When you cook to the proper internal temperature for brisket, that large and tough cut of beef becomes an icon of barbecue that is tender, juicy, and flavorful. You achieve that tenderness by smoking the brisket low and slow until an internal temperature in the 192°-208° range.
While a range may seem like a cop-out when trying to answer the best internal temp for beef brisket, there’s good reason for providing a range. Beef brisket is properly done when the muscle’s connective tissue has rendered and broken down. This transforms the brisket, which was a hard-working muscle when the cow was alive, from a tough piece of meat to that beautifully tender, smoky cut beloved by so many. That’s why we give a temperature range rather than a specific temperature and certainly why we don’t give you a cook time.
If you want to take on a brisket in your own backyard, don’t fear. It takes time, patience, and practice, but it’s well worth it. You need to know which brisket internal temperature you’re looking for, when to pull it off your smoker, what the brisket will be like if it’s undercooked or overcooked, and even a bit of insight as to why pitmasters seem to disagree on what is the actual best internal temperature for brisket.
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What’s The Best Brisket Internal Temperature?
When anyone talks about smoking barbecue or grilling, it’s not about a specific length of cook time. We want to know approximately when food will be done, sure. However, we know when meat is done cooking when it reaches the appropriate internal temperature. The proper brisket temp isn’t exact, however.
The consensus is that brisket needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 190°F and shouldn’t be taken past 210°F as a maximum. In our experience here at Angry BBQ, our briskets are usually ready to be pulled from the smoker between 202°-205°F. The video below shows you when the brisket is done properly. It will jiggle like jello.
We’ve found that this temp range works well because it’s gotten the brisket hot enough to break down that connective tissue without really getting us into trouble with overcooking the brisket. The end result is a tender brisket that isn’t so overdone that it can’t be sliced yet the slices can easily be pulled apart.
Yet even with our ideal brisket internal temp, we have a range. So how do we know when specifically to pull the brisket? Keep reading.
Is The Internal Temp Of Brisket The Best Way To Know When It’s Done?
If there’s a range when it comes to what temp brisket is done, what’s the best way to tell? When the brisket’s internal temperature reaches that range of 192°-208°F, that’s when you can start checking the tenderness of the brisket. The true test of when the brisket is done is how tender the meat is. If you can slide a temperature probe into the thickest part of the meat with similar resistance as warm butter, then the brisket is done.
The easiest way to check the tenderness without messing up your temperature monitoring setup is by using an instant-read thermometer like the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE or the ChefsTemp FinalTouch X10. You slide the probe thermometer into the flat, the point, and the thickest part of the brisket. If the probe slides in like softened butter, your brisket is done. If you’re meeting some resistance and the brisket is still around 190°-195°F internally, let it smoke a little longer.
If you’re not certain of the difference between the parts of the brisket, we’ll cover that information a little bit further on.
Trying to hit that range that starts at 190°F to do the probe test means you still need to know what the internal temp of the brisket is throughout the whole time the brisket is on the smoker. I’m a big fan of the ThermoWorks Smoke X4 so I don’t have to use a phone app but can still monitor temperatures away from the smoker.
Why Do We Cook Brisket to a Higher Temp Range?
To understand why we smoke brisket low and slow to a minimum of 190°F, we need to understand the elements of a brisket. We’ve already talked about the connective tissue inside the brisket being the reason. What do we really mean by connective tissue and how it affects your brisket’s doneness, though?
What Is A Brisket And Why Is It So Tough?
The brisket is a primal cut of beef from the chest of the cow. During the life of the cow, the chest does a lot of work helping move the front legs of the animal that weighs on average almost 1,400 pounds. Muscles that do a lot of work have a lot of connective tissue due to the amount of work and movement.
The brisket is a large cut of meat, with a whole packer brisket weighing between 10-15 pounds. The brisket can be separated into two distinct cuts, the flat and the point. The flat has little interior marbling, making it a lean cut of meat with a thick layer of fat sitting on top of it. The brisket point has more interior fat. Also, the two parts of the brisket have their internal muscle fiber grains running perpendicular to each other.
Due to the different make-up of marbling and that the grains run in different directions, some people will separate the full packer brisket for ease of cooking and serving. For a more in-depth look at brisket, check out our brisket breakdown here. This isn’t a bad idea because the flat will always finish before the point (due to being leaner than the point). Michael recently started separating the flat from the point as he is experiencing better results.
Why Should We Smoke Brisket To Break Down Connective Tissue?
Connective tissue, which is mostly collagen, will not break down properly if it’s cooked too hot and too fast. The collagen will tighten up, making the meat tough. When smoking a brisket, you want to use a low and slow cooking process to give it enough time and enough heat to break down and render, resulting in tender meat.
Also, smoke makes meat taste better. So smoke more meat, not that I need to tell you that if you’re reading this site.
Everything inside of the brisket that makes it a tough piece of meat won’t break down completely until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 200°F. So why is 190°F okay? The internal temperature of the brisket will continue to rise even after you pull it from the smoker, somewhere between 5-10°F. So that thermal carryover even after pulling the brisket off the smoker can render fully.
Because we need to break down all this internal tissue and the internal fat, we smoke it low and for a long time.
What Happens If We Undercook Brisket?
If we smoke our brisket until it’s technically safe to eat by USDA standards but not to the range we’ve discussed, then the brisket will be chewy and tough to eat. All the tough internal tissue and fat will still be present. While you will still have the smoky flavor, the brisket won’t be tender.
What Happens If We Overcook Brisket?
You can run into problems going too far the other way with the internal temperature of the brisket as well. You’ll end up with potentially tough meat if you overcook your brisket but in a different way. Overcooking meat of any type will dry it out and brisket is no different. Too much heat for too long will end up with a brisket that falls apart easily but is dry and unpleasant to eat.
Why Does My Brisket Internal Temp Stop Rising?
When you’re monitoring the internal temp of your brisket, it’s quite common to notice that the temperature will stop rising, or plateau, sometime between 150°-170°F. It’s commonly known as the stall, and it can be absolutely nerve-wracking if you aren’t expecting it and it’s your first time smoking a brisket.
The picture below shows a brisket cook I did. At around 160° the brisket temp increase starts to flatten out. At 172° I wrapped the brisket and at 180° the briskets internal temp started increasing faster again. This stall lasted from 160°-180°.
The stall happens when the moisture evaporating from the surface of the meat overcomes the heat from the smoker. It’s a lot like how we humans sweat to cool off. This will cause the briskets internal temp to stall its rise, hence the name.
You can combat this by wrapping your brisket tightly with either food-grade pink butcher paper or the more common household item aluminum foil.
How Do I Wrap Brisket?
Wrapping brisket is one of the most effective ways to combat the stall and ensure you have a moist and tender brisket after pulling it off the smoker and letting it rest. How you go about embracing what is affectionately known as the “Texas Crutch” is up to you. Some people wrap in aluminum foil, some in butcher paper. Regardless of which way you wrap, you’re guaranteed to keep at least some of the juices trapped inside the wrap which is how this method combats the evaporation that causes the stall. Some people will add apple juice or other liquids to create even more moisture to ensure the meat will be tender.
You can also let your smoker and brisket ride the stall out once enough moisture has evaporated. However, this does add quite a bit of time until your brisket is ready.
Why Do Different Pitmasters Recommend Different Temperatures?
Now that we’ve covered why we cook to a certain internal temp for brisket and what are some of the issues that come from not doing that, the question left is why are there so many different answers to what temp is brisket done at.
The biggest reason is that each brisket is different. Each brisket has a different amount of marbling. Some briskets are thicker than others. The end goal with brisket is for each slice you serve to be moist and tender for everyone to enjoy. So the exact final temperature may be different by a few degrees (or even more) for your brisket to reach that point than another.
Nobody wants to undercook a brisket, so there are those who will push the brisket to the upper ends of that temperature range. There are also those who want nothing to do with possibly drying out their brisket so they want to pull it as soon as possible.
As long as your brisket internal temp reaches a minimum of 190°F and is probe tender, you are good to pull it from your smoker.
Just remember that the internal temp of the brisket will continue to rise after you pull it, so be careful. Pulling your brisket around the 202°-205°F mark will keep you safe from overcooking while still ensuring that connective tissue has rendered properly. Hey if 202°-205°F works for Aaron Franklin, it should work for everyone.
Smoking a brisket in your own backyard can be a daunting prospect. It’s an icon in the barbecue world and no one wants to screw it up. So you want to know what brisket internal temp to shoot for. If you aim for reaching 190°F and then focusing on checking how probe-tender the brisket is, you should be able to get the right amount of tenderness and juiciness you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for how to prepare a brisket, check out our Texas-style preparation. It’ll give you tips, a recipe, and all the ingredients you need to produce a salt-and-pepper traditional brisket, plus some options to tweak your brisket for different palates.
If you’re not sure how to monitor those internal temps, check out our list of the best wireless meat thermometers. These will help keep you from undercooking or overcooking your brisket.
Question: Why Is My Brisket Tough At 200 Degrees?
Answer: While 200°F sounds like it should be a good internal temperature for brisket to be done at, it’s certainly possible that it’s not. We recommend pulling brisket between 202°-205°F, but the true measure of whether a brisket is done or not is how tender it is. There’s a lot of connective tissue to break down and fat to render properly. Just be patient and check your brisket for tenderness with an instant-read meat thermometer.
Question: Is 180 A Good Smoking Temperature?
Answer: We want our brisket to have a good smoky flavor. So the thought process behind smoking at 180°F is that it will impart even more smoke between the lower temperature and a longer cooking time. However, we find that 225° is a great low-and-slow temperature that gives us great smoke flavor and helps break down that tough connective tissue and render fat. While there is technically nothing wrong with smoking at 180°F and there are definitely people out there who recommend starting your brisket smoking session at that temperature, we find that the lower temperature is unnecessary.
Question: Is Brisket Safe To Eat At 185?
Answer: While brisket is technically safe for consumption at 185°F due to it being well past the USDA recommendation for beef, you will not get the results you are looking for. It will still be on the tough side as the connective tissue has not fully rendered out yet. You’ll get a good-tasting brisket because it will have taken on all the smoke you want and you should have a well-seasoned bark, but it won’t be so tender you can put a slice on your finger and have it droop down.
Question: Can You Overcook A Brisket At 200 Degrees?
Answer: It is certainly possible, that’s why we recommend that you start checking the tenderness at 190°F. It’s not very likely, but if you’re cooking more of a hot-and-fast brisket, you might reach 200°F internal temperature and overcook parts of the exterior. This could especially happen with the flat which does not have the same level of marbling as the point.