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How Long to Cook a Brisket or The Misconception of the 1 to 1.5 hour rule

Discussion in 'Beef' started by gary s, Jul 9, 2014.

  1. gary s

    gary s SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    How Long to Cook Brisket
    Misconception of the 1 to 1.5 hours per pound rule
    This is not just my opinion, but facts gathered from various sources. One has Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard University, Texas A &M Agrilife Research & Animal Science, Texas A & M Rosenthal Meats Center and Teach Meat Science, Department of Animal Science, and TAMU BBQ group.   ​
    Also, my observations of forty years of smoking.
    I am not trying to step on anyone’s toe’s or create a problem, just trying to help first time smokers in their  journey to smoking a great brisket
    In general thickness is a better predictor than weight.

    Imagine you had one 20” long, 10” wide,  3” thick brisket. Weighs 20 lbs, and takes 30 hours to cook. But now imagine you cut in half, and separated it by an eighth of an inch. Would it take 30 hours to cook, or 15 hrs now that each half weighs 10 lbs? In fact, the cooking time only depends on the brisket thickness, not its weight. A 30” long or a 10” long brisket that is the same thickness takes the same amount of time to cook.

    Similarly, a 6” diameter pork but that is 12” long cooks in the same time a 6” diameter 18” long butt.

    So if you typically cook a 12lb brisket in 12 hours, and you bought an 18 pounder but really it is just longer and about as thick after trimming, the cooking time might only jump from 12 to 13 hours.....

    Another example, Say you are grilling steaks, you have two pieces of meat, both weigh one pound but one is an inch thick and the other is two inches thick, you are cooking both to medium rare, they both weigh a pound, but which one will get to medium rare the quickest.

    That is why so many people new to smoking have their briskest turn out dry, tough, over or under cooked, because they are going strictly by time. After you have cooked several briskets and are familiar with your smoker it is a lot easier to judge when your brisket is done. A thermometer is a valuable tool. Check your brisket at different intervals and when you think it is getting close.

    Also Smoking temperature is one of the key factors, people smoke anywhere from 200° to 300° so how can your cooking time be based on weight, simply put it can’t.  The one hour per pound rule is a good starting point, but don’t base your entire cook on weight alone.

    So to summarize, when picking a brisket take note of the size differences a 16 pound brisket is going to be bigger all around, a little thicker, wider and longer than a 12 pounder, so take that into consideration when choosing and smoking a brisket. I wouldn’t automatically add 6 more hours for the 18 pounder, but look at how much thicker it actually is and use your good judgment.

    I know smoking a brisket for the first time seems complicated for some, but keep it simple watch your temp and keep an eye on your brisket and you will be fine. I guess it’s easy for me to say since I’ve been smoking for over 40 years.

    There is so much information available at your finger tips, that wasn’t there when I started. I had a lot of trial and errors; ask a lot of questions at different BBQ joints and friends who smoked. I also kept a notebook which I would refer to until I got comfortable enough not to need it any more. When I switched to a reverse flow (which I use now) it took a few smokes to get to know my new smoker and figure out the adjustments. I have smoked so much on it I know when to check it to add wood or more charcoal, how much to start with and how quickly it comes up to temp.

    No two briskets are exactly the same, let’s say for example you estimate 1 to 1.5 hours per pound.  A 12 pound brisket can be done in 12 hours during one smoke and the same size brisket takes 18 hours the next time. Why?  There are many factors that contribute to the difference; type and breed, diet, age of the animal, amount of exercise, feed, etc.  All these determine the density of the muscle and the amount of fat marbling.  Type of equipment, experience level, temperature, and weather all play a part in how long it will take.

    Good briskets take time, but the time varies so how do you know when it’s done ?

    There are several methods you can use. One way especially for the beginner is use a thermometer. (Most briskets that are dry and tough were not cooked long enough)

    Most briskets will be done around 190° to 205°. Now if you buy” Choice grade” it can be tender and juicy around 180° to 185°.

    Beef needs to rest after it is cooked so the juices can redistribute before cutting. A brisket should rest at least 30 minutes and up to 2 to 4 hours in a warm ice chest.

    Using the 1 to 1.5 hour rule and your brisket is around 12 pounds, a cooking time of between 12 and 18 hours depending on the above mentioned factors. A lot of cooks use the toothpick test, when the toothpick slides in like butter with no resistance its ready. Another method mostly by experienced cooks and have a lot of briskets under their belts, is looks and feel, a good bark and kind of soft and pliable. 

    I am hoping this helps and not confuses anyone, Smoking a brisket is not rocket science but you need to pay attention to the basics and you will have great brisket.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2014
  2. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    Very good article!![​IMG]   ----------------------[​IMG]

    Thanks Gary!!![​IMG]

    Last edited: Jul 9, 2014
  3. gary s

    gary s SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    Thank you Bear 

    Gary S
  4. hickorybutt

    hickorybutt Smoking Fanatic

    Good stuff Gary.

    The thickness rule makes a lot of sense.  I smoked a 12lb. brisket over Memorial Day around 260-270 degrees that took 15 hours to finish.  I cooked another 12lb. last week for the 4th and it finished in 11.5 hours.  The J4 brisket I did was longer and thinner.  As a result, it finished 6 hours before meal time and I had to let it rest in the cooler the entire time.  And it continued to cook in the cooler and was over-done to the point that it just pulled apart rather than sliced.  It certainly was tender, and I'd rather it be tender and juicy than dry, but it was just pulled brisket instead of sliced.  I pulled the brisket out of the smoker at 203 degrees.  In hind sight, I likely should have pulled maybe 193-195 knowing that it would have plenty of time resting in the cooler and it might not have been so "over done".

    Now that I have some better insight, both on experience as well as your input, I'll start considering thickness along with weight when trying to gauge how long a brisket will take to cook.

    Thanks again.
  5. dandl93

    dandl93 Smoking Fanatic

    Thanks for the article and pointers.

  6. heubrewer

    heubrewer Meat Mopper

    GaryS.  thanks for posting
  7. demosthenes9

    demosthenes9 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES and YES !!!!!!

    Great article!!    This has been a major pet peeve of mine for some time and I'm so glad that someone with some literary talent put it all out there in a nice, concise form.

    Thanks Gary !!!!
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2014
  8. gary s

    gary s SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    Thanks D9

  9. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    LOL-----Exactly what you & I mentioned about Prime Ribs, on the "Whole Ribeye Advice" post yesterday.



    Gary found this article, and it explains it more fully on this thread.

  10. demosthenes9

    demosthenes9 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    You're welcome Gary.  
    Yep Bear.    Prime Rib threads is where this usually comes up the most.   Well, that and brisket flat threads.    Can't remember if it was here or another site where someone did the math and concluded that since an 5lb PR took 4 hours, they were going to cook their 18lb PR for close to 15 hours.

    As to the article itself, I think Gary is the author of it.   Could be wrong, but looking at Google, I'm not seeing it posted anywhere else.
  11. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    LOL---You're right, and I knew that, because Gary emailed it to me before he posted it. 

    I should have said, "Gary found all the information for his article that explains it more fully."

  12. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Great point and well written! This is very true of Brisket. An 18lb Brisket is not Half again Thicker than a 12lb Brisket. While it usually is slightly, Thicker it will be Longer and Wider. The two will cook in a fairly similar amount of time. A Pork Loin is sized in a similar way as a Brisket. A 5 Pound Loin is the same or similar Thickness as a 10 pound Loin, the 10 pounder will just be, Twice as Long. So a 10 pound Loin and a 5 Pound Loin will take about the same time to Smoke. There is, however, a difference when it comes to Pork Butts. Two Butts of different weights have very different dimensions over all. Comparing a 7lb Butt to an 11lb Butt is like comparing a Softball to a Basketball, not quite so extreme but you get the point. Time/Pound plays a much bigger factor with a Butt than a Brisket. Additionally, I and many here have found, you are much better off figuring 2 hours/pound at 225-250°F than 1.5 hours/pound...JJ
  13. gary s

    gary s SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    I have been working on this for a while, didn't want to just throw my opinion out there, so I contacted all the various people in the department mentioned and compiled the info. I have read post after post on disappointing briskets and thought this may help. I have known this for years but again wanted some input from people far smarter than I. I know the same principal applies to other cuts of meat as well, Prime Rib being a great example


    Bearcarver likes this.
  14. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Yep, you did a great job. Info on Brisket, being a challenge to many, is always welcome. Thanks again...JJ
  15. heubrewer

    heubrewer Meat Mopper

    Any thoughts on if wrapping a brisket decreases cooking time? 

    If so by about how much (guestimate)?
  16. gary s

    gary s SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    I usually wrap mine about 6 hours in or until my bark looks like I want. I use butcher paper. I holds in some moisture but allows for a better bark. If you seal it up in Foil (which I have done) it does decrease  the cooking time buy sealing in and steaming. At competitions they call this method the "Texas Crutch"  If using this method you can unwrap before it's finished and return to the smoker to firm up the bark. As far as pin pointing a time it depends on all the factors I posted.

    Gary S
  17. humdinger

    humdinger Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Nice work Gary, thanks. I lucked out on a brisket at deer camp a few years ago and haven't been able to repeat it since. My wife tells me to give it up and stick with pork butt but I am on a mission and this helps! Thanks so much.
  18. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    Great information.  Should be a sticky!
  19. Thanks for for the info, Gary. I am probably going to do my first brisket next weekend, and you have just reinforced what I have absorbed from the forum on the subject.. Thank you agatn, Ernie
  20. diesel

    diesel Smoking Fanatic

    Yes, very good article and well written. 
    Me too!  I watched a few of Franklin's videos on how he cooks brisket.  He uses butcher paper.  I started using it about 6 months ago and have been very pleased with how it does.  Besides it is also a third of the cost of foil.  I have been wrapping all the different kinds of meat, smoked sausages, pork, ribs with butcher paper.