be lucky and get it right the first time, but it might take you a few tries to be successful. Be sure to take notes on what you do so you will know what works and what doesn’t work.

Final Thoughts

While it might seem like an overwhelming project, smoking a perfect brisket can be done. Once you know when to pull it off the smoker and what the internal temperature should be, you are on your way to a tasty meal that will be the talk of the town.

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