Why You Should Rest Your Brisket – A How-To Guide

When the days are long and the heat is high, there is nothing better than kicking back with your friends, cracking open a few cold brewskis, and producing the perfect, tender, juicy brisket.

Why You Should Rest Your Brisket - A How-To Guide

While the friends and the beers may be easy to come by, the perfect brisket takes a bit more work.  

So you’ve bought your meat, you’ve selected your wood chips, you’ve decided on wrapped or unwrapped smoking, but what happens when the meat is done cooking?

You’ve already waited so long and the brisket smells so good but digging in now would only ruin the experience.  It’s time to rest your brisket, but don’t worry, we have all the know-how to help you get it right the first time. 

What Is Resting?

In order to successfully rest your brisket, it is important to understand what is meant by the term “resting”.  In short, “resting” refers to the act of letting a cut of meat sit, undisturbed at room temperature after being removed from the heat.  

While the definition of resting is a simple one, the process of resting is anything but simple for your joint of meat and can be the difference between a perfectly curated meal and a disappointing, soggy one.

Why Is Resting Important?

When we say that resting is the difference between a delicious, succulent piece of meat and a ruined piece of meat, we aren’t exaggerating.

There are so many things that happen to a piece of meat while it is resting that help ensure that it is cooked to perfection.

When taking the time to smoke a brisket, resting should be seen as the final step in the process of cooking the meat rather than an optional step after the cooking process. Once you accept resting as a step that is as crucial as smoking is, you will always have the perfect brisket.

What Happens During Resting?

So, now we know what resting is and why it is important, we can begin to look at what actually happens to the brisket while it is resting.

This can be useful in managing your own patience and the patience of your hungry guests when all you can smell is that beautiful, smoked beef.

Juices

One of the most important things that happen during the resting period is the redistribution of the meat’s juices. During the smoking process, the water content of the brisket, which is around 70%, rises to the surface of the joint.

As the muscle fibers within the joint contract during cooking, they force the remaining water towards the center.

If you were to cut into the meat straight from the smoker, the juices at the surface will leak all over your countertop, and your brisket will be left dry and tough. 

If you rest your brisket properly, those juices will settle and redistribute, leaving you with a tender, juicy piece of meat.

Temperature

Another important part of resting your meat is the effect it has on the temperature of the joint.  It can be easy to assume that once you remove your brisket from the smoker, the internal and external temperature will begin to drop.

In fact, after removing the meat from its heat source, the internal temperature will continue to rise roughly 5-10 degrees in a phenomenon known as “carry-over cooking”. This means that the timing of the resting is one of the most important steps but we will talk about that more later. 

Collagen

Collagen is a component of your brisket joint that plays a crucial role in ensuring that the meat is tender and juicy.  It also goes through a lot during the smoking process. 

During the low and slow cooking process the proteins that make-up collagen dissolve into the meat. If you were to cut the meat immediately after smoking, the collagen proteins would be lost, along with the juices and the flavor that you so carefully curated.

If this happens, your meat will become dry and tough a lot sooner, will taste less desirable and the texture will feel off. 

Why You Should Rest Your Brisket - A How-To Guide

However, when you allow your brisket to rest properly, the collagen proteins get the chance to firm up again, taking some of the juices with it.

This not only keeps all of the wonderful flavors in the meat, but it also helps you attain that beautiful, tender, springy texture with your brisket. Think of the resting period as a recovery period for the crucial ingredient of collagen.

How To Rest A Brisket

Now that we know why it is so important to rest your brisket after cooking and all of the processes that the meat goes through during resting, we need to know how to properly rest the meat.

The process of resting is actually very simple, all it really requires is some good timing and a lot of patience.

Once your brisket has reached the optimum temperature in the smoker, remove it from the heat.

If you have opted for a wrapped cooking process, remove the butcher paper or foil from the meat. Place your joint on a countertop or chopping board open to the air.  Leave your brisket to rest, untouched, for at least 1 hour.

You can loosely cover the joint with foil if you want to keep even more of the juices from evaporating, however, this will soften the crunchy bark that is a much-loved part of the brisket.

If this is a sacrifice you are willing to make, ensure that you do not wrap the meat tightly as this will keep the temperature too high for too long, and could result in an overcooked brisket.

Remember The Carry-Over Cooking

One of the most important things to remember when resting your brisket is carry-over cooking. This is the process in which the meat will continue to rise in temperature after it has been removed from the heat and will continue to cook inside. 

The optimum temperature for a brisket to reach internally to ensure that it is tender and juicy is around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prevent your brisket from exceeding this ideal temperature, remove it from the heat when the internal temperature reaches between 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit.

The meat will continue to rise in temperature between 5-10 degrees as mentioned above, allowing it to reach the perfect temperature. This early removal method is the best way to avoid ending up with an overcooked brisket.

Know When To Stop Resting

While you should try and rest your brisket for multiple hours if possible, there are certain constraints that you should be aware of to stop you from ending up with a ruined brisket. 

The ideal resting time for brisket is often multiple hours, but it is important to not let your meat rest for so long that it becomes cold or too cool on the inside.

No one wants to wait hours to dig into a juicy piece of brisket, only to be given a cold slice of beef.  Although it is possible to slice the brisket and reheat it in the oven or on the barbeque, this risks drying the meat out which defeats the purpose of resting it in the first place. 

It is also incredibly important to make sure that you are not serving meat that is at a temperature considered the “danger zone”.

This is a temperature in which the bacteria present in meat thrives and increases the risk of food poisoning.  The danger zone is between 43 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.  

How Long Should You Rest Brisket For?

The amount of time that it is ideal to rest your brisket heavily depends on the size or the weight of your joint.

If you are under time constraints and are being stared down by hungry guests, a minimum of 1 hour is fine.  However, the longer the better and a resting period of two to three hours is optimum.

Why You Should Rest Your Brisket - A How-To Guide

It is important to keep an eye on the internal temperature of the brisket when allowing it to rest for over two hours as the meat can begin to cool more rapidly after this point.  Remember to avoid the danger zone.

If you have smoked your brisket well in advance and are planning to dig in at a much later date, a resting period of two hours is recommended before slicing or shredding your meat. 

Resting Vs Holding: What Is The Difference?

The difference between resting and holding is important to understand if you have made your brisket a small way in advance.

If you have timed the cooking of your brisket so that it is done, and ready to rest by the time your guests arrive, you may want to wait longer than the recommended two hours before serving it.

If this is the case, you may want to hold your meat rather than rest it to make sure that it retains its heat. 

The process of holding a brisket requires a holding cupboard or box of some sort. A purpose-built holding cupboard keeps your meat at a constant temperature that would not be possible at room temperature.

When holding your meat it is important to ensure that it is wrapped properly in foil to prevent it from drying out in the heat.

Whether you have a purpose-built holding cupboard or have made a make-shift one at home, you should be able to hold your meat at a safe temperature for up to four hours if necessary.  Any longer than this and you risk your meat drying out.

What Happens If You Don’t Rest A Brisket?

The short answer to this question is that you have wasted a lot of time, money, and energy. You’ve put a lot of effort into smoking your brisket, it doesn’t make sense to give up at the last hurdle and miss out on a beautiful piece of meat.  

When you skip the resting phase of cooking the meat, you will not only lose all of the juices, collagen, steam, and flavors when you cut into it but you will also be left with dry, tough pieces of meat.

If you aim to create a juicy, tender, flavorful brisket and end up with the opposite, it feels like a huge waste of time, all for the sake of a few hours. 

Brisket Tips

There are a few helpful tips that can help you get the perfect brisket every time that begins long before you get to the resting phase of the process.

Purchasing The Best Meat

The first step in smoking an incredible brisket for your barbeque is purchasing the best meat you can.  

Firstly, decide if you want the point or the flat section of the brisket. The point is fattier and has a stronger beef flavor, but the flat is perfect for slicing thinly which is great for sandwiches and finger food at a barbeque.

Always ensure that the meat you are buying is graded USDA Prime if you can. This grade of meat will be high quality with beautiful marbling all the way through which will make the brisket even more tender and juicy.

Be sure to look for organic meat that is certified as antibiotic and hormone-free to support better farming practices and better health for you and your family.

Trimming The Brisket

Once you have purchased your brisket, it is best to trim it before cooking and while it is chilled. Take a sharp knife and carefully trim the excess fat, leaving a layer of no more than ⅓-inch.

It is also a good idea to trim off any parts of the brisket that are significantly thinner than the rest as they will become overcooked and dried out during the cooking process.

Final Thoughts

The perfect brisket takes a lot of work to achieve and the most important ingredient is time. Avoid scrimping on time at the end of the cooking process and allow your meat to rest properly to achieve that beautiful, tender, juicy meat.

Tommy Hall