Smoked brisket is one of barbecue’s best meats. The good news is that you can replicate the tender and juicy beef flavors of traditional charcoal BBQ in other backyard cookers. From the best woods to delicious rubs, find out everything you need to know with our guide on how to smoke brisket in an electric smoker.
This recipe will walk you through every step to cooking the perfect BBQ beef brisket. From the best way to prepare and cut the meat, to what wood chips to use, and how to set up your smoker for the best results.
The way to a delicious smoked brisket is different to any other cut of meat, and this can put off a lot of BBQ fans. The cost and sheer size of the beautiful beef cut can also intimidate even the most adventurous of smoking die-hards.
The good news is electric smokers now provide an easier way to smoke brisket without compromising on that great BBQ taste. They’re easy to use, and can create a great entry point to smoking for beginners.
In my guide today I’m going to show you how to use your electric smoker to create BBQ’s finest cut of meat: Beef brisket.
How to prepare beef brisket
The key thing to look out for when choosing your beef brisket is to make sure it has a thick layer of fat on it. A good, heavy layer of fat will slowly melt over the meat while it cooks, imparting it with moisture and an incredible flavor.
Also important is to familiarize yourself with the composition of your cut.
Brisket is comprises two main muscles. One is the ‘flat‘, which is a long and slender muscle that runs down the length of the meat, and has a thick layer of fat (called the ‘fat cap‘) on top of it. The other is the ‘point‘, which sits at one end of the cut, with a layer of fat between it and the flat.
The flat is often the most popular part of the beef cut, and makes up most of a full brisket. However, the joint does have a lot of intramuscular fat, which some people prefer. The choice of which you want to use is completely down to you… Although, you can even just cook the whole thing.
For the best results, do your preparation the night before cooking. Brisket will have the best possible flavor and texture when left to dry brine with seasoning overnight. If this isn’t possible, try to do it at least 2-4 hours before smoking.
On to the preparation!
Trim your brisket
Trimming is a crucial stage of brisket preparation and one you should do before you do any seasoning or marinating (source). The amount of fat that you leave on it will determine how well your meat will cook, and even how it will it taste.
If you leave too much fat on the beef, it will be difficult for your smoke to penetrate the meat with flavor. If you trim off too much, there won’t be enough fat content left to moisten the meat and give it that beautifully juicy BBQ taste. This is why approaches like Aaron Franklin’s brisket recipe have remained so popular over the years.
At the heart of any good meat prep is a good, reliable knife. For our purposes, you’re going to need a knife that’s about seven or eight inches in length. It can’t be understated how large and tough brisket is in its raw form, so a knife that’s both sharp and long enough is key.
Trimming meat is not an easy task and in truth it needs its own post. Luckily for you, we have written the perfect guide to trimming brisket here. Go give it a read (and take notes!).
Get a good brisket rub
Don’t forget to apply a good rub to your brisket. This will complement the smoky flavors from the cooking without overpowering them.
The important thing for seasoning is to keep it basic. Some people like to overthink this stage, but try not to go overboard. We want the flavors of the meat to come through without an inch-layer of seasoning blocking its way. One of brisket’s best attributes is that even when matched with just a bit of black pepper and sea salt it can still taste beautiful.
Luckily, a lot of seasonings and rubs are available pre-made, but I strongly recommend making your own. You can tailor it to your own tastes, and also it’s just more satisfying putting it together yourself.
Keep in mind that the purpose of the rub is to enhance the meat, so cover your brisket with the rub generously. Cover it but rub it in gently. Try using garlic powder, red pepper flakes or paprika.
If you have prepared a marinade then using this window of time to inject the brisket with it. This isn’t an essential step, but if you would like to apply a marinade then check out this recipe here.
Preheat your electric smoker
Choose a smoking wood that will match well with your meat. I recommend going for oak, mesquite, or hickory. Personally, I prefer to match hickory with smoked brisket, but feel free to experiment.
Make sure that whatever wood chips you go for, that it’s a dry hardwood. Going dry will ensure that your smoke is clean. Black smoke isn’t just unpleasant to be around, but it can also impart meat with a really bitter taste.
Once you have loaded your chosen wood chips into your smoker, preheat the smoker and wait for the temperature to settle at 225°F/110°C. It’s important to wait for the temperature to settle for a good period of time as this will help cook the meat more evenly without creating any hot spots or uncooked areas.
How to cook beef brisket
As mentioned earlier, ensure that the brisket has been out of the refrigerator for at least an hour prior to cooking. This will help bring it to room temperature, creating a better cook.
When ready, put your meat on the rack in your smoker. Make sure you place it with its fat side up. This ensures that when the fat starts to melt away, it does so over the meat, infusing it with our moist, fatty flavor.
However, if the main heat source of your smoker comes from lower down in the smoker, move the rack lower down in the smoker to ensure that the heat isn’t facing towards the underneath of your meat, effectively drying it out.
Place the point end of the brisket towards the heat source of your smoker. This has more fat so won’t be at risk of drying out.
Set up a wireless digital thermometer, with one probe in the meat and one in the smoker chamber. Make sure your drip pan is in place to help capture run-off, and reduce flare-ups.
Finally, place your water pan filled with water in the smoker. This will help keep moisture in your smoker’s chamber, reducing the dry-out that fire can cause and keeping a healthy amount of smoke in the smoker.
Close the smoker lid or door firmly. Leave it and don’t open it until the next step. Smoke and heat can escape very quickly, which will disturb your meat. Your thermometer will help you keep a watch over your brisket’s progress without having to open your smoker prematurely.
The time needed for your brisket to cook will vary depending on the amount of meat on your cut. However you can safely leave it for the first three hours while your smoker does its magic. Once this time has passed, open your smoker and use a loaded spray bottle with water or beef stock on it. Spray generously.
Spraying it will help keep the meat moist, but it’ll also help develop a beautiful crust on the meat. Do this every 30 minutes while you wait for the meat to reach 190°F/90°C. Once it has reached this temperature then your brisket is cooked and is ready to be removed.
Once you remove it from the smoker, it’s crucial to leave it to rest. As tempting as it might be to start serving it up immediately, it’s important to let its juices to settle through the meat. Leave it for around 10 minutes.
How long does brisket take to be smoked?
You will always want to live by 190°F/90°C, but a good rule of thumb is an hour per pound. This means for a 5lb brisket, you’ll need about 5 hours. However, this can vary so always be mindful of measuring internal temperature.
What internal temperature is best for smoking brisket?
190°F (90°C) is the ideal internal temperature for perfectly smoked brisket.
Be careful of ‘the stall’. This is a period that can occur where the heat in the smoker has started to evaporate moisture from the flesh of the meat, which can significantly reduce, or even halt, the increase of your brisket’s temperature.
To help combat this, I recommend using aluminum foil to wrap the brisket when you get to 165°F/75°C. This will lock in the heat and help your meat get over the line to hitting that 190-degree mark.
As a safety measure, it’s also important to test the meat with a fork to check how tender it is. If you can use the fork to twist in the meat then your brisket is ready.
Should you dry rub brisket overnight?
For the best results, try seasoning your brisket the night before and leave it to sit in the refrigerator overnight. This will effectively dry brine the beef overnight, enhancing the flavors and giving you the juiciest and best tasting results.
How to cut smoked brisket
Remember that your brisket consists of two main parts: The flat and the point. These two parts are comprised differently, so needed to be approached differently.
Using a serrated knife, start by cutting against the grain of the flat. Aim for quarter-inch thickness. When you get to the point, turn the brisket around and cut against the grain of the point. Be careful not to cut off any of the bark.