The Brisket Stall: Understanding the Science Behind It!

November 18, 2022

The brisket stall refers to the period of time where the brisket stops cooking. It is caused by a process known as evaporative cooling.

As someone who has been smoking briskets for many years, I have had to contend with the stall. Fortunately, I am friends with pitmasters who showed me how to overcome it. It is my turn to pass this wisdom along!

In this post, I will explain what the brisket stall is, what causes it, and what you can do to beat it. Let's get started!

Brisket Stall

What is the Brisket Stall?

Even if you are new to smoking or brisket, you will have undoubtedly heard of the dreaded brisket stall. Even seasoned pitmasters speak of it with fear in their voices.

But, what is it really?

Technically, this phenomenon is known as the BBQ stall - it can happen to any cut of meat. However, it is most likely to occur with a large cut like beef brisket or pork shoulder.

This is why you will commonly hear it referred to as the brisket stall. So, what is it?

person cutting meat

The brisket stall occurs at around two-thirds into a cook - when the internal temperature of the brisket hits 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this point, the cooking process of the brisket begins to slow down or even stop completely. As such, the internal temp will remain at a standstill. In some cases, it may drop a little too.

Even if the brisket does, cook, the internal temp only rises by a few degrees across several hours.

The stall will remain for several hours before the cooking process begins again.

The main issue with the brisket stall is that it increases the cooking time of your brisket quite a bit.

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What Causes the Brisket Stall?

Here is the million dollar question - why does brisket stall?

Well, it turns out there is a scientific explanation for all of this. And, thanks to physicist Dr. Greg Blonder, we now have the answer.

The reason that brisket stalls is due to a process known as the evaporative cooling effect.

When the brisket is first placed in the smoker, it is a cold piece of meat. Once it begins to cook, the internal temperature of the meat rises. This causes the evaporation of the moisture in and around the brisket.

As the meat temperature continues to rise, the rate of evaporation increases accordingly.

When the internal temperature of the meat hits around 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the evaporation rate begins to balance out the heat input of the smoker.

You may notice the brisket starting to sweat. At this point, the cooling effect of the meat is great than the heat energy inside the smoker. This is known as evaporative cooling.

It is at this stage that the brisket stalls or stops cooking.

What Factors Aren't Responsible for the Brisket Stall?

We now know what causes the brisket stall. A few years ago, there were plenty of theories floating around. And, despite having a scientific answer, a lot of these presumptions are still around today.

So, I do want to dispense with them once and for all. Here are all the factors that don't cause brisket stalls:

Collagen Phase Change

At around 160 degrees Fahrenheit, collagen in the meat combines with water. This component tends converts to a smooth and flavorful gelatin.

Since the brisket stall also takes place round this temperature, many assumed that this phase change was to blame. The reigning theory was that collagen required energy to transform into gelatin. It was presumed that it was taking the smoker's heat to activate this process.

two men grilling meat

As Dr. Blonder proved, though, that brisket doesn't contain enough collagen to use up enough heat energy to cause the stall.

Fat Rendering

There was also those that assumed that the process of solid fat turning into liquid form was the cause. After all, a phase change such as this requires energy.

However, it was Dr. Blonder to the rescue again, carrying out an experiment with pure beef fat. He was able to prove that fat doesn't require nearly as much energy for this process.

Other Processes

From phase changes to protein denaturing, a lot of complex processes that require energy were blamed for the stall. However, after much research and experimentation, it was clear that evaporative cooling was the primary cause.

When Does the Stall Happen?

It is tricky to know when the brisket stall occurs. Technically, it can take place at any temperature between 150 and 170 F.

There are different factors that can affect when the evaporative cooling effect kicks in.

In terms of the brisket, the size, shape, surface texture, and natural moisture content will factor in. If you inject the brisket or use a rub, then these will affect when the brisket stall sets in as well.

The type of smoker that you are using as well as the kind of fuel will alter the smoking rate. As will the humidity inside the smoker.

I should point out that brisket stalls only at lower temperatures. Once you push the smoker temperature up to 300 F, the stall period is minimal. In fact, it may not occur at all.

It is usually only when you are smoking brisket at temperatures below 275 F that the stall will occur.

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Why Can't You Smoke Brisket at a Higher Temp?

Now, I know what you are thinking - if beef brisket doesn't stall at higher temps, why can't you crank the smoker temperature up?

Here's the thing, brisket is an incredibly tough piece of meat. This is because the cut contains lots of connective tissues. The only way to break these tissues down so that you end up with a tender brisket is to cook it low and slow.

If you cook the brisket at around 300 degrees Fahrenheit, then the meat smokes too quickly. Thus, the brisket doesn't have enough time to tenderize, resulting in tough and chewy meat.

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How long Does the Stall Last on a Brisket?

It is difficult to determine just how long the brisket stall period will last.

Once again, the same factors like size, moisture content, and cooking temperature can impact the stall time. On average, though, you can expect it to last around 6 hours.

It can endure for a longer period for a larger piece of meat, however.

grilled brisket

Then, there is also the type of smoker that you are using.

For instance, if you are using a pellet smoker, the fan creates a convection environment. This causes the process of evaporation to speed up, shortening the length of the stall.

Then, you have the electric smoker. These are sealed incredibly tightly, which causes the rate of humidity inside the smoker to be quite high. This can cause the temperature to go up and for the stall to be shorter.

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Why Does the Stall End?

You do have to wonder why the brisket stall only carries on for some time. What causes it to come to and end?

Well, this has to do with the moisture content of the brisket. There is a limit to how much liquid is in the brisket. Also, the moisture in the brisket tends to be connected to molecules such as collagen, protein, and fat.

Once the brisket isn't able to readily produce moisture, the rate of evaporation goes down. In turn, the evaporative cooling process reduces as well.

When this takes place, the brisket begins to cook once more.

Can a Second Stall Occur?

You may have heard of a second stall occurring after the initial stall. Is this possible or just an urban myth?

Well, it is rare but it can happen.

One of the most common reasons is that the wrapping isn't tight enough. There may be a hole or leak in the foil or paper. This will cause heat to leak out.

The other issue could be with the smoker. If your smoker is older or if the cooking temperature isn't very uniform, then the evaporation process may overcome the ambient temperature of the smoker once more.

Spritzing the meat can also cause it cool down and activate another stall.

As long as you maintain the above conditions, though, there is no reason to expect more than one stall during your cook.

How Do You Overcome the Brisket Stall?

The good news is that you can overcome evaporative cooling. This is usually done through a process that is known as the Texas Crutch.

Essentially, when the brisket stall hits, you wrap brisket in either aluminum foil or butcher paper tightly. Then, you place it back in the smoker.

The wrapping forces the temperature around the brisket to rise, overcoming the cooling effect and allowing the brisket to start cooking once more.

When the brisket hits its target temperature, it can then be taken out of the smoker for the final time.

When Should You Wrap the Brisket?

The best way to know when to wrap the brisket is to track the brisket temp with a meat thermometer.

As I have already mentioned, the brisket stall will take place around the 150 - 160 degree mark. Therefore, you can choose to wrap it whenever the meat hits this mark.

This is most likely to happen about two-thirds into the cook. Based on how long to cook brisket per pound, it will take about 1.5 to 2 hours per pound of meat.

bbq platter

Therefore, a 8lb brisket will be done in around 12 to 16 hours. The brisket stall for this cut should set in at around the 8 or 10.5 hour mark.

If you don't want to waste any time at all, then you can wrap the brisket then. If you want to make sure that the brisket stall has actually set in, then you will need to wait and watch for about an hour.

If the internal temperature hasn't gone up by a few degrees at least, then the stall has set in.

How to Wrap Brisket?

Now, I will outline the proper Texas Crutch method here. However, there is only one main rule to follow when it comes to this method: always wrap your brisket tightly.

It doesn't really matter what technique you use. The key is to make sure that the material is wrapped closely to the piece of meat as possible. When you are done, you should be able to see the exact outline of the brisket clearly.

For this, you will need two sheets of aluminum foil or butcher paper. Each sheet should be four times the length of your brisket.

Place one sheet down on the work table. Then, place the other one on top. The second sheet should overlap the first one at the halfway point.

Next, place the piece of meat about a foot away from the bottom of the first sheet. Fold the bottom portion of the sheet over the brisket. Then fold each side of the sheet over the brisket. Do this at an angle, though.

Then, roll over the whole brisket, paper and all. After this, fold over the sides again, at an angle.

There will be some excess paper or foil at the top. Fold this and then fold over the brisket and tuck under.

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Should You Unwrap the Brisket During the Cook?

Shortly after you place the wrapped brisket back in the smoker, the internal temp will begin to rise. At this point you may be wondering, should I take the material off the met and just let it continue to smoke?

Unfortunately, this would be a bad idea.

If you remember, once the brisket is wrapped, moisture is trapped between the foil or paper and the brisket. As this moisture is warm, though, it forces the temperature up.

If you unwrap the brisket, this moisture will begin to evaporate almost immediately. Then, you will hit the brisket second stall, sending you back to square one.

Due to this, you have to keep the brisket all wrapped up until it hits the desired temperature.

Should You Wrap Your Brisket?

On the face of it, wrapping the brisket can seem like a great workaround the meat stall. There are some pitmasters that are opposed to it, though.

The reason for this is poor bark formation.

See, when brisket is allowed to cook as normal, it is able to develop a dark and crispy bark. When you wrap it, though, moisture gets trapped around the brisket, resulting in a slightly soggy bark.

Thus, if you are chasing the perfect bark on your smoked meat, then the Texas Crutch may not be the right option for you.

meat patties on a grill

Personally, I wrap my brisket every time as I don't have the patience to wait out the stall. However, I do use two tricks to ensure that I still get a good bark.

The first involves using butcher paper instead of foil. The materials is more porous than the foil. Due to this, it allows a lot more moisture to escape. It does take a bit longer to smoke the brisket than with foil, but this is an inconvenience that I am willing to accept.

The other thing that I do is to wait a little longer before wrapping the meat. Instead, of wrapping it just when the stall hits, I let it smoke for a little longer. Sure, the inside of the brisket doesn't cook, but the outside of the brisket can dry out a little more.

Should You Wait Out the Brisket Stall?

As you can imagine, you are the only one who can make this decision for yourself. Still, I am going to try to give you an answer.

As I mentioned, above there are a lot of pitmasters who simply choose to wait out the stall. This is the more traditional way of doing things.

As an added bonus, you get a better bark.

Of course, waiting out the brisket stall requires patience and preparation. To begin with, you will need to accommodate the fact that the cooking time for your brisket is going to be significantly longer.

First, calculate how long your brisket is going to take to smoke. As I said, at around 225 degrees F, this will take about 1.5 to 2 hours per pound.

Then, add in the length of the brisket stall. To be on the safe side, assume, that your brisket is going to cook for about 7 hours longer.

Now, figure out when you need your brisket to be ready. This is only important if you are having a cookout or are making brisket for a specific meal.

Remember to always factor in the resting time in as well. Your smoked brisket will need to rest for at least an hour once it has been taken off the heat.

Based on these calculations, you will then be able to know when to start smoking the brisket so that it is done in time.

Can You Avoid the Stall Completely?

This is a fairly popular question - after all, wouldn't it be nice if you could get the best of both worlds?

Well, here are some options:

Increasing the Temperature

One of the ways to prevent the brisket stall from happening is to cook your brisket at a temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit or more. However, I have already mentioned why this isn't a great idea.

Sure, you will be able to skip the brisket stall but you will end up paying for it with inedible meat. This really isn't worth the risk.

You can take the temperature up to 275 degrees, though. If you do this, I would pay close attention to the rate at which the brisket cooks.

In case it speeds up too much, it is best to lower the temperature again. This way, it will be able to cook for long enough for the meat to become nice and tender.

Choosing Smaller Cuts

Your other option would be to smoke several smaller cuts of brisket instead of one large brisket. With cuts less than 5lbs, your meat is unlikely to hit a stall. This will definitely not happen with a cut that is around 2 - 3lbs.

Therefore, the best way to avoid the brisket stall and still get great tasting brisket would be to opt for smaller cuts.

For the most part, size doesn't really have anything to do with taste or texture. So, you will not be losing out here.

bbq beef with corn and tomatoes

When it comes to value, though, the larger cuts tend to be cheaper. To avoid spending more money than necessary, you can buy a large brisket and then cut it into smaller sections at home.

You also have to bear in mind that brisket shrinks when smoked. Thus, the small pieces will be even smaller at the end of the cook.

As long as you account for these issues, there is no reason for you not to smoke smaller cuts.

Increasing the Humidity

If you recall, I mentioned that electric smokers are less likely to cause a brisket stall. This is because there is a greater amount of humidity in the cooking chamber.

This is something that you can encourage by using a water pan. Fill this tray with water before you put in the brisket. This will work to create a more humid atmosphere.

There is a caveat here, though. The more moisture that there is in the atmosphere, the less crispy your bark will be.

You shouldn't do this with electric smokers, however, as the huidity levels are high enough already.

Why You Should Avoid Basting the Brisket?

Now, in general, I do advise against basting most smoked meats as it doesn't have the intended effect of adding moisture to the cut. There is also the fact that it tends to remove the layer of ingredients that make up the bark.

In the case of brisket, though, I would strongly recommend basting the meat. This includes mopping and spritzing it as well.

See, when you baste, you are adding a cold layer of liquid to the brisket. This will increase the evaporation rate, causing the meat to cool down even further. In essence, it is prolonging the brisket stall.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I Wrap Brisket at the Stall?

This is a personal decision. If you want the brisket to cook faster, then you should wrap it. If you are more concerned with maintaining a crispy bark, though, you should skip it.

2. Can a Brisket Stall Too Long?

Once the available moisture in the brisket has evaporated, the meat will begin to cook again. Depending on the size and moisture content of the brisket, though, the brisket stall can go on for a long time - sometimes upwards of 6 hours.

3. Does the Stall Dry Out Brisket?

As moisture continues to evaporate from the brisket, the stall can cause a drier end result.

Wrapping It Up

The brisket stall is no small thing - it can impact your cook quite a bit. Thus, the best way to deal with it is to understand everything that you can about this phenomenon. Since you are at the end of this post, I can confidently say that you have been properly schooled!

All that is left for you to do is to put this knowledge into practice. You will then be able to manage the brisket stall and produce a delicious piece of meat all at the same time!

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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