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First Brisket was a disaster - need advice

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

I just tried to smoke my first beef brisket yesterday.  It was 3 1/2 pounds and according to Jeff's book should have taken 5 hours at 225 degrees with an finished internal temperature of 190 degrees.  I used a dual probe digital thermometer which has been check for accuracy.  After 5 hours, the internal temperature was only 175 degrees.  It took another 2 hours to reach 190 degrees.  When I took it out, the brisket was very overdone.  Any thoughts on what went wrong?

post #2 of 8

There are a couple things I have questions on before I can venture any ideas as to what may be changed for a better finished product, however, the first thing that comes to mind is your finished temp of 190*...that may be a bit high for a lean-trimmed flat (center-cut). You need to poke around inside a little as temps are nearing 180* to feel how tender it is getting before you decide to take it further. Only go as hot as you feel is necessary to get it tender enough for slicing. Slice across the grain for a more tender chew. Rest the meat after reaching probe-tenderness before slicing to redistribute the juices throughout the meat. If properly executed this will all translate to a more tender, moist sliced brisket.


By overcooked, are you saying dried-out and leathery, or a mealy/grainy chew?


Was there too much bark that was tough? Dry rubs with sugar can form a heavy, caramelized bark fairly quickly...I shy away from added sugars on longer smokes because the sugars can actually scorch, given enough time, even at low & slow chamber temps of 225*...different smokers and conditions can create different reactions from sugar-based dry rubs.


How was your brisket prepped for the smoke, such as overnight marinated, or injected? Was it lean trimmed or fat-cap on, and if with fat-cap, was it cap up or down on the grate?


As for time, there are numerous variables that can and will change your cooking time, such as ambient humidity, smoke chamber humidity (using water in a pan or no water), as well as other ambient conditions. Individual smokers will cook differently than others. Smoke chamber ventilation settings can have a huge impact on cooking efficiency. If your vents are closed down too much you get too little flow through the smoke chamber...this can cause creosote from stale/stagnant smoke, and reduces the cooker's convective efficiency, increasing cooking time for a given chamber temperature. Another (often overlooked) varible is location, elevation/altitude (barometric pressure, in specific). Higher altitude (lower pressure) reduces the boiling-point of water which translates to longer cooking time, which can be offset by increasing smoke chamber temperature.


Come on back and let us know more about what didn't come out to your expectations, how it was prepped and finished, etc. There's a lot more to it than what I mentioned above, but if we start with any obvious possible issues right up front would be best.




post #3 of 8
Disclaimer first. Have only cooked 4 briskets.....only the last one was "right". And it was a 19 pounds packer.
No disrespect meant here....but if I needed to monitor atmospheric conditions I would find another hobby.
Due to the length of time it,takes to cook a brisket avoid rubs with sugars. No 2 hunts of meat cook the same.
Try to keep things simple as possible.
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thank you for all the information.  To answer your questions:


1. It was dried-out and leathery and not mealy/grainy chew?

2. Too much bark - I am not sure; the bark was definitely tasty.

3. How was your brisket prepped for the smoke, such as overnight marinated, or injected - neither.  Just rub.

4. Was it lean trimmed or fat-cap on, and if with fat-cap, was it cap up or down on the grate - the cap was on the top side.

post #5 of 8

Hmm... cows (and most others critters) can't tell time.  Briskets get done when they want to and I've seen a wide variation in final done temps as well which can be attributed to many factors.  Time & temps are only guidelines, at best.  Key here is to know when to start testing for doneness. Testing is mostly by feel, i.e a probe should easily push into it like a knife through warm butter.   Then pull and let it rest in an appropriate insulated container for 1-2 hours. 


Not a lot of info presented, such as thickness of the flat (btw this was a pretty small one, thinner ones do present a bit more of a challenge) and was your grate temp verified with another device vs a built-in thermo?  Knowing your true grate temps can be important. For example, my MAK 2 Star will indicate it's at 225° when in fact it's actually 250°. If I didn't know this and blindly just set it for 225°, it would smoke at 250° the whole time and I could easily miss the window, especially if I was just using a time calculation for doneness.


I suggest trying whole packer in the 9-11 lb range next time. Don't let size scare you off, the end results freeze well. I also suggest watching this video. Malcom does a good job explaining how to get 'good eats' smoked brisket. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SM0pGO_3Fa4#t=11


Good luck, and let us know how the second one turns out...



post #6 of 8

Yeah, dry and leathery...sounds like mostly just too high on finished temps. With fat cap on, that would have helped a lot with internal moisture, provided you don't run too long beyond where it begins to get tender...along with resting, etc. The smoke chamber humidity, if very high throughout the smoke, can actually have adverse effects on moisture retention. A low humidity reduces smoke reaction somewhat, but allows the surface fibers on bare meat to tighten up and seal in more moisture. So, if you used water in a pan, reduce or omit the water and that can make a noticeable difference...let it run dry the last 1/2 of the anticipated cooking time.


Brisket isn't an easy subject the first time around, so don't get discouraged. My first was not so desirable...dried out flat, but at least the point was still moist and fall-apart tender. So we enjoyed pulled point and made another dish from chopped-up flat, as I recall. They will get better as the learning curve flattens out. I find brisket to be rather easy now...it's all begins with temp and probing for tenderness. Some will get tender at a lower temp, while others seem to take an eternity...until you reach that stage where you start probing (and maybe scratching your head and second-guessing), you really don't know what you're up against. Be patient, but not complacent.


Keep trying...every smoke is a new journey, and with it will come knowledge and the opportunity to develop your skills...confidence will build, as well.




post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the advice and encouragement.  I will keep trying until I succeed.

post #8 of 8

Hey, that's why we're here. But, what will you do once you succeed with brisket? I'm just posing the question because of how you worded your statement...knowing that once you succeed, you will have opened up another door. Don't blame us when you can't find enough time to smoke all the things you want to smoke, or run out of freezer space when you're stocking up on meats for future smoke projects...LOL!!!


Enjoy your smoker!!!




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