You can keep your brisket moist by choosing a well-marbled cut, dry brining the brisket, using a slow cooking process, and a lot of other tips that I will discuss below.
Southern BBQ continues to explode in popularity, and I’m here for it. Many of my friends are cooking brisket. The problem is that their brisket keeps coming out dry. Cue to frantic phone calls to me, a professional chef and BBQ fanatic. If you don't have a chef in your life, let me guide you to smoking the best-ever brisket.
In this post, I will show you how to keep brisket moist in 8 simple steps - follow these, and you will have unbelievable brisket!
Here are the main things you can do to ensure a perfectly juicy brisket:
When choosing brisket at the butcher shop, take a close look at the cut to check for fat marbling. There should be plenty of strands of fat running throughout the cut. This fat will add flavor and moisture to the meat as it is cooking.
There are 3 USDA grades of beef. USDA Prime, Choice, and Select. Prime is the best (it’s also pricey). Cook a Prime brisket for a special occasion. Choice is an excellent option for normal cooks. It’s got plenty of marbling and costs less than Prime. Don’t smoke a Select cut brisket - it lacks sufficient marbling and comes out dry and tough.
American Wagyu, which is bred from Japanese and American cattle, is richly marbled and makes a mean brisket. If you can find some (and can afford it), Wagyu is exceptional.
I’m a stickler for dry brining. Dry brine your brisket ahead of time, and you’ll never look back. Dry brining adds flavor and helps the meat to retain moisture.
To dry brine: add ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt per pound of meat. If you’re using table salt, go with ¼ teaspoon per pound of brisket. Sprinkle the salt on the beef. Now stick your brisket in the refrigerator and let it sit at least overnight, for up to 24 hours. Let the salt work its magic into the meat.
If you dry brine the meat, use a dry rub that doesn’t have salt. Otherwise, the brisket may be too salty.
The thing about dry brining is that you typically have to wait overnight or up to 24 hours for the salt to do its thing.
If you want a faster option, then inject a salty brine into the entire brisket via a meat injector about half an hour before the brisket needs to be smoked.
You can also dry brine the brisket and inject it (just don’t add more salt to the injection). Plenty of competition teams do this.
The best way to cook brisket is low and slow at 225°F on a smoker. This cut of meat is made up of lots of tough muscle and connective tissue. They need time to break down so that you get tender brisket.
With a slow cooking process like smoking, you cook the meat at a very low temperature. Even though the brisket is cooking for longer, there is less of a risk of dry brisket.
Again, I usually smoke brisket at 225°F. Other slow cooking methods can be used (dutch oven, your kitchen oven at low temps, etc.), but I think that smoking, with its kiss of wood smoke, is the ultimate way to cook brisket.
Most of the smokers have heat coming from the bottom. Position the brisket so that the fat is facing the heat. It acts as an insulator and ensures that the meat doesn't get the direct brunt of the flames.
Placing a water pan in your smoker isn't just about adding moisture to the cooking chamber.
What this water pan also does is help keep the smoker's temperature more consistent. Water is more dense than air, so it takes longer to heat or cool, which helps lock temps in.
This is another piece of non-negotiable advice. It is important to track the brisket's internal temperature every step of the way. This way, you don't overcook the brisket and cause it to dry out.
Use a meat thermometer that can be left in the brisket during the cooking process or check it with an instant-read thermometer every hour or so. Ideally, the thermometer should be able to transmit to an external device so that you don't have to keep opening the lid and checking on the temperature.
The meat will begin to stall at around 165°F (more on how to deal with the stall in a minute). When the brisket reaches about 203°F, it is ready to be taken out of the smoker. A probe or toothpick should glide into the meat with almost no resistance. That’s when you know that brisket is done cooking.
When the brisket hits approximately 165°F and begins to stall, it is time to wrap the brisket. Not everyone wraps brisket. I usually wrap. If you want a toothier bark, don’t wrap it. As always, I encourage you to try both ways and see what you like best! Wrapping a brisket is known as “the Texas crutch” in the BBQ community.
Does wrapping brisket keep it moist?
Yes, not only does this help to overcome the stall but is also great for keeping brisket moist. This is because you trap the moisture. Many pit bosses (myself included) add some liquid (I like melted butter) when they wrap. This gently braises the meat and makes it incredibly moist.
There are a lot of people who recommend using aluminum foil to wrap the brisket. This is because it creates a tight, impenetrable seal that will lock in moisture. The bark (the exterior of the meat) can get soft if you use aluminum.
I prefer using butcher paper - it’s more breathable. You get a gorgeous bark with butcher paper and juicy beef. Try both aluminum foil and butcher paper and see which you like better!
The final trick to keeping brisket moist is to let the brisket rest. When meat is heated, it causes the muscles in the brisket to contract and push moisture to the exterior.
As the brisket is given time to cool down, the muscles and tissues relax. Liquid moves back to the center of the meat. This makes the beef more tender and juicier.
Take the finished brisket out of the smoker and wrap it in butcher paper or foil (if you didn’t crutch). Then, place it in a cooler for at least an hour, preferably around 4 hours. Slice and serve when it’s done resting.
Now you know how to end up with delicious, tender brisket each and every time. Just follow the guidelines outlined here! Happy smoking.