So you’ve been enjoying smoked brisket at your favorite BBQ joint or friends place and you want to smoke one yourself. The most common brisket question among new BBQ’ers is, “How long should I smoke a brisket?” As a standard rule of thumb, it will take roughly one to two hours per pound of brisket. That is a large range of time per pound. Why is that?
There are a number of factors that determine how long it takes to smoke a brisket. Different smokers can handle the smoking process differently. Not all briskets are the same. Different pitmasters smoke at 225°F, some smoke at 250°F, and others smoke at higher temperatures. All those different temperatures mean a variety of brisket smoking times.
Let’s get into how long you should smoke a brisket, the different temperatures, and why there’s a range rather than a specific length of time!
Why Is There A Range For Brisket Smoke Time?
We all want to know specifics of how long something is going to take when it comes to any type of cooking. So why did I give you a range of time for smoking brisket? As I hinted at above, there are a number of variables when it comes to smoking brisket. It depends on what smoker you use, how hot you run your smoker, the brisket itself, and what temperature you’re aiming for.
Why Does It Take So Long To Smoke A Brisket?
Brisket is best when smoked low-and-slow, so don’t expect a quick process unless you are smoking a small brisket. Smoking brisket for a long period of time at a low temperature is what allows all the connective tissue in the brisket to break down. The process for breaking down the collagen and tissue doesn’t finish up (at least as much as it will) until sometime around the 200°F internal mark.
If your brisket reaches that 200°F internal temp too quickly, it can dry the meat out or ruin the exterior of the brisket. If you want to achieve that tender, juicy sliced brisket that is one of the most beloved cuts of barbecue anywhere, you’re going to need to be patient and set aside a lot of time. Read our article on “what is brisket” to better understand this challenging meat.
How does the smoker itself affect how long to smoke brisket? Some smokers like pellet grills or electric smokers self-regulate the temperature, giving you a higher degree of control. Other types of smokers (like offsets or charcoal) may have more fluctuations which can possibly lead to a longer smoking time.
Different Smoking Temperature
When you look into smoking a brisket, you might find various recommendations for what temperature your smoker should be set at. Here at Angry BBQ, when Michael Haas smokes his brisket Texas-style, he starts his smoker at 250°F.
So why do we find different temperatures for smoking a brisket? Briskets can take a long time to smoke, so a higher temperature can shorten the cooking time. However, the prevailing wisdom is that lower temperatures generate more smoke flavor, so there can be a trade-off between speeding up the cooking process and getting more smoke flavor on the brisket. If you’re short on time, you cook a little hotter. It’s not fun to finish your brisket at 10pm.
When it comes to smoking briskets, you can help make the smoking time more consistent by purchasing similar-sized briskets and trimming them the same way. However, for most people who are smoking for their family and sometimes friends, purchasing briskets that are the same size can be a bit much.
Now, the range being per pound helps navigate around that. However, a thicker brisket may take longer than a bit thinner brisket that weighs the same. There can also be differences in the amount of marbling of the brisket that can affect the cooking time as well.
When Determining The Brisket Smoking Time, Don’t Forget To Hold
When you are determining when you have to start smoking a brisket and calculating the approximate smoking time, don’t forget to account for holding the brisket in a container after removing it from the smoker. For a full breakdown on resting or holding meat after cooking, check out Jannah Haas’ explanation here.
For a quick refresher, pitmasters “hold” the meat for a length of time for two reasons. One is to account for carryover cooking that occurs after removing the meat from the grill or smoker. The holding process also allows pitmasters to keep the meat, in this case brisket, warm for serving without having to reheat it or worrying about it dropping into a trouble temperature zone for bacteria, which is under 135F.
The second reason is to let the protein fibers relax a bit after the cooking process to reabsorb some of the moisture that is separated from the meat.
Accounting for holding during your calculations for the brisket smoking time helps you be more accurate when deciding when to start smoking the brisket. It also helps you account for that carry over so you don’t overcook your meat or serve it too quickly.
I prefer to have my brisket done well before dinner time, because I know I can hold/rest it in a cooler for 3-4 hours.
How Long To Smoke A Brisket At 225°F?
225°F is one of the most common temperatures you’ll hear when it comes to low-and-slow barbecue, and it will take between an hour and a half to two hours per pound. Smoking your brisket at this low temperature will allow all that smoke plenty of time to wrap around the brisket, helping form that beautiful peppery bark. It will also be low and slow enough to help break down all that connective tissue throughout the brisket.
Just don’t expect to have that beautifully smoked brisket sitting on your cutting board quickly if you choose 225°F. It will take time to achieve that iconic slice of meat, especially if you’re smoking a large brisket.
How Long To Smoke A Brisket At 250°F?
Making your smoker a little bit hotter can help with your brisket smoking time. Smoking a brisket at 250°F will take around an hour and a half. The extra bit of heat can make a difference over the length of smoking a brisket without really sacrificing much at all in the way of smoke flavor.
How Can I Shorten My Brisket Smoking Time?
If you’ve looked at the range of brisket smoking times and thought to yourself that’s too much time, there are some ways around it. You can look at cutting back time by choosing smaller briskets, but if you’re looking to feed a large group of people or want to put leftovers to great use (check out our roundup of great brisket leftover recipes!) that’s not a viable option. So how can you shorten that smoking time for brisket?
1. Wrap During The Stall
When you are smoking a brisket, you’ll encounter the panic-inducing stall somewhere around 160°F. Once you’ve smoked a lot of briskets, you’ll be familiar with it. However, if you’re smoking a brisket for the first time and monitoring the temperature, you’ll see the internal temperature stop rising and stay steady for a long time.
You can simply let your brisket ride out the stall or even increase the temperature of your smoker, but both options will take time. The way to get through the stall the quickest way is by wrapping the brisket tightly with either food-grade pink butcher paper or aluminum foil.
The stall occurs when the moisture cooking out of the brisket is evaporating enough to cool the brisket at the same rate the smoker is heating it. The brisket smoking time draws out while waiting for enough moisture to evaporate to resume cooking.
Wrapping the brisket prevents that moisture from evaporating, thereby preventing a lengthy stall. You want to wait until the bark sets up before wrapping the brisket (usually 4-6 hours). Trapping that moisture, especially with aluminum foil, can soften the bark.
The trade-off to the extra moisture is a significant reduction of time versus letting the brisket ride out the stall.
2. Smoking Hot And Fast Brisket
You may have heard about smoking a brisket hot and fast. This allows you to cook a brisket in under an hour per pound while still getting tender brisket. Typically smoking a brisket hot and fast is done with the smoker between 275°F and 300°F.
Smoking a brisket hot and fast produces a different flavor than smoking it low and slow. You do not have quite the same level of smoke flavor, with some people saying it tastes a bit more like roast beef or even a steak than a traditional low-and-slow brisket.
However, the brisket smoking time is drastically reduced, and the end product is still tasty and tender.
Wrapping It Up
Typically when smoking a brisket, it will take between one to two hours per pound. You will see variations depending on the size and how marbled the brisket is as well as the temperature you’re smoking at. However, this gives you a good baseline to start with.
The most important part of smoking a brisket is monitoring the temperature, not how long it smokes. You need the brisket’s connective tissue to render as much as possible to turn the brisket from a tough, chewy piece of meat to that tender piece of barbecue royalty.
Plan to get the brisket fully cooked several hours before the planned dinner time. Holding or resting the brisket for a couple hours is totally find and actually makes a more juicy brisket.
What’s your experience for how long to smoke a brisket? Do you have a preferred temperature for your smoker? Let us know in the comments!