Years ago when I first got into barbecue, my ultimate goal was to learn how to smoke a brisket. Of course, that was before pellet grills were a thing and all I had was a really crappy offset smoker that had been left behind by the previous owners of the house we'd recently bought.
Smoking a brisket was so intimidating for me. It's a whole lot of meat at a pretty hefty price, (not to mention the time and fuel investment) to screw it up.
And since it is so much meat, I wouldn't want to just cook it for my immediate family; it would only make sense to invite some guests to help eat it. BUT WHAT IF I SCREW IT UP AND EVERYONE GOES HUNGRY? That would be so humiliating.
Over time I eventually got up the nerve to give it a try and it's been a learning process of trial and error ever since.
Have all the briskets I've ever smoked been amazing? No.
Have I ever had to throw a smoked brisket away because I ruined it? Also, no.
Did I eventually discover a process that consistently produces a smoked brisket recipe I can be proud to serve? Yes.
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How to smoke a brisket on a pellet grill overnight
There's a time and a place for offset smokers, but I would argue that an overnight brisket cook is not it. Offsets require a new split of wood every 45 minutes and I'm just not that committed to that specific method of smoking to be willing to wake up that often over the course of a night.
Pellet smokers are perfect for an overnight cook because they're kind of the "crockpot" smoker. You fill the hopper full of pellets before getting started and then set it and forget it for the night.
After trimming brisket, I seasoned it with a generous coating of salt and pepper. A whole packer Brisket is a big piece of meat and can handle a liberal amount of seasoning. You could definitely use a smoked brisket rub for seasoning, but personally, I like to keep it simple with plain old kosher salt and pepper. (If you're looking for a rub though, I do highly recommend Killer Hog's smoked brisket rub.)
I placed the rubbed brisket on my Memphis Pro pellet smoker set to 200° and put it to bed for the night.
Using a pellet grill overnight
While pellet grills are "set-it-and-forget-it", I've learned from experience that things can go wrong when leaving it to run unattended for the night.
Several years ago I ended up with a situation where there was a buildup of ash in the firepot that extinguished the fire probably less than an hour into my cook. (My bad for not cleaning out the ash before getting started). Fortunately, it was winter and the overnight temperatures were in the 30s, so my brisket stayed nicely refrigerated in the pellet grill all night and I was able to recover the cook the next morning.
I learned two lessons that night:
- 1Always do your due diligence to make sure your pellet grill is ready for a long cook. Clean out any existing ash. Fill the hopper with wood pellets. Be sure it's not anywhere near combustible materials in case a grease fire pops up.
- 2Use a Bluetooth BBQ alarm to wake you in case something does go wrong. I programmed our Thermoworks Signals to alert me if the pit temp rose above 260° or dropped below 140°. Though I could have put a meat probe in the cooking brisket, I didn't really need to at this point because the pit temperature parameters would keep the internal temperature of the meat right where it was supposed to be. I sleep a lot better during those overnight cooks knowing that my BBQ alarm is keeping an eye on the pit for me.
The next morning
After spending about 8 hours on the 200° pellet smoker, my beef brisket was reading about 158° in the flat and 168° in the point. We had reached the stall and it was time to wrap the smoked brisket.
After that amount of time on the smoker, the beef brisket had taken on about as much smoke as it could and the goal from that point on was just to keep it moist and continue bringing up the temperature.
I set the smoked brisket on butcher paper and drizzled some beef tallow over top before wrapping it up tightly and returning it to the pellet grill. At this point, I increased my smoker temperature to 250° for the remainder of the cook.
Before I could walk away, I made sure to stick a meat probe into the flat of the smoking brisket and programmed the Thermoworks Signals to alert me when the meat reached 203°.
Invest in the rest
It took a little less than 3 hours for the butcher paper wrapped brisket to reach its target internal temperature. That's what I was hoping for because I wanted to give this BBQ brisket a nice long rest before it was time to eat.
We happen to have a warming drawer built into our outdoor kitchen, but if you don't have one of those, a dry cooler with some old towels would serve the same purpose. Before transferring the wrapped brisket to the warming drawer, I added an additional tight wrap of plastic wrap to keep the brisket drippings right where they needed to be to give us juicy meat for dinner.
By smoking the brisket on a pellet grill overnight, by the time it was finished cooking we still had 6-7 hours until dinner time to let the meat rest.
Smoked Brisket FAQs
How to trim a brisket
A 15-pound whole brisket will typically have at least 5 pounds of excess fat to remove. While "fat means flavor", this much extra fat would not be good eating and prevents any seasoning or smoke from actually penetrating the meat itself.
If you've never seen a raw brisket straight out of the cryovac packaging, the first thing that you'll notice is that one side has a little bit of fat (the underside) and the other side has a LOT of fat (the fat cap). Both sides will require trimming, although it's pretty obvious which one will require more. A good sharp knife will be a necessity here.
I usually begin by trimming the underside first. To do so, place the brisket fat cap down on the cutting board and begin trimming the excess fat a little at a time until the surface looks fairly uniform. I also do a fair amount of trimming of the sides of the brisket while it's still in this position. It's good to kind of square off the whole brisket and get rid of that unattractive edge meat.
Next, flip the brisket fat side up and begin trimming the fat cap. It can be very tempting to start hacking away pretty deeply, but it's best to take fairly shallow cuts of fat off at a time. Remember, you can always remove more, but once it's been cut off you can't put it back.
Recommended tools for trimming brisket
How long does it take to smoke a brisket on a pellet grill?
If you want your smoked brisket to be tender and moist, the lower and slower you can cook it, the better. I usually allow a solid 12 hours (if not more) to smoke a full packer brisket.
Most whole briskets weigh around 14-15 pounds. On average, they will take 30-60 minutes per pound to come up to temperature. Of course, this all depends on the temperature at which the brisket is being smoked.
Brisket can be smoked much faster (called the "hot and fast" method) by using a higher heat, however in my experience, these cooks are never as tender and juicy as those done low and slow.
What is the best temperature to smoke a brisket on a pellet grill?
Smoked brisket is probably most commonly cooked at 225°. I prefer an even lower temperature of 200° myself, as I believe the slower brisket cooks, the more moist the meat.
Do you smoke brisket fat side up or down?
My general rule of thumb is that brisket should be cooking fat side facing the heat source. Is the fire of your pellet grill below the meat? Put it on the smoker fat side down. Is the heat coming in from the top or side? Cook brisket fat side up. The fat cap will act as a thermal barrier protecting the brisket from the heat, so always try to place the fat side between the meat and the heat.
Should I wrap my brisket?
I usually smoke my beef brisket unwrapped until it reaches an internal temperature of around 160°. This is the point in the cook where the brisket hits "the stall" and may require some extra insulation to help push it the remaining way through the cook. This is the temperature where the fat begins to render, and in doing so the liquid fat cools the meat, keeping it from increasing the internal temperature.
You can wrap brisket using heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher paper and then return it to the grill grate of your pellet grill.
How do you know when smoked brisket is done?
The target internal temperature for smoked brisket is 203°. That being said, I've learned to not only trust the reading of the instant-read thermometer, but also the feel of it. There should be little resistance when inserting the temperature probe and it should have a similar feel to a knife going into room temperature butter. If the temperature is reading 203° and it's still feeling a little tough, I'd let it go a little bit longer, myself.
Why is my brisket not getting up to temperature?
Every brisket cook encounters a stall around the 150-165° point. This is the temperature that the brisket fat begins to render, which cools the meat and prevents it from increasing the internal temperature. At this point, it is best to tightly wrap the smoked brisket in heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher paper and then return it to the smoker to finish cooking.
How do you keep the brisket moist?
There are a few strategies that I've discovered to help maintain moisture in my smoked briskets.
First, allow the brisket to rest for several hours in a dry cooler. Honestly, the longer it rests, the more time it has for the juices to settle back into the meat. My last smoked brisket rested for at least 6 hours and was still piping hot when I unwrapped it.
Second, my preferred wrap of butcher paper does get pretty wet from the rendered fat and meat juice. Before transferring it to a dry cooler to rest, I tightly wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap to contain the liquid a little better and keep it pressed up against the brisket.
Third, I like to drizzle beef tallow over the smoked brisket during the wrapping process.
Lastly, wait to slice the smoked brisket until it is ready to be eaten; not a moment sooner.
How long do you rest a brisket?
After you smoke a brisket, giving it ample time to rest is of utmost importance. At a bare minimum, it must have at least an hour to rest in a dry cooler wrapped in old towels. 2-3 hours would be better, and in my opinion, a 6-8 hour rest will contribute to the best smoked brisket. (Of course, for food safety, you'll want to be sure that the cooler that you're resting your brisket in is nicely airtight and will do the job to hold the temperature at a safe level.)
What can I make with leftover brisket?
One of the perks of smoking a brisket is that there's usually some tender meat leftover to repurpose into a new smoked brisket recipe that will also taste delicious! Here are a few of our best brisket meat recipes for repurposing your leftovers:
Burnt Ends. I often don't even wait for the leftovers to make this move. After a nice long rest, I separate the point from the flat of the brisket. Then cut up the brisket meat of the point into about 1-inch cubes. Coat them with BBQ sauce and spread them out in an even layer in a foil pan. Place the pan in your pellet grill for about 20-30 minutes at 300°.
Brisket Grilled Cheese. Take a couple of slices of sourdough bread and layer some sharp cheddar and/or pepper jack cheese slices and leftover brisket coated in BBQ sauce and toast it up on the griddle. You'll thank me later.
Brisket Mac & Cheese. Mac and Cheese is just about the best comfort food out there. We take it to the next level by adding some leftover brisket meat and "baking" it in our pellet grill. See recipe.
Smoked Brisket Chili. This is one of my all-time favorite ways to use leftover brisket. This dish is also very forgiving if you end up with a smoked brisket that turned out a little more dry than you'd prefer. Stick your pot of chili on your pellet grill for some twice-smoked flavor. See recipe.
How to store leftover brisket
We've tried a number of strategies for preserving our leftovers in a way that they still taste and feel fresh when we return to them.
Helpful tip: We've learned to place the leftover meat and juices into a FoodSaver bag and then put the unsealed bag in the freezer until the liquid sets up before vacuum sealing the meat. Then we label and date the package and return it to the freezer until we're ready to use the leftovers.
These bags can also be used to reheat your leftovers in a sous vide or pot of simmering water.
(We use the same strategy for pulled pork and other smoked meats).
Are you interested in pellet grill smoking and in the market for a pellet grill? Check out our roundup of the Best Pellet Grills of 2022!