Barbecue Guides

12 Brisket Mistakes Everyone Should Avoid

Hey, guys! Welcome to Mad Scientist BBQ. I’m Jeremy Yoder. And today I’m gonna tell you about the 12 most common brisket cooking mistakes.

Brisket Mistake #1: Cooking at the wrong temperature.

Now, this happens all the time. Because, usually, people aren’t cooking on the same type of smoker as they might see somebody else cooking on in a video.

For instance, there are probably very few people out there who cook on a thousand gallon pit like Aaron Franklin does. He’s gonna cook at 275, 285 and he’s gonna get very different results than if you try to cook at those temperatures on your Weber Kettle.

So, the point is this: figure out the right temperature for your smoker and you’re gonna have much better results.

Now, Franklin can cook a lot hotter on his pit because he has so much convection moving through there that it’s constantly cooling the brisket. And as a matter of fact, if you tried to cook a brisket at 225, it would take him 27, 28 hours. So, this one isn’t quite as extreme, but it’s pretty close. So for me, I gotta cook it 275 or else my brisket’s gonna take forever to get done.

Now, if you have, say, a pellet grill, if you cook at 275, you’re probably gonna burn your brisket. So it’s usually smarter on a pellet grill to cook at 225. Or if you have a Green Egg, I would suggest something like 225 because there’s not tons of air rushing past that brisket to cool it down all the time.

So, basic guideline, okay: a small offset, 250 is good. A big offset, 275 is good. A ceramic cooker, like a Kamado Joe or Big Green Egg, I’d recommend 225. I’d also recommend 225 for pellet grills and then on a Weber Smokey Mountain or a Weber Kettle, I would say 225 up to 250. If you’re really trying to rush it, you can go hotter up to 275 and you probably won’t burn anything, but the best temperature for flavor and results would be the 225 to 250.

Mistake #2: Using the wrong rub.

When people cook barbecue, they either tend to go in two directions. There are two extremes. One is, they want to use a rub that has tons of flavors in it and they may even combine two or three different rubs just to try to pack as much flavor on the exterior surface of the brisket as possible. And then other people will go to ultimate simplicity, just salt and pepper.

Now, the correct answer depends on the kind of cooker you’re using again. So, if you’re using a big offset, salt and pepper, you’re gonna be totally fine. There’s gonna be so much flavor that accumulates on the exterior surface of that brisket, that you’re not gonna be wanting for anything else.

Now, if you’re using something that doesn’t produce a ton of smoke flavor, don’t hate me pellet grill users, but pellet grills just don’t produce as much flavor as a big offset. It can still produce great flavor and it can still produce a good amount of that flavor, but you may want to supplement with more things, more spices in that rub.

But I would caution you against using too much and covering the whole surface so that smoke flavor doesn’t really penetrate.

So, I would say, find a happy medium. So if you’re using a big offset, then you add salt and pepper all the way to go, or even a small offset, salt and pepper, you’re gonna be totally fine. But if you’re cooking on another kind of smoker, I would say keep the rub simple, so you can add more things like onion and garlic. Maybe dry mustard powder, things that you like, or some chilies, but don’t go so heavy with the rub especially with the fine particles that it covers up the surface and you don’t get the smoke flavor that’s the whole reason you’re barbecuing in the first place.

Alright, Mistake #3: And this is a big one, and it’s true, no matter what kind of smoker you’re using. Okay? It is not allowing yourself enough time before you have to serve the food.

This has inevitably gotten everybody who barbecues. Well, I would presume almost everybody who barbecues if not everyone. Because, a lot of times, you’ll say, “you know what, I think it’s gonna take about, you know, ten hours to do this cook and then I’ll let it rest for an hour and then the guests will be there about 30 minutes after that, it’s all gonna be fine.”

But the problem with doing outdoor cooking is that you can never really predict exactly how the cook is gonna go. Sometimes you’ll have a brisket that stalls out forever and doesn’t wanna finish. Sometimes you have a brisket that gets done two hours early. So what I would say is if you’re trying to feed guests, make sure you give yourself more than enough time, so, you could calculate exactly how long you think it’s gonna take.

I would say, add an extra two and a half hours to that and then you’re safe, because you can always let the brisket rest for a little longer. But if you don’t give it time to finish, then you’re gonna have hungry guests and you’re either going to make them wait too long or you’re gonna serve something that’s not quite done. Both circumstances provide less than ideal results.

Mistake #4: Not allowing your brisket to rest long enough.

Now, this is something that gets overlooked a ton in backyard cooks, but it’s something that’s very important to the OG Pitmasters. If you go to places like Memphis or the Central Texas region, as a matter of fact, when I went to Austin the last time, when I was hanging out with the guys who were running pits.

Most of the time they didn’t give a crap with what I was using, they didn’t care about the rub I was using, you know what they talked to me about? They talked to me about rest times and how I rest my brisket.

And, a lot of those guys are resting for six, eight, ten, even twelve hours before they serve the meat. And there’s good reason for it. Because resting it allows the rendered fat inside the meat to distribute really well. You’re gonna have brisket that’s more moist and it’s going to be the right level of tenderness, if you rest it properly like that.

So what I would suggest for most backyard smokers is this: if your cook is eight hours or less, say you have a small cooker and it just cooks quickly, and you finish up in eight hours. What I would do is upon removing that brisket, I would take it, put it in a cooler, and allow it to stay hot in there and slowly come down in temperature.

If your cook takes between eight to twelve hours, what I would suggest is you pull the brisket, you let it come down to about a 180 degrees, then allow it to rest in a cooler.

If your cook takes twelve hours plus, I would suggest pulling the brisket, allowing it to cool to 165, 170 and then place it in the cooler to slowly come down to a serving temperature of about a 145 degrees or so.

And the reason that I give different rest protocols for different times of cooking is because the longer the cook takes, the more time that brisket is spent at a high temperature, which is kind of the reverse of resting for a long time afterward.

So, if you have a long cook time, you already have some rest period built in. But you wanna make sure that you have ample time for everything to distribute and everything to kind of equalize in that brisket before you actually slice it.

You don’t wanna cut into the brisket too hot, and you don’t want to let it cool too much. But if you serve it at about a 145 degrees with a nice long rest, minimum of one hour, you should really strive for at least two hours of rest, then you’re gonna be pleasantly surprised with how much better the product is than when you just pull it out, let it cool down quickly, and slice into it.

Big Mistake #5 is: Making changes that are too big.

What I mean by that is this: when you’re doing a brisket, right, unless the last time you did it was a complete horror show and everything was a complete disaster, don’t change everything. So, I know some people will do a brisket one way, and then they’ll change everything about how they did it so they’ll change the temperature that they were cooking at, they’re gonna change the rub, they’re gonna change the injection, or they’re going to not inject when they did the time before and they’re going to do different wood. Everything is different. They’re gonna go with a water pan when they didn’t have one last time.

So, essentially what you’re gonna find out is if you make those big changes, you’re not really gonna know how to deal with all those changes at the same time.

And then, also, if it turns out that you do one and it’s good or it’s bad, you’re not gonna know what thing affected that cook.

So, if you make small changes and you kind of have a slow progression toward the exact kind of brisket you wanna make, you’re gonna be much more successful than doing wild and crazy things each time, because you’re not gonna have the consistency or the experience with all those different changes to make sure that you produce the best brisket possible.

Now, from a science perspective, we want to control as many things as possible. Because when you’re doing outdoor cooking, there are a lot of things that you don’t have control over. You don’t have control over the temperature outside. You don’t have the control over the humidity outside. You don’t have control over every aspect of what’s in each piece of wood, because they’re all a little bit different. The moisture content might vary from one piece to the next.

So, in order to have as much control over your final outcome as possible, only change one tiny thing at a time, so that way, you don’t have wild swings in the quality of what you make.

Brisket Mistake #6: Looking for the wrong signs in your brisket.

What I mean by that is people are going to look for usually one of two things before they wrap. And they usually look at the temperature and for most people, that’s the only thing that they’re really checking. And the second thing that they’ll look for is time. So, a new brisket smoker might think, “oh, I should leave it on the smoker for four hours before I wrap it”, or whatever they have been told.

It’s not about time. And then it’s also not ultimately about temperature, even though that’s a part of it.

What I would suggest is there are five things to look for before you wrap your brisket. And I’m gonna break them down pretty simply, as simply as I can for you right now.

  • Color

Number one, color. This is going to be your proxy for how much smoke flavor you put on the brisket. So, the darker the brisket, generally speaking, the more smoke flavor you have on it.

So you wanna make sure you have a good amount of smoke flavor because that’s the whole reason you put it in a cooker and not in an oven anyway.

  • Bark

Number two, we’ll look at the bark itself. So, if you have a build-up of stuff on the exterior surface where you have a combination of the rub that you use, the fat render, and the meat itself, kind of all turned into this delicious covering on your brisket. When you have a good bark on the exterior, and once you’ve had good bark, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Once you have that on the outside, that’s one of the necessary conditions before you wrap.

  • Evaporation

Number three is gonna be this. Despite what you may believe, you actually want your brisket to sweat out a bunch of water in the cooking process. So you’ll lose a bunch of the water and the brisket shrinks down in size.

So, for me, when I see that the brisket has shrunk for about 40%, that’s the sign for me telling me it’s time to wrap. Now, what can happen is, if you don’t allow it to sweat out enough water before wrapping, it will fill the wrap itself with lots of moisture and you get the soupy stuff that washes off all the bark that you worked so hard to create.

You don’t want that. Make sure that your brisket loses enough water and as a consequence, concentrates that flavor and then you’re gonna have a better bark and a better brisket in the end.

  • Fat Render

Number four, fat render. This is something I get asked about all the time. What I talk about when I say rendered fat is when the fat on top of the brisket turns yellow and when you poke it, there’s not resistance. It doesn’t bounce back like rubber. It goes [makes sound] and your finger just pokes in it. You look at it, it’s yellow, it’s soft. That is rendered fat.

When the fat has rendered, that’s another key you have to look for before wrapping your brisket.

  • Temperature

And then finally, number five is temperature. Now, temperature isn’t the be-all, end-all of when it’s time to wrap. But, it’s one component that I look for and it’s usually the one that I look for last.

So basically, I’ll check those other four things and when they’re all the way I want them, then I’ll check the temperature and it just tells me that I’m not crazy. You know, it’s just a kind of a fail-safe for me to make sure that I’m not just way off-base with where I think this brisket is in its cooking process.

So, I will temp the point and I’ll temp the flat and usually the temperature that comes up is anywhere between 175 to 185 that’s when I usually end up wrapping briskets. I’ve wrapped them as low as 161. I’ve wrapped them as high as 195. But, usually the way it works out when I’ve got to cook everything’s going right, it’s between 175 and 185 that all those four other things show up.

And so if you’re not super confident about identifying those four characteristics, you can use temperature as a best guess to figure out when it’s time to wrap.

Bonus tip: if you don’t have a digital instant-read thermometer, get one. It will save you money in meat that you don’t ruin.

So, a lot of people like to use leave-in probes when I’m cooking, say twenty briskets on here. I’m not gonna stick in twenty probes. But, what you get with a digital instant-read thermometer that you just poke in is two things: number one is you don’t have to deal with a bunch of wires and a bunch of hassle to use it. It’s very simple. It’s very compact. Number two, is when you actually poke in the probe, you can get a feel for the texture of the meat.

So, there are gonna be times when you poke a brisket, you’re like, “oh that feels great. It’s like, softened butter. This guy is done.”

Then other times, you try to poke it in, you’re like, “oh this is still really tough, this is gonna need more time.” I don’t even care what the thermometer says. I know by virtue of the feel of this brisket that it’s not ready yet.

And by the way, my favorite digital instant-read thermometer is the Thermapen. I’ve had a bunch of them in the past and I’ve spent more money on those other cheap ones because they break or they rust or they get wet. Then I spend on one Thermapen that has lasted me without any problems at all.

So, if you’re interested in one of those, I’ll put a link in the description down below.

Brisket Mistake #7: This is a quick one. When you’re spraying your brisket, don’t spray the fat.

Because you want the fat to get hot, you want it to render. You spray the meat to protect it. The fat doesn’t need any protecting. So sprat the meat, if you get some of the spray on the fat, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just counterproductive to the ultimate ends of rendered fat and moist brisket, without burning any of the meat.

So, spray the meat, not the fat.

Brisket Mistake #8: Oversmoking or undersmoking the meat.

Now, this comes down to knowing your cooker and how much wood you can use before you get too much smoke flavor and it starts to taste bitter and not enjoyable.

So, on something like an offset like this, there’s no amount of smoke flavor that I’ve ever had come off of this thing that I would say is too much or anything other than, “oh, that tastes really good. I want more of it.”

There are other smokers, so if you’re using something that kind of smolders wood chunks, you can definitely oversmoke the meat. I know when I first started barbecuing, I did that because I thought if smoke is good, more smoke is better. But that’s not always the case.

So, use those other clues like the color of the brisket and the kind of bark you’re forming to figure out how much smoke you’re actually putting on the meat and don’t oversmoke it.

Mistake #9: Wild temperature swings.

Now, there are gonna be some cookers where this isn’t a problem. If you’ve got a pellet smoker, you’re not gonna be having huge temperature swings. You’re good. You can skip this one. Move on to the next tip.

But if you have an offset smoker, it’s so, so important that you keep the temperature consistent. Because if you let your fire die down, not only are you not cooking during that time, the brisket is cooling off, so say you fall asleep for an hour, not only were you not cooking that brisket for that hour, for an hour the brisket was going down in temperature. So you’ve lost more than just the hour you fell asleep. So keep the temperature consistent for that reason.

Number two, is if you have wild temperature swings way up and way down, you’re gonna end up burning parts of the brisket and you’re not gonna get the consistent level of doneness from one side to the other that you want.

So, if you can stay, you know, plus or minus probably, twenty degrees? You’ll be good. Right?

On 500 like this, you can stay plus or minus ten. On a thousand gallon, you could probably stay plus or minus five.

But the smaller the smoker, the harder that battle is. But the more you work at it, the better your results are gonna be.

Brisket Mistake #10: Getting low quality meat.

Now, as in many things in life, you get what you pay for when you buy meat. So, get the best brisket you can afford.

Now, if you can afford, you know, Wagyu beef, then by all means, get Wagyu beef. But that’s really expensive. You don’t have to get Wagyu beef to make great brisket.

So, I would say get at least Choice, because otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you get Select brisket. It’s gonna be really, really, really tough to make great brisket. You have to really know what you’re doing.

And so, these are common mistakes to avoid, so I’m guessing that the people who are watching this don’t have tons and tons and tons of experience cooking briskets. So I’d say, get at least Choice. If you can get Prime, get Prime.

So most people have access to a Costco where they live and at Costco, you can get Prime briskets for not too much money.

So you can probably spend about 60 bucks and get a Prime brisket.

Now, with that, you can actually make tremendously good barbecue and you don’t have to feel like you’re sacrificing or compromising on meat quality, and you give yourself the best chance to make a good brisket in the end by starting off with the best meat from the beginning.

Now that rule for meat quality generally holds true for all kinds of meat, no matter what it is. But sometimes, there are exceptions. For instance, the best beef rib that I’ve ever made and my wife’s favorite that I’ve ever made, was a Choice beef rib.

But we had the benefit there of it being a beef short rib that’s already packed with fat and it just happened to be the stars aligned to make that a perfect beef rib.

So, you don’t have to give up on making great brisket if you can’t find Prime. But Prime is gonna give you the best chance of making good stuff in the end.

Mistake #11 is wrapping improperly.

And what I mean by that is pretty simple. When you wrap the brisket, whatever you’re using to wrap, do it well.

So if you’re using foil, make it nice and tight. You don’t want a bunch of steam escaping because if you’re using foil, you’re doing it specifically to trap all that steam in there. Don’t let it escape or else the wrapping isn’t going to do exactly what you want it to do.

With paper, a lot of times people will wrap it loosely. The first time I tried to wrap it in paper, I just wrapped it loosely, and it was leaking everywhere, and it didn’t really work.

It kind of protected the meat a little bit, but it was awful. I would not recommend it.

So I’d say wrap it tightly and warp it well because that way, you’re gonna achieve exactly what the purpose of the wrap is in the end.

Last but not the least, Mistake #12: Improperly trimming your brisket.

Now, there are two extremes to this one as well. Some people try to trim off every bit of fat on the whole brisket and then they put it in the smoker and it comes out dry and they can’t figure it out. They’re like, “what is wrong?” Because maybe they saw somebody else do it.

Don’t do that if you’re trying to smoke your brisket. That’s a bad idea.

Also, some people are very, very reluctant to trim off parts of the brisket, because you spent good money on this thing, you don’t wanna waste any of it. But what I would say is this: you’re gonna be better off trimming pieces off and then using it for burgers or sausages or some purpose where it’s really gonna shine, instead of leaving it on the brisket, where it could burn or dry out in the end. You don’t wanna have any part of that brisket be something that’s dried or crusty or burnt. What you want is delicious, succulent brisket, in the end.

And one more thing I wanna say about people who are too reluctant to trim, my advice to you is, be merciless when you’re trimming the flat.

So if you see a big chunk of meat that juts out from the flat and you think, “I can probably survive”, I would say, be merciless. Take it off. And you’re probably gonna have a better result in the end.

I hope these tips helped you guys out and good luck if you’re smoking a brisket for Labor Day. I’m gonna be doing it too. And, maybe I’ll post some pictures on Instagram.

Also, you can follow me on Instagram @madscientistbbq. And if you enjoyed the video, hit the like button, subscribe down below, and turn the notifications on so you get updated every time I put out new content.

I’ll see you guys next time.

Hey, Reggie!

[Bloopers]

The twelve most common brisket mistakes, no, I’m trying it again.

The thing in the way, there are lots of things that are changing the, him, okay.

Ready?

This is number six. Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.

But Prime is gonna get—okay.

Last but not the knees—try it again.

Ready?

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MadScientistBBQ

James

James is the editor at Best Barbecue Wood, he loves BBQ wood and spends his free time cooking outside on his grill. He's always trying the different types of wood to perfect the perfect ribs.

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