How Long to Rest Brisket (& Why You Should)

By Matt Richmond

“Give it a rest” is what my wife says every time I make a pun joke. It’s also what you should ALWAYS do after removing beef brisket from your heat source.

“Come on!” you may be thinking. “It’s been cooking all day already and smells INCREDIBLE. My family, guests and I have been taking in these alluring aromas of smoked brisket for an endlessly long time. We all want to eat right now!”

I get this frustration. When you’re hungry, slow cooking can feel like eternal cooking. But rest assured, if you don’t let the meat rest properly, all your tedious efforts to cook a pitmaster-level brisket will only result in a (gulp) good-enough brisket. And that would be a shame.

If you’re going to cook brisket the right way, you have to go all the way. Bring it home. That includes the very last step – the dreaded resting process. But here’s the good news. The hard part is only in the waiting.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about this easy step to get the best results.

Why Does Brisket Need to Rest?

Brisket needs to rest to let the natural juices redistribute and marinate the meat even more. If you slice brisket right away, the juices and flavor run out and are wasted on the cutting board. Thus, letting brisket rest gives you juicier, more flavorful results.

Yes, conventional wisdom says to eat as soon as the brisket’s cooked since it’s hot. After all, you don’t let a hamburger patty rest on the grill before chowing down. However, conventional wisdom is wrong when it comes to brisket. Here’s why…

For one, a juicy whole packer brisket isn’t exactly the same league as ground beef hamburger patties. That’s like comparing pork shoulder to pork sausage.

Unlike hamburgers, brisket also falls under the “cook low and slow” category. As in, you need to cook brisket at a low cooking temperature for a long time.

Why Cook Brisket Slow?

slow sign

You need to cook brisket slow and low because it has excess fat content, connective tissue, and muscle fibers. All of this fat and fiber is there to help the cow walk. So, it’s naturally designed to be tough enough to withstand walking, running, and holding up a 1,000-pound beast.

Why is this important to know? Because you must break down those naturally tough tissues and fibers. Plus, all that fat helps tenderize the meat while it’s cooking. Hence, the low and slow cooking method.

Low and Slow ensures every bite is tender instead of chew and tough.

If the brisket’s internal temperature rises above 203 degrees F, that fatty moisture dries up leaving you with dry meat. The low and slow technique and the resting phase ensure that the protein collagen is broken down but not overcooked, leaving you with the best brisket.

Your brisket will have so much moisture that every bite melts in your mouth like butter. It’ll be a big piece of tender meat so flavorful you scoff at the idea of needing barbecue sauce.

This is why meat with a large amount of fat, such as pork, has better results in a smoker, slow cooker, or charcoal grill. It’s also why you don’t normally see lean proteins such as chicken breast or turkey cooked this way.

(By the way, you may want to check out How Long Do You Smoke Brisket or How to Smoke Brisket on a Grill.)

Now that you understand the “why” of it all, let’s get into “how.”

How Do I Rest a Brisket?

putting brisket in empty cooler to rest

Once the internal temperature of the meat hits the 190 to 195 degrees F range, remove the brisket from the heat source. If you had wrapped brisket in either aluminum foil or butcher’s paper during the cook, unwrap it. BUT, let it sit in the foil or paper so you don’t lose any of the juices.

Then take an empty ice chest, line the bottom with a towel and place the brisket on top. Cover the brisket loosely with aluminum foil and close the chest’s cover.

Why not leave the brisket wrapped? That beautiful dark outside crust of your brisket known as the bark formation will soften if left wrapped. We’re going for perfection here, people!

As for the necessity for the ice chest, we don’t want to leave our tender brisket out in the open for the flies to get at before us! Food safety, please! Or if you’re confident enough, feel free to leave it resting on your cutting board, and still cover it lightly with foil.

How Long to Rest Brisket After Cooking?

brisket resting down to 150 degrees

As a rough estimate, rest your cooked brisket for a half-hour at a minimum, but ideally 1 hour. The important part is that you’re letting it rest at all. However, for those looking to get scientific about it, here’s the best way to determine how long to let brisket rest…

Using a digital thermometer, check the meat in the thickest part of the whole brisket often. It’s done resting when the meat thermometer reads 150 degrees F. For big cuts of meat, this 150-degree F mark will likely take a couple of hours.

If you plan to smoke or slow-cook meat often, I suggest you splurge on a leave-in meat thermometer. Then you can frequently check the meat during cooking and resting without exposing the meat to the outside air. You’ll know exactly when the meat reaches its ideal internal temp to remove it from the heat source and when to carve it.

How Long Is Too Long to Rest a Brisket?

broken clock

Let’s say you leave the brisket resting for longer than, let’s say, four hours, letting the temperature fall below 145 degrees. You’ll wind up with cold brisket. No thanks.

Too much resting time doesn’t necessarily designate moisture loss. However, who wants to eat room temperature brisket? You’ll want to reheat it so you can eat your brisket hot, and therein lies the issue.

What does reheating do to brisket? Well, remember all that hard work you did shopping, trimming the fat, smoking the meat all day, and monitoring it closely? Reheating can easily negate all that hard work and turn your enviably tender smoked meat into dry brisket.

But what about leftovers?! Don’t worry, you can properly reheat brisket but it takes effort that you shouldn’t have to do the first time you eat the brisket.

How Do I Properly Reheat Brisket for Leftovers?

Great question, because there’s a great way to retain a brisket’s moisture out of the fridge. Place the brisket in a deep pan or on your smoker’s aluminum pan in its juices. Then, cover it in aluminum foil.

Set your oven to 250 degrees F. If the brisket is still whole, warm it in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. If the brisket you’re reheating is already sliced, remove it once its internal temp reaches 140 degrees F.

How Do You Keep Brisket Warm?

cartoon brisket covered in blanket

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say your cooked brisket is done ahead of schedule. It reached the 195 degrees Fahrenheit limit and is ready to be pulled from the smoker or pellet grill. The problem is… you plan to serve the brisket a whole 6 hours from now!

Do you have to remove the brisket from heat and let it rest right away? Entering the resting process this early will surely mean your brisket will be cold by dinnertime.

No worries if you have an easy-to-adjust heat source, such as an electric smoker or oven. Just set your heat source’s temperature in the range of 150 degrees and 190 degrees to keep it hot while protecting it from overcooking.

From a time management perspective, you’ll be safe giving yourself 2 hours of resting time before serving.

What If I Don’t Have an Electric Smoker or Adjustable Heat Source to Keep It Warm?

If you can’t set a reliable exact temperature for your brisket, the pitmasters use a well-known “analog” way to keep your brisket warm enough. It’s called the “faux Cambro technique,” referring to a way to emulate an insulated box designed to keep food warm, called a Cambro.

How does faux Cambro work? Take a cooler or ice chest and pour a few gallons of hot water into it. Allow it to sit with the lid closed for thirty minutes.

Then remove your fully cooked brisket from the heat, wrapped in foil, and set it in a water pan.

Pour the hot water out of the cooler and immediately place that pan with your wrapped brisket into the now musky warm cooler. Now you can rest easy knowing the brisket will stay warm for up to 4 hours.

But here’s the important thing to remember about faux Cambro. This doesn’t count as resting time. To rest it, you have to unwrap the foil and let the meat breathe.

Then after the rest period is done, slice the brisket to serve.

Pro Tip for Buying Brisket at the Store

brisket in shopping basket

All of the above information is moot if you don’t start off with a great raw brisket. So, here’s what you’re looking for in a cut of brisket: consistent white fatty marbling. This is the visual key to getting that tender bite and juicy flavor later.

Your store may sell different classes of brisket at different price points. USDA Prime, the most expensive kind of cut, typically has more of this fat marbling than the less expensive USDA Choice. Some stores don’t even have Prime, so try to buy the Choice grade at a minimum.

As for weight, a 15 pound brisket is known as the whole “packer.” An entire brisket, or packer, is made up of two parts, the point and the flat.

What’s the difference between the point and flat? The point cut, also known as the “deckle,” is the fatty section of the brisket. It includes the fat cap and is essential to that flavor you’re looking for. (Though, it needs trimming before cooking). That fat side on the outside of the brisket tenderizes those tough fibers within over the course of the cook.

The flat of the brisket section is typically a leaner cut because the deckle is removed. It’s called “flat” because of its shape.

Time to Give this Article a Rest

Ultimately, the rule of thumb for smoking brisket successfully is following the steps without cutting corners and having good time management. Between shopping correctly, seasoning it with kosher salt and black pepper and dry rub, the cooking time, and then a proper rest, you’ll be glad you went the extra mile.

Whether you consider yourself an amateur pitmaster or this is your first brisket, don’t forget to rest. If you’re religious, think of it as the Sabbath of the cooking process. Your taste buds will thank you later.

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