How Long Do You Cook a Brisket in a Smoker? (+17 FAQ)

By Matt Richmond

First off, I want to say congratulations. Why? Because you reading this means you are on a journey towards enjoying the tastiest piece of meat on Planet Earth – a Texas-style barbecue brisket.

What makes this particular style of juicy brisket the best brisket? Because according to those who cook tender brisket for a living, otherwise known as “pitmasters,” the best results come down to the cooking process. And the best way, according to the experts mind you, is using a smoker.

No need for barbecue sauce when you have that smoky flavor and tender bite, no matter the size of the brisket.

But you already knew that or you wouldn’t be here right now, wanting to ensure your brisket cooks the right way. And a big part of that process is figuring out how much time to smoke the whole brisket.

And the answer to that is… the amount of time depends. A little. The good news is that this article will get into all the factors that help determine your actual cook time that’ll make you a BBQ hero, even in Central Texas.

Just Know to Take It “Low and Slow”

Before we really dig into the nitty-gritty, it’s worth expanding upon the above overly rhyming line. That is, if you’re smoking a lot of meat, you’ll need to give it plenty of time in the smoker.

The good rule of thumb is “low and slow.” Low refers to the smoker temperature, and slow means… patience is key to reaching the ideal brisket temperature.

How low should the smoker’s cooking temperature be? The pitmasters largely agree to set their smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brisket Cook Time and Temperature FAQ

hourglass and thermometer

There are a lot of common questions regarding brisket cook time and temperatures. So, I figure it’s best to just answer as many as I can in one go. It’s actually helpful to read through it all, but feel free to jump to the question you need answered the most:

(BTW, I answer more Brisket FAQ after these temp-related questions)

Is It Better to Smoke Brisket at 225 or 250?

225 vs 250 degrees

You may be thinking 225 degrees is lower. So, based on “low and slow”, 225 should yield a better beef brisket recipe than at 250, right? That’s smart thinking but in this case, there is a “too low.” 250 degrees F is better

There’s a reason why choosing to cook at 250 degrees is actually a pro tip. Why 250 then? While not as low as 225, 250 degrees is still low enough to result in delectably tender results, while also not so low that the cooking time will be unreasonably long.

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Brisket at 225?

hourglass at 225 degrees

At 225 degrees, the brisket needs to smoke for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours for every pound. So cooking a 14 lb brisket in the smoker could take upwards of 28 hours until the internal brisket temperature reaches the ideal number. Yes, 28 HOURS!

Who wants to wait until the entire next day to chow down? That approximate timeline may simply be too long for the average hungry eater and their carnivorous family to wait for a brisket.

A 14-pound brisket is a standard full packer size, but what if you’re smoking a smaller cut? What size could you smoke in a day at 225?…

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a 10 lb Brisket at 225?

Given that metric of it taking 1 1/2 to 2 hours a pound, a 10-pound brisket takes between 15 and 20 hours to cook. So, if you go 10 pounds or less, you can smoke a brisket within a day. But don’t be afraid to smoke it at 250 instead. That’ll cut it down to 1 hour per pound (10 hours) and still give mouthwateringly tender results.

So is 225 degrees F too low for brisket?

Not if you’re cooking a relatively small portion and not a whole packer brisket that typically weighs over 10 pounds. But if you’re cooking a smoked brisket recipe that is only a few pounds of meat? Have at it cooking at 225.

How Long Do You Cook a Brisket in a Smoker at 250?

hourglass at 250 degrees

When cooking a brisket at 250, the general rule of thumb is that 1 pound of meat equals 1 hour of cook time. More precisely, smoke until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 190 to 200 degrees F.

I know the math is easy, but let’s give times for some of the most common sizes…

How Long Does It Take to Cook a 7 Pound Brisket in a Smoker?

A 7-pound brisket is about half the weight of the typical full packer brisket. It would take about 7 hours at 250 in the smoker to reach an internal temp of 190-200˚F. At 225, 10.5 to 14 hours.

The same principle applies to any size of the cut. Have a 12-pound brisket at 250? 12 hours. 16-pound brisket? 16 hours.

Even if you’re not using a smoker, the same timing applies to this temperature. Just place the brisket in a large roasting pan to put in the oven at 250, or wrap in aluminum foil to place in the charcoal grill.

Can I Take My Brisket Off at 190?

thermometer and 190 degrees okay?

For ideal tenderness, it’s best to get brisket internal temp in the 190-200 degree range. Once your thermometer reads an internal temp of 190 degrees, you need to start really paying close attention again. Here’s what to look for…

Many swear that 202 degrees is the magic temperature to remove the brisket. But what you’re really looking for is a FEELING when you insert the thermometer.

If the thermometer pierces the meat like it’s going into a stick of butter, it’s ready to be removed from the smoker. If there’s still resistance, that means there is still fat inside not rendered down enough.

An internal temp of 195˚F is the safest bet.

Of course, if you’re unsure what you’re feeling with the thermometer, don’t rely on that to know it’s done. The safest bet is to remove it when the thermometer reads 195 degrees in the thickest part.

It’s a safe bet to take it out at 195 because the internal temp continues to rise for a bit even after removing it from the smoker. That alone can get you to the “magic” 202 degrees.

Could I Smoke a Brisket Higher Than 250 Degrees?

How Long Do You Cook a Brisket in a Smoker? (+17 FAQ)

You technically could cook at a higher temperature, such as at 300 degrees, which of course would take a shorter amount of time. However, it would also increase your chance of a dry brisket, one that you would NEED the BBQ sauce to enjoy. No thanks.

You may be thinking “One hour per pound of meat. That’s easy enough…so long as this timing is accurate. Wait, just how accurate is it?”

That’s the tricky part. There are a number of factors that can affect the amount of time the brisket belongs in the smoker. We’re going to get into those right now, starting from the beginning of the process.

Let’s make sure that next time you smoke an entire brisket, all that hard work won’t be in vain…

More Smoking Brisket FAQ

brisket faq banner

How long do you cook a brisket in a smoker is just one of many brisket FAQ. Here are answers to more frequently asked questions. Here’s your Cooking Brisket 101 crash course.

Feel free to jump ahead to a particular question by clicking it from this list:

What Do You Need to Smoke Brisket?

bbq spatula and fork

There are essential items you home cooks need on hand to get the job done right.

1 – Butcher’s Paper

This wax-free roll of paper made up of wood pulp is referred to as “butcher’s paper” because butchers customarily used it to wrap up meat for customers. Its ideal for safely and effectively wrapping raw meat, unlike parchment paper, which is more appropriate for baked goods.

Parchment paper is for baked goods.

Butcher’s paper is for meat.

We’ll get into the “why” you need this pink butcher paper later. Just know it’s essential for a better cook.

2 – Two Kinds of Knives

Which kind of knives do you need exactly? You’ll need what’s called a boning knife for the trimming stage before the smoker. Plus a chef’s sharp knife for effective slicing of the cooked meat afterward for serving.

3 – Cutting board

Now the size of the cutting board entirely depends on how much meat you’re dealing with here! Of course, I would advise getting the big one so you’re always prepared.

4 – Smoker

There is some debate over which type of smoker creates the best taste and smoke flavor. The truth is that the best kind of smoker for a good brisket is one that can maintain a consistent temperature.

Oftentimes this means investing in an electric smoker because it has the ability to adjust heat if the internal temperature starts to sway a little.

But I suppose some can’t help wanting to smoke their meat the old-fashioned way, through paying close attention. (If you’re wondering which type of wood chips to use, refer to the FAQ below.)

5 – Meat Thermometer

So let’s say you are using a traditional wood smoker that lacks any electronic elements. You won’t as accurately measure cooking temperature and your equipment won’t be adjusting the temperature automatically.

In this case, it’s important that you use your own meat thermometer to keep track of your cook’s progress. A digital thermometer especially is consistently accurate.

But all of these things are simply the supporting cast to the real star of the show…the brisket itself. But how do you know what kind to buy?

How Do You Choose a Good Brisket for Smoking?

butcher diagram of cow

First, a few facts about what you’re about to smoke.

Brisket is from the breast part of the cow and is the connective tissue used to help the cow walk. It’s a particularly thick piece of meat due to the muscle fibers, which need a long time to cook in order to break down properly and tenderize.

Generally, you want to choose a cut of brisket with the most consistent white fatty marbling throughout it. If you are at the grocery store and can compare classes of brisket, you’ll notice USDA Prime typically has more of this marbling than the less expensive USDA Choice. Some stores don’t have Prime, so try to buy the Choice grade at a minimum.

It’s the fatty marbling within the cut that gives meat such as brisket and pork its tender, juicy flavor with every bite.

As for the size, there are two parts that make up an entire brisket, the point and the flat, which when combined is known as the “packer.” On average a packer weighs 14 pounds, so if the grocery store is offering a portion significantly less than that, then you are likely buying either the point or the flat.

You might be intimidated being faced with a large cut, such as 16 pounds, thinking “there’s no way I and my family and/or friends can handle all this food.”

First of all, don’t sell yourself short, and here’s why. That 16-pound raw brisket will actually reduce by about a third of its weight, because of how much fat in it that will either be trimmed or burned off by the end. So this piece of meat will ultimately feed about 12-14 hungry people (and if you aren’t serving that many, there are always leftovers).

What Wood is Best for Smoking Brisket?

wood for smoker

When cooking any meat for a long time in a smoker, the wood you choose actually does affect the flavor in the end. So the wood chips you choose is a matter of preference. What I can tell you is that the most popular choice in Texas is white oak, but others used are hickory, mesquite, maple, red oak, and cherry.

My colleague, Autumn, bypasses the popular ones, preferring to use apple wood chips. I haven’t convinced her yet to smoke me up my own personal brisket but it does sound delicious.

One way to figure out which wood is best for you is to identify which BBQ sauce you personally like best. For instance, if you always buy mesquite barbecue sauce then you should probably go for mesquite wood. That’ll help you determine which wood to buy for your smoker.

How Much Fat to Trim Off Brisket?

sharp knife

There are a number of steps to follow before you throw that raw brisket in the smoker.

First, you need to trim the excess fat, which will save you time in the long run of the whole process.

The less fat surrounding the meat, the less time it takes to cook. For anyone who has cooked London Broil, you’ve seen how lean meat can cook quickly (and most likely become tough and chewy).

So if you have a particularly fatty cut, first cut some of that extra layer of fat off the outside that you know you won’t eat after it’s done. If you’re buying your brisket from a butcher shop, sometimes they will trim it for you if you ask in advance.

Trim the fat cap down to about 1/4-inch

There’s a fat layer that is about 1 inch thick called a fat cap. Trim it off, but not all of it, leaving behind about a quarter of an inch to give the meat flavor during the smoking.

Another important step to remember is to remove the silver skin, which serves as a barrier to allowing the smoke and fat to cook the meat properly. Remove that barrier!

Note if you want to save time cooking: If you bought a whole packer brisket and want to cut down on cook time, you can cut apart the point and the flat and cook them separately in the smoker.

Should I Put a Rub on My Brisket?

salt and pepper shakers

Here’s the thing about brisket. It’s so flavorful you’re not going to need to slop a whole lot of seasoning on this bad boy.

This is why the pitmasters like those at the famous Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas, only use kosher salt and black pepper to season a brisket. Sometimes the favorite way is also the simplest way.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to throw a spice rub on your trimmed brisket with some garlic powder and brown sugar to give it an extra crust. I’m just saying this is totally optional.

Should Brisket Be Room Temp Before Cooking?

room temperature

Throwing a cold brisket into the smoker straight from the fridge is only going to significantly raise your cooking time. This is unnecessary.

To save time across the whole process, remove your brisket from the fridge at least a half-hour before placing it in the smoker.

Do You Smoke Brisket Fat Side Up or Down?

fatty piece of meat

When placing the brisket in the smoker, position it fat side facing the heat source. The fat will help cook the meat and tenderize it. The same principle applies when cooking a brisket in an oven – face the fat toward the heat.

And now you wait and wait. And wait.

When Should I Wrap My Brisket?

butcher paper to wrap meat

There’s a part of the brisket cooking process called the “stall,” which means that once the thermometer hits around 165 degrees, the temperature takes a bit too long for comfort to continue rising at the same pace.

A great way to deal with the stall is a well-known process called the “Texas crutch.” This is where your butcher paper comes in.

Remove your brisket from the smoker once your thermometer hits 165 in the thickest part of the brisket. If you’re cooking a particularly large cut, this will happen around the 6 hour mark in the smoker.

Wrap it like your see deli workers wrap a sandwich and place it back in the smoker. A wrapped brisket, even in a double wrap if you can to create a kind of airtight container, will allow the temperature inside the brisket to rise faster and overcome the “stall.”

How Long Should Brisket Rest?

sleeping Z's

After removing the brisket from the smoker, give it about an hour to rest, until the temperature falls to 145˚F. This resting period allows the juices in the meat to redistribute.

While resting is the last step you do in the process, it’s also one of the most important steps to ensure a tender brisket. So, be sure to leave time in your process to incorporate it.

How to let the brisket rest? Leave it in its butcher paper wrapping and place in a container, like a cooler without ice, to let it sit in peace unaffected by the climate.

How Do You Slice a Brisket?

knife on cutting board

The key is to cut against the grain, but that is tricky because there are two directions! To deal with this, first cut apart the flat and the point then slice each against their grains.

Remember, the meat will be so tender you won’t have much difficulty cutting even if you go the wrong way.

Some Final Words About Brisket

If reading all this makes smoking brisket sound very involved and challenging, here’s some perspective. Yes, the process takes a long time, requiring patience and care. But it’s because it takes so long that makes the cook more forgiving.

In other words, brisket is hard to mess up unless you really neglect it.

Overcooking a little will still mean a knock-out punch of a delicious meal for you and your guests. So even if you’re far from the competition circuit and this is your first time smoking brisket, take a breath. Enjoy the process, and of course, enjoy the eatin’.

Oh, and invite me over to share some, thanks!

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