How to Defrost a Brisket? Everything You Need to Know

September 13, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

You can defrost a brisket either using the refrigerator or by submerging it in water. The time each method takes varies. If you’re using the refrigerator, it’ll take 5 hours per pound to defrost. The cold water method defrosts brisket in around 30 minutes per pound. Don’t use your microwave to defrost brisket.

Having prepared plenty of briskets in my life, I have become a pro at preparing this cut. This includes making sure to thaw the meat correctly, as it will later on help the beef to cook evenly and reach its tender brisket perfection.

While the process is straightforward, there are a few things you have to do to thaw the brisket just right. I’ll tell you all about this in my article. Let’s get thawing!

How to Defrost a Brisket

The Best Methods for Defrosting Fresh Brisket

There are two ways that you can defrost brisket safely:

Thawing Brisket in the Refrigerator

Take the brisket out of the freezer and then place it in a container large enough to hold it, then place the whole thing in the fridge.

Keep in mind that as your brisket thaws, unless it is well wrapped in plastic, there are going to be drippings and water from the melted ice. Stick it in a container to help prevent these liquids from getting all over your fridge.

I like to defrost brisket in the coldest part of the refrigerator (bottom shelf towards the back) to guarantee food safety. You want it nice and cold, below 40°F.

How Long Does a Brisket Take to Thaw in the Fridge?

On average, you can expect the brisket to defrost at a rate of around 5 hours per pound.

This means that a 5 lb brisket will take about 24 hours to defrost. A 10 lb brisket will take 2 days to defrost completely.

The rate of defrosting meat can vary slightly. How frozen the beef brisket is, as well as the refrigerator temperature, will impact the process.

The good news is that when you thaw in the fridge, you’ll thaw the meat evenly. Guaranteed.

frozen brisket placed inside a container

The Cold Water Method

With this method, you defrost brisket in cold water.

If you are planning on defrosting your brisket using this method, the packaging needs to be completely airtight. If it isn’t, water will seep in.

Place the brisket in a large enough container and then fill it up with cold water. The brisket should be submerged completely. I like to use my sink with a stopper to plug the drain.

Remember, you should never use hot water for this method as it increases the risk of foodborne illnesses. Always defrost meat in cold water.

Wait for about 30 minutes, and then empty out the water. With the brisket still in the container, refill it with cold water. Be mindful of the water temperature – don’t let it get warm (above 40°F)!

This method speeds up the thawing process quite a bit. Continue to change the water every 30 minutes until the brisket is fully thawed.

How Long Does a Brisket Take to Defrost Using the Cold Water Method?

On average, this process will thaw meat at a rate of 30 minutes per pound.

So a 5 lb brisket will be defrosted in 2 1/2 hours and a 10 lb brisket will be ready in 5 hours. This is significantly faster than the refrigerator method.

If you defrost a brisket using cold water, cook it up immediately.

Is One Method Better Than the Other for Defrosting Brisket?

No, I wouldn’t say that one process is better than the other. They each have their pros and cons. It is all about choosing the method that is right for you.

Yes, the refrigerator method is slower. Because of this, you’ll have to plan ahead and place the meat in your refrigerator two or more days before you’re going to smoke it, depending on the size of the cut.

Nevertheless, I have found that this process is a foolproof way to defrost an entire brisket.

The water method is a little more work, but if you’ve got a large enough container or sink, it’s a much speedier option.

Even a large cut of meat can be defrosted from completely frozen within a day.

Why Does Brisket Take So Long to Defrost?

Well, this largely has to do with the sheer size of the brisket. All briskets are large, and once frozen thoroughly, they can take a long time to defrost.

a brisket in a container

This is especially true for a full brisket, which can tip the scales at 15 lbs or more.

If you buy a point or flat (roughly half of a brisket), you’ll cut your defrosting time in half. But these are still large cuts of meat, clocking in at 5 lbs or heavier, and will take a while to fully defrost. Plan accordingly.

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Can You Defrost Brisket on the Countertop?

You should not defrost brisket (or any meat) on the counter at room temperature. When the brisket is defrosted at room temperature, it will spend a long time in what is known as the danger zone.

This is a temperature range between 40°F and 140°F. At these temperatures, the rate bacteria can grow and reproduce increases significantly.

Leaving meat out at these temperatures increases the risk of food poisoning. Because of this, brisket should be defrosted at a colder temperature (below 40°F).

I know that a lot of people probably saw their parents defrosting meat at room temperature quite a bit. I sure did.

The benefit of countertop defrosting is that the meat defrosts more quickly. But the risks of foodborne illness make using this method unwise. Defrost on the counter, and you risk getting yourself, your family, and whoever eats your cooking sick.

Can You Defrost Brisket in a Microwave?

No, large cuts of meat like brisket should not be defrosted in the microwave. I have gotten this question from friends quite a bit, and I understand the temptation. Microwaves utilize concentrated heat, speeding up the defrosting process quite a bit.

No one wants to spend a day or even longer waiting for their brisket to thaw if they don’t have to.

Despite this, you should never attempt to defrost beef brisket in a microwave.

In general, this machine is terrible at defrosting. When it comes to a large cut like brisket, it is especially bad.

The problem is that microwaves heat the meat unevenly. As such, one part of the brisket will be thawed fully, another spot may be only partially defrosted, and other parts may be frozen solid.

If you put such a cut of meat into your smoker, it is going to cook unevenly. Expect the outside to burn while the interior struggles to get to temp. Defrosting brisket in the microwave is a recipe for disaster, and brisket is far too pricey (and delicious) to go to waste.

A Guide to Defrosting Brisket for a Barbecue

Ok, so thawing a brisket is going to take some time. This is why you need to plan the process carefully if you are having a cookout.

First, calculate the average time that it will take the brisket to thaw, depending on the weight and method of thawing.

thawing a frozen brisket

When using the refrigerator, I always give myself several hours of wiggle room and I will start thawing the brisket at 4 or 5 hours earlier than I have calculated.

Beware. Full-packer briskets can weigh over 15 pounds. If you’re defrosting in the refrigerator, you may have to start your preparations three or more days before the cookout!

I would also like to remind you to take the resting time into consideration here, too. Ideally, you should rest a brisket in a cooler for 2 to 4 hours.

How to Defrost Cooked Brisket?

The best way to defrost cooked brisket is to keep it in the refrigerator until it is fully defrosted.

Always defrost the cooked brisket in a container or plastic baggie.

If you would like to speed up the process, I would suggest slicing the brisket before you freeze it. The individual slices will take a shorter period to thaw.

If you pre-slice the brisket, you can also defrost the (cooked) slices in a microwave.

Remember, just because the brisket is cooked doesn’t mean you can ignore food safety. Cooked brisket shouldn’t be kept out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If it’s above 90°F, it’ll only stay good for an hour.

Can You Reheat Frozen Cooked Brisket?

Yes, once it’s been thawed, you can then reheat cooked brisket. I like to toss slices in a cast iron pan and heat them up on my grill, but you can also use the stove or the oven.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Cook a Brisket That is Frozen?

You shouldn’t cook a brisket that is frozen as it will cook unevenly. Some sections may be cooked all the way through, while others will still be largely frozen.

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Wrapping It Up

There you have it. Absolutely everything that you need to about thawing out a brisket. You should now be able to do it in a safe and swift manner.

Go with the refrigerator method if you’ve got the time. If you’re pinched for time, the cold water method is your new best friend. Either way, follow my guide, and you can be confident that your cut will be fully thawed out and ready to hit the smoker in time for your next big cookout.

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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