How To Smoke Beef Brisket: A Step-By-Step Guide

Smoked brisket is the crown jewel of barbecue. When done right, it results in incredibly tender, juicy meat with a smoky bark. However, smoking a brisket can seem daunting for beginners. It’s a large, tough cut that requires ample time and care.

This step-by-step guide will walk you through the entire brisket smoking process. Follow these tips and techniques for foolproof, mouthwatering smoked brisket every time.

Brisket Smoking Steps

Follow these key steps when smoking a beef brisket:

1. Choose a Quality Brisket

  • Select a whole packer brisket with both the flat and point intact. This allows you to separate the muscles later for easier slicing.

  • Look for a well-marbled brisket graded USDA Choice or Prime. The fat marbling means more flavor and moisture.

  • Plan on 1/2 pound of brisket per person or guest you are serving. A 12-14 lb brisket feeds roughly 24 people.

2. Trim the Brisket

  • Trim off any hard, thick sections of fat on the brisket. Leave about 1/4 inch of fat cap.

  • Remove any silver skin or large chunks of fat between the point and flat.

  • Square off the brisket edges for better presentation.

3. Apply a Dry Rub

  • A simple salt and pepper rub adds great flavor and develops a tasty bark when smoked.

  • For more complexity, use a barbecue brisket seasoning or all-purpose meat rub.

  • Coat the brisket liberally on all sides with the dry rub.

4. Smoke the Brisket Slow and Low

  • Maintain a consistent temperature between 225-250°F throughout the smoke.

  • Use wood chips, chunks, or pellets to generate thin blue smoke. Popular brisket smoking woods include oak, hickory, mesquite, pecan, and fruit woods.

  • Smoke with the fat cap facing down to protect the meat and get better bark formation.

  • Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 160°F, about 1 hour per pound or 6-8 hours for a full packer brisket.

5. Wrap the Brisket

  • Wrap the brisket tightly in butcher paper or foil once it hits 160°F internal temperature.

  • The wrap helps the brisket power through the “stall” period where evaporative cooling stops the cooking process.

  • Keep cooking the wrapped brisket until it reaches 200-205°F internally. This normally takes another 3-5 hours.

6. Rest and Slice the Brisket

  • Allow the smoked brisket to rest for 1-2 hours before slicing to let juices redistribute.

  • Carefully slice the brisket across the grain for tenderness, going against the direction of the muscle fibers.

  • Serve sliced brisket on its own or in sandwiches piled high with pickles, onions, and barbecue sauce.

Choosing the Right Brisket

Choosing a quality brisket is one of the most important steps. Here’s what to look for:

Select a Packer-Trimmed Brisket

Packer briskets contain both the flat, lean portion and the fattier point. This gives you the flexibility to separate the muscles for easier slicing. The packer is then trimmed by the butcher to remove excess fat and prepare it for smoking.

Choose USDA Prime or Choice Grade

The USDA grade indicates the meat’s expected tenderness and flavor based on marbling. Prime has the most fat marbling while Select is on the leaner side. Look for Choice or Prime packers which have more marbling than Select.

Calculate 1/2 Pound Per Person

Plan on purchasing 1/2 pound of prepared brisket for each guest you are serving. A 12-14 lb packer brisket feeds around 24 people. Adjust the size up or down based on your crowd.

Step-By-Step Brisket Smoking Process

Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of the full brisket smoking procedure from start to finish:

1. Trim the Brisket

  • Start with a well-marbled packer brisket chilled close to freezing. The cold makes it easier to trim.

  • Trim off any hard, thick sections of fat on the top and sides. Leave about 1⁄4 inch of fat cap.

  • Remove excessive fat and silver skin between the flat and point.

  • Square off the edges for aesthetic appeal.

2. Apply a Dry Rub

  • Use a basic salt and pepper rub or flavorful brisket seasoning.

  • Coat the brisket liberally on all sides with the dry rub. Really massage it in.

  • Wrapping the seasoned brisket overnight helps the rub permeate the meat.

3. Smoke the Brisket Low and Slow

  • Maintain a consistent smoker temp between 225-250°F.

  • Use your choice of wood for smoke – oak, hickory, cherry, etc. Avoid excessive billowing smoke.

  • Place brisket fat side down. This bastes the meat while cooking.

  • Smoke until the thickest part of the flat reaches 160°F internally (about 1 hour per lb).

4. Wrap the Brisket

  • Wrap the brisket tightly in butcher paper or foil at 160°F.

  • Wrapping helps retain moisture and powers the brisket through the “stall” period.

  • Keep cooking wrapped until 205°F internally (usually 3-5 more hours).

5. Rest the Brisket

  • Allow brisket to rest wrapped for 1-2 hours before slicing.

  • This redistributes juices and lowers temp for easier slicing.

6. Slice and Serve the Brisket

  • Carefully slice brisket across the grain for tenderness.

  • Chop or slice the point and flat sections separately.

  • Serve sliced brisket on its own or piled high on bread.

Brisket Smoking Tips and Tricks

Use these handy tips and tricks for smoking brisket success:

  • Injecting brisket with a flavored broth helps it stay juicy.

  • Spritzing the brisket with apple juice or broth every 45 mins adds moisture.

  • Use a water pan or spritz the smoker to prevent the brisket from drying out.

  • Monitor internal temp, not time, to gauge doneness. Cook to 200-205°F.

  • Let brisket rest 1-2 hours after smoking before slicing.

  • Always slice brisket across the grain of the meat for tenderness.

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Brisket?

Smoking a brisket takes patience. A full packer brisket usually takes 12-18 hours from start to finish. Here are estimates based on size:

  • 10 lb brisket: 12-14 hours
  • 15 lb brisket: 14-16 hours
  • 20 lb brisket: 18+ hours

The brisket is done when the thickest part of the flat reaches 200-205°F internally. Use a good digital meat thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Letting the brisket rest for 1-2 hours afterward allows the juices to absorb back into the meat.

Expert Tips for Smoked Brisket Success

It takes trial and error to master smoking brisket. Here are tips from the experts:

  • “Wrap the brisket when the bark looks good, around 160°F. The wrap stops the bark from getting too dark.” – Malcolm Reed

  • “I don’t wrap at all anymore. Letting the fat render gives great flavor.” – Harry Soo

  • “Cook fat side down to protect the meat. Flip a trimmed brisket over after the stall.” – Myron Mixon

  • “Keep your smoker temps steady. Big temperature swings cause the stall to happen more.” – Aaron Franklin

Leftover Smoked Brisket Ideas

Leftover brisket keeps well refrigerated for 4-5 days. Here are tasty ways to use it:

  • Chop or slice brisket for sandwiches, nachos, salads, omelets, etc.

  • Make baked beans with brisket burnt ends mixed in.

  • Toss cubed brisket into soup or chili.

  • Heat sliced brisket in barbecue sauce for quick appetizers.

  • Fry leftover brisket in the skillet to make tacos or quesadillas.


With the right technique, smoking brisket results in incredibly flavorful, tender meat that melts in your mouth. Patience is required, but the hands-off process lets you relax outside while the smoker does the work.

Follow this guide to choose the right brisket, nail the prep work, apply killer seasoning, smoke low and slow, wrap at the right time, then slice like a pro. Your friends and family will be begging you to make brisket again and again.

What are your best tips for smoking amazing brisket? Let us know in the comments!

EASY smoked brisket recipe to nail it your first time


How long does it take to smoke a brisket?

Bottom line: plan for anywhere from 12-18 hours to fully cook your brisket (this includes the initial smoke to 165 degrees and the wrapped smoke to get your meat up to 202 degrees Fahrenheit).

How to smoke a brisket for beginners?

Load up your charcoal as full as you can. Use a water tray to keep moisture in the smoker. Smoke at 275 degrees for 6/hrs. You are looking for 180 degrees internal temp after the stall and after the bark has formed, wrap (See the next section for the wrap guide) and put back on the smoker until 202-205 – pull it.

How do you smoke a brisket so it is tender?

We cook our brisket at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (F) using cherry or apple wood from the Northwest. This temperature will break down the connective tissue, rendering some of the intramuscular fat, which in turn keeps the tenderness, and juicy flavor.

What is the 3 2 1 rule for brisket?

Try the 3-2-1 rule for brisket! This popular smoking method is simple: smoke the brisket at 225°F for 3 hours, wrap it in foil and continue cooking for 2 hours, then unwrap it and cook it uncovered for 1 hour.

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