How To Get Tender Smoked Brisket Every Time


If you understand brisket fundamentals, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get a tender, juicy brisket every time you fire up your smoker. Nailing the perfect smoked brisket isn’t rocket science, but there are some basic things you need to know. I asked some of the best barbeque pitmasters how they get tender brisket every time.

The only way to get tender brisket is to cook it slow over several hours. Hold the temperature of your smoker at 225°F and cook until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 203°F. This may take anywhere from 10 to 18 hours depending on the size of the brisket. Brisket contains lots of connective tissue that needs to be broken down. Time and low temperature is the only way to break down the tough fibrous tissue to ensure a tender, juicy smoked brisket. You can also inject the brisket with a competition brisket injection to help tenderize the meat. Also, buying high-quality meat is also important.

Why Is My Smoked Brisket Not Tender?

If your smoked brisket is not tender, the most likely reason is the heavy connective tissue found in brisket has not had long enough time to break down. Brisket needs a long time at a low temperature for the connective tissue to render and tenderize. Brisket originates from the shoulder, a hardworking part of the animal. Muscles are connected to bones via tendons, the strong elastic connective tissue. Brisket contains a lot of this chewy sinew, which is why cuts of meat from muscles are tough and chewy if cooked incorrectly. You can’t cook meat muscle meats hot and fast as you would a tender sirloin. The tougher cuts like brisket and chuck taste far better when cooked low and slow.

Why Brisket Needs To Be Cooked Slow

Something magical happens when tough cuts of meat like brisket is given time at low temperature. After several hours, the connective tissue in the meat breaks down and renders into the meat. When cooked slowly, the brisket sinew melts, transforming into a gelatinous texture. This transformation is why slow smoked brisket is such a deliciously. We can only achieve this delicious gelatin-like texture of smoked brisket by slow cooking.

How Long Does It Take For Brisket To Get Tender?

Brisket needs anywhere from 10 to 18 hours to tenderize, even longer. The exact time will depend on the size of the brisket and the temperature of your smoker. When smoking brisket, we cook to internal meat temperature rather than time. The best way to cook meat to temperature is by using a special meat thermometer that allows you to track the internal meat temperature remotely using a wireless digital thermometer. Brisket needs to be cooked to an internal meat temperature of 203⁰F.

How Do You Make Brisket Tender?

For a tender brisket, keep the temperature of your smoker at 225°F until the meat reaches a 203°F internal. This could take several hours, depending on the size of the meat. A whole packer brisket can take 15 plus hours, whereas a smaller brisket flat should only take around 8 hours to cook. If you were to increase the temperature of your smoker (300°F and above), the brisket will cook too fast, and not allow enough time for the connective tissue to break down.

Buy High Quality Beef

One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting tender, juicy brisket is to buy quality beef. In the USA, there are three different beef grades; Select, Prime and Choice. If you buy Select grade brisket, it will not be as tender as Prime and Choice which have more marbling. You can still make tender brisket with Select grade beef, you just need to make sure you’re doing everything else right such as temperature control, wrapping, dry brining and resting.

Does Injecting Make Brisket More Tender?

A brisket injection will add flavor, liquid and help tenderize the meat. When you inject brisket, the solution gets in between the muscle fibers and helps break down the connective tissue. There are two common brisket injections used by the pros in barbeque competitions. One is a product called Fab B, and another is Butcher BBQ, which is available on Amazon (check price here).

Brisket injecting is more of a ninja tactic used by barbeque competitors who need to wow the judges with one bite. For the average weekend warrior, injecting isn’t necessary. If you keep the temperature low and slow and get the brisket fundamentals right, your brisket is going to be tender, juicy and full of flavor. Injecting is more of a “next-level” technique.

If you’re interested in brisket injection, I wrote a full-length article on the subject where a i walk you through all the different injection solutions, the best meat injectors and the best way to inject brisket. You can check out the article here: Should I Inject Brisket?

Will Brisket Get Tender The More You Cook It?

Brisket will become more tender the longer you cook it. You are trying to buy as much time as possible when slow smoking brisket. The magic happens when the meat has been in the smoker for 12 plus hours and the brisket and the connective tissue has rendered into the meat. If you were to remove the brisket from the smoker too early, you will stop the magic happening. Remember, the brisket is only done once the meat temperature hits 203°F. The UDSA recommends cooking beef roasts to an internal temperature of 145°F. If you were to pull the brisket when the internal temperature was 145°F, although it would be safe to eat, the meat would be far too chewy.

Hot And Fast Brisket

Just getting the internal temperature of a brisket to 203°F does not guarantee tender meat. In order for the connective tissue to break down, the brisket also needs time. Hot and fast briskets are super popular right now and they are great for when you need a smoked brisket in a hurry. However, a hot and fast brisket will be a little chewy. As I mentioned before, brisket needs time to tenderize.

What Temp Does Brisket Get Tender?

Brisket will become tender when the internal meat temperature approaches 200°F. Any sooner than this, the brisket will taste tough and chewy. When smoking, we cook brisket in two stages; unwrapped and wrapped. A brisket will stall at around 150°F to 160°F, and the internal meat temperature will hit a plateau. It is at this point we wrap the brisket to help keep the brisket moist but also help the meat tenderize and push through the stall towards the 203°F done temperature.

Why Is My Smoked Brisket Chewy?

If you ended up with a chewy brisket, the most likely explanation is you didn’t cook it for long enough and you removed the meat at 190°F or below. The other possibility is you raised the temperature of your smoker above 275°F and the brisket cooked too fast, even though the meat reached the required internal temperature of 200°F plus.

How Do You Keep Brisket Moist When Smoking?

Brisket needs to be cooked for several hours, so keeping the brisket moist during a long cook is very important. We can do this in several ways. During the first stage of the cook, spritzing the brisket or applying a mop sauce will help keep the meat nice and moist. Using a water pan will add moisture to the cooking environment. Wrapping the brisket in aluminium foil or butcher paper at the halfway point of the cook will also help keep the brisket moist. Also, allowing the brisket to rest for about 1 hour will prevent the meat from losing moisture.

How To Make Brisket Tender After Smoking

If you have smoked a brisket and it’s tough and chewy, there’s not a lot that you can do. One idea is to shred the brisket and serve it as pulled beef. Shredded brisket works well in nachos, tacos, etc.

Here are smoke of my favorite meat smoking tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking meat that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Remote Digital Thermometer: If you’re looking for your first thermometer, I highly recommended the ThermoPro TP20. This was my first thermometer, and I still use it to this day. For around $50, you get a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes so you can track the temperature of your pit with one probe and your meat with the other probe. The TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings. See the latest price on Amazon here.

Instant-Read Thermometer: I use the TP19 by ThermoPro, a more affordable version of the famous ThermoPen. The TP19 can do everything the ThermoPen can do, except for a fraction of the price. If you can afford the ThermoPen, then go for it. I think it’s worth every cent. But if you don’t want to fork out $100 for a thermometer, then check out the TP19. Check it out on Amazon here.

Pink Butcher Paper: If you haven’t tried wrapping your brisket in butcher paper, you should definitely try it out. Foiling is perfectly fine, but butcher paper is much kinder on the bark. You can’t use any old paper when wrapping meat, it has to be non-waxed peach paper. There are a few products available on Amazon, but I recommend this butcher paper. Check it out on Amazon here.

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