You just spent anywhere from 12 to 18 hours smoking a brisket.
It’s probe-tender, the bark is beautiful, and you are ready to slice and admire your work – but there is one more crucial step.
Resting the brisket is the final step of the cooking process, and it is essential if you want to create great barbecue. But why do we rest briskets and how long do they need to rest for?
How long to rest brisket
Smoked brisket needs to rest for one hour before you even think about slicing it. I always shoot for two hours minimum, but I’ve rested briskets in an insulated container for upwards of 8 hours before.
Brisket is one of the least tender cuts of beef and is full of connective tissue, which is why it is important to cook it low and slow.
Raw brisket contains about 71% water. Some of this water evaporates during the cooking process, but a fully cooked brisket will still contain upwards of 56% water.
During the cooking process, the muscle fibers contract, and connective tissue breaks down. The moisture in the meat is pushed outward. This is why resting is so important.
You can rest brisket on the counter at room temperature for up to an hour, but anything beyond that can be dangerous so you’ll need to use one of the methods covered below.
How to rest brisket
Brisket will reach maximum tenderness around 200°F to 205°F (some say the magic number is 203°F, but I think that is a little more superstition than anything else). At this point, you can take it off the smoker and let it rest.
There are a few different options when it comes to how and where to rest your brisket.
1. Resting in a cooler (aka: The faux Cambro method)
If you want to rest your brisket in an insulated environment but don’t have a Cambro, a dry cooler will work in a similar way.
When I rest in a cooler, I like to offer the brisket a little extra insulation by wrapping it in a couple of towels as well.
2. Resting in a Cambro
This is my favorite method for resting meat, mostly because I do competitive barbecue and catering, but a Cambro is a great tool for a backyard barbecue as well.
Cambro makes various products that work great for insulated resting. They make both front-load and top-load models and they come in a variety of sizes to meet your needs. They are lightweight and certified food-safe and will keep your food hot (or cold) for 4+ hours.
3. Resting in a steam cabinet
This is a popular choice in barbecue restaurants that need to prep meat ahead of time and keep it ready to serve for hours on end. I have a steam cabinet installed in my competition barbecue trailer as well for when we do catering events.
A steam cabinet is an electronic device that not only offers a heated space for food to stay warm but provides steam to keep meat moist for hours.
4. Room temperature rest
You can simply let your brisket rest on the counter at room temperature. I choose this option sometimes when we are in a hurry and need to cut the rest period down to about an hour.
It’s also a good method if your bark isn’t set quite the way you would like. If I end up with a softer bark, I will open the brisket up and let it rest open. This allows the bark to harden a bit during the resting period.
I don’t like to let meat rest at room temperature for much longer than an hour because I don’t want it to reach what’s known as “The Danger Zone”.
When cooked meat sits out and the internal temperature gets down below 140°F bacteria can begin to spread rapidly which increases the chance of foodborne illness.
You don’t want to serve up a side of food poisoning at your barbecue, so if you opt for a room temperature rest just keep an eye on the internal temp.
Should I rest brisket wrapped or unwrapped?
If you wrapped your brisket during the cook, either in butcher paper or aluminum foil (check out this article for more on that topic), you don’t need to unwrap it before the resting period. Just pull it off the pit and let it rest in whatever you chose to wrap it in.
Keeping the brisket wrapped also aids in what’s called carryover cooking. Carryover cooking happens during the period after you remove your meat from the smoker and will help continue to break down the connective tissues and collagen in the meat.
Why do you need to let your brisket rest?
Resting meat, especially large, primal cuts like brisket, is non-negotiable.
The resting period gives the moisture in the meat a chance to redistribute and reabsorb into the meat. This is crucial if you want to yield a tender and juicy brisket.
Resting not only allows the juices in the meat to redistribute but also for the collagen to continue to gelatinize.
If you’re cooking a steak, you only need to let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes, but brisket is a much bigger cut of meat and needs more time to rest.
What happens if I don’t rest my brisket?
Resting brisket will keep the meat moist. If you pull your brisket off the pit and slice in immediately, that moisture has not had a chance to thicken. The juices will run out of the brisket and end up all over your cutting board, instead of in the meat where they belong.
The loss of those essential juices in the meat will leave you with a dry, tough brisket. The meat will continue to cook a bit during the resting period and all of those tough, connective tissues will continue to break down.
Always Rest Your Meat
At the end of the day, how/where you rest your brisket is based on your personal preference.
The most important thing is that you give it at least an hour, but preferably a minimum of two, to let the meat cool, let the juice redistribute, and ensure that you have the most tender, juicy, and flavorful brisket.
Just a little patience can be the difference between a bad brisket and a great one, so chill out, drink a beer, and always let your brisket rest.