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Smoking Brisket: Techniques, Rubs, and Temperatures

By Life, Family Fun Team


Updated on

Smoking brisket is an American tradition. There are many regional styles of BBQ in the United States, but when I think of brisket, I think of the state of Texas. Here are my tips for making a tremendous Texas-sized chunk of brisket.

Homemade Smoked BBQ Beef Brisket with Sauce
Homemade Smoked Barbecue Beef Brisket with Sauce

Smoked Brisket Rub

Rub recipes are a closely-guarded secret on the BBQ competition circuit. If you can get a good rub recipe from your favorite pit master, you are fortunate indeed. However, it is straightforward to create a tasty rub from spices that you probably already have in your spice rack. Brisket rub can be spicy or sweet, or a balance of both.

smoked brisket rub

Rubs are one of the aspects of smoking brisket that can be personalized to your specific tastes. Here is a rundown of some of the most common dry rub components:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Paprika (all varieties)
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Mustard powder
  • Cumin
  • Brown sugar

Those are the basics, but feel free to branch out a bit. It can take a bit of experimentation to develop your favorite rub but think of it this way – more brisket.

Wet Preparations

Some pitmasters add wet ingredients to their dry rubs such as mustard, barbecue sauces, or honey. Others inject the meat with apple juice or other substances designed to breakdown the connective tissue and make the meat even more tender.

No matter what you choose – dry, wet, or mixed – prepare the brisket for smoking at least two hours in advance of adding it to your smoker, but preferably overnight. Wrap the rubbed meat in aluminum foil and place it in a refrigerator.

Before wrapping the meat for the refrigerator, make sure to massage your rub into the meat thoroughly, using more rub on the “dry” side of the flesh, and less on the fat cap.

Before smoking, remove the meat from the refrigerator and let it come back to room temperature, which usually takes about two hours. Then, unwrap the meat and place it “naked” into your smoker. You want the smoke to be able to permeate the flesh.

Smoking Brisket In An Electric Smoker

The advantages of electric smokers are temperature and time control. Most electric smokers come with an internal meat thermometer that will monitor your brisket and automatically switch to a “warming” cycle when the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees.

You set your smoker to the desired temperature, and it stays there without any interference from you. Unlike a traditional drum smoker, which must be monitored and stoked to maintain the proper internal temperature, an electric smoker is a lot less work.

Should Brisket Fat Be Up Or Down In An Electric Smoker?

Whew, now that’s a question, and honestly, pitmasters come in three breeds: fat side up, fat side down, and flippers.

Fat side up says that you want the fat cap on top so that the drippings will continue to moisten the rest of the brisket. Fat side down aficionados say to keep the fat side down to keep the fat cap between the meat and the hottest area of the smoker. Flippers turn the brisket every couple of hours, potentially giving you the best of both worlds, but risking having your brisket fall apart before it’s done.

Your smoker’s heat source has a great deal to do with your decision here. All smokers have radiant heat throughout the unit. But the fat should be between where the most heat/smoke is entering the smoker.

Only you know how your rig is set up. Be cognizant of where your heat and smoke are coming from and place your brisket accordingly. You can try it all three ways and determine which one works best for you.

In the end, as with all things BBQ, it’s up to the pitmaster to decide. Many pitmasters spend years and hundreds of briskets perfecting their recipes.

Homemade Smoked Barbecue Beef Brisket with Sauce

How Long To Smoke A Brisket Per Pound

A good general rule of thumb is 30-60 minutes per pound. However, the most important thing is cooking the brisket to an internal temperature of 190 degrees. How long it takes to get to that internal temperature will vary based on the temperature at which you smoke the meat.

Smoked Brisket Temp

Brisket should be smoked in a smoker between 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are using a digitally controlled electric smoker, set it to 275 degrees, but check the instructions for your specific smoker to see what they recommend.

If you are using a more traditional smoker rig, check the temperature hourly to maintain even cooking temperature. It will take time to get used to how your smoker burns, etc. Practice makes perfect brisket.

Smoked Brisket Temp

What Is Brisket Called At The Grocery Store?

Brisket is brisket, but butchers sometimes separate the brisket into two separate pieces, the flat and the deckle point. Ideally, you want to select the whole brisket rather that one of its parts.

The ideal brisket for the home smoker is approximately 10-lbs. and should be as flexible as possible. The more a brisket bends, the more tender it will be.

Best Wood For Smoking Brisket

Texas brisket is all about the mesquite. Hickory and oak are other good smoking alternatives as well, but in the end, “best” is a truly subjective term. Experiment with the different woods in your smoker to see which one produces your favorite brisket.

Quick Smoked Brisket — Is It Possible?

It’s possible to cut the smoking time of brisket by about half using a traditional drum smoker. Initially, prep the brisket and place it unwrapped, directly on the grill, in a 300-degree smoker for approximately two hours.

Once the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees, remove the brisket from the smoker and wrap it in aluminum foil. Place the wrapped brisket into an aluminum pan and place it back into the smoker for an additional 2-3 hours until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees.

I think the term “quick smoked brisket” is an oxymoron. I mean, who considers five hours of cooking time to be quick? It might be half the time of traditional smoked brisket, but there is still nothing quick about it. There are some brisket recipes out there right now that use the Instant Pot.  You decide which way you prefer to cook your brisket. 

Smoked Barbecue Brisket Sandwich with Coleslaw and Bake Beans

Wet, dry, injected, fat side up, fat side down, mesquite, hickory, or oak, the choices and combinations are virtually endless. When it comes down to it, smoking brisket is about how you like your meat. After all, you’re the one who is going to be eating it.

Easy side dish recipes to go with smoked brisket:

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