How to Achieve Perfectly Cooked Smoked Brisket

Picture it… You’ve invested a lot of time and fair amount of money in that brisket that is in your smoker. You’ve carefully watched the temperature and pulled it out when you thought it was done. You let the brisket rest an hour, then cut into it, only to discover it was tough as an old shoe. The problem is that although the smoked brisket was fully cooked to the right temperature, it was not cooked at a low temperature for a long enough time to break down the tough collagen. So, how do you know when a smoked brisket is done? Let’s find out.

Getting Ready to Cook

Trimming the Brisket

Before cooking, it’s important to trim the brisket properly. Trim down the fat cap to about ¼” thick and remove any thick pieces of fat and silver skin. This ensures even cooking and prevents the brisket from becoming overly fatty.

Fat Side-Up or Fat-Side Down?

There is an ongoing debate among pit masters about whether to cook brisket fat-side up or fat-side down. Some prefer fat-side up to shield the meat from the heat coming from the top, while others choose fat-side down when the heat comes from the bottom. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. At Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ, we prefer fat-side up for all types of smokers.

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Monitoring the Internal Temperature

It’s crucial to monitor the internal temperature of the smoker to ensure proper cooking. Invest in a good meat thermometer with remote capability that links to your phone. This allows you to keep track of the temperature without opening the smoker lid, which can cause heat loss.

The First Stage of Cooking

Smoking a brisket involves two distinct stages of cooking. In the first stage, the brisket cooks over indirect heat at 225°F. This is when the brisket picks up the smoky flavor and forms a nice crust. It’s crucial to maintain a low temperature over a long period of time to allow the collagen to break down, resulting in a tender texture.

During this stage, the internal temperature will climb steadily to about 165°F and then stop rising. This is known as “the stall.” The evaporation process keeps the internal temperature from rising further, but be patient, as the stall will eventually break.

Wrapping the Brisket

To keep the brisket moist and prevent it from drying out, it’s recommended to wrap it. Many pit masters in Texas use peach butcher paper for wrapping. This allows the brisket to breathe while preserving moisture.

The Second Stage of Cooking

After the stall, the internal temperature of the brisket will once again steadily climb. This is when the connective tissue breaks down, resulting in tender meat. Continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 203°F.

Testing When the Brisket is Done

The best indicator of a properly cooked brisket is the internal temperature. For a slow-cooked brisket at 225°F, aim for an internal temperature of 203°F. This ensures that the collagen has fully broken down, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

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While some pit masters use additional tests like the bend test or probe test, the internal temperature remains the most reliable method for achieving a perfect brisket.

Let the Brisket Rest

Once the brisket reaches the ideal internal temperature, it’s important to let it rest before slicing. Resting allows the muscle fibers to relax and retain their juices. Wrap the brisket in plastic wrap and place it in a small insulated cooler for an hour or two.


When it’s time to carve the brisket, cut it across the grain to ensure tenderness. Start at the tip of the flat section and use a carving knife with a gentle back and forth slicing motion. Cut across the grain into ¼-inch thick slices.


Q: What is the best temperature for smoking a brisket?
A: The best temperature for smoking a brisket is 225°F. This low and slow cooking method allows for collagen breakdown and tender meat.

Q: How long does it take to smoke a brisket?
A: The cooking time for a brisket depends on its size. A 15-pound full packer brisket could take 7-9 hours to reach the stall and another 2-4 hours to finish cooking.

Q: Should I wrap my brisket in foil or peach butcher paper?
A: Many pit masters prefer peach butcher paper as it allows for better texture and moisture retention. Foil can produce a softer texture but may lead to looser meat.


Achieving perfectly cooked smoked brisket requires patience, careful temperature monitoring, and proper wrapping techniques. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure a delicious and tender brisket that will be the star of your barbecue. For more barbecue tips and recipes, visit Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ.

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