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How Long Should You Rest Brisket

When it comes to smoking brisket, we focus on what flavor of wood we use, what temperature we smoke at, and how long we smoke brisket. I’m not here to tell you that’s wrong, because it’s all important. However, there’s another important aspect of smoking  brisket to help ensure you’ve got the best end product possible, and that’s resting …

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By Jeremy Pike

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How Long To Rest Brisket
Mikes Brisket Resting in Butcher Paper for 2 Hours

When it comes to smoking brisket, we focus on what flavor of wood we use, what temperature we smoke at, and how long we smoke brisket. I’m not here to tell you that’s wrong, because it’s all important. However, there’s another important aspect of smoking  brisket to help ensure you’ve got the best end product possible, and that’s resting brisket.

Have you ever wondered why people rest brisket, or even asked yourself if you need to rest a brisket before slicing in and enjoying that smoky tender meat? We’ll answer all those questions for you.

Do I Need To Let Brisket Rest And Why?

If you’ve talked to any backyard or professional pitmaster who has learned to smoke brisket, you’re probably a bit nervous if this is your first time smoking beef brisket. It’s arguably one of the toughest cuts of meat to smoke due to its unique makeup. One of the most important tactics when it comes to smoking brisket in your toolbelt is patience.

Now, patience in barbecue is huge no matter the smoker you’re using or the type of meat you’re smoking. However, it’s even more important on a big piece of tough meat like a brisket. It takes time to break down the connective tissue because the brisket muscles worked extremely hard during the cow’s life. We’ve got more information about what the brisket is if you want a deeper dive.

Due to the cooking process, the muscle fibers contract which expels moisture. All those juices need time to redistribute evenly throughout the brisket after cooking, otherwise, they simply collect in your wrap or on the cutting board. The end goal of smoking brisket is tender, moist meat. Without resting, you put that moist part of the target in jeopardy which can also result in an unpleasant texture. Just remember, cook times with brisket take a while, so we should rest a while as well.

How Long To Let Brisket Rest or Hold

So the next question you’re likely asking is how long to rest a brisket. Do you need to wait five to 10 minutes like a steak? No, unfortunately, that patience we talked about earlier extends to the rest period. The general rule of thumb for smoked meats is a minimum of 30 minutes up to around two hours for resting. Rest times vary by the size of the meat, so naturally, a smaller cut like a pork loin will need less rest than a bigger cut like a pork butt.

So how long should brisket rest? When it comes to a big cut like brisket, you want to let it rest between at least one and two hours, but you can go longer. Some of the top BBQ joints in Texas will rest there briskets substantially longer. Most briskets are pretty sizeable, so you want to give them an extended period of time to let the natural juices redistribute. You do need to make sure you rest it properly, though. Maintaining an internal temperature of at least 140°F is imperative for food safety. 

Mike Haas likes to hold his briskets for 2-3 hours but he will go longer to 4-6 as long as the brisket temp stays above 140F.

The next question you should ask is how do you rest brisket properly for food safety?

Resting Brisket Properly To Maintain Proper Internal Temperature

As I said in the previous section, a big part of resting brisket is maintaining the proper temperature. We’ve all heard of the “danger zone” of 40°-140°F where food-borne bacteria that can cause food poisoning and other issues. So you need to be aware of the temperature of your brisket while you’re resting it, and the method of resting your brisket can determine just how long you can rest your brisket. 

One way to keep an eye on the temperature of the brisket is to use a wireless meat thermometer. You can use one to monitor the temperature during the cooking process and keep it in during the resting period.

So what are the options for resting a brisket properly?

1. A Restaurant-Grade Storage Container Like A Cambro

If you’re unfamiliar with Cambro Manufacturing, the company makes food storage and serving equipment. It’s arguably the gold standard for food prep and holding. If you host  BBQ parties or are considering a catering business, investing in some Cambro food pans and pan carriers is a smart choice. The company offers both insulated carriers as well as electric-powdered temperature-controlled options that are perfect if you’re hosting consistent parties or looking to get into competition or catering. This will allow you to hold plenty of brisket, pork butts, or any other meats that need to rest without worrying about temperature issues. Top Texas BBQ joints will hold their briskets for much longer than 4 hours using this method.

2. A Cooler (Sometimes Referred To As The Faux Cambro Method)

What if you aren’t trying to make smoking barbecue a business but still need to rest a brisket or two? Get a large cooler whose lid seals well. You can go to a big box store and get a store-brand one or go for a solid name like Igloo. You can invest in a YETI or similar level of cooler, but it isn’t necessary.

brisket wrapped in foil resting in homemade cambro
Here is picture of our own home-made cambro. It certainly does not have to be fancy. Our cooler is 15 years old now; but hey; it still holds ice for 5 days….. It’s all about the insulating factor.

When you rest your brisket in a cooler, one tactic you can use if you’re going for a more extended rest period is to wrap the brisket in a towel. Now don’t jump to conclusions and start wondering if that’s going to have all the juices soak into the towel. You wrap the brisket in a towel while it’s wrapped in aluminum foil or butcher paper.

We do typically wrap our briskets during the smoking session, and for our reasoning and how we do it, check out our article on the process. However, not all people wrap their briskets during the cooking process, and that’s fine. However, to rest a brisket, I would still wrap the brisket in aluminum foil or butcher paper if I’m resting in a cooler. After doing that, you wrap the bundle in a towel before putting it in the cooler. 

3. In A Warm Oven

What happens if you don’t have a cooler or cambro? Well, you can use an oven on its ‘warm’ (150-170F). I’ve done this myself a few times, and it works well. You just want to ensure that your oven stays over 140°F but under 200°F so we don’t let the brisket temp fall into the danger zone nor cook more. You might not want to do this in the summer if you struggle to keep your house cool, but it’s an easy option. Just make sure your brisket is wrapped in aluminum foil or butcher paper. If you’re concerned about juices dripping all over your  oven, you could even put it in an aluminum pan.

4. At Room Temperature

Now this method might be the most controversial and dangerous out of all the options, but it can be done properly. This requires the utmost attention to the internal temperature of the  meat so you don’t get into the danger zone before slicing and serving. Some people prefer this method because they’ll open the top of their brisket wrap to let steam escape which helps the bark dry a bit after being trapped in the foil or butcher paper. 

Should I Rest My Brisket Wrapped Or Unwrapped?

Brisket rested and unwrapped.

This is a bit of a point of contention when it comes to resting. As I said earlier, I always keep my brisket wrapped when resting it in a cooler. In fact, I always rest my brisket wrapped in the aluminum foil I finished cooking it in. Now I don’t have a restaurant-grade heated food storage cabinet which might make a difference. However, I have always kept my brisket wrapped even when resting it in the oven. 

Some say that opening the wrap to expose the brisket to air helps the bark set up, and that may be the case. You can experiment with doing that, but I prefer keeping it wrapped to ensure it stays warm throughout the resting process. 

One of the points that some people make is that you keep your brisket wrapped to rest if you wrap your brisket and keep it unwrapped for resting if you never wrapped it. Others will say that you should at least open the wrap to let steam out if you wrapped your brisket. 

My thoughts are simply this: as with most points of contention in the process of smoking  barbecue, experiment. You’ll find out what works best for you. Just be aware that if you are resting your brisket unwrapped, you’ll want some way to protect your cooler, oven, or whatever you’re using to rest your brisket from all the drippings that could make a big mess.

Final Thoughts

You want to let your brisket rest between one and two hours to help it stay as moist and  tender as possible before slicing and serving. One other way to help keep your brisket moist is by capturing any juices that are hanging out in the aluminum foil (if you used foil to wrap  your brisket) and spooning them over the fresh slices of brisket. 

If you love the taste of brisket but are unable to smoke a full-size brisket or it might be out of your price range, take a look at some of the best brisket substitutes. I for one recommend chuck roasts, and we’ve got a recipe for brisket-style smoked chuck roasts in that article that is, in my (and my family’s) opinion delicious.

What way do you rest your brisket? Let us know in the comments!

FAQs:

Question: Can You Rest A Brisket Too Long?

Answer: Yes, you can let a brisket rest too long in a non-temperature-controlled environment. You cannot let your brisket sit inside the danger zone of 40°-140°F for any serious length of time because that will allow food-borne bacteria to reproduce, spoil the brisket, and make anyone who eats it very sick. If you aren’t planning on slicing and serving it within two hours of smoking it, you’ll want to let it rest for that hour or two then put it in the fridge if you’re serving it another day or a restaurant-style heated storage unit if you’re serving later that day.

Question: Can I Rest My Brisket Overnight?

Answer: When you talk about resting your brisket for longer than two hours, it all comes back to temperature control. You do not want to serve spoiled brisket and give your family and friends food poisoning. So if you want to rest your brisket overnight, it better be in a temperature-controlled setting, whether that is in the fridge, an warm oven, or a restaurant-grade heated food storage unit, and keep the meat temp above 140F.

8 thoughts on “How Long Should You Rest Brisket”

    • Hi Chris,
      We did state that restaurants will hold briskets substantially longer using commercial cambro or holding systems. We detail a lot of options in this post. I’m guessing you missed it. I personally rest/hold brisket for 2-4 hours, while Texas BBQ joints will go well beyond this. Keep the temps above 140F and you can hold for hours.
      Cheers,
      Mike Haas

      Reply
  1. I do my resting by lining a old bath towel in a cooler just bigger then the brisket in length ,put a couple of sheets of foil or a pan, then put my butcher paper wrapped brisket in pan, open paper to release steam, put a towel across top of cooler and shut lid till my temp hits 165- 155.

    Reply
  2. Chris doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The author of this article, which was very thorough, made clear a lot of options and times for testing a brisket. Thank you for the article. It was very informative and helpful.

    Reply
  3. Great info. I have a question. If I pull my wrapped brisket at IT 165, can I let it rest over night for consumption the next day? I understand I would have to keep it between140- 200°. Is it actually done at 165°IT?

    Reply
    • Hi Lynette, If you pull the brisket at 165, you’re not going to like the outcome because a lot of the fat will not have rendered properly. You need to get that brisket up around 200’ish for it to be cooked properly. Then you can hold the temp above 140. I’ll hold a brisket for 4-6 hours at times but I do not like to go beyond that myself. Large BBQ joints will go longer but they have high-end equipment for holding meat at temps for long periods.
      Thanks
      Michael

      Reply

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