How to smoke a brisket in a smoker includes all the best research, experience and tips by guest chef Bob to get you to a tender, mouth watering smoked brisket. We included a great shortcut and step by step instructions that even a novice can follow.
First, let me introduce our guest chef, Bob Goodman. Bob is not actually a chef, but he is an avid, passionate meat smoker. I trust him implicitly with gathering the best information out there. Why? Because Bob is a nuclear engineer who relishes research, science and detail – not just in theory, but in practice. He’s experimented with briskets for a long time and recently threw a smoked brisket party with his wife, Fagyie, to share an amazing feast.
Bob has patiently helped me break down the steps and critical information, including the equipment needed, in laymen’s language. I knew nothing about how to smoke a brisket in a smoker. Now I do. The smoked cooking method does take some practice and trial and error to achieve the tastes you want. And, smoking brisket is a long process. So be patient.
The brisket party was potluck so the smoked brisket was paired with Herb Potato Salad, Grilled Carrots with Balsamic Glaze, Party Salad with Grilled Vegetables and Quinoa, several other salads, slaw, pickles, homemade rolls and some good Henry McKenna bourbon. What a spread!
There is no one way to smoke a brisket. All I know is that this way works. Rave reviews from 24 guests.
Here are the steps and tips for how to smoke a brisket in a smoker.
Buy the right brisket
Tip: Try to buy at least the Choice (AAA in Canada) cut of brisket. Prime is even better. American Wagyu even better. The more marbled, the more exceptional and Wagyu beef has that in spades (although considerably more expensive). Find more details in this video by Aaron Franklin on buying and preparing a smoked brisket.
Tip: Experts suggest buying a “whole packer” cut which includes both the fattier point part (also called the Deckle) and the leaner flat part. I’m a fat loving gal so I much prefer the juicier softer textured point. For the brisket party, we all chipped in to buy two Wagyu briskets, one 14 lbs, the other 16 lbs.
Trim and season the brisket (night before)
Tip: A full brisket comes with a heavy layer of fat. Trim it (with a boning knife if you have one) to leave about 1/4 inch of fat. This will allow the smoke to penetrate and add a level of moisture and flavor. There’s a big chunk of fat between the point and the flat part of the brisket. You can cut that out.
Tip: Bob and many experts believe the flavor of the beef should speak for itself so seasoning should be kept simple and light. Salt and pepper are the key. Garlic powder and onion powder are optional. Bob uses some of both. It is not necessary to inject the meat with broth as they do in competitions. Season the evening before smoking and keep the brisket in the fridge overnight.
Prepare the smoker and brisket for cooking (early next morning)
Follow the directions on your smoker to prepare for smoking. The smoker can take up to 45 minutes to heat to the desired temperature of 250F. Bob uses a heavy cast iron Broil King Smoke XL Offset Smoker. Pros call this an “Offset Stick Burner”. Bob prefers this type of smoker because of the heavy nature of the metal that holds the heat and maintains the temperature much steadier. Electric pellet smokers are more convenient as they have temperature controls, but the temperatures don’t stay as steady. Maintaining a steady cooking temperature is very important.
You will need 1-2 bags of charcoal briquettes to create the heat source if using an offset stick burner smoker and wood to create the smoke flavor.
You will also need to set up your probes to monitor the temperature of the smoker and the brisket. Ideally, the probes will have cables that can come out of the smoker, allowing you to keep the lid closed as much as possible. Typically the heat monitor that is attached to a smoker is not accurate. It’s better to use a probe that can be clipped just above the grate to monitor the temperature of the smoker.
Tip: To help with more even cooking, bring the brisket to room temperature by setting it on the counter.
Tip: Use chunks of oak, cherry, apple, maple or hickory wood for flavor. Don’t use mesquite because it’s too overpowering for this purpose. And do not soak the wood.
Tip: If you don’t have a probe with cables to monitor the meat temperature, you can use an instant read thermometer. Just try not to open and close the lid on the smoker too often because the smoker temperature will lower quickly.
Smoke the brisket (cooking step 1)
Smoking the brisket is the longest part of the process – about 5-7 hours depending on the size of your brisket. Bob suggests inviting people over to keep you company and indulge in a bourbon or two while you fuss with the smoker.
During this phase, you will need to:
- add 2-3 chunks of wood every 30-45 minutes, depending on how smoky you want your brisket;
- spray the brisket with apple juice (optional) to keep the surface moist and allow better smoke absorption;
- monitor the smoker temperature probe to maintain the heat between 230F and 250F, adding charcoal briquettes as needed and opening and closing the dampers as needed.
- monitor the meat temperature with a probe (or instant read thermometer).
Tip: Place the brisket fat side down on the grate in the smoker to create a barrier between the fire and the meat.
Tip/SHORTCUT: The brisket will be fully cooked at 195F-205F. To reduce the total cooking time (by up to several hours), Bob suggests using the Texas Crutch (“wrap”) method. This means taking the brisket off the smoker when partially cooked, wrapping it in foil and finishing it in the oven. Instead of the oven, you can continue cooking in the smoker. Just increase the smoker temp to 300F and place the wrapped brisket back in the smoker until it reaches 195F. Bob uses the Texas Crutch/oven method because, by then, he needs to rest and not fuss anymore!
Tip: Keep the opening and closing of the smoker to a minimum to avoid cooling it down.
Transfer the brisket to oven (cooking step 2)
Using the suggested Texas Crutch method to shorten cooking time, remove the brisket when its temperature “stalls”. This is when temperature stays steady for a long time and no longer rises, typically somewhere between 150F and 160F depending on the meat. Wrap it tightly in foil or good quality butcher paper, then transfer it to a roasting pan to a 300F oven to cook for about 3 hours, letting the fat fully render.
Rest the brisket
Let the brisket rest for an hour (or if large, for 90 minutes), wrapped in foil, ideally in a cooler, to maintain its temperature and allow the juices to return to the center of the meat. The cooler will keep the smoked beef brisket hot for 5-6 hours if needed.
Tip: If you don’t have a cooler, let it sit on the counter, well covered in foil for 60-90 minutes.
Slice and dig in
Time for the big reveal! Place the brisket on a cutting board and slice it across (perpendicular to) the grain into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices. You can slice off the fattier point section first and cut that separately if you prefer. You will notice a beautiful pink smoke ring around the edges. Now you know how to smoke a brisket in a smoker. Time to dig in and enjoy!
Make Ahead Smoked Beef Brisket
- The brisket can be made up to 5-6 hours ahead and kept warm, covered in foil, in a cooler (in an a 170F oven).
- Alternatively, the brisket can be made a few days ahead, sliced and served cold in sandwiches. Or, warmed in a 325F oven with BBQ sauce or original juices from the meat for 20 minutes (if not sliced, it can take an hour or so). The internal temperature should be about 140F.
How To Smoke A Brisket In A Smoker
- 1 whole brisket (includes both point and flat portions) Note 1 about 14-16 pounds
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- optional: garlic powder, onion powder
- optional: apple juice in a spray bottle
- TRIM THE FAT (the night before serving): Trim fat off brisket using a boning knife if you have one, leaving about 1/4 inch of fat on top side. Cut out most of the fat in the crease where the two sections of muscle (the point and the flat) are attached.
- SEASON BRISKET (the night before serving): Season all sides of brisket evenly with salt and pepper (and onion and/or garlic powder if using). No need to season too heavily. Place in pan. Cover with foil or plastic. Refrigerate overnight.
- BRING BRISKET TO ROOM TEMPERATURE (early morning on day of serving): Sit brisket on counter for 45-60 minutes.
- PREPARE SMOKER (early morning on day of serving): Heat smoker to 250F using charcoal briquettes. Add chunks of dry wood to build smoke flavor. Set up probes (see Equipment above) to monitor temperature of smoker and brisket: Clip grating probe to sit just above smoker grate; and insert meat probe into thickest part of brisket. Place pan of water under smoker grating to keep meat from drying out.
- SMOKE BRISKET (for 5-7 hours) until temperature of meat reaches 150F (or up to 160F) as per reading on probe or instant meat thermometer. During this time, you will need to: >add 2-3 chunks of wood about every 30-45 minutes (when you no longer see smoke coming out of smoker chimney), depending on how smoky you want your brisket;>spray brisket with apple juice (optional) to keep surface moist and allow better smoke absorption;>monitor smoker temperature probe to maintain heat between 230F and 250F, adding charcoal briquettes as needed and opening and closing dampers as needed. >monitor meat temperature with a probe. When temperature of meat "stalls" (no longer rises for a while), typically between 150F and 160F, it is time to transfer brisket to oven.
- TRANSFER BRISKET TO OVEN: Preheat oven to 300F. Remove brisket from smoker when it "stalls" i.e. no longer rises after some time (usually 150F-160F), cover tightly in foil or good quality butcher paper, place in large pan and put in oven. Finishing cooking brisket in oven until internal temperature of meat reaches 195-200F. This could take 2-3 hours. At this point the fat will be fully rendered and a knife should be able to slide into the meat easily without resistance.
- REST AND SLICE BRISKET: Remove from oven and place, covered in a cooler or on counter to rest for 60-90 minutes. Unwrap and place brisket on cutting board. Slice into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices against the grain. Serve with juices from meat. Or use juices to make a sauce.
- What type of brisket to buy: Try to buy at least the Choice (AAA in Canada) cut of brisket. Prime is even better. American Wagyu even better. The more marbled, the more exceptional (although Wagyu is considerably more expensive). Find more details in this video by Aaron Franklin on buying and preparing a smoked brisket.
- Make Ahead: The brisket can be made up to 5-6 hours ahead and kept warm, covered in foil, in a cooler (in an a 170F oven). Alternatively, the smoked beef brisket can be made a few days ahead, sliced and served cold in sandwiches. Or, warmed in a 325F oven with BBQ sauce or original juices from the meat for 20 minutes (if not sliced, it can take an hour or so). The internal temperature should be about 140F.
Although several brand names have been used in this post to give readers a clear idea of what equipment is needed, neither Bob nor I have any affiliation with these companies.
If you don’t have a smoker, try these recipes that get a wood smoked flavor from cedar planks. Admittedly, not the same as using a smoker, but still delicious in a fraction of the time and effort.