Smoking brisket at 180 degrees

Find out why smoking brisket at 180 degrees is not the best choice and what you should do instead to get the most flavorful results.

This will be a short one. 🙂 Is there anything wrong with smoking brisket at 180 degrees?

Is it OK to smoke brisket at 180 degrees?

It’s OK, but why would you want to?

We smoke brisket “low and slow” until the internal temperature is 195 (or so) so that the result is tender and delicious. But “low,” in this case, is about 225 to 250 degrees. And even at those temperatures, cooking brisket takes a very long time.

There are a specific few use cases where this may make sense, but I stress “may”.

Smoking your brisket overnight

I do this regularly. Put the brisket in at 6 pm or so; it’s ready by 6-8 am the next morning. Depending on the size, of course.

And this is cooking at a temperature of 225 degrees.

But if you wanted an extended overnight cook (for some reason), you could cook at 180 degrees overnight and then turn the temp up to the normal 225-250 when you get tired backside out of bed.

Extra smoke on that brisket?

The other reason that may be valid is to enable the brisket to absorb extra smoke. Smoke is usually absorbed during the first 4-5 hours of normal smoking temperature, meaning at 225-250. This is more than enough time to get the brisket smokey.

But if you want extra smokey goodness, dropping the temperature should allow the meat to stay in the range where it can absorb the smoke flavor longer.

I question the need for this, though, as the normal 4-5 hours is fine.

You don’t want your brisket to be too smokey. You want it to be “kissed by the smoke”, not smothered by it.

How long does it take to smoke brisket at 180 degrees?

We’ve made a handy dandy brisket smoking chart for how long it takes brisket of differing sizes to smoke at differing temperatures to be used as a guideline. However, the lowest temp on our chart is 225.

For example, at 225 degrees, a 10-pound brisket will take about 18-20 hours. Cut that temperature to 180 degrees, and I daresay you are pushing well into day 2 on that smoked brisket. Again, I think that’s too long, and I don’t see the value.

Is there danger in smoking brisket at 180 degrees?

If, by danger, do you mean will bacteria collect in the meat? The danger of that happening dissipates as the meat passes 140 degrees, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

If, however, by danger, you mean will friends and family start a riot because the brisket isn’t done yet, and there are no side dishes to munch on, then yes, there is. Huge danger. Warning signs everywhere.

The danger zone for meat is between 40-140 degrees so you want to get the meat through that range in less than 4 hours, which may be difficult if your smoking temperature is too low.

Wait, did you say “danger zone”?

Let’s talk a bit more about that 140-degree thing.

There’s an often quoted rule called the 4-hour rule in BBQ and smoking circles. The meaning is that meat should move from the lower end of the danger zone (40 degrees) to the upper end (140 degrees) within 4 hours to prevent or reduce bacteria from building up. That 40-140 degree range is the danger zone and you don’t want your meat stuck in that temperature any longer than necessary.  This is why we don’t leave meat on the counter at room temperature for more than an hour or two. 

There are a lot of “but what about…” points here though. Science tells us that the bacteria live on the surface of the meat so that’s the part that must get past 140 degrees within 4 hours. This is my understanding and how I think about cooking.

There is also the point that any bacteria that is formed will be killed off by the higher temperatures as the meat cooks further.

My point in all of this is that smoking at 180 degrees may be low enough for your brisket to not get past 140 degrees in four hours. This could present problems but most likely not. Just bringing it up so you are aware.

Myself, I don’t feel this is a huge concern but then again, I’m not a doctor and neither are you. Unless you are. But to me, that’s just one more reason NOT to smoke brisket at a low temperature such as 180 degrees.

Thoughts that may be rolling through your head

…that aren’t necessarily true

  • Smoking my brisket at 180 degrees will make it more tender. Mmmm, maybe, but then again brisket is tender enough at 225. It’s easy to get brisket too tender at 225, so I’m not sure I agree with your point of view
  • Smoking brisket at 180 degrees allows for more even temperature distribution through the meat so it’ll cook more evenly. Again, I’m not sure I agree with your point of view here. Brisket cooked at 225 stays on the smoker until the meat thermometer shows the internal temp has reached 195 (or so). At that point, the meat is cooked. Is it cooked exactly evenly? No, the thinner parts may be more well done than the thicker parts. Would cooking at 180 instead of 225 make a difference here? I don’t see how.
  • Smoking brisket at 180 degrees allows the smoke flavor to penetrate deeper into the meat. Once again, I’ll have to disagree. You may get more smoke in the outer edges of the meat resulting in a darker smoke ring, but if you think smoke is going to penetrate much deeper than a quarter inch or so regardless, you are mistaken.
  • Smoking my brisket at a lower temperature gives me more time to spritz or spray my brisket while smoking, so it’ll absorb more of the spritz flavor. Again, not really. it’s only going to absorb so much and I believe spraying your brisket while smoking isn’t a great idea anyway.
  • I’ll have bragging rights for having cooked a brisket longer than anybody else on planet earth. Not unless you cooked it for more than a month as this guy did:


Awright, gonna wrap this up.

Smoking brisket at 180 degrees – can I do it? Yep, but as mentioned above, there aren’t many good reasons to do so.

If for some reason, the normal 20-hour cook time is just too quick for you, then I suppose you can elongate it by dropping the temperature but I have to say you most likely will not see any benefits in terms of taste or texture.

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