If you’re here for some answers on smoking 15 glorious pounds of brisket, congratulations! You’re about to make a lot of people happy (or only yourself over the course of a few days).
How many people exactly? I’ll tell you, and then I’ll jump right into how long to smoke your big ol’ brisket for the best results. Plus, I’ll walk you through what you need and some easy tips to get the job done right.
How Many Does a 15 Pound Brisket Feed?
How many people does a 15 lb brisket feed exactly? Given that this is a particularly large cut of meat, expect it to feed approximately 15 moderately hungry folks. That comes out to about two-thirds of a pound per person (not including potato salad).
How did I figure that?
When planning ahead to serve a certain amount of people, it’s worth noting that the size of the brisket reduces by about a third in weight when cooked. So, a good rule of thumb is to expect a 10-pound brisket to result from cooking 15 pounds worth of raw beef brisket meat.
But if you’re going to unleash your inner pitmaster, you need to make sure you don’t overcook that bad boy. So cook it “Texas style.” Brisket cooks best in a smoker, and when smoked “low and slow.”
Low and slow, as in, smoke at a low temperature, for a long time. This is the most reliable way to get that juicy, tender brisket you and I dream about just about every day of our lives.
Why Do You Need to Cook “Low and Slow” For Best Results?
The best brisket needs a long cook time at a lower cooking temperature because of its high fat content and connective tissue. This is why meat with a large amount of fat, such as pork, has better results in a type of smoker, and why you don’t normally see lean proteins such as chicken or turkey cooked this way.
The fat and muscle fibers do the hard work for you by tenderizing the meat during the cooking time, as long as you don’t overcook and allow the meat to dry out. Breaking down the collagen (which takes plenty of time to accomplish) is necessary so every bite isn’t tough and chewy.
Why is brisket so loaded up with fat and fibers unlike other cuts of beef such as London Broil? Brisket comes from the breast of the cow, so the muscles and fat are there to help the cow walk.
How Long to Smoke a 15 Pound Brisket?
The general rule of thumb is that every pound of brisket needs one hour at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, 15 hours should be enough time for a 15-pound brisket, and a 2-pound brisket would take a couple of hours. But that’s not the whole story...
There are actually a number of factors that affect how much time the brisket needs in the smoker. The most important thing is the final internal temperature of the meat.
Best Internal Temperature for Brisket
The ideal internal temp for brisket to be pulled from the smoker is between 190 and 195 degrees. The target internal temp is actually 203 degrees, but brisket is known to rise about 10 degrees in temperature AFTER being taken out of the smoker. Once the internal temperature reaches above 205 degrees or so, you’re risking drying out the meat.
So why not just smoke the brisket at 190 degrees, you may ask? Time.
Given the thickness of the meat, it should come as no surprise that a big ol’ 15 pound cut of brisket will take longer than an 8-pound piece. How much longer are we talking?
At 250 degrees, you’re already dealing with smoking the meat for 15 hours, and that temperature is low enough to ensure no big difference in tenderness compared to lower temperatures.
But if you’ve got all the time in the world…
How Long Does It Take to Smoke a 15 Pound Brisket at 200 Degrees?
At 200 degrees F., you’re looking at 2 hours per pound of brisket in the smoker. This means a 15 lb brisket will run you about 30 hours in the smoker, and that’s just the cooking time, not counting preparation time or its resting period.
Smoking at 200 degrees would be great if you’re smoking a 3 lb brisket since that would only take about 6 hours. But this is why commercial restaurants have a personal preference of 250 degrees. They’re in the business of smoking a whole lot of brisket in a reasonable amount of time.
“Okay, well what about a happy medium,” you ask? What about 225 degrees?
How Long Do You Smoke a Brisket at 225 Degrees?
For 225 degrees, you need about 1-1/2 to 2 hours per pound in the smoker. So a 15-pound brisket at 225 would take between 22-1/2 to 30 hours in the smoker.
What Temperature Do You Smoke a 15 Pound Brisket for the Best Results?
Unless you have a whole day or more to play with, go with the pros and smoke it at 250 degrees for about 15 hours. This way you can smoke it all night and have it done in time for lunch.
While there are some different opinions, many pitmasters such as those at the famous Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas prefer to smoke their brisket at 250 degrees.
Granted, cooking at a higher heat than the ideal brisket temperature means you’re taking the risk of overcooking it.
So there is a process to follow to make sure you don’t leave your brisket cooking too long. The last thing you want is to watch your dinner guests straining to chew your labor of love!
If done right, this foolproof step-by-step guide can also reduce your brisket’s overall time in the smoker while still getting those good results.
What Do You Need When Smoking a Whole Brisket?
If you’re cooking a smoked brisket recipe for the first time, there are some essential items to have on hand.
1 – A boning knife and slicing knife
Just like getting ready for beach season, you’ll want to trim your brisket’s fat side before it gets cooked. Why? While fat is essential to a tender result, too much fat can impede the cooking process. This is done easily with a boning knife.
If you buy your brisket from the butcher, sometimes they will trim it for you if you request in advance.
If trimming it yourself, first cut some of that extra layer of fat off the outside. I’m talking about the fat you were going to cut off at the end anyway.
This includes a fat layer about 1 inch thick called a fat cap. Trim the fat cap, but not all of it, leaving behind about 1/4-inch to give the meat flavor during the smoke.
Another part that needs to be trimmed off is the silver skin, that tough, filmy layer. It may be thin, but it serves as a barrier to the black smoke to cook the meat properly. Remove that barrier!
As for the slicing knife, you’ll need it to carve the brisket at the end to serve. More on that later.
2 – Cutting Board
Speaking of trimming and slicing, make sure you have a cutting board that can handle a huge 15-pound brisket! That’s a lot of meat to cut and maybe too much for your standard kitchen cutting board.
3 – Butcher Paper
This wax-free paper made of wood pulp is what butchers use to wrap raw meat because it doesn’t absorb moisture. We’ll get into how you’ll use this later.
4 – Wood chips
Wood chips are where you get that precious smoke flavor. There are a number of popular wood choices, such as hickory, white oak, mesquite, maple, cherry, and more.
Figuring out the best wood for you may take some experimentation. But if it’s your first brisket, the best way to decide is looking to your favorite BBQ sauce. Do you favor hickory-flavored sauce? Then try hickory wood for your initial smoke!
How much wood do you need exactly?
About a pound of wood chips or 12 ounces of wood chunks per 6 hours of smoking should do it. So if cooking for 15 hours you’ll need a minimum of 3 pounds of chips on hand to be safe.
5 – The Smoker, Of Course.
While the kind of smoker isn’t that big of a deal, whether it’s a pellet smoker or old school, it’s helpful to have a smoker that can deliver reliably consistent temperatures. An electric smoker has a built-in thermometer so you can easily monitor the situation.
Maintaining a constant temperature will translate to less time for the overall cook. The less you have to open the smoker to check the meat, the less smoke is released. Because every time you’re releasing smoke you’re also releasing heat and making the cook longer (and when you’re smoking 15 pounds, it takes long enough as is!).
Also, if you’re cooking a whole packer brisket at 15 pounds, you’ll also want to make sure your smoker is big enough to handle that bad boy!
Can I Smoke Brisket on a Grill?
If you don’t have a smoker and don’t want to invest in one just yet, you can use a standard BBQ grill. But you’ll need to know How to Smoke a Brisket on a Grill, so jump to that link now if that’s what you’re planning on doing.
6 – Meat thermometer
Speaking of thermometers, you need one of these to check the brisket’s progress deep into the cook. Stick the digital meat thermometer into the thickest part of the brisket to instantly read and deliver an accurate internal temperature of the brisket.
Once you have all of these things on hand, you’re ready for the star of the show – the brisket itself.
How to Buy a Brisket to Smoke
You’ll want to choose a cut of brisket with the most consistent white fatty marbling throughout it. It’s the fatty marbling within the cut that gives meat such as brisket and pork its tender, juicy flavor with every bite.
At the grocery store or local butcher, you may notice different classes of brisket at different price points. USDA Prime, the most expensive kind of cut, 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.
If you’re dealing with a 15-pound brisket, this means you’ll be dealing with the whole “packer.” A packer refers to an entire brisket made up of two parts, the point and the flat.
What’s the Difference Between Brisket Flat vs Point Cuts?
The point cut, also known as the “deckle,” is the fatty part of the brisket. This part is essential to tasting like that juicy, tender brisket you’re hoping to achieve (and is the part that is trimmed the most). You need that layer of fat on the sides of the brisket so it tenderizes those tough fibers within.
The flat section is typically a leaner cut because the deckle is removed. It’s called “flat” because of its shape.
How to Prepare Brisket for Smoking
After you trim off the excess fat and silver skin with the boning knife, season liberally with some black pepper and kosher salt. Add your own dry rub, why not? Maybe some garlic powder. The good news is that with meat this flavorful, not too much seasoning is needed.
Before you pop the meat into the preheated smoker, save overall cooking time by allowing the brisket to come up from room temperature first. If you put the meat into the smoker straight from the fridge, the length of cooking time may increase a bit.
Do You Place the Brisket Fat Side Up or Down in the Smoker?
Conventional wisdom suggests you place the fat side facing the heat source. But in a smoker, there are a couple of reasons some people choose to place the fat side facing down.
First off, the smoke heats all around the brisket on low heat anyway. Also, if the side without fat sits on the grill grate, it’s harder for that part of the brisket to develop that lovely dark crust often referred to as bark.
Also, if you allow the fat side on the top, it will melt down and some say take the seasoning with it.
In the end, I think you’ll be okay either way since smokers are designed to evenly distribute the heat as best as possible.
How Do You Save Time With the Texas Crutch Method?
While it’s difficult to predict an exact time for how long 15 pounds of brisket can cook, there is a way to speed up the process a little with the Texas Crutch method.
Why the need for any method? There’s a part of the smoking process called the “stall.” This refers to when the internal temperature of your brisket reaches 165 degrees, and the temperature literally stalls. As in, not rising at the same pace as before.
This can be a little scary. If this is your first time, you might be wondering if you’re doing something wrong. Don’t worry, you’re not.
Of course, you have the option to simply wait it out, but you’re dealing with 15 pounds of meat here. You’re waiting enough as it is.
The pitmasters overcome the stall and speed things along a little with the well-known Texas Crutch strategy. This is when you wrap your brisket in that wax-free butcher paper I mentioned earlier.
Once your instant-read thermometer hits 165 in the thickest part, remove it from the smoker. With a 15 pound whole packer, this will happen around the 6-hour mark.
Wrap it in an airtight double wrap like your see deli workers wrap a sandwich. Then place the wrapped brisket back inside the smoker for the rest of the time.
Make Sure You Let Your Brisket Rest!
I can’t overstate how much resting your brisket is an important factor in ensuring pitmaster-quality meat. Once the thermometer hits that 190 to 195 range, remove the meat from the smoker.
Leave it in its butcher paper and place it in a container, like a cooler without ice or microwave that stays off. This way it’s unaffected by the climate and keeps flies from getting the first bite!
Then let it rest for about an hour, or until the temperature comes down to 145 degrees. Here’s more info on How Long to Rest Brisket & Why You Should.
Time to Carve
Here’s where your slicing knife comes into play.
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 sections then slice against each’s individual grains. If you don’t slice this way, you run the risk of the end result being chewy even if you smoked it to perfection.
What else?… Oh right. TIME TO EAT.
How Do I Reheat Leftover Brisket?
There’s a way to replicate the same experience as eating it fresh out of the smoker two days earlier. Place the brisket on your smoker’s water pan in its juices and cover it in aluminum foil. Then warm it at 250 degrees in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F.
Or you know, you could just send those leftovers to me, thanks!
Happy smoking, y’all!