Understanding why and how to rest a brisket is an important step in the overall process of creating a perfect brisket masterpiece with fantastic texture and that wonderful smoke flavor we are looking for.
Some will tell you it’s the most important step.
Understanding why and how to rest a brisket after it’s done smoking will help you get past that last hurdle on your way to fantastic brisket.
Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, producing a more tender and flavorful finished product.
Resting not only allows the meat to cool down and reabsorb its juices, but it also gives you time to set up your grill, prepare any sides and sauces, and get ready to serve.
With a properly rested brisket, you can enjoy a delicious, juicy meal every time!
This article is geared towards first-time brisket smokers who want to learn how to properly rest their brisket for a delicious, juicy finish but, perhaps, will apply to anybody regardless of their brisket smoking experience. We’ll cover why resting a brisket is important, the best way to rest your brisket and the ideal internal temperature for resting.
What is resting?
Resting a brisket is the process of allowing the meat to cool down after it has been cooked. During the cooking process, juices are pushed out of the meat as a result of exposure to heat. When the meat rests, these juices have time to redistribute back into the muscle fibers so that when you slice and serve your finished brisket, it will be juicy and flavorful. Resting also allows for more even cooking throughout the entire cut of meat. If you were to take a brisket off the grill or smoker right away, some parts may be overdone while others may not be cooked enough – resulting in an unevenly cooked product that can dry out quickly.
Flavorful and tender brisket requires adequate rest before cutting. Do not skimp here, do not hurry.
We have a bit of science to explain (defend??) why we need to rest our briskets. Feel free to share this with your friends and family when they can smell it resting, but you tell them, “nope, I’m not cutting it until 6:45. (let me know how that works out for you)
When meat is cooked, the proteins and fibers contract, squeezing out moisture. If you cut into a piece of meat right away, this moisture will continue to escape, resulting in dry and tough brisket. By allowing the brisket to rest before slicing it open, the heat dissipates, giving time for some of the moisture that was pressed out earlier to be reabsorbed back into the meat. The longer a brisket rests, the more juice it will retain when carved, making it much juicier and more tender than if you had carved it immediately. So make sure to let your brisket rest after cooking for juicy and tender results!
An ode to resting your brisket
Resting is where magic happens,
Flavors meld together like old companions,
The perfect finish is worth the wait
Family and friends taste buds will celebrate!— Smokeops
How long should you rest your brisket?
The amount of time you should rest your brisket depends mostly on the size of the cut. For a small brisket (6-8 lbs), 30 minutes is usually sufficient for it to retain enough moisture and tenderness when carved, but even then, I would hold out for a full hour. For larger briskets (10-16 lbs), however, resting for up to two hours is recommended to ensure a juicy and tender result and four hours is not out of the question. Remember that the longer your brisket rests, the more juice will reabsorb into the meat, making it even juicier and tastier!
It’s interesting that the FDA has a page on smoking meats, fish, and poultry. They recommend letting the meat rest for at least 3 minutes (!!) before serving. If you happened to have read or heard that before, know that is for health reasons, not taste or texture reasons. The exact phrase they use:
For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.— FDA
Make sure not to leave your brisket out at room temperature for too long, though, as this could cause bacteria growth and food safety concerns. The danger zone here is an internal temp 140°F or less. You don’t want your brisket to fall below 140 °F, so there is a bit of a balancing act. You’ll want to use a meat thermometer here to keep an eye on the internal temperature.
Trying to cook a brisket without a meat thermometer is tough unless you have a lot of experience.
Every brisket is different and may require slightly longer or shorter resting times, so it’s important to use temperature as your guide when determining when your brisket is done. For the juiciest and most tender results, insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the brisket and rest it until the internal temperature reaches about 160°F.
You can fudge on this number a bit. Much hotter than this, and it’s too hot to eat. Much cooler, and you get to the dangerous 140°F mark.
How to rest your brisket
Once your pork or beef brisket is cooked to the desired temperature, remove it from the heat source and place it on a cutting board or plate. This first part is pretty easy and everybody agrees on it. From here, things get blurry
You’ll read a lot of guidance to immediately wrap the brisket in a towel and put it into a cooler (faux cambro). My experience shows this is a mistake and causes the brisket to continue cooking, called carryover cooking for a period of time and can result in overcooked brisket.
Rather than immediately placing it in the cooler, let it come down to a lower internal temperature, around 160°F, then feel free to faux-cambro it. Putting it into a cooler at that temperature will ensure it stays above the 140°F mark but also ensures there is no carry-over cooking taking place.
When it’s time to serve, slice it up and serve!
Resting and holding a brisket
Resting brisket is one thing, allowing the juices to distribute and irritating all your friends and family that are waiting. Once done resting, you enter the less known “holding” phase, where you want to keep the brisket warm and ensure it stays above 140°F degrees until it’s time to go ahead and store it in the fridge (or it is all gone). We discuss how long a brisket can sit out before it goes bad in another article.
Any means to keep the brisket above 140°F, but not too hot to eat, will work. We routinely use serving trays with sterno flame. Also, keeping a tray in the oven set at 150°F or so is a great idea. Whatever works for you.
If there may be a significant timeframe here, wrap the brisket up in plastic wrap, tin foil, or butcher paper while holding it to help keep the juices in.
If you slice your brisket and juices flood out, you may not have rested it long enough after cooking. This was the experience I had with my first brisket. People were clamoring to try it, folks were getting violent, and a TV got thrown out the window, so I figured I’d just cut it anyway instead of sticking to my brisket principles. Never again.
If you think about the juices redistributing during the rest, you can see why cutting too soon causes more juice to leak out.
Make no mistake, the juice will leak out regardless, but slicing into the brisket too soon will result in more leaking out than you’d see otherwise
Tips for success
- Slice only as much brisket off the main portion of meat as you need, then wrap the remaining brisket in plastic wrap to keep the brisket moist. When Uncle Joe requires more brisket, unwrap, slice, and re-wrap.
- Refrigerate the remaining brisket, sliced or unsliced for up to 4-5 days.
- Since you have planned ahead for your lengthy brisket resting period, it’s a good time to go ahead and throw those bell peppers, corn on the cob, and potatoes onto the grill. Maybe throw a few wings into the smoker. Set the table, set up the karaoke machine, and jam. My point is you planned for the rest (right…?), so now you have time to do other things.
- Reheat brisket by essentially the same process – we tend to heat the oven to 160°F and put in there for 30 minutes or so. I often heat a frying pan for leftover brisket slices and sear them quickly. Throw on a bit of cheese, and into a sandwich, it goes. I should mention there’s no reason to reheat back to 225 degrees. About 160 is fine.
Brisket resting FAQ
Smaller briskets in the 6-8 pound range can get away with resting for about an hour. Anything larger should be at least 2 hours and more is preferable.
Is this a trick question? I go into detail above.
Either is fine. If you finished smoking your brisket wrapped, it’s fine to leave it wrapped during the rest. No reason to wrap it during the rest if you didn’t wrap it while smoking. I should mention that some do advocate that resting brisket must be exposed to moving air. I’m not sure if the science behind that but just know it’s a mindset you’ll come across.
I don’t rest mine in the oven (the countertop works for me) but if you do, I’d recommend setting the temperature to the lower range of where you want the rested brisket to be, which is around the 160°F mark.
Well, yeah, if you rest it for ten days, that’s probably too long. Resting too long is seldom a problem as somebody always asks, “how much longer before we can eat.” BUT, if you finished cooking the night before and will be serving the next day, I recommend letting the brisket come down to about 160°F and then consider putting it in the fridge until folks show up
Yep, that’s where I rest mine until it gets down to serving temperature.
I rest mine on the counter. My experience shows that the cooler isn’t really for resting but more for holding at a serving temperature. Resting on the counter or even outside on a table is fine.
Resting the process of letting the brisket set, letting its juices redistribute after cooking, and coming down to a serving temperature before slicing into it. Holding is keeping the brisket at a good serving temperature for a period of time (~160°F).
Hmmm, you can, but if it never gets down below 180°F, it never really gets down to a serving temperature. I consider the serving temp to be around 160-170°F. Resting at 180°F is probably fine, but you’ll want it to cool a bit before serving.
A few thoughts about smoking other types of meat
Brisket is the end-all, be-all of the smoking world. Get a brisket right, and it’s something to be proud of, and you’ll look forward to doing it again. So will your friends and family. But there are other meats to smoke, so don’t limit yourself.
- Smoked pork
- Smoked turkey
- Smoked liver (yep, you read that right!)
- Smoked prime rib (one of my personal favorites)
And, of course, check this article for a list of good, cheap meats to smoke.
I hope this helps you understand why and how to rest a brisket after smoking. Resting your brisket is an essential part of the cooking process that can make or break the quality of your BBQ. To ensure juicier and more tender results, let your brisket rest for at least an hour, and remember that for larger cuts, two to four hours is not unusual. So the next time you fire up the smoker or grill, remember to give yourself plenty of time for resting your brisket so that you can get the juiciest and most tender results possible!