How to Keep Brisket Warm for Hours? Complete Guide

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

The best way to keep a brisket warm is to wrap it tightly in aluminum foil or butcher paper and put it in an insulated container. This will keep your brisket warm for 4 hours (more if you’ve got a good cooler). This rest makes it incredibly juicy and tender.

When I was working the pit at a BBQ joint, we had a commercial holding oven called a Cambro to keep food warm all day. I don’t have this option at home, and you probably don’t, either. Fear not! I’ve had tons of success with my home cooks using a cooler, and so can you.

I’m hitting you with the best ways to keep your brisket warm in this article. No fancy equipment necessary. The methods below have worked for me when I needed to keep a brisket warm for several hours. Let’s go!

How to Keep Brisket Warm

How to Keep Brisket Warm: The Best Methods

I’ve played around with a number of ways to keep brisket warm. The following methods are my favorite when I’m smoking brisket at home:

Use a Cooler

A cooler is an excellent holding tank for smoked brisket, and it’s what I use as a holding tank. They are well-insulated and will keep the meat warm for hours. Some hyper-insulated models, like these made by Ocra, might keep the brisket warm for 10 hours. 

As long as the meat stays above 140°F, it’s safe to store it this way. And since brisket is cooked to screaming hot temps (I like 203°F), it can rest in a cooler for a long time.

Coolers generally keep things, well, cool. They’re also great at holding things at hot temperatures as well. A cooler creates an insulated environment for food or drinks. 

There are some steps you need to take to prepare your cooler for this process. And, you’ll need a few items.

What You Will Need

  • Aluminum foil for wrapping. You can also use butcher paper.
  • A clean towel or two
  • A thermometer (optional but highly recommended)
brisket wrapped in aluminum foil

Step 1: Warm Up the Cooler (Optional Step)

Many pit bosses like to preheat their coolers with hot water before resting the brisket in them. It’s a nice idea, but I skip this step most of the time. If you’d like extra credit, and are determined to preheat, good for you! Here’s how to do it.

Warm up some water on your stove, pour it into the cooler, and close the lid. When I preheated, I used a gallon of 150°F water for my 40-quart cooler. 

Be careful about pouring boiling water inside. It might make the plastic melt. Use hot water that’s 150°F or less.

Pour in the water, close the lid, and let the cooler preheat for 10 minutes or so. Then dump out the water and towel dry. Your cooler’s ready!

Step 2: Wrap Your Brisket in Foil

If you didn’t use the “Texas Crutch” on your brisket, you’ll need to wrap it in foil or butcher’s paper after it cooks. The “Texas Crutch” is a method to break the brisket stall, which is when the meat hits around 160°F and the temperature stops climbing for hours. Wrapping the brisket in butcher’s paper avoids the stall, takes time off the cook, and makes the meat more moist. I usually wrap my brisket.

If you use foil, it doesn’t need to be heavy-duty foil; any type of tin foil will do. The trick is to wrap your brisket tightly. Butcher’s paper works great, too.

Once it’s wrapped, I usually cover the brisket with a clean towel. The more space you fill in the cooler, the better it will insulate the meat.

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brisket placed inside a foil box

Step 3: Place the Wrapped Brisket in the Cooler

Place the brisket in the container as soon as it’s been wrapped. Close the lid and wait. I rest my brisket for 2-4 hours after cooking. I put a smoking thermometer in the brisket so I can monitor the temperature. The Meator is handy because there are no wires – you can track the meat temp on your phone via Bluetooth. How futuristic! Again, don’t let the temp dip below 140°F.

Your brisket will stay hot for hours wrapped in a cooler. It will keep it moist as well. The collagen in the meat continues to break down as the meat rests, resulting in ultra-moist beef.

It’s also great because now you can transport your brisket to a guest’s house, tailgate, picnic – whatever.

Use Your Oven

If you don’t have a cooler, you can use an oven – there’s more than one way to keep a brisket warm. It’s still a good idea to monitor the temperature with a thermometer. You can turn your oven on to its lowest temp or just leave it off.

The method is simple. Wrap your brisket in foil as mentioned above. Then, place it in your oven and shut it tight.

Keep the oven door shut until you’re ready to serve the brisket.

You can preheat the oven to keep the temperature warm. However, be careful not to overdo it, or your carefully smoked brisket will dry out. Set your oven temp as low as it goes – mine is 180°F.

I can keep brisket moist and warm for nearly half a day with my oven at home. 

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Things to Avoid When Trying to Keep a Brisket Warm

Don’t slice your brisket before wrapping it.

Sliced meat loses moisture fast. So it’s best to wrap your brisket whole after cooking.

Can I Keep Brisket Warm in Smoker?

Yes, you can keep brisket warm in your smoker! It’ll depend a bit on your smoker – if you’ve got a Kamado, close the vents an hour before the briskets are done cooking. They’re insanely insulated and will hold their temperatures for hours.

If you’ve got a charcoal or gas grill, close the vents after the meat is done cooking. 

Again, a nice thermometer is your best friend when doing this. Tracking temperatures is crucial in BBQ, even when resting brisket.

Some pellet grills go down to 180°F, much like ovens.

smoked brisket ready to be served

How Long Can a Brisket Stay Warm in a Cooler?

This really depends on the cooler and other factors. If you use water to preheat the cooler, your brisket can stay warm for up to 6 hours or more. Better coolers have better insulation and will keep the meat hot for longer. I’ll say it one more time: a good thermometer is as important as your grill. Invest in one, and you’ll never look back.

Final Thoughts

Don’t panic that your brisket will suddenly go cold. Wrap it, and place it in a temperature-insulated container. The rest will help make your brisket a kick-butt BBQ experience, I promise.

Any cooler (or oven) works for this! I’ve got a cheapie $20 Igloo cooler from a local box store, and I’ve rested hundreds of pieces of meat in there. You’ve got this! Happy grilling.

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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