Brisket is dry and not very tender...what happened? (with pics)

Discussion in 'Beef' started by rorschach, Jan 13, 2015.

  1. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    The title gives away the outcome, but this past weekend I smoked my first brisket on my Masterbuilt 30" Electric Smoker.  The final product was not very tender (it "held together" too much) and was pretty dry.  I'm wondering what the problem was with this brisket (is it over- or under-done), and where was the misstep that caused this outcome.

    In the included pictures, I'm pulling the meat apart with my fingers to get the meat to form the visible voids between the fibers; it would not otherwise do that by itself if the slices were just cut and allowed to dangle.  To me, it made it look more moist than it actually was.

    Here's a short summary of what took place:

    Brisket Prep:

     - 12lb packer cut brisket, USDA choice grade, trimmed and dry-rubbed the night before and placed in refrigerator wrapped in saran wrap.  Rub involved paprika, salt, a few other little things, and coffee grounds.

     - Removed just after 5am and placed on lower rack in smoker preheated to 240F, just above water pan.

     - Temperature probe placed in the middle of the flat, about halfway between the end of the flat and the line of fat between the point and the flat.  As much as possible of the probe was submerged in the meat.

     - Positioned above the brisket was an 8lb Boston Butt (which came out nicely in the end, by the way).


    5:15am: Brisket placed on smoker preheated to 240F, fat-side down, a few inches above the water pan, and nearest to the smoker's built-in temperature probe.  Boston butt placed on top rack above brisket.  

    5:15am-8:15am: Temperature rose steadily from about 50F and leveled off somewhere around 165-170F at 8:15am.  At this point, I left the house to go and try to find a second meat thermometer that I could probe the butt with at the same time, to no avail.  Returning around 8:45am, I moved the probe further up the flat towards the point and obtained an internal temperature of about 160F.

    10:07am:  Temperature in brisket stayed at about 160F until 10:07am, at which point I wrapped the brisket in foil and placed back in the smoker, and placed the temperature probe into the Boston butt to check it's status, reasoning that that brisket would definitely need to sit a while more before it was ready for the cooler.

    1:15pm:  Moved temperature probe back to brisket flat (in foil at this point), to find that the temperature, as expected, had begun to rise again, and was now at about 178F.

    2:55pm:  Brisket internal temperature ramped between 1:15pm and 2:55pm to about 190F where the probe was, so I took an instant-read analog thermometer (a Taylor brand, which I'd verified the accuracy of in boiling water the same day) and stuck the brisket in several places along the flat, all reading mid-to-high 190F's.  Not sure if probe slid in "like butter" or not - have nothing to compare this to.  Figuring this meant the meat was done, I removed it from the smoker, placed in another layer of foil, wrapped in a towel, and put in a cooler with other towels/blankets/rugs to rest until time to slice and serve.

    7:30pm:  Waited until pork butt was done resting to slice/pull both at the same time.  Sliced brisket against the grain starting at the thin end of the flat working towards the point.  Turned out as seen in pictures.  Only sliced 8-10 slices and decided that was enough for serving right then.

    Slicing:  the slices themselves were very 'stiff', if you can imagine.  The grain was still very tight, as you can see in the pictures, as opposed to what I would describe as "loose".

    So, given all of the above and examining the pictures, what happened, experts?  Is it over-cooked, under-cooked, etc., etc.?  I'm new to this, and want to try this within the next month or so, again.

    Pictures below are links to large versions:

    [​IMG]  [​IMG]  [​IMG]  [​IMG]  [​IMG]  [​IMG]  [​IMG]
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  2. bear55

    bear55 Master of the Pit

    I wonder if your smoker temps were where you indicated?  I have cooked probably 10 briskets in the past two years and here are my plans.  I plan on 1 hour per pound plus 2 hours at 235, so you are in line with what I do.  I foil my briskets at 165 and take them to 193-195 and then into an ice chest (no ice) for at least an hour, two or three won't hurt.  If all your temps were as indicated it is possible you got a hold of a tough piece of meat.  The pictures look over cooked to me.

  3. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    Updated original post to include information that the cut was USDA Choice.  It appeared to have good marbling, to my untrained/uneducated eye.

    Both thermometers I was using - the digital and the Taylor analog - were tested in boiling water and read correctly within 2F.  So, it doesn't seem like thermometer accuracy would have been an issue.

    Now, it is possible that the internal thermometer of the smoker needs calibrating, but I didn't think these things would be off that far out-of-the-box.
  4. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    Brisket is a difficult endeavor. I just think some times it is near impossible to get it right. I swear by the toothpick test on brisket. I have had them good at 195 and 210. It's a shooting match. I would urge you to get another set of thermometers to use with that smoker though. The factory ones are known to be off by quite a bit.
  5. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    Okay.  I've been looking up ways to test it and I'll try the "potato test" tonight with one of my trusted thermometers and see what kind of results we get.  Good/bad idea?

    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  6. brandon91

    brandon91 Meat Mopper

    If it was springy and dry when you were pulling on it, it was under cooked. I've found brisket isn't done at a certain temperature but when you slide in a probe or toothpick with no resistance and if you pick it up it jiggles and bends but doesn't break. I've had briskets done anywhere from 190-205, so it can be a waiting game. What I do now when I plan to smoke a brisket is start it around 10pm the night before so it will be done in the morning and let it sit in a very low oven or your smoker around ~150F until you are ready to eat so you aren't scrambling to finish it at dinner time, the long rest time can be beneficial as well.
  7. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    So when you are to the point to where you want to cease cooking the brisket and allow it to rest, it is springy/moist and stays that way until you're ready to serve it?  Do you keep it at 150F while wrapped?
  8. brandon91

    brandon91 Meat Mopper

    No it shouldn't be springy, that would be under cooked. Ideally a slice of brisket shouldn't fall apart under its own weight but with a light tug break apart. I would much rather have an overcooked brisket because then you could at least chop it, sauce it and make sandwiches, under cooked brisket is like trying to chew rubber bands. And yes, I keep it in my oven wrapped in foil on the "warm-hold" setting which is right at around 150F, but you could just set your electric smoker to that temp. I think everyone's first brisket isn't too great (mine was inedible, lol.), practice helps and if you spend enough time around here you'll be putting out great briskets. Mine get better every time I make them. I believe it's all about practice and getting a feel for it, brisket is definitely the hardest thing to get right. Good luck on your next one, happy smoking.
  9. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    Okay - I just got done eating some of the brisket leftovers for supper and finally got into the meat from the brisket point.  I cut off about a 2.5" wide strip of the point, sliced it into 3/16"-1/4" slices and left some 1" on a side cubes (burnt end-ish looking things) as well, enclosed them in a foil pouch with some of the drippings saved from the smoker on saturday, and baked them in a toaster oven for 30min at around 225F.  The result was very juicy and tasty (in my opinion)...night and day difference from the product that came off the flat end of the brisket initially.

    Remembering back to the initial experience with this brisket, the slices definitely were not springy, which seems to indicate that it was over-cooked, correct?  If that's the case, how did supper tonight come out good?  Was that because of the juice added?  Or maybe simply as a result of the cuts coming from the point rather than the flat?  A lot of variables here...

    Brandon, do you foil at all, or do you just cook straight through to final temperature?

    Thanks for the assistance, everyone.  I really appreciate the guidance.
  10. brandon91

    brandon91 Meat Mopper

    The point end is forgiving considering it is very fatty, the extended cooking time in a moist environment is probably why it turned out better as leftovers. If the flat was falling apart and dry that would lead me to believe it was overcooked, but without being there i couldn't say for sure. Brisket is a very uneven cut of meat and is difficult to get the same doneness throughout, this is why some people separate the flat and point end while part way through and continue cooking the point in some manner (such as burnt ends). I do foil brisket, usually around 160F when the stall starts, usually 7-8 hours in.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  11. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    Your experience has been that it enters the stall around 7-8hrs in??  Wow, mine was stalling, at least at the point I was probing, at less than 3 hours in.  Is that even possible?  Or, was I probing in the wrong place?

    Also, is there any downside to probing around the piece of meat? I.e., does poking 5-8 holes in the meat adversely affect the final product's quality, let out juices, etc.?

    Did not get a chance to check the accuracy of the smoker's temperature sensor last night, so that could still be a source of errant information.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2015
  12. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    This is all leading me to believe that you really have to go by feel with these things.  In the youtube series posted by Aaron Franklin (Franklin BBQ), it doesn't seem that he even temperature probes his, but rather goes by feel.  Could be wrong on that, but you definitely see him test the wrapped brisket for how it bends/wobbles, and you never see a temp probe stuck into the meat.

    *Edit:  Not  saying that I will try it without temp probes, but rather that, with a temp probe, once the temperature is approaching the right area, perhaps I should start doing this 'toothpick test' or some other sort of feel test y'all speak of.  However, without ever having been present for a proper toothpick test or other similar test, it's really difficult to know what the 'proper' feel is.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2015
  13. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    Yes sir that is the way to do it.
  14. superdave

    superdave Smoking Fanatic

    The red flags were waving for me when you stated that a 12 lbs packer reached an IT of 160 in 3 hours.  While you've verified that your internal temp was believable, I would think the box temp is a mile off. 
  15. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

  16. Factory installed temp gauges are notorious for being inaccurate . Check it as well as aftermarket ones you purchase, I have a couple of instant read's  I use on Poultry and pork butts. I used it a couple of times here on the forum on brisket just for a post and new members, but other than that I never use it to check my brisket. Probably the tooth pick test would be your best bet. If it slides in and out like butter its done. I have cooked so many briskets in the last 40 + years I can tell by touch, feel and looks.

    I posted several articles on briskets take a look and see if they are of any help
  17. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    So here's a question for you guys...

    Say the temperature reading of the factory sensor is wrong and the temp is much higher in reality.  Don't some folks do this quick-cook brisket thing where they ramp the grill up to 325F?  If it did turn out to be 325F and I was monitoring the internal temperature, wouldn't the meat still come out not over-cooked if I pulled it in time?

    I will try to get out there and test the temperature in the thing tonight.

    Thanks a lot for all of the assistance.  Good discussion.
  18. superdave

    superdave Smoking Fanatic

    "Low & Slow" is the smokers credo to allow muscle fibers to breakdown while it cooks.  Fast cook of tough cuts of meat = tough, dry results.
  19. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    It is not just the internal temperature. When you cook large muscle meats it takes lots of time to break down the connective tissue. A brisket is by nature a very tough piece of meat. This is why low and slow works so well for Brisket and Pork Butt.  In your pictures you notice the little gaps in the meat. That was where gristle is or was if you did it right. You can cook a lean piece of meat hot and fast but not a brisket. That is why the only other good way to get brisket tender is to boil it for a long time. Same difference. The stall is that time when the meat has reached the exact temp. where the breakdown is occurring. When you come out of the stall it is a lot more tender than what it would be but you may even encounter another stall where some other type of tissue needs to dissolve. Some of the Chef's on this site could explain it better than me. I saw that your Brisket was 12 pounds. You should not have been any where near a stall in 3 hours and it should have taken at least 12 hours for the entire cook, minimum. Your temp was way too high plus if you had water in the pan it could have been at rapid boil and you may have kind of pressure cooked it with steam.
  20. rorschach

    rorschach Newbie

    Okay - just did a little research and it sounds like Myron Mixon's high-temp method hinges on injecting the meat, something I definitely did not do this time.

    I'm very interested now to see what the smoker's temperature was.

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