How to Smoke a Brisket in an Electric Smoker

how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker
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When it comes to smoked meats, nothing really shoots ahead of a smoked beef brisket. It can outdo anything and everything.

Beauty behind smoked brisket is that it’s rubbed with a variety of spices and then smoked slowly until it’s juicy, tender and cooked to perfection. Just like how it’s done in restaurants!

Smoking a brisket in an electric smoker is quite easy, but needs patience as this mighty, tough cut of meat takes time to cook and be tender. With trial and error, you will come to know which method works best for your particular type of electric smoker, cut of meat and preferred taste.

If not done precisely, you might get a very rubbery textured brisket- which is a big no-no!

So here we have comprehensively elucidated how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker and other factors you need to know while doing so:

How to Smoke a Brisket in an Electric Smoker?

In truth, there’s no shortcut method to smoke a brisket. You need to follow each step carefully and cook the piece of meat slowly. By and large, long smoking brisket involves 5 main steps:

  • prepping up (trimming the fat),
  • marinating,
  • smoking,
  • wrapping it up (so that the juices get absorbed back)
  • letting it rest before slicing and serving it.

Now let’s get into the step-by-step instructions on how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker:

1.     Choosing your Brisket

The beef brisket is the stringy muscle that goes over the lower breast area of the cow, right below the shoulder. Cooking this tough cut of meat requires time and low heat, so as to break down rubbery fibers into a tender, juicy cooked brisket.

Here are a few factors you need to consider before selecting your brisket to smoke:

Grade

Smoking a delicious brisket is only possible when you start with good quality beef having abundant marbling. Firstly, you need to look at the USDA grade1, whether it is Wagyu, Choice, Prime or Select.

  • Prime is a great option, as it has excellent marbling and is widely used in hotels and restaurants for grilling and roasting.
  • Choice beef is also flavorful and juicy, but it has less marbling as compared to Prime.
  • Select is leaner and uniform, but it lacks flavor and juiciness than other grades.
  • Lastly, if you want the highest marbling and finer texture, go for Wagyu grade.

Note: Marbling is the amount of fat that streaks within the lean meat.

Uniformity: Flat and Point

When choosing a beef brisket for your electric smoker, look for a packer or untrimmed cut. That’s because it will consist both- flat and the point attached together.

  • The brisket comprises of two cuts. The point cut is the fattier, thicker part, also referred to as deckle. It is located at the collarbone of the cow.
  • Whereas, the flat cut is the leaner part that goes over cow’s rib cage. Here the deckle is trimmed, so it lays flat on the ground.

Your brisket must have a uniform, white fat cap that does not expose the meat and also doesn’t have any undesirable scratches or gouges. Choosing a brisket with thick, uniform flat is better as it will cook evenly and won’t be too dry. The thickness at the end of the flat must be a minimum of 1 inch. Too much tapered flat isn’t recommended.

Also, don’t pick a brisket with a huge, uneven ribbon of fat on the point cut.

If you don’t want to pick a brisket from stores, you can simply go to a butcher and let him know what you’re looking for.

 

how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker

 

Weight

Briskets come in various sizes and shapes.

While smoking a brisket for your BBQ, it is good to consider ½ pound per person. Depending on how much fat you trim, a brisket will easily provide about 60% yield of its original weight. For a medium-sized smoker, 12 pound, 15 pound or even 18 pound brisket is good. Choosing the weight and size of brisket depends upon the number of people you’ll be cooking for.

Flexibility

When balanced on your hands, your beef brisket must NOT remain too stiff, rather should bend. The more it bends, the lesser connective tissues it has. Hence, look for a cut of meat that bends the most, if you want to achieve most tender cooked brisket.

2.           Pat it Dry

Once you take the packer untrimmed meat out of the package, make sure you do not wash it under the faucet.

Why?

According to USDA2, washing the meat can actually spread harmful bacteria onto the faucet, sink and around the kitchen. Water can splash germs and bacteria around the sink up to the range of 3 feet, further causing various illnesses. This is called as ‘cross-contamination’.

To prevent this, it is better to pat the brisket dry with the help of paper towels to get rid of any “red” stuff you may see. Many people think it is blood, but in reality it is meat proteins and water that oozes out from the cut of meat.

As for the germs, then the high cooking temperature will automatically kill the germs and bacteria, if any. Since the internal cooking temperature of brisket reaches up to 195°F, you don’t need to worry about spreading of bacteria.

3.           Trimming the Fat

Now, this is the most significant step of this ‘how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker’ guide.

If you do not trim off enough fat, the brisket is going to have a fatty taste and won’t be able to deliver that amazing smoky flavor. If you trim it too much, you’re going to end up with a dry brisket. Hence, you must strike a perfect balance whilst trimming the piece of meat.

Nearly ¼ inch of fat must be present on the top layer of your meat. This will help retain the moisture inside by preventing evaporation. But too much of a fat cap might block the marinade from penetrating into the meat.

Take a narrow boning knife with curved blade and trim the entire fat cap until it is nearly ¼” thick.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Cold piece of meat is easier to trim, as the fat cap is softer
  • Trim harder, uneven layers of fat that you may find on the top
  • Check the flat cut, and completely remove meat that is less than 1 inch by taking a straight cut
  • Between the point and flat cut, you will see deckle (thick fat layer) which needs to be trimmed as well
  • Also, trim the square corners and smoothly round them off. This will prevent the edges from drying as it cooks and give your brisket a nice shape.

4.           Preparing the Rub

  • Seasoning: Prepare your seasoning as per your preference; you can keep it simple or complex. Many people like to use just the mix of kosher salt and black pepper. While others may like to use chili flakes, cumin powder, paprika, garlic salt, dried oregano, brown sugar and so on. You can even purchase barbeque rubs from the stores, if you’d like. Just make sure you taste the seasoning that you’ve prepared, and see if you really like it or not.
  • Rub it up: Prepare a dry rub of spices and sprinkle it evenly over the brisket. This will give it a nice crust and will also give off that amazing smoky flavor when cooked in an electric smoker. Tap all over the piece of meat to make sure the rub sits nicely on it.
  • Do not overpower: The sole purpose of seasoning is to improve the smoky flavor of the meat. So, make sure you do NOT overuse the spices and keep it well-balanced.

Once you’ve rubbed the seasoning onto the brisket, leave it to rest until it warm ups to room temperature. This is to be done 2 or 3 hours before you put it into the hot smoker. Or, you can even let it sit overnight for more enhanced flavor. For this, you need to wrap the brisket in an aluminum foil and leave it overnight in the refrigerator.

5.           Preheating the Electric Smoker

  • If you’ve kept the rubbed brisket into refrigerator, remove it nearly 2 hours prior to smoking. This will warm it up to room temperature.
  • Preheat the electric smoker nice and hot, and then bring it down to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the brisket will cook evenly and to perfection.
  • To control the fire, you need to use dry wood chips but do NOT add too much. Otherwise, it might give off excessive black smoke.

Mesquite, hickory, oak, cherry and apple are good wood chip options, as these will help to enhance the smoke flavor of the brisket rather than charcoal. Choose your desired wood type and place them in the chip box.

  • Cherry and apple wood chunks can add a nice sweet and mild flavor to the piece of meat.
  • Mesquite wood is traditionally used for smoking and it gives off a strong flavor. You can add cherry wood to it in order to make it more subtle.
  • Mixing hickory with cherry or apple wood will give off a blend of savory and sweet flavors.

Smart Tip: It is better to use wood chunks rather than chips, as it will help in creating more smoke and enhance the taste and flavor of meat. For best results, soak the chunks for about 30 minutes before you start smoking. After that, you can wrap the chunks in an aluminum foil and pierce holes in the foil. This way the chunks won’t turn into ash too quickly, rather burn longer.

6.           Smoking a Brisket

Now begins the real process of how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker.

Inserting the meat

If your smoker comes with a temperature probe, insert it into the marinated cut of meat and place it on the rack of your electric smoker, such that the fattier side faces up. Why? Because this way, the fat will melt and spread itself over the brisket, thereby, keeping it moist.

Keep the point cut (fattier side) near the fire, and flat cut (leaner side) towards the smokestack. Since the point cut has extra layers of fat, it won’t dry out easily even after being too close to the fire. Whereas, the flat cut is too lean, so it must be away from the heat or else it will burn.

Using the Accessories

Use a drip pan to prevent undesirable flare-ups.

Also, once you insert the brisket, make sure you fill up half of water pan with a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar (3 tablespoon of ACV). Place the water tray into the smoker. Heat causes the meat to dry out and lose moisture. Keeping a water pan will retain the moisture in the smoker chamber and help in better penetration of smoke into the brisket.

Lastly, close the lid and allow the heat to do its wonders!

Keep on checking the water pan every hour and fill it with ACV as needed. Similarly, also refill the wood chunks in the smoke box as required.

Smart Tip: ACV helps to get that delicious, deep smoky taste. You can wrap the water tray with aluminum foil and then put water and ACV into it.

Do not open the Lid

If you keep on opening the lid to check the brisket, the heat will escape from the chamber and it will take much longer to cook the meat.

If you want to keep track of the internal temperature of meat, use a wireless digital thermometer for the same. Most electric smoker models come included with a thin temperature probe to be pierced into the meat. This way you don’t need to open the lid, as you can keep a check on the temperature through the glass door.

Spraying on the brisket

how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker

The brisket will take 3 hours to breakdown and absorb the smoke flavor. Hence, after 3 hours, you can spray apple juice, vinegar or beef stock onto the brisket to keep it moist. Do this every hour, and see how the beef brisket will achieve a nice layer of crust on top.

7.           Monitor Internal Temperature of Brisket

Beef brisket will be perfectly cooked once it reaches a temperature of 195°F.

  • Use a digital meat thermometer and keep on checking the temperature of the brisket to know when to take it out.
  • If your smoker comes with a probe, the temperature setting for every electric smoker is different. Some models have 190°F whilst others may have 195°F. Refer to the user manual and check the optimal brisket cooking temperature. As the brisket reaches this temperature, the smoker will stop cooking and activate the ‘Warm mode’ to keep the cut of meat warm until you’re ready to eat.

Note: The electric smoker temperature and brisket temperature are two different factors. The smoker temperature must be maintained between 225°F to 250°F and NOT exceed this range. Whereas, the brisket’s internal temperature should be around 195°F to 200°F for it to be cooked to perfection.

8.           Wrapping the Brisket

There comes a time when the temperature of the brisket does not increase due to evaporation. This point is called as ‘stall’ where the brisket will start to cool down.

To overcome this problem, you need to wrap the brisket as soon as it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. For that, you can either use peach butcher paper or aluminum foil. Make sure the brisket is tightly covered and there are no holes or openings whatsoever.

Not only will this help to improve tenderness of the meat, but also speed up the cooking process.

  • Aluminum foil is good, but the peach butcher paper is the best for wrapping the brisket.
  • Butcher paper helps the smoke to penetrate into the piece of meat and also in retaining its juiciness. Moreover, the brisket will have a nice flavorful layer of caramelized bark on top.

Once you wrap up the piece of meat, place it into the smoking chamber until its temperature reaches 200°F.

To reach this temperature, generally a 12 pound brisket will take anywhere from 10 to 12 hours. Each brisket has different thickness, so you cannot really estimate the exact time. Basic thumb rule is that you can consider- ‘1 hour cooking time per pound’. Say for example, a 5 pound brisket will take around 5 hours to cook when wrapped. Any brisket above 15 pounds will take more than 12 hours to cook.

On the other hand, unwrapped smoking of a 12 pound brisket might take only about 5-6 hours to cook.

9.           How to know it’s ready?

  • Pierce the temperature probe into the piece of meat and check the temperature. Once the temperature of meat reaches 195 or 200°F, it’s time to take it out!
  • If you do not have a temperature probe, there’s another simple method to check the tenderness of the meat. It’s called peanut butter test! Take a wooden skewer and insert it into the peanut butter and feel its consistency and tenderness. That’s exactly how you should feel when you insert the wooden skewer into the meat. If the sensation is same, it’s time to take out the meat.

 

10.      Let it Rest

Allow the wrapped brisket to rest for at least an hour, before you slice it. This will cool it down, and also help in absorption of all the juices back into the meat.

You want to let it rest until the temperature of the brisket reduces down to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. If you cut it right away, the flavorful juices might come off onto the cutting board, which is NOT anticipated at all.

11.      Slicing

how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker

Now, many people scrape off the crust or fat, but that’s the best part of the smoke brisket. Hence, it is better to keep it as it is.

  • Take a 12” long slicing knife (serrated) and start to cut long slices from the lean part. If you take a shorter knife, you might shred off the meat while slicing it.
  • For amazing tenderness, you must slice the whole brisket against its grain. But the point cut and flat cut- both have grains in different directions. Why because the flat and point muscles overlap at a point.
  • You can separate the flat and point parts and then cut them individually. But the best way is to slice the flat part against the grain. When you reach the midpoint where the flat and point sections overlap, that’s where you cut the point from the middle, turn it 90 degrees and cut slices against the grain.
  • You can do a pull test to check whether the tenderness of the meat is perfect or not.
  • For that, hold up the slice vertically, and if it falls due to its own weight- that means it’s overcooked. And when you pull the slice, it should easily come off; otherwise it is tough and undercooked.
  • Thickness of the slices for the lean part should be like the thickness of a pencil- about 3/16 inches (just over 5mm).
  • Thickness of slices for the fattier part should be around ⅜ inches (over 9 mm).

12.      Serve

how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker

As soon as you cut the slices, the meat starts to dry out. Therefore, it is recommended to slice the brisket right before you eat it to prevent it from losing its juiciness.

 

If you are planning to eat it later, just keep it whole and cut slices only when you want to devour it.

You can follow any smoked brisket recipe as per your preference and serve it with barbeque sauce for added flavor. Traditionally, the brisket is served with butcher paper, various kinds of pickles, a side sauce and white bread.

Cook Time Guide

Wrapping Size of Brisket Temperature of electric smoker Cook Time
Unwrapped Per pound of brisket 250°F 15 minutes
Wrapped in Aluminum Foil Per pound of brisket 250°F 45 minutes
Wrapped in Butcher paper Per pound of brisket 250°F 1 hour

The cooking time mentioned above is based on per pound of brisket.

Whatever is the size of your brisket, you need to multiply it with the minutes. And that will be your brisket cooking time.

For example, if your 12 pounds of brisket is wrapped in aluminum foil, it will take around 12 * 45 = 540 minutes (9 hours) to cook.

What to do when the smoke brisket temperature is too low and stuck?

Now that you’ve learned how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker, let’s see what to do when it gets stuck at a low temperature.

It is too frustrating to watch your brisket getting stuck at a temperature of 150°F or 165°F.

As mentioned above, this stage is known as ‘stall’- when the temperature of meat isn’t increasing as it should be.

Brisket is not an affordable piece of meat, so you cannot really let it go to waste.

So here’s what you can do to help it reach at an optimal temperature:

  • There comes a point when the piece of meat still has about 3 hours left to cook. That is when you must take it out of the chamber and wrap it tightly with a butcher paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil. This will help the meat overcome the ‘stall’ and retain its temperature. If you wrap it loosely, you might see no difference in the temperature.
  • Pierce the temperature probe into the brisket and see if it rising up.
  • Once the temperature is between 190°F to 195°F, take the wrapped brisket out and leave it to rest.
  • You can even wrap the wrapped brisket once more in a beach towel and keep it in an empty insulated cooler for 1 hour. This will make your beef brisket more tender and juicy.
  • After 1 hour, your brisket is ready to slice and serve.
  • You can even store the wrapped brisket in the cooler for more than 3-4 hours to preserve its freshness.

how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker

Tips for when you Smoke a Brisket:

  • Prepare your Rub in advance: To save time, you can simply mix your favorite spices such as kosher salt, garlic powder, pepper, etc. and store it in a shaker. Keep at least 2 feet distance while spreading the spices on the brisket. This will create an even layer of seasoning on it.
  • Don’t worry about which side is up: No matter which side of the brisket is up (fattier side or protein side); the final result is going to be the same.

Variation in Smoked Brisket Recipe

It is not necessary to smoke a brisket following single method. You can try other variations and see how they turn out to be.

For a change, try applying a binder to the brisket before you sprinkle seasoning onto it. This will help the spices to stick to the cut of meat nicely. For this, you can use yellow mustard, as it will create a delicious layer of crust and also help in breakdown of meat.

Conclusion

So with this, we conclude our guide on how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker.

No doubt, smoking a brisket is a challenging task as it involves prepping up the brisket, monitoring internal temperature and checking the fire for long hours. But, the end result makes it all worth it!

You just need a bit of patience and a lot of practice to master the art of smoking a brisket. Once you get used to the whole process, you can experiment with various smoked brisket recipes and see what turns out best!

Happy smoking!

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In truth, there’s no shortcut method to smoke a brisket. You need to follow each step carefully and cook the piece of meat slowly. By and large, long smoking brisket involves 5 main steps:

– prepping up (trimming the fat),
– marinating,
– smoking,
– wrapping it up (so that the juices get absorbed back)
– letting it rest before slicing and serving it.

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