Preparing a perfect brisket takes some practice, but a few simple tricks from the pros can help get you started on your journey. One of the most useful tips involves knowing how to check a brisket for doneness by probing it.
While some pitmasters can tell when a brisket is done by looking at it, most people monitor its internal temperature with a probe to avoid overcooking or undercooking it. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about where to probe brisket to know when it’s done.
Where to Probe Brisket?
The best place to probe a brisket is right in the middle of the densest part of the flat. You should insert the thermometer horizontally and angle it across the grain. The point will not give as accurate a read because of its fat content and connective tissue.
Where to Probe Brisket: The Point or the Flat?
When you barbecue or smoke a brisket, the point and the flat reach their target temperatures at different times. This is because the flat is thinner than the point. Thus, you might wonder if it is better to insert a probe into the thin flat or the thick point.
We recommend inserting your thermometer into the flat at its thickest part. Usually, this is located next to the point. Some people recommend probing the point because it is the thickest part of the lean meat and cooks more slowly. Others say that the point cooks faster than the flat.
Whatever you decide, you should angle the probe across the grain and insert it deep into the meat and from the side, not from the top. The internal temperature range for full doneness is between 180 and 205 F (82 to 96 C). Most people aim for 188 to 190 F. The precise target temperature depends on your personal preferences.
Getting Through the Stall
The stall refers to when the temperature of brisket or other meat plateaus and stops rising during cooking. This typically happens around 150 to 155 F. This is when the meat begins to sweat, and the evaporation process causes it to cool.
This plateau can continue for several hours and slows down the cooking process. Eventually, the temperature will start rising again. It is important to remain patient during the stall and to resist the urge to turn up the heat.
The Texas crutch is one great way to get through the stall. When the temperature reaches 150 F, take the meat off the heat and wrap it in foil or unlined butcher paper. Be sure to close the grill lid to keep the heat in while you wrap the meat. Then, reinsert the probe and continue cooking until the target temperature of about 203 F and the desired tenderness is reached.
The Texas crutch offers several advantages. It can shorten the cooking time by several hours and get your meal to your guests in a more timely fashion. It also traps in moisture and keeps the brisket from drying out.
The main downside of the Texas crutch is that it makes the bark softer and less crusty. This can be avoided by unwrapping the meat and grilling it for another 30 minutes in order to dry the bark and make it crispier. Using butcher paper instead of foil also helps create a crispy bark.
The Best Tools to Use for Probing
Once you know where to probe brisket, you will want to get the best tools for the job. The Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker comes with thermometers that stop cooking when the meat reaches the chosen temperature.
If you don’t have such a smoker, don’t despair. There are several types of meat thermometers on the market. Thermocouple thermometers read the temperature the fastest, but they tend to be the most expensive and can’t be left in meat during cooking. Digital instant-read thermometers are almost as fast but more affordable.
Leave-in thermometers are awesome for brisket because it is safe to leave them in the meat while you cook to track the temperature. Leave-in dial thermometers are good for large, thick pieces of meat like brisket because they probe deeper into the meat. They are inexpensive and take one or two minutes to get a reading.
Leave-in digital probes can stay in the meat while cooking and are accurate and easy to read. They work faster than dial thermometers. A wireless hybrid probe is another good solution because it lets you keep track of the point and flat’s temperature at the same time.
The Smoke remote thermometer has two sensors to read the meat and pit temperatures simultaneously. A receiver lets you track the temperatures remotely. Its air probe clips onto the grate surface to watch the cooking temperature while the cooking probe inserts into the flat at its thickest point.
You can set an alarm to warn you if the pit temperature gets too low or too high. An alert on the cooking probe can tell you when it is time to remove and wrap the brisket for the Texas crutch. This prevents you from having to open the lid to check the temperature. After you wrap it and return it to the grate, you can reset the alert.
How to Know When it’s Done
When brisket is done, you can pull it apart easily. The texture and toughness will be perfect. You should be able to stick a fork in the brisket and easily remove some meat. It should be tender, soft, and easy to chew but not falling apart. The surface should be sticky.
The rule of thumb is to cook a packer brisket, a whole brisket, for 1.5 hours per pound. This will vary depending on the thickness of the cut, the amount of connective tissue or collagen, and the cooking temperature.
While temperature is a useful guide for knowing when to start probing your brisket, tenderness is the best indicator of doneness. A brisket is ready when it is fork-tender. A thermometer or fork should slide in and out smoothly like a knife through butter.
When the brisket reaches 185 F, probe the meat all over the flat and the point to check for tenderness. Push and pull at it. If there is any resistance, you should continue cooking and recheck it every 45 minutes. Poking the meat won’t affect the flavor, but it does let heat escape, so try not to overdo it.
The temperature at doneness varies depending on how hot you cook it. If you cook it at 225 F, it will reach the right doneness at 190 F. If you cook it at 275 to 330 F, it will get to the right tenderness at closer to 205 F. Smoked brisket continues to cook after you take it off the heat, so remove it at 5 degrees below the desired temperature.
While you might never be able to determine a brisket’s doneness like a pitmaster, knowing where to probe brisket will help you get amazing results. When you learn how to probe brisket to monitor its internal temperature and to check its tenderness, your barbecue skills will reach a new level that will surely impress your friends and family.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!