Set a Clock to It: How Long to Rest Brisket?

September 13, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

You can rest a brisket for between one hour to six hours, depending on the size of the cut.

As smoking beef brisket becomes more popular, I am often asked how long to rest brisket. As I take my brisket very seriously, I have a whole lecture planned and now you can hear it too.

In this post, I will outline the necessary time period, tips, tricks, and so much more. Let’s begin!

How Long To Rest Brisket

How Long to Let Brisket Rest After Cooking?

This is a simple question and, as such, you would imagine that it has a simple answer. While everyone can agree that you have to rest your cooked brisket, there is less consensus about how long the resting period should be.

If you were to ask pitmasters how long to rest smoked brisket for, the reply that you would most likely get is “several hours” or a “few hours”. As you can imagine, this isn’t all that helpful.

Based on my personal experience, I would say that you should rest brisket for at least one hour.

Now, you will find people that will tell you that you can get away with a resting time of just 15 minutes or half an hour if you are pushed for time.

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Slices of Smoked Brisket

This resting period is fine for smaller cuts of meat, chicken breasts, or even full chickens. However, when you are dealing with a whole packer brisket, this just isn’t going to cut it.

I would argue that even an hour is too short of a resting time for a really large brisket. For the best results, try to rest the brisket for two hours at least. If you can get away, up to four hours.

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Preparing to Rest a Brisket

Whenever I tell people how long they should rest brisket for, I am always met with this question:

“Well, what if I am short on time?”

Here’s the thing, if you are planning on smoking brisket, then you should already know that you are in for the long haul. Depending on the size of your beef brisket and whether or not you are wrapping it, you are easily looking at a cook time of up to 12 hours.

Therefore, just add the brisket rest time to the cooking time. Based on this, you can start smoking.

A lot of people may think that this is a pain, but it is actually the opposite. If you have ever tried to make a brisket for a party or cookout, then you know that this can be a bit nervewracking.

Since the cooking process can take so long, you run the risk of underestimating just how much time it is all going to take.

However, if you go ahead and account for up to four or five hours of rest time, in addition to cooking time, then you leave yourself with plenty of time to be ready for when your guests arrive.

Even if the cooking process takes longer than anticipated, having that leeway means that you can still rest your brisket for an hour or two!

What Happens When You Rest a Brisket?

There are still a lot of people who aren’t sure about whether it is necessary to actually bother with the resting process. If you are still on the fence as well, then here is what happens during this time:

When brisket is cooked, the collagen within it dissolves. Now, in liquid form, these juices are going to run out of the meat, leaving your brisket dry and unappetizing.

Let the brisket rest for a while, though, and these dissolved proteins have a chance to firm up. It can also help to thicken the other juices in the meat as well.

So, why is this so important?

Well, when the juices thicken, they can’t “escape” the meat as easily. Thus, they stay trapped inside, giving you tender brisket.

There have been some who have made the argument that you can just slice the brisket and then pour over the juices that have escaped.

Well, there are a couple of flaws in this plan. For one thing, it isn’t really the same. Having the moisture trapped inside leaves the meat incredibly moist. Pouring the juice over the meat isn’t going to do it justice.

The other problem is that cutting into the brisket too early allows the steam inside to get out. Once again, you are losing moisture. This can’t be readily regained with just the meat juices alone.

If you really aren’t convinced, then go ahead and test this theory out for yourself. Smoke two small briskets. Cut into one immediately or shortly after it is taken off the heat. Let the other rest for up to two hours and then compare the difference.

You also have to admit, if the top pitmasters on the circuit take the time to rest their meat, should you really skip this step? Go ahead and give it a try, you aren’t going to regret it!

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Can Brisket Rest Too Long?

As I mentioned before, when it comes to resting brisket, more is usually better. That being said, is it possible to rest a brisket for too long? Yes, it is!

The reason that you shouldn’t rest the brisket for too long is because as with under resting it, a brisket left out for too long can get dry.

Then, what is the magic number…

Man with Gloves Slicing Smoked Brisket

Can You Rest a Brisket for 6 Hours?

Yes, you can rest a brisket for up to 6 hours. I would suggest only doing this with a larger, whole brisket. With smaller ones, about two hours or just a little bit longer is good.

Can You Let Brisket Rest Overnight?

No, you shouldn’t rest a brisket overnight, regardless of its size. For one thing, the meat will certainly go dry. For another, it isn’t safe for you to do so!

The USDA recommends keeping beef at a minimum temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If the internal temperature of the meat drops below this, then there is an increased risk of food poisoning.

So, once you have let it rest for the appropriate amount of time, serve the brisket immediately.

How Long Should You Rest Brisket Before Refrigerating?

What if you are preparing the brisket for later? How long do you need to let the brisket sit before putting it in the refrigerator?

Well, you have to follow the same rule as above. It is important to store the brisket before it cools down too much.

Remember, once the meat cools, bacterial growth can take place very quickly. If you refrigerate the meat once this has taken place, then it can still spoil inside the fridge. As such, make sure to store it at the appropriate time.

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Resting Brisket vs. Holding Brisket

If you have been doing some research into the resting process, then you will have undoubtedly stumbled across something known as “holding”. So, what does it mean to hold meat and how is it different from resting?

Now, the main reason that you rest smoked brisket is because as it cooks in the smoker, the muscle fibers in the meat begin to firm up. As this happens, water and liquid gets pushed out of these fibers.

Thus, if you cut into the brisket right after its finished cooking, then all of this liquid is going to spill out of the sliced brisket, leaving you with dry brisket. On the other hand, if you let the meat rest properly, these natural juices are reabsorbed back into the brisket, producing tender meat.

The other reason that you let brisket rest is due to carry over cooking. See, briskets don’t stop cooking just because they are taken off the smoker. They continue cooking for a short period afterwards. In fact, the internal temperature can rise as much as 10 degrees once it is removed from the heat.

Due to this, most pitmasters take the brisket off the heat when it is around 5 to 10 degrees prior to being done. This allows the meat to cook further without risking it being overdone.

Pitmasters rely on resting when they are planning on serving the brisket as soon as it is finished resting. This means that you know exactly when mealtime is going to be.

Holding is reserved for when you aren’t sure when you will be able to serve the brisket. In this case, while you do need to allow the meat to rest, you also have to ensure that it is still warm when it is served.

Here, a wrapped brisket is kept inside of some type of heater or container that retains heat. This allows it rest as well as remain warm for an extended period of time. I will go in greater explanation of this process later on…

Should You Let Brisket Rest Wrapped or Unwrapped?

If you have previously prepared brisket or have just read up on it, you know that during smoking, something known as “the stall” takes place. This is when the internal temp of the meat reaches a certain point and struggles to move past it.

As a result, the overall cook time can end up being several hours longer.

Juicy Smoked Brisket

Pitmasters have come up with a way to overcome this issue – it is known as the Texas Crutch. The brisket is wrapped in butcher paper or foil and then placed back in the smoker. This allows the temperature to continue rising and prevents moisture loss, leaving the brisket moist and tender.

If you have utilized this method, you may be wondering if you should unwrap the brisket before letting the brisket sit. Or, should you let the wrapping remain?

No, don’t leave the brisket wrapped. If you do, you risk two things. First, there is a chance that due to carry over cooking the meat will cook too much due to the heat that is trapped inside the wrapping.

The other issue is that a great deal of moisture will also remain inside. This can ruin the bark and leave the brisket soggy.

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How to Rest a Brisket?

Now let’s get into how to rest a brisket:

Track the Temperature

Use a meat thermometer to keep track of the internal temperature throughout the cook. Wrap the meat in foil or butcher paper at around the 160 degree mark to overcome the stall.

When the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees, remove the meat from smoker.

Unwrap and Transfer

Once the brisket is taken off the heat, take the wrapping off and place the brisket on a cutting board. If there are any juices in the foil, make sure to save them. Or, unfold the wrapping but still let the meat sit there while it rests.

Let the Brisket Rest

Depending on the size of the brisket, let it rest for between two to six hours. At the very least, it should rest for about an hour. For the best results, more than two hours is ideal. 4 hours works well for a medium sized brisket, while a smaller brisket can rest for 2 hours.

Then, carve into thin slices and serve.

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How to Hold a Brisket?

Barbecue restaurants were one of the first places to make use of this concept. See, they had no idea when their customers were going to show up and order and had to keep the meat toasty until then.

Of course, such establishments use something known as a Cambro for this. It looks like a mini fridge and can retain heat for longer periods. Some are even equipped with heaters themselves.

Sure you want to keep your brisket warm until everyone is ready to eat but do you really want to invest in a fancy and expensive warmer? Probably not! Well, the good news is you don’t have to – there is a faux Cambro technique that you can use for this purpose.

All you need for this is a cooler that you may already own! Just make sure that the cooler is the large enough for your brisket to fit in.

I would suggest giving your cooler a once-over. It needs to seal tightly and to be highly insulating. It is ideal if it drains well and can be easily cleaned too.

Pour in several gallons of hot water – you can use tap water here. Then, close the lid immediately and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

Pour out the water and then place a towel at the bottom. Keep a disposable aluminum pan on top of this – it should be large enough to hold the brisket.

Remove the brisket from the heat and wrap in aluminum foil. Some people prefer butcher paper as it is more porous and doesn’t let as moisture remain. This helps to maintain a crunchier bark.

However, the meat may not remain warm for quite as long, though.

Keep a meat probe in the brisket so that you can get a good reading of the internal temperature at all times.

If possible, use one that can hang out of the cooler even when the lid is closed. This way, you won’t have to keep opening the cooler up and allowing cold air in.

Place the wrapped brisket in the aluminum pan and close the lid. Let the meat remain there until the temperature hits around 150 degrees. After this point, you can either slice and serve the brisket or store it.

Yup, this is quite a comprehensive topic but it is good to learn all about resting brisket. There are so many variables and concepts at play here. Understanding them all allows you to master the proper technique from beginning to end and ensure that all your hard work is worth it.

Even if you aren’t quite on board with resting, you should still put your concerns aside for just one cookout. Give it a try and you will be able to see what all the fuss is about, guaranteed!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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