Brisket Hot Holding Safety Question

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kevin james

Smoking Fanatic
Original poster
Jul 30, 2012
484
391
Sacramento, CA
Apologies in advance, this is going to be a long one. I'm curious about a few things in regards to the food safety of hot holding briskets and figured I'd ask a few questions here to those more in the know then me, especially those with professional restaurant experience.

First, some basic background. In my undying quest to duplicate real Texas Top 50 style brisket (think Franklin, Goldee's, Terry Black's etc.), I've been playing with the concept of the overnight heated rest over the last year and a half or so. All these top 50 BBQ spots in Texas cook their briskets the day before service, pull them off the pits somewhere between 10PM to 12 midnight, let them cool down to 140 degrees internal in speed racks, and once they get down to 140 IT they go in warming cabinets set at 140 for 12 or more hours until they're ready for service. This is well documented and many places have stated publicly this is their process (it's also all over Youtube). Aside from 140 being the minimum temperature for hot holding longer than 8 hours per the USDA, these places also claim 140 is the ideal IT for slicing brisket.

My briskets are cooked to an internal temp of anywhere between 195 - 200+ (It's done when it's tender), then the briskets which are wrapped in either butcher paper or foil get rested down inside a closed oven (turned off) to prevent carryover cooking when it goes in the warmer. My warmer will hold a temp pretty rock solid and only fluctuates +/- 5 degrees (an NSF certified PK100 electric smoker which is fully insulated and 100% stainless steel construction). I also use a Fireboard WIFI therm in conjunction with this setup and have an ambient probe on the bottom shelf and one on the top shelf to measure actual grate temperatures inside the cabinet, with a probe inside the wrapped brisket's flat to keep an eye on internal temps during the hold. Once the brisket is pulled from the cooker, I am resting down to about 160, so about 20 degrees hotter than these Texas restaurants, and Alarms are set to let me know if the internal temperature drops below 145 at any time during the hold.

The real question I have is this. If the brisket was cooked to around 200, allowed to cool but still kept to no less than 140 degrees before it goes in the warmer, and the warmer is set to 140, does it matter if the internal temp drops below 140 in the warmer, and then gradually comes back up and stabilizes at 140 degrees internal during the heated hold? Would that be a safety concern?

The problem I'm having, and the reason for my question above is this. I have noticed that the cooling of the brisket, before it goes in the warmer, seems to gain momentum. Just to have a little padding for safety I have tried to keep the internal temp of the brisket to a minimum of 145 degrees throughout the heated hold (these places in Texas shoot for exactly 140). I have noticed that to prevent the brisket from dropping below 145 at all, I have to put the brisket in the warmer no later than when it comes down to 165, and with the warmer set to an average temp of 150 (so again hotter than what these places are setting their warmers at by 10 degrees as they set them at exactly 140). Over the course of the heated hold the internal temp will continue to drop, it is VERY slow, but it does drop to below that of the set temp of the warmer (based on grate temperature, not the temp the controller states), but then it will come back up and generally stabilizes around the warmer's set temp.

I have noticed that even though I am pulling my briskets just a little early before they are totally tender, they have been coming out overdone after the heated hold, and I am suspecting it is because I am not letting them get low enough before placing in the warmer, and then the warmer is set a little too high, resulting in carryover cooking. But, this is the only way I can absolutely guarantee they do not drop below 145 at any point in the hold.

I can't imagine these Texas restaurants would not have the same issue, if they are setting their warmers to exactly 140, and they aren't placing the briskets in the warmer until they drop to exactly 140, I have no idea how the cooling momentum would not cause their briskets to drop below 140 inside the warmers.

So I guess I'm looking for advise from those with professional restaurant experience, am I overthinking this????

On a side note, one of the other heated rest methods I have tried did avoid this problem (I think), and that was the sous vide hold, and they turned out amazing every time. Perfectly done. Rest down to 145, vac seal, and drop in the sous vide bath set at 141. Temping the brisket after the rest confirmed every single time the IT was exactly 141, although as it's in a vac sealed bag I guess I can't be 100% sure the IT didn't drop below 140 during the hold, and then come back up to 141. Problem with the sous vide rest is it's very difficult to fit more than 1 brisket and so I have been trying to dial in using an actual holding cabinet that can hold a temp rock steady, which the PK100 will do no problem.


Just trying to dial this hold method in and get the pre-hold brisket temp and the warmer temp as low as I can to avoid overcooking, without causing a safety concern. It's a tight rope ....
 
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For years, similar questions would come up but generally the questions involved safely holding wrapped BBQ meats in a Cambro box, or insulated cooler (maybe with a towel or newspaper for insulation) with no additional heat source. This is a very common practice to this day.

All these top 50 BBQ spots in Texas cook their briskets the day before service, pull them off the pits somewhere between 10PM to 12 midnight, let them cool down to 140 degrees internal in speed racks, and once they get down to 140 IT they go in warming cabinets set at 140 for 12 or more hours until they're ready for service. This is well documented and many places have stated publicly this is their process (it's also all over Youtube).
I've followed these same stories for a few years (and boy, did they leak out slowly) and I can't say I've ever read about cooling to 140°, but I've heard 150° mentioned. I also have not read about 140° as the warmer temp, I recall the warmer temp as being higher. Bottom line for me - I understand a cool down is needed, but I doubt the night cooks are temping every brisket. I bet they have a recommended cooling time before going into the warming oven until service at 11am the following day.

My briskets are cooked to an internal temp of anywhere between 195 - 200+ (It's done when it's tender), then the briskets which are wrapped in either butcher paper or foil get rested down inside a closed oven (turned off) to prevent carryover cooking when it goes in the warmer. My warmer will hold a temp pretty rock solid and only fluctuates +/- 5 degrees (an NSF certified PK100 electric smoker which is fully insulated and 100% stainless steel construction).
So you are slowly cooling down your brisket while wrapped, then they go from a closed oven straight to your warmer without opening the wrap?
The real question I have is this. If the brisket was cooked to around 200, allowed to cool but still kept to no less than 140 degrees before it goes in the warmer, and the warmer is set to 140, does it matter if the internal temp drops below 140 in the warmer, and then gradually comes back up and stabilizes at 140 degrees internal during the heated hold? Would that be a safety concern?
Circling back to my question above about opening the wrapped brisket, here are my thoughts. A finished brisket at 200° will have no bacteria present. Wrapping it at that temp provides a really good barrier to hold heat, and to protect against bacteria. And as long as the wrapping stays sealed, new bugs would have to first get into the warmer, and second, get through the wrapping. I believe that meat (even below 140°) is still in a safe environment.
 
For years, similar questions would come up but generally the questions involved safely holding wrapped BBQ meats in a Cambro box, or insulated cooler (maybe with a towel or newspaper for insulation) with no additional heat source. This is a very common practice to this day.


I've followed these same stories for a few years (and boy, did they leak out slowly) and I can't say I've ever read about cooling to 140°, but I've heard 150° mentioned. I also have not read about 140° as the warmer temp, I recall the warmer temp as being higher. Bottom line for me - I understand a cool down is needed, but I doubt the night cooks are temping every brisket. I bet they have a recommended cooling time before going into the warming oven until service at 11am the following day.


So you are slowly cooling down your brisket while wrapped, then they go from a closed oven straight to your warmer without opening the wrap?

Circling back to my question above about opening the wrapped brisket, here are my thoughts. A finished brisket at 200° will have no bacteria present. Wrapping it at that temp provides a really good barrier to hold heat, and to protect against bacteria. And as long as the wrapping stays sealed, new bugs would have to first get into the warmer, and second, get through the wrapping. I believe that meat (even below 140°) is still in a safe environment.

Thanks, thirdeye. To answer your question on the wrap, I have changed my methods here and there over time, trying different things. Currently, I am using the foil boat wrap method to finish the cook, which has the top (fat cap side) exposed. But, when I determine the brisket is done, I am pulling it out of the foil boat and wrapping it in butcher paper to rest it down, and for the heated hold.

I am thinking about slightly changing this a little on my next brisket, more so to keep the warmer clean then anything though. I still plan to use the foil boat method to finish the cook, then wrap in butcher paper for the cool down and the heated hold, but I am thinking about adding an outer layer of foil to seal the butcher paper and keep drippings from getting all over inside the warmer. Some places like Truth BBQ in Houston do something similar, but they use plastic wrap over the butcher paper to seal it. I just hate working with plastic wrap and feel like foil would be easier. But... I haven't tried it yet.

I'm going to cook two briskets on Monday for 4th of July and plan to do some experimenting. Both briskets will be prepped and cooked exactly the same. I'll be using my offset stick burner, and will be using the foil boat wrap when they get between 175-180 and the bark has the color I'm looking for. Once done they will be pulled, and wrapped in butcher paper and an outer layer of foil for the cool down. Here is where the experimenting comes in. Once they get down to 145 one will go straight in to the warmer set at 140, the other will get pulled out of the butcher paper/foil and will get vac sealed and in to a sous vide bath set at 141. I already know the sous vide rest should come out perfect as i t has several times (although I have not use this method in about 9 months. I am interested to see if letting the other brisket rest down further and setting the warmer lower will match the results of the sous vide hold.


Here is a Youtube video from Jonny White aka Jirby BBQ who is one of the owner's and pitmasters at Goldee's BBQ, who took the number 1 spot on the most recent Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ list.


In this video he talks about his method (at the time) for pulling, resting, and holding the briskets at Goldees. He states that generally they rest down to 140 before they go in the warmer, but also states there is some variance based on doneness, as in a restaurant setting when cooking a "set" of multiple briskets, he will create three categories, perfectly done, slightly over done, and slightly under done. The ones that are perfectly done rest down to 140 before they go in the warmer, the ones that are slightly over done he lets go all the way down to 130 before they go in the warmer, and the ones that are slightly under done he only lets go down to 160 before they go in the warmer. He states the warmer is ALWAYS set to 140, and he temps each brisket individually to determine IT before puting in the warmer.


 
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Please follow up with the results from the SV hot hold, I haven't played with that yet. I'm currently using a boat in a Nesco roaster for hot holding with good results. I can tent it, or add some water for humidity as needed. I do use a commercial injection, but not at 'competition' strength.
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Please follow up with the results from the SV hot hold, I haven't played with that yet. I'm currently using a boat in a Nesco roaster for hot holding with good results. I can tent it, or add some water for humidity as needed. I do use a commercial injection, but not at 'competition' strength.
View attachment 669205
View attachment 669206

I can already tell you the sous vide hold works perfectly, as I have done at least 10 briskets that way and all of them turned out great. I just haven't done it in about 9 months as I got my PK100 in September, and then we had so much rain between October and April that I didn't cook much brisket at all during those months. Once the rains subsided I started doing my hold in the PK100, but I am still trying to dial that in. For the sous vide hold, i was cooking until tender, foil boating for the wrap, then resting down to 145 and into the sous vide bath at 141.
 
This is a pinned thread in our Food Safety Forum from our late Chef JimmyJ Serve Safe Food Safety Instructor.
 
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For the sous vide hold, i was cooking until tender, foil boating for the wrap, then resting down to 145 and into the sous vide bath at 141
Did you bag only the brisket, or the brisket with some foil juice..., or did you bag it boat and all?
I have a Party Stacker I use for holding meats, and it works good for smoked sausages so this could work for a brisket too. I use SV balls to cover and stop evaporation.
xyfBzEK.jpg
 
Did you bag only the brisket, or the brisket with some foil juice..., or did you bag it boat and all?
I have a Party Stacker I use for holding meats, and it works good for smoked sausages so this could work for a brisket too. I use SV balls to cover and stop evaporation.
View attachment 669337
I just bagged the brisket. The suction from the vac seal pulls a little liquified tallow out of the brisket. Not a lot, certainly not enough to be concerned about, but just enough to coat the exterior and keep things nice and moist.
 
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