How to Cook a Brisket on a Pellet Grill (Smoked Recipe)

By Matt Richmond

First off, congratulations. Why? Because you’re about to cook a delicious beef brisket.

And not just any brisket, but the best brisket, because you’re using a cooking process that will give you some of the best results – smoking on a pellet grill.

Though pellet grills can be expensive, they do most of the hard work for you. So, even if you’re a newbie smoker, you can still produce mouthwatering results. You just need to know a few key things, which I’m going to tell you all about.

I’m going to cover everything you need to know on how to cook a brisket on a pellet grill, including what you need, how to choose wood pellets and your brisket, what temp and how long to cook your brisket. And several pieces of helpful information in between.

Best Method for Cooking a Brisket

If you go to Central Texas and ask a pitmaster (experts in the art of all things BBQ brisket), they’ll tell you the most flavorful brisket is smoked. And many agree that a pellet grill is the best tool to get the job done right.

So how does a pellet grill achieve that coveted smoke flavor throughout the whole brisket? Otherwise known as a pellet smoker, the heat source comes from burning food-grade (you guessed it) wood pellets. By burning wood and allowing the surface of the meat to soak in a nice, long smoke.

But a pellet grill doesn’t take wood chips or chunks as a traditional smoker would. The wood is compressed into pellets that look like miniature cigars.

How Does a Pellet Grill Work?

pellet grill

These wood pellets are first placed in what’s called the pellet hopper, a place to store the pellets mounted on the side of the grill. On average these hoppers can store about 12 pounds worth of pellets.

Then the pellets at the bottom of the hopper make their way into the burn pot at the bottom of the pellet grill through the use of the auger. The auger automatically moves the pellets into the burn pot to replace the ones that burn off. If the grill’s temperature needs to be higher, the auger moves quicker to deliver more pellets to be burned next and keep that consistent smoke going.

And these pellets burn up relatively quickly, leaving behind surprisingly little ash.

Pellet Grill vs. Smoker

Unlike a traditional smoker, a pellet grill usually has electronic components that regulate the temperature and keep it consistent. There is a heat plate that controls the amount of heat and smoke to go through so that the temperature is even throughout the interior of the grill. This gives more control than a charcoal grill.

Having a reliable consistent temperature in your smoker makes the cook times more predictable. This convenience makes the cooking job easier on you and will ultimately result in a juicy brisket.

Now that we’ve answered the “what,” let’s get into the “how.” Here are the important things you should know in order to get the best-smoked brisket using your pellet grill.

What Do I Need to Smoke a Brisket on a Pellet Grill?

butcher paper, knives, cutting board, wood pellets, meat thermometer

Besides the pellet grill itself, there are a number of items you need on hand to smoke a brisket. Many are a good investment if there’s going to be a next time you smoke brisket. Chances are after you taste the smoked brisket, there’s gonna be another time… and another and another.

1 – Wood Pellets

Since wood pellets provide the smoke you need to cook your cut of meat, the question becomes, how much should I buy? The worst situation is having to run out to the grocery store for more pellets mid-smoke. Without the right amount, your brisket won’t have a chance of reaching the ideal internal temperature of the meat.

# hours of cook time x 3 = # pounds of pellets you need

Luckily, there’s an easy formula to figure out how many pellets you need. The smoker burns one to three pounds of pellets every hour. Once you figure out the estimated cook time (based on the size of the brisket and cooking temperature chosen), you multiply that amount of hours by three. That’s how much you should buy if you’re safe.

Is There a Difference Between Wood Pellets?

hickory apple and pecan trees

Just as there are many kinds of trees, so there are many available options of wood pellets to choose from. Some of the most popular are hickory, mesquite, cherry, apple, and pecan. Since pellets are made from sawdust, there are even blends of different kinds of wood.

However, is one better than another? It all comes down to personal preference.

If you’re a newbie smoker, the easiest way to decide which wood pellet to use is to buy whichever is the same flavor as your favorite BBQ sauce. For instance, if you always buy mesquite BBQ sauce, then start off with mesquite pellets on the grill!

If you don’t want to infuse a strong smoke flavor, go with pecan, apple, or cherry for a more mild taste. Hickory, on the other hand, leaves behind a stronger flavor in comparison.

2 – A Boning Knife and Slicing Knife

Prepping a brisket is just like getting ready for beach season – you’ll want to trim the fat before it gets exposed to heat.

While fat on the side of the brisket is essential to a tender result, too much excess fat can get in the way. So, you need to trim some of it away with a boning knife.

Pro tip: if you buy your brisket from the local butcher, sometimes they will trim it for you if you request in advance.

If trimming it yourself, here’s what you should trim. If there’s extra fat you would cut off before eating anyway, trim it.

The exception is the layer of fat called a fat cap, which is about 1-inch thick. Trim it down but don’t cut it all off. Leave behind about a quarter of an inch to give the meat flavor during the smoking process.

Trim fat cap down to 1/4″ thick

Another part that needs to be trimmed off is the silver skin. It’s that tough, filmy layer. It may be thin, but it serves as a barrier for the smoke to reach the meat and cook it properly. Get rid of that sucka!

As for the slicing knife, you will need it to carve the brisket at the end, right before serving. More on that later.

3 – Cutting board

Speaking of trimming and slicing, make sure you have a cutting board that can handle whatever size of delicious brisket you plan to smoke.

Before you choose though, it might help to take a look at the size of a whole packer brisket, which is on average 14 pounds. (Here’s more info on how to smoke a 14 lb brisket.)

I understand cutting boards take up room, so no need to get a gigantic one if you only ever plan to cook a 3 lb brisket at home. (Read the different approach to cooking a 3 lb brisket here.) Though who knows? You might change your mind.

4 – Butcher paper

Butcher paper earned its name because it’s used at a butcher shop to wrap raw meat as it doesn’t absorb moisture. How? It’s a wax-free paper made from wood pulp.

Why is it on this list? There’s a part of the smoking process where the brisket can be wrapped so the overall cook will take less time (we’ll expand on this later).

Using butcher paper instead of aluminum foil during this process ensures that crispy bark stays intact. It’ll help give that dark thick crust around the entire brisket that makes your mouth and eyes water in excitement.

5 – Meat thermometer

How will you know exactly when to remove your tender brisket from the pellet grill? By using one of these.

An instant-read digital meat thermometer is your best friend as you check your brisket’s progress. Just be sure to stick it into the thickest part for an accurate read of the internal temperature of the brisket.

Once you have all of these things on hand, you’re ready for the star of the show…

6 – The Brisket

brisket in a shopping cart

The best way to choose a cut of brisket is to identify which one has the most consistent white fatty marbling throughout it. Fatty marbling gives meat such as brisket and pork its tender, juicy flavor with every bite.

Since good marbling is indicative of high quality, the more marbled cuts are often labeled as a different class. And, therefore, are more expensive.

Fatty Marbling = Tender, Juicy Brisket

USDA Prime, the most expensive kind of cut, typically has more marbling than the less expensive USDA Choice. Some stores don’t have Prime though, so try to buy the Choice grade at a minimum. If your budget allows, avoid Select.

As for the size of the cut, you get get a full brisket or one of its two parts. If you’re dealing with a 15-pound brisket, then you have what’s called the ” full packer brisket.” A “packer” refers to the brisket’s two parts – the point and the flat.

What’s the Difference Between Flat and Point Brisket?

The brisket point cut, also known as the “deckle,” is the fatty part of the brisket. The fat breaks down during the smoke, tenderizing the tough connective tissue within. Since it has more fat, the point cut usually gives a juicier, more tender meat than the flat. However, it’s also the part that is trimmed the most.

The other part, the brisket flat (called that due to its shape), is typically a leaner cut because the deckle is removed. The flat can still give juicy results if it has consistent marbling and doesn’t require as much fat trimming (or possibly any).

We’re almost to the point of learning how to cook a brisket on a pellet grill. But first, it’s imperative that you understand the importance of temperatures. Both cooking temperature and internal temperature.

What is the Best Temperature to Cook a Brisket on a Pellet Grill?

200 vs. 225 vs. 250 degrees

Remember this general rule of thumb. Smoke your brisket “low and slow.” The pitmasters who made a name for themselves cooking Texas-style brisket say 250 degrees F is ideal if you’re cooking a large piece of meat.

Smoking at a lower temperature for a long time gives you tender brisket that makes you the hero you always wanted to be. (Over exaggerate much? I think not).

Why is this approach so essential? Brisket meat is found in the breast of the cow, so is loaded up with muscles and fat that help the cow walk.

Cooking low and slow uses the fat to tenderize all that thick muscle fibers and break down the collagen. At high heat, all those juices burn away quickly, leaving you with dry, chewy meat. No thank you.

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Brisket on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill?

comparison of smoker temperature and cook times

At 250 degrees, every pound of meat needs 1 hour in the smoker. For 225 degrees, you need about 1.5 hours per pound in the smoker. That’s true whether you’re smoking it on a Pit Boss pellet grill, Traeger, or any other smoker or grill.

Given this time frame, there’s only a little bit of a difference when dealing with a 3-pound brisket. 250 degrees would take 3 hours while 225 degrees would take between 4.5 hours. So, if you have the time and are smoking a small cut, such as 3 pounds, you might as well smoke it at 225 degrees.

Let’s take a look at another common brisket size…

How Long Do You Cook a 6 Pound Brisket on a Pellet Grill?

Smoking at 250 degrees F, a 6-pound brisket takes approximately 6 hours in the pellet grill. Smoking at 225 takes between 9 and 12 hours. It’s a 1:1 pound to cook time ratio for 250 degrees, and 1:1.5 for 225 degrees.

How Long to Smoke a Brisket at 200 Degrees F?

If you want to go really low and slow at 200 degrees, it’ll take about 2 hours per pound of brisket. That’s not too bad for a 3-pound brisket, which would take approximately 6 hours.

However, if you’re dealing with even a 10-pound brisket, smoking at 200 degrees would take a minimum of 20 hours. That’s almost an entire day of just cooking, not counting preparation.

Ideal Internal Temperature for Brisket

ideal internal temp for brisket is 203 degrees F

The target internal temperature for brisket is 203 degrees. But keep in mind, brisket rises in temperature by up to 10 degrees AFTER being removed from the pellet grill. So, it’s advised to remove the brisket once the meat thermometer reads between 190 and 195 degrees F.

So yes, you could technically set your pellet grill to 190 degrees, but this is only advisable for small cuts of brisket. Otherwise, your stomach will hate you for making it wait so long to enjoy the brisket. Pitmasters recommend 250 degrees because they cook large portions and need to have them done in a reasonable amount of time without sacrificing quality.

How to Cook a Brisket on a Pellet Grill

brisket inside pellet grill

Now that you have everything you need to start smoking in your pellet grill, let’s get into the steps for smoking this bad boy. The good news is that the preparation is the only somewhat tedious part. The actual cooking is pretty straightforward.

All ready to start? Well then, let’s go!

Prepare the Brisket for the Smoke

After you trim off the excess fat and silver skin, season the raw meat liberally with black pepper and kosher salt. If you want to add your own spice rub, go for it. It’s worth noting that with meat that tastes this good naturally, you won’t need a whole lot of dry rub.

Bring it to Room Temperature

Then, let the seasoned brisket rest outside of the fridge until it comes up to room temperature. If you place the meat into the smoker straight from the fridge, you will unnecessarily increase the overall cook time.

Preheat the Pellet Grill

While your brisket is coming up to room temperature, preheat your pellet grill. Remember, 250 degrees F is ideal for a medium to large brisket. 225 degrees is good for a small brisket. Refer to the above sections on cook temperature and cook time to make your final decision.

Put It in the Smoker

Once your smoker is up to temp and your brisket up to room temp, put it in your smoker unwrapped. The standard rule of thumb for cooking meat is to place the fat side towards the heat source. However, some people prefer putting the fat side down in a smoker for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is if the fatless side sits on the grill grate, it’s harder for that side to get that desirable bark. The second is if the fat is on top, it will melt down and take some of the seasoning with it.

But, either way, I’m under the opinion that pellet grills are designed to evenly distribute heat. Thus, you’ll still get great results whichever way you put the brisket in. You could test both ways on two different smokes to determine which you prefer personally.

Should You Wrap a Brisket on a Pellet Grill?

crutch inside Texas outline

BEWARE OF THE STALL. The “stall” is 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, especially for your first brisket, when you might think you’re messing up something.

You’re not. This confusing moment is so common, in fact, there’s a well-known strategy known as the “Texas crutch” to help move the cook along. This is where your wax-free butcher paper comes into play.

Once your instant read thermometer hits 165 in the thickest part, remove it from the smoker. With a whole packer, this will happen around the 6 hour mark.

Wrap it like your see deli workers wrap a sandwich, like an airtight double wrap. Then place the wrapped brisket back inside the smoker for the rest of the time.

Granted, you don’t need to do this step with a small cut of meat. You’ll hardly notice a stall with small briskets.

Let Your Brisket Rest

Never underestimate the power of a nice long rest for your brisket once it’s done cooking. Once the thermometer hits that 190 to 195 range, remove the meat from the smoker.

If you wrapped the brisket in butcher paper during the smoke, leave it wrapped to rest so you don’t lose any juices. However, you should vent one corner of the wrapping to let steam escape. Otherwise, the steam can soften your lovely bark.

If you wrapped it in foil, open the foil but leave the brisket sitting on it so as to not lose any juices. If you leave it wrapped in foil, it will continue to cook more than expected and might dry it out. Plus, the steam in the foil will soften the nice outer-layer bark.

Then place the brisket in a container, preferably a cooler without ice. Although, a microwave works well, too. This keeps it unaffected by the climate and protected. You don’t want pesky flies getting the first bite!

Let it rest for about 1 hour if it’s a whole packer, or until the temperature comes down to 150 degrees. That’s the perfect temp to carve the meat…

Carve Against the Grain

With your slicing knife, cut against the meat’s grain. However, that’s tricky if you have a whole packer because the two parts have grain in a different direction!

Don’t worry. 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 despite being smoked to perfection.

Last Step, EAT IT ALL!

fork and spoon

All by yourself or share. And if you don’t finish, they make great leftovers, which you can then send to me. Thanks!

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