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Pitmaster Christie Vanover shares why and how long to let brisket rest, plus five different methods that work and important food safety tips.
But wait! It’s really important that you let your brisket rest.
Why is resting brisket important
Your brisket has just been on the smoker for hours. During that time, the heat has evaporated quite a bit of the meat’s natural liquid.
You’ve likely compensated for that by either adding a water pan to the smoker or by using the Texas crutch to wrap the brisket with more liquid.
But the beef has still gone through a lot in order to break down its connective tissue.
If you remove the brisket from the smoker and slice it right away any liquid will continue to evaporate and your brisket slices may end up dry.
Instead, if you wrap the brisket with plastic wrap and a towel, you can suspend the evaporation. Any liquid that is still trying to escape will settle down into the meat, locking in juiciness.
Different ways to rest brisket
No matter which method you choose, make sure your brisket is wrapped in butcher paper or aluminum foil. If you followed the Texas crutch method, your brisket should already be wrapped.
If you didn’t, go ahead and wrap it with a few pieces of paper or foil.
Next, wrap your brisket tightly with plastic wrap. This will not only lock-in moisture, but it will also prevent leakage.
On the competition circuit, many diehard teams have a Cambro insulated food carrier. They are like plastic vertical coolers. A door opens in the front, and there are guides where you can load in sheet pans or tubs.
Add ice to keep your meat cold before smoking. Or for this stage in our cooking process, leave it empty and add hot food to keep it warm and at a safe holding temperature.
Simply place your wrapped brisket in a tub or on a pan and slide it into the Cambro.
PRO TIP: Save money by looking for used Cambro's on Facebook Marketplace.
Faux Cambro or cooler
Because Cambros cost several hundred dollars, a more economical way to rest a brisket is to wrap it in a towel and place it in a regular cooler without ice.
The reason for using the towel is because coolers aren’t really designed to be hot holds. Instead, they’re designed to keep things cool.
You need a large cooler to fit a brisket. If you just place the brisket in the cooler without a towel, there is a lot of cooler air inside. That cool air will reduce the brisket temperature quickly.
The towel helps act as an insulator so it stays warm longer. Just keep in mind the towel and cooler will smell like brisket until you wash them. I have a specific towel that is my brisket towel.
The Meat Swadl
If you don’t really want to take the time and effort to pull out a cooler, another option is to slide your brisket into The Meat Swadl.
The Swadl is a polar fleece insulated polyester zip-up bag. You simply unzip, add your wrapped brisket, zip it back up and close it tight.
It doesn’t hold temperature as long as a Cambro or cooler, but if you’re just doing a 1-hour rest, it’ll do the job.
On the counter
My least preferred method is to rest your meat on the counter. If you’re going to go this route, definitely wrap it in plastic and wrap it in a towel so it’s somewhat insulated.
But don’t rest it this way for more than an hour. The towel is not insulated enough to keep your meat in the food safe zone.
Let’s talk about the big guns. This is probably overkill for backyard cooks, but if you’re going to get into catering, definitely consider this option.
Alto-Shaam is a brand that makes electric hold ovens. BBQ restaurants often have large models, so when they smoke 20 briskets, they can hot hold them in a safe, controlled environment for hours and slice to order.
With an Alto-Shaam, you simply set the hold temperature and add your brisket.
I reached out to the owners of a couple of my favorite BBQ restaurants to find out how they hold their briskets.
- Jessie Rae’s BBQ in Las Vegas: They set their Alto-Shaam to 155F degrees and hold briskets for up to four hours. Mike Ross said he could hold them longer, but they go through briskets fast.
- Heim BBQ in Dallas/Fort Worth: Their Alto-Shaam is set for 140F degrees. Emma Heim said they hot hold briskets up to 12 hours, depending on when the brisket cook ends.
Food safety is very important
When resting and holding a brisket, you must remember food safety. According to the USDA, cooked meat shouldn’t be in the danger zone for more than two hours.
“The Danger Zone is the temperature range between 40F (4.4C) and 140F (60C) in which bacteria can grow rapidly. To keep food out of the Danger Zone, keep cold food cold, at or below 40F (4.4C), and hot food hot, at or above 140F (60C). Use a food thermometer to verify temperatures. Never leave food in the Danger Zone over 2 hours; 1 hour if outside temperature is above 90F (32.2C).”USDA
This is why you shouldn’t leave brisket on the counter for more than an hour. Even if you have it in a cooler or Cambro, you need to keep an eye on temperatures. You can do that with one of the below thermometers.
- Thermoworks Smoke: Keep one probe in the meat to monitor its internal temp. It also includes a portable receiver and alarm, so you can see the temperatures when you step away.
- Thermoworks Signal: This comes with four probes and connects to your phone, so you can monitor temperatures remotely.
- Thermoworks Spot: Place the Spot in your cooler or Cambro to measure the ambient temperature. You’ll have to open the cooler periodically to see the temp.
- Thermoworks Node: Place the Node inside your cooler or Cambro to measure ambient temperature. Then, monitor the temp from an app on your phone. You can set alerts, so it will warn you if the temp goes into the danger zone. The thermometer’s range is -58F to 158F degrees.
How long should my brisket rest?
The sweet spot for resting brisket is 2-3 hours. At the 2-hour mark, the juices are really settled and your brisket will be moist and delicious.
If you only have an hour or you don’t have a reliable way to keep it warm, resting for an hour is still good. It’ll just be a little better if you go the full 3 hours.
Can I rest my brisket overnight?
Yes, with a big BUT!!
You must make sure your brisket avoids the danger zone. If you have a Cambro or an awesome insulated cooler like a Yeti, your brisket will probably stay above 140F degrees overnight.
But always use a thermometer to make sure. The last thing you want to do is spend hours smoking a brisket only to have it spoil and make people sick.
PRO TIP: One time, I had no choice but to hold it overnight. So I used a cooler and added an electric heat pad inside on top of the brisket. I set the heat pad to 140F degrees. But the heat pad has an auto-shutoff after two hours, so I had to wake up every two hours to turn it back on. It was a pain, but it worked.
Can I rest my brisket in the oven?
The oven is not an ideal place to hold a smoked brisket. Here’s why.
If you don’t turn the oven on, you’re really not getting any benefit. An oven that is turned off is not great at keeping things warm.
I have a GE Oven with a proof mode for helping bread dough rise. Unfortunately, the proof mode is only 80-95F degrees (below the safe zone).
The warm setting is 175-180F degrees, which is well above the safe zone. If you leave a brisket at this temp for too long, it will just keep cooking and will become dry and crumbly.
If you don’t have any other options, it’s better to just rest your brisket on the counter.