How to Smoke a Brisket in an Electric Smoker (Lessons from a Pro)

November 25, 2022

Making smoked brisket in an electric smoker is pretty easy. However, you do have to learn to adapt to the lower temperatures, smaller cooking surface, and less smoke.

Don't worry, though, because I have you covered! One of my friends bought an electric smoker and asked me to help them figure out how to smoke a brisket in it. Mistakes were made with the first few tries but I was finally able to make the perfect brisket.

In this post, I will show you how to smoke a brisket in an electric smoker, give you a delicious recipe, and reveal the top tips and tricks. Let's begin!

Smoke a Brisket in an Electric Smoker

Using an Electric Smoker: What You Need to Know

If you have done any kind of research on electric smokers, you may have found that people are on the fence about them. On the one hand, these machines are the easiest to use - they operate on a set it and forget it basis. This makes them a great option for beginners.

The other benefit is that the smoker is great for maintaining a lower smoker temperature. So, if you are looking for a true low and slow cook, then this is the smoker to do it for you.

meat on an electric grill

Still, there are some downsides. The thing that I least like about the electric smoker is that it doesn't produce as much smoke flavor as the pellet grill or the charcoal smoker.

Now, there are some tricks that you can use to overcome this issue - I will get into this a little later on - but it does mean that you do have to make a bit more of an effort.

If this is the first time that you are using this type of smoker or smoking brisket in an electric smoker, here is what you need to be aware of when:

You May Be Dealing with Less Space

The most common design for the electric smoker is a vertical one - this means that the smoker chamber tends to be taller than it is wide.

For the most part, this isn't an issue. However, beef brisket tends to be a larger cut of meat. As such, you may find that there isn't enough room to fit the entire cut.

Some people to overcome this problem by removing most of the grates except for the last two ones.

The bottommost grate is kept as it is, while the one above it is positioned diagonally - one side of the grate rests against the inside of the chamber wall and the other part sits on the last grate.

The beef brisket is then placed here. Now, as you smoke brisket, it will begin to shrink. This means that after a while, you will be able to set that grate into a perpendicular position and continue to smoke the brisket in a traditional fashion.

Your other option for cooking brisket in an electric smoker is to separate the larger cut into two smaller sections. You can smoke the flat and the point cut separate from one another, allowing the beef brisket to be placed on two different shelves.

Going the Extra Mile for the Smoky Flavor

It is a good idea to examine your electric smoker before doing anything else. This is because while most modern smokers have a wood chip tray, not all makes and models do.

As the name suggests, this tray is where you keep the wood chips - it is right above the heating element. The wood chips are heated, eventually producing smoke.

Needless to say, having this tray is an advantage as your beef brisket will be infused with a lovely smoky flavor. In case this feature isn't available on your electric smoker, though, all hope isn't lost.

You can use a smoker box which is sometimes referred to as a wood chip box. Now, this doesn't come with the electric smoker - you have to purchase it separately.

You put wood chips in this box and then place it close to the heat source. This heats up the box which in turns heats up the chips, causing them to smoke. The box is built to pack the chips in a confined position so that they produce a greater amount of smoke in a shorter period of time.

The Temperature is Lower

As I have already mentioned, electric smokers tend to operate at lower temperatures. While this is a good thing when you are smoking, it also means that the cook can take a lot longer.

man slicing briket

In the case of beef brisket, you can expect it to cook at a rate of 75 minutes per pound, at least.

All this means for you is that you should start your cook earlier to ensure that it is done by the time that you would like to serve your food.

Trimming the Beef Brisket

It is important to prep your brisket before doing anything else.

You will need to start by trimming the fat cap. Don't take away too much - make sure that there is still 1/4th of an inch left. This is great for flavor and can help to keep your smoked beef brisket nice and moist too.

Once you have done this, check for gristle and any random pieces of excess fat around the cut. This can mess with the texture of the smoked brisket, so these will need to be trimmed off too.

Last but not least, look at the end portion of the beef brisket. Do you see any pieces of meat that are less than an inch thick? If so, you will have to remove these. If you don't they will end up becoming charred during the smoking process.

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How to Use an Electric Smoker?

As I said, the great thing about the electric smoker is that it is pretty easy to use. Of course, if you have never used one before or simply want a guide on what to do, then you are in the right place.

I do want to preface this by saying that every electric smoker is different. Always read your user manual before trying to work it. If you have lost your manual or you have bought your smoker secondhand, it is a good idea to check the manufacturer's website. You can usually download the manuals there.

If it is a brand new electric smoker that hasn't been broken in before, then you will need to season the grill before you smoke brisket in there. This will ensure that any odors or chemicals trapped inside the grill during the manufacturing process won't permeate into the meat.

Step 1

Insert the wood chips into the tray and place in the electric smoker.

Some manufacturer's may specify the exact brand of chips to use while others give you the option of using anything at all. Make sure to check on this ahead of time.

If you are relying on a smoker box instead of the tray, only fill the box three-fourths of the way. Then, place it close to the heat source. You may need to use a pair of tongs for this.

Step 2

The electric smoker is likely to have a water pan. Fill this insert with water - it will help to moderate the temperature inside the cooking chamber.

The water pan will empty throughout the cook. As such, it will need to be filled up at intervals. Always wear a pair of heatproof gloves when handling this insert.

bbq kebabs on a plate

Step 3

Turn the smoker on and preheat to your desired temperature.

When the temperature reaches the appropriate point, you can place your brisket in and close the lid.

Smoke brisket until it reaches the desired internal temperature and then take it out.

Power down the electric smoker and allow it to cool.

Prepping the Beef Brisket - Dry Brining vs. Injecting

Beef brisket has a reputation as being a rather tough cut of meat, which is why most people try to find ways to keep the meat moist as it is being smoked.

The two most common methods to use are dry brining and injecting. I will describe both options to you below so that you can decide which method will work best for you:

Dry Brining

All you need for this is kosher salt. Simply take the salt and sprinkle it over the entire beef brisket, making to sure to work into all areas of the meat.

Then, place the brisket in the fridge and refrigerate overnight. Some people even like to brine the meat for an entire day - however, the exact amount of time is up to you.

If you don't want to prep your beef brisket that early on, then let it dry brine for a couple of hours at least.

You will notice that I am using the word ‘dry’ here although you may be more familiar with a wet brine. I, personally, don't really like to use a wet brine for brisket. For one thing, I don't find it is as effective as the dry method.

There is also the fact that the wet brine requires a great deal more effort - you have to heat up the liquids and ingredients then allow it cool down. Then, the beef brisket has to be soaked in the solution for several hours.

With a dry brine, there is no fuss.

Last, but not least, you need a large container for wet brining - big enough to fit your beef brisket. This can require more effort and planning. With a dry brisket, though, a baking tray is all that you need.

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Injecting the Beef Brisket

Then, there is injecting the brisket. The benefit here is that the moisture and flavor is injected deep into the meat. Also, as it acts more quickly, you don't have to prep and inject the beef brisket as early as with the dry brine.

You will, however, need a durable injector for this job.

Now, the key to a good injection marinade for smoked brisket is simplicity. This cut of meat brings a lot in terms of taste. Due to this, the last thing that you want to do is to overpower these natural flavors with too many other ingredients.

grilling bacon and veggies

My personal favorite is:

  • 2 tbs. of kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. of sugar
  • 2 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups of low sodium beef stock
  • 2 cups of water

You will need to inject about an ounce per pound of brisket. Make sure to plan out a grid formation on the brisket - it needs to be injected evenly.

You should also push the injector several inches into the brisket. If you go in too shallow, the liquid will simply squirt back out.

Smoked Brisket Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 - 12lb brisket
  • Yellow mustard

BBQ Rub

  • 3 tbs. of cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbs. of brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. of onion powder
  • 2 tsp. of garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. of chili powder
  • 2 tsp. of mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. of cayenne pepper

Method

Step 1

Trim the fat cap on the brisket.

If you wish to, dry brine the brisket.

Step 2

Take the brisket out of the refrigerator about an hour before smoking.

Combine the ingredients of the dry rub in a bowl.

Apply a thin layer of yellow mustard to the whole brisket. Then, sprinkle on the rub and pat into the surface of the brisket.

Step 3

Preheat the smoker to 225 F.

Step 4

Place the brisket in the smoker, close the lid, and smoke brisket until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.

Take the brisket off the electric smoker and wrap the brisket in either aluminum foil or butcher paper.

Step 5

Then place the brisket back in the electric smoker and cook brisket until the internal temperature reaches 195 F.

Take the brisket out of the electric cooker and place on a cutting board. Let brisket rest for an hour, at least.

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Choosing Your Brisket

There is a little bit more to choosing brisket that most people realize. So, I am going to provide you with some pointers to choose the best brisket for you.

When I am entertaining or if my brisket is going to be the main dish, I do like to spring for USDA Choice. This has a little bit more marbling throughout, resulting in a better flavor and texture.

Naturally, this is completely up to you. If you are looking to save some money, you can absolutely go with a cheaper cut. Through dry brining or injecting and maintaining a low temperature, you can still produce a great smoked brisket.

meat and cherry tomatoes on a grill

The other thing that you are going to want to consider is whether you want a full packer cut or if you want to choose between a flat cut and a point cut.

I would suggest only opting for a full brisket if you are looking to feed a lot of people and still want leftovers. Keep in mind that these briskets can weigh as much as 20lbs at times.

Not only is this is a lot of meat, it can also take a long time to smoke a brisket of this size. As such, I don't recommend that you choose a bigger cut unless you need to cater to a significant crowd.

If you are looking to downsize, then you should choose either the flat or the cut - the two muscles that make up a whole brisket.

If you still want a fair amount of meat, I would suggest the flat as it is the larger of the muscles. It is largely made up of lean meat and so it is easier to smoke.

In case you are all about that flavor, though, then the point cut is where it is at. This has more fat which makes it tastier, but it can also take longer to cook. As the cut is smaller, you will likely need to buy more meat as well.

The final point of choosing meat for your brisket is the fat cap. There is a bit of a misconception here that the more fat there is, the better.

This isn't exactly true. Yes, you do need some fat for flavor and moisture. Too much, though, and it can interfere with the smoking of the brisket. This is why the fat cap is trimmed down to 1/4th of an inch.

So, when you are shopping for your brisket, look for a decent amount of fat, but avoid anything where the layer is to thick as it only will be trimmed away later on.

The Brisket Dry Rub

The BBQ rub that I have used for this recipe is pretty standard but you are sure find a lot of different dry rub recipes to choose from. Feel free to experiment with anyone that you feel like.

The only note that I would like to make here is regarding the salt. If you have dry brined the brisket already, then I would skip the salt. If you aren't going to through with the brine then you can add about half a teaspoon into the mix or to taste.

The other thing that people want to know is how long they should leave the rub on the brisket. Well, this is up to you.

Contrary to popular belief, the flavor doesn't seep as much into the meat as everyone likes to believe. The salt does work its magic but the rest of the ingredients don't have as much of an impact.

This is why you can apply the rub just before smoking it. At the same time, you can leave it on for several hours or even overnight if you wish.

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Using Mustard as a Binding Agent

I would absolutely recommend using mustard as a binding agent here. For one thing, its texture makes it ideal for forming a thick layer of spices around the brisket. In turn, this becomes a crispy and tasty bark when you smoke brisket in an electric smoker.

In case you don't like mustard, I would suggest olive oil in its stead. Personally, this isn't an ideal substitution as mustard adds an intriguing taste to it all, too. However, it is something that you can try.

Choosing the Wood Chips

If you want your smoked brisket to have a wonderfully smoky flavor, then you need to choose the right wood for the job.

Brisket has a strong beefy flavor to it which means that it holds up well to more powerful flavors. This is why you will often find hickory wood and mesquite wood to be a common choice here.

If you would prefer something a little milder, oak can work as well.

bbq at a food stall

The only thing that I would recommend is choosing a high quality brand for the wood chips. This can make all the difference when it comes to the rate of burning and the smoke produced. Thus, it is always a good idea to splurge a little here.

Refilling the Chips

As you will have noticed, the tray for the wood chips is fairly small. This means that you have to keep emptying out the ash and refilling the tray as the cook continues.

Of course, how often you will need to do this will depend on the temp that you have set on your electric smoker. You can expect to do this every 30 to 40 minutes, though.

Now, I know that this can seem like a pain, but there is an upside - you only have to do this for the first 3 to 4 hours of a cook. Once the meat is wrapped in butcher paper or aluminum foil, it isn't really necessary.

You can continue to refill the tray but the brisket will not absorb nearly as much smoke, making this a pointless effort.

Choosing Your Electric Smoker Temperature

I have found that people prepare smoked brisket at various temperatures. Take my advice, though, and stay as low as possible. I have found 225 F to produce the best results but 250 F can work as well.

Usually people want to crank up the cooking temperature as it smokes the brisket more quickly. When you do this, though, you risk drying out the brisket. It is always best to err on the side of caution and to stick to a lower temperature.

Another piece of advice that I want to dispense is to get your own hood thermometer. A lot of models are equipped with their own but the manufacturer often chooses rather cheap options.

This means that there can be a lot of discrepancy about the temperature inside the smoker chamber and what the hood thermometer is telling you. Buy a good quality one and you will be able to smoke your brisket to perfection each and every time.

Tracking the Internal Temperature

When you smoke a brisket, it is vital that you monitor the internal meat temperature at all times. I know that a lot of people like to cook based on time, but I can assure you that this method will fail you.

This is because it is difficult to estimate the rate at which your brisket is smoking. This can be affected by anything from the size of the brisket to the weather conditions. Therefore, it is easy to get it wrong and end up overcooking or undercooking your smoked beef brisket.

Instead, use a meat thermometer - a wired or wireless digital thermometer will do to track the brisket's internal temperature. Make sure that it is inserted into the thickest part of the brisket for the most accurate results.

When it comes to checking the internal temperature, people have two methods. The first is to intermittently place the temperature probe in the meat, check the temp, and then take it out.

The other option is to leave the thermometer in.

Now, the first method can help to prevent false readings. Sometimes, when the probe is kept in, it can head up the meat surrounding it exponentially which can cause the temperature to register as being higher than it actually is.

small electric bbq grill

When you keep taking thermometer in and out, though, you are able to prevent this. The only issue is that with this method you have to keep opening and closing the lid. This can cause the temperature inside the chamber to vary.

You will need to decide which risk you are willing to take.

Wrapping the Brisket

After the brisket has been smoking for a while, a process known as evaporative cooling takes place. Here, the cooking temp causes the meat to begin to sweat. When this happens, the temperature around the brisket drops, causing it to stop cooking.

This typically happens around 165 F.

When the stall happens, the smoked beef brisket ceases to cook for several hours, significantly prolonging the cook.

To overcome, this pitmasters use a technique known as the Texas Crutch. This is where the brisket is wrapped in either aluminum foil or butcher paper and then placed back in the smoker.

The wrapping causes the temp around the brisket to rise and forces the meat to begin cooking again. Therefore, your smoked brisket will get done faster.

Do You Need to Wrap the Brisket?

Now, usually I would say that this decision is up to you. There are lots of pitmasters out there that don't like to wrap the brisket.

This is because the wrapping traps moisture as well as heat. This can soften the bark preventing it from getting as crispy as most people like it. Many a pitmaster would prefer to wait out the stall and for the temp to begin rising on its own.

As you are using an electric smoker, though, I would advise you to wrap the meat. As I mentioned, these smokers tend to run at a lower temperature. Thus, it is going to take even longer for the smoker to overcome the stall.

Unless you are prepared to watch over a very long cook, you should consider wrapping the brisket.

Aluminum Foil Wrap vs. Butcher Paper

These are two most commonly used options for wrapping brisket. My personal preference is the paper. This is because it is more breathable, ensuring that less moisture gets trapped inside the wrapping.

This results in a crispier bark but due to its permeability, it can also take a little longer to overcome the stall.

Aluminum foil provides a more impenetrable layer, ensuring that the wrapped brisket cooks faster. It can make the bark slightly soggy, though.

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When to Wrap the Brisket?

The stall can set in at any point between 150 degrees F and 170 degrees F. You can wait for the brisket to hit this temp and then watch it to determine if the internal temperature is moving upwards or not.

Other people prefer to wrap the meat at around two-thirds of the cook. Generally, you can expect brisket to smoke at a rate of 50 to 75 minutes per pound.

serving grilled brisket

Based on this, a 12lb brisket will take between 10 hours and 15 hours to cook. Thus, you can check the temperature probe at around the 7 to 10 hour mark to see if it is time to wrap the brisket.

How to Wrap Brisket?

The main thing to focus on when wrapping brisket is to make sure that the wrapping is very tight around the cut. This allows the heat to be trapped closed to the meat.

Start with two sheets of foil or paper. These should be four times longer than the brisket is wide.

Lay one sheet down on your worktable. Then, place the other on the top, but the second sheet should overlap the first one at the halfway point.

Place the brisket about a foot away from the bottom of the first sheet. Fold the bottom part of the paper over the brisket and then wrap each of the sides at an angle over the brisket.

Roll the entire brisket over. Fold in the sides at an angle again. There will be some extra material at the top. Fold this paper over ant then wrap it over the brisket.

Wrapping It Up

There you have it - how to make smoked brisket in an electric smoker. As you can see, the process is pretty similar to using any other smoker, but there are a few learning curves that you have to overcome. Now that you know these, smoking brisket in this type of smoker will be a breeze for you!

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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