Brisket Done Too Early: Hold Your Brisket Like A Pro

January 27, 2023

Don’t beat yourself up over having your brisket done early. It is common to overestimate the amount of time a large cut like a brisket needs to fully cook.

Having worked for over a decade as a pit master at a popular barbecue joint, I often have to cook brisket early and hold it for extended periods.

At work, I use a commercial hot box to keep holding temperatures above 140°F but you can hold brisket just as well at home without one, as long as we keep food safety a priority.

In this post, I will show you how to know when your brisket is done and how you can hold the brisket. I will also discuss resting a brisket, the dreaded stall, and much more. Join me:

brisket done too early

Can You Cook Brisket Early?

Many grilling enthusiasts will quote that your brisket requires a cooking time of 90 minutes of low and slow cooking per pound. This translates to 15 hours in the smoker for a 10-pound brisket.

The exact temperatures, however, are vague. The expected degree of doneness is also not specified. Will 90 minutes per pound get me to a brisket that is just done or should I expect a fork-tender brisket?

It’s also important to note that this guideline is not uniform across different cooking gear. The amount of time it takes to grill a brisket is not the same as the time it will take to smoke it, even if the target temperature is the same.

These discrepancies make it quite easy to end up with a done brisket long before you can serve. If that is the case, you should take precautions.

How Do I Keep My Brisket Warm When It is Done Too Early?

You can employ the cooler method, the oven method, the rest and reheat method or make things interesting and prepare burnt ends to hold your brisket. Let’s look into each of these techniques:

Rest and Reheat Technique

Resting and reheating is the simplest way to go. It is hands-off and very forgiving.

Simply let the brisket rest until its internal temperature range is between 145°F and 150°F. Don’t let the temperature fall any lower, to stay clear of the danger zone.

If you still need time before serving it, you can hold the brisket in the fridge when it cools to room temperature. Keep the fridge temperatures below 40°F until an hour before you’re ready to serve.

Take the brisket out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature as you preheat the oven to 275°F.

Place your meat in an oven-safe dish and tent it.

Put it in the oven and let it cook undisturbed until the internal temp gets to 160°F.

Carve and serve.

The Faux Cambro or the Cooler Method

If your brisket is done too early, try the cooler method. It goes like this:

Around 20 minutes before you take your brisket off the smoker, add boiling water into a cooler until it’s half full and leave it covered.

Immediately after your brisket is done, drain the hot water from the cooler and wipe it dry. The cooler is well-insulated to preserve the heat it absorbs from the hot water.

This step is essential since the cooler won’t draw any heat from the brisket.

Wrap your brisket with heavy-duty foil or butcher paper tightly to preserve the heat in the meat.

Re-wrap the brisket with a thick towel or a clean blanket and lower it into the cooler.

If you have a meat probe, feel free to put it in the meat, making sure to run the wire out of the cooler. Close the lid until you’re ready to serve.

The Faux Cambro should maintain the holding temperatures above 140°F for approximately three hours.

Barbecued Beef Brisket with Sauce

The Oven Technique

Many barbecue spots use a commercial hotbox to hold their meat. It’s designed to store a lot of meat at the preferred temperature for as long as is necessary. For some restaurants, that could be up to 17 hours.

We can replicate the hotbox effect by using an electric oven as your holding oven for around eight hours.

Set the temperature of your electric oven to the lowest it can go. For most brands, this will be 170°F. If your oven can go lower than this, take advantage of this feature.

When your brisket is done, transfer it onto a roasting pan and add beef stock. Make sure the stock is enough to sufficiently cover the base of the meat. If you don’t have beef stock, you can use vegetable broth or water.

Tent it tightly with aluminum foil to reduce heat loss.

Put the brisket in the holding oven and let it rest undisturbed. This should keep your brisket above 140°F without drying until you can serve.

If your minimum oven temperature is 180°F, preheat it, put in your brisket, and turn off the oven.

Keep doing this at intervals of around thirty minutes. This is because, at 180°F, the brisket will continue cooking instead of keeping warm. We don’t want this!

Make Burnt Ends

If you have a few hours to kill, why not whip up some burnt ends? This is how I make mine when I end up with my brisket done early:

Cut the meat into one-and-a-half-inch cubes. Try to cut them into uniform sizes so that they cook at the same time.

Coat the pieces generously with brown sugar, honey, and barbecue sauce. I use Traeger 'Que BBQ Sauce because it pairs well with beef.

Cook in a hot heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat until the brisket soaks up all the sauce. This should take about two hours.

What is a Brisket?

The beef brisket is cut from between the forelegs of a cow’s carcass and is comprised of the pectoral muscles of a steer.

Since this part gets a lot of exercises and supports the weight of the steer, it is rich in collagen. Collagen is a protein in the body that is rich in connective tissue. It’s responsible for both the strength and structure of the animal.

Cuts that are rich in collagen will be tougher and demand longer cooking times compared to other cuts.

The brisket is divided into two: the flat cut and the point cut. The flat is the larger of the two.

The point is directly attached to the rib cage and has a big fat cap.

Both pieces are best suited to low and slow cooking methods that allow the collagen to slowly cook away to gelatin, leaving the meat fibers soft and easy to chew.

Allowing sufficient cooking time will yield tender results.

The Brisket Location

When is Beef Brisket Considered Done?

The USDA recommends cooking brisket to an internal temperature of 145°F as measured by a meat thermometer. That said, any pitmaster worth their name will tell you that, at this temperature, the meat is still tough and uninviting.

If you hope to end up with pull-apart meat, you will have to cook the brisket to an internal temperature of 200°F-210°F.

This is sufficient time for the heat to break down the strong connective tissue of the brisket and render the fat content, making it flavorful and easy to chew.

Sliced brisket with caramelized onions

Can You Leave Cooked Brisket Out Overnight?

Technically, you can leave brisket overnight under safe conditions. As mentioned earlier, the bottom line when it comes to holding a brisket is keeping its internal temperature above 140°F. This is above the danger zone.

I don’t recommend holding brisket overnight but if you have to leave it out overnight, use the oven technique and set the oven temperature to 170°F or below. If your lowest oven temperature is 180°F, I discourage using this technique because you could overcook the brisket.

You can also leave cooked brisket overnight by using the cooler or Faux Cambro technique to slow down the cooling process. This will not give you as much time as your oven since the Cambro’s insulation should last up to 6 hours.

How Do I Find the Perfect Temperature for Brisket?

A perfect brisket is cooked slowly over low heat. This is because it takes hours for the heat to render the tough connective tissue to soft gelatin. If you don’t cook it long enough, it will be a challenge to bite into. However, if you cook it too long, it dries out.

The perfect temperature to cook your brisket largely depends on how much it weighs.

Patience is an essential tool when cooking brisket and it’s rewarded with fall-apart goodness. It’s worth every hour.

At 225°F, it will take around 1.5-2 hours to cook one pound of brisket. A 5-pound brisket will be done in 8-10 hours.

At 250°F, a-5 pound of brisket will cook in roughly 5-6 hours given a cooking duration of 1 hour per pound.

What About the Stall?

The stall refers to a duration during cooking your brisket where the temperature stops rising. This could last for a few hours and has a larger impact on larger cuts of meat than on smaller cuts.

So, what causes the stall?

This comes down to the science of evaporation. Essentially, the brisket is sweating in the smoker. Smoking brisket forces all its moisture, beginning from the core to move upwards toward the surface of the meat.

As this liquid evaporates from the meat, the surface begins to cool. This process is known as evaporative cooling.

The stall is normal and you can wait it out since the temp will start to rise again.

If you don’t like waiting, consider wrapping your meat in aluminum foil while cooking to keep the heat focused on the brisket.

Wrapped brisket will take less time to get to the target temp.

Why is Resting Brisket Important?

Resting is the final cooking phase for grilled or smoked meat but it’s just as important as the rest.

As your brisket cooks, its muscle fibers contract forcing out all the liquid. This liquid contributes to giving a flavorful brisket and should not go to waste. Resting it gives the meat a chance to redistribute these fluids.

If you carve your meat before resting, the meat’s juices will pour onto your cutting surface and you will end up with a fairly dry brisket.

When you take your meat off the heat, rest it for at least three minutes before cutting it for optimum food safety and quality. I usually use butcher paper to rest my wrapped brisket for 30 minutes.

Braised brisket on cutting board


What Happens if You Wrap Your Brisket Too Early?

Wrapping your brisket too early will keep it from absorbing the aroma and the smoky flavor of the wood.


A brisket done too early is no cause to sound the alarm. Just consider how long you have to hold it and employ the appropriate method of holding the brisket. With these guidelines, you can’t go wrong.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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