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What to do when brisket is done early? (Explained)

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Fully smoking a brisket can be a time-consuming task that might take up to 20 hours! So, one issue you would not expect to encounter is a brisket that finishes too quickly.

While this may not appear to be a major concern, it does entail that you must now find a way to preserve your brisket fresh and juicy before serving.

Fortunately, the pros have been through this as well and have revealed their tips for keeping brisket warm and fresh. Holding it in an oven, slow cooker, or even coolers are some of these options!

This essay will go through the best methods for storing and preserving brisket, as well as a few reasons why your brisket may have completed too soon.

Why Would Brisket Finish Early? 

Too Much Heat

Brisket is typically smoked at temperatures ranging from 225 to 250 degrees (F). The brisket will take around 1 ½ to 2 hours per pound of meat to thoroughly smoke at these temperatures.

This means that a 10-pound brisket, for example, may take up to 20 hours to fully cook!

However, if your smoker is set higher than 250 degrees(F), it can significantly alter the cooking duration of the brisket.

So, if your smoker is set to temps between 275 and 300 degrees(F), the cooking time per pound of meat jumps to 30 to 45 minutes.

This implies that the same 10-pound brisket will only take 5 to 6 hours to cook completely!

Little Fat on The Brisket

Brisket takes so long to smoke because all of its fatty and connective tissues are broken down at low and slow temperatures, then rendered and redistributed back into the meat. 

It’s the reason brisket has such a delicate texture and rich flavor.

As these tissues are broken down, the excess fluids begin secreting to the surface of the meat, creating “evaporative cooling” (the process in which the brisket cools faster than the smoker can cook it), driving the brisket to stall.

Essentially, the higher the fat content of a brisket, the longer it will take to cook. But it also works the other way around!

The less fat a brisket has, the less time it will need to smoke.

Smoking In Hot Weather

Weather conditions outside the smoker can have a significant impact on the ambient smoke heat within the smoker.

If the weather is particularly hot that day, the smoke temperature will rise, causing the brisket to finish considerably faster than expected. To compensate, you’ll need to lower the smoke heat with careful monitoring.

How Long Can You Keep Brisket Warm?

This is determined by a number of things. Brisket is safe to consume as long as it’s kept outside the “danger zone.”

The danger zone is the temperature range at which certain meats are deemed unsafe for eating. Temperatures for brisket range between 40 and 140 degrees(F).

  • Raw brisket should not be allowed to reach temperatures of 40 degrees(F) or higher
  • Fully cooked brisket should not be allowed to go below 140 degrees(F)

With that said, brisket can be kept warm and fresh for up to 4 hours with correct technique and care!

However, this time might be extended as long as the rules of the danger zone are followed. Insulation is critical in this situation. Some smokers hold their briskets for up to 10 hours.

How To Keep Smoked Brisket Fresh and Warm

Hold In an Oven

If you simply need to keep your brisket warm for a short time, an oven is a great solution.

Most ovens include a “warm” setting that is ideal for keeping brisket fresh for a short period of time without drying it out. However, leave the wrap on your brisket so that the rendered juices can help keep it moisturized.

If your oven does not have a warming function, simply pre-heat it to 150°F, which will work the same.

Using A Crockpot

If you’re worried that an oven will dry out your nicely smoked brisket, use a crockpot instead!

The concept is the same: place the brisket in the crockpot and set it to low heat. The benefit of using a crockpot is that it is easy to keep hydrated.

The only difference is that you unwrap the brisket before placing it. Pour any juices from the wrap, as well as any rendered drippings from the smoker, into the slow cooker.

However, if you desire crackling skin or crispy bark, you should avoid this method.

The Cooler Method

Using a cooler to keep warm may seem illogical. But why? A cooler’s insulative characteristics, which keep things cold, may also do an excellent job of retaining heat and keeping things warm.

A brisket can be kept warm in a cooler for 4-10 hours with a little preparation and careful monitoring.

While the brisket is still on the smoker, prepare the cooler.

• First, heat the water and pour it into the cooler. Drain it, then wipe it down before lining the cooler with dry cloths towels.

• Remove the brisket from the smoker while still wrapped in foil or butcher paper and wrap it in a clothe towel before placing it in the cooler.

• Pile extra towels or blankets on top of the brisket to eliminate extra airspace.

• Filter out additional boiling water every 30-45 minutes to keep the temperature warm.

Keep in mind: if you intend to hold the brisket for more than 2 hours, remote thermometers are recommended. As long as the brisket is kept above 140 degrees(F), it should stay warm and ready to serve.

Final Thoughts 

While a brisket that finishes early can be inconvenient, it isn’t the end of the world. You have a wide range of options for not only keeping it warm, but also fresh, juicy, and ready to serve.

Remember the following:

  • An oven is a great way to keep brisket warm and moist for short periods of time but be careful not to overcook or dry it out. 
  • Slow cookers can keep brisket warm and moist, but crackling skin and crisp bark are compromised. 
  • The cooler method is the most recommended, but it does require preparation and supervision throughout the process.