The conventional wisdom on barbecues maintains that it takes years (if not decades) to learn how to smoke your brisket the right way. At first glance, that does make sense, and it seems to be true. Smoking a touch, grumpy cut of muscle into a tender, juicy piece of meat doesn’t sound so easy.
But today, smoking equipment is getting better and more affordable. This means more and more people can access both hardware and skill that allows better quality smoking and grilling. In short, you don’t have to be an heir of barbecue-dynasty to know what works and what doesn’t. And most of it comes down to having the right knowledge and smoker gear.
The 250 vs. 225 Debate
Some veteran smokers will swear by the fact that there’s a precise temperature for briskets and that nothing else works equally well. Whether this temperature is around the lower 225° or the slightly higher 250-275° differs from person to person.
On the other hand, some don’t have the time to wait around the whole day for their briskets. They might as well crank up their smokers to more extreme temperatures. What they get is a brisket made in a hurry, but edible nonetheless.
We want to argue that neither of these extreme positions is entirely accurate. Briskets allow you to experiment around with various recipes, and they can come out great if you do it right. Also, there are several things to consider, each of which affects your brisket's taste and outcome.
So, the temperature isn’t the only factor at play here. And since taste and preference are subjective to the person eating, there’s no single absolute rule that works for everyone. However, before you dismiss anything, it’s good to know how temperature affects your smoking. Let’s look briefly at how these two temperature levels might work.
Smoking Brisket at 225°
To make a case for the 225° temperature, we need to look no further than standard smoking practices. Smoking meat gives the best results when you take it at a slower pace and lower temperature. It’s not like grilling or searing where you need red hot flames or burning oil to get the job done. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The steady pace of low-temperature smoking gives an even and uniform taste to the meat.
The low-temperature approach is as valid for briskets as it is for any other meat. Briskets come from one of the strongest muscles of the animal. They’re a part of the pectoral muscles that hold up more than half of the cow’s weight as it stands or moves around. It’s a cut that has a lot of collagen and additional tissue that holds the muscles together.
So, you need a long cooking time for all the fiber to soften and breakdown. And if you do it in higher temperatures, you run the risk of ruining the meat altogether. The brisket can stiffen or seize up before you even get that first taste of the meat. Unless you know precisely what you’re doing, it may be better to stick with a lower end of about 225° to keep your brisket safe and palatable.
Smoking Brisket at 250°
To smoke your brisket at higher temperatures of 250° and beyond, you have to consider some other factors too. Briskets can typically weigh somewhere between 10 to 25 pounds. So, you’ll spend anywhere from 7-8 hours to upwards of 20 hours going by typical convention. And this can change (along with the meat’s quality) when you change the smoking temperature.
Most people believe that you should consider about an hour per pound for brisket-smoking at around 225°. This would imply that a 15-pound brisket can take maybe 10-12 hours on the smoker. But as you’ve probably figured out, the precise math on this cannot be a strict rule. So, if you know your briskets well, you can play around with slightly higher temperatures, as long as it doesn’t go to the extremes.
However, some people don’t mind smoking up the brisket at much higher temperatures. Whether it’s because of the lack of time or a matter of taste, we leave it up to them. The point here is that you’ll need some experience before you decide whether to crank it up to higher temperatures.
Factors to consider besides temperature
It’s not just the temperature that makes or breaks your brisket. There are several other prep and post-smoking actions that affect the quality of your meat. So, it’s not just a matter of precise temperatures. It’s also about all the other seemingly smaller things that go into making a nice, juicy brisket.
For instance, these are some of the other issues you need to remember.
- The choice of brisket meat (Prime grade, Choice grade, etc.)
- The fat content and how you trim it.
- The choice of seasoning and marinating.
- Do you sear the outer layer before smoking?
- Probing to test consistency and jiggle
These, along with other brisket-smoking, all matter in the meat’s final taste and flavor. Also, your temperature control and airflow may change depending on what smoker you use. If you’re further on in smoking expertise, even the choice of wood can make a difference in your brisket.
So, it’s not just a matter of deciding between a 225° or 250° temperature. You have to consider it along with the other factors to give your brisket a consistent, tender finish.
Briskets take a lot of prominent and minute details to get the best smoky taste and aroma. And it takes a bit of trial and practice to get the details right.
If you’re starting your smoking journey, we’d recommend sticking to the lower 225° range. It’s a tried and true method that works in most cases. However, if you don’t mind experimenting, the brisket is a versatile meat cut that can accommodate higher-temp recipes if you have a taste for it.
Make sure you avoid these common mistakes of brisket-smoking so that you get the best results!