Resting Brisket in Cooler: A Pitmaster’s Best Trick!

November 2, 2022

Resting brisket in cooler is a great way to maintain the internal temperature at a safe level while ensuring that your brisket is nice and moist until your guests arrive.

I host quite a few cookouts and am always frustrated when either my smoked meats or guests are late. Fortunately, a pitmaster friend of mine taught me the secrets of keeping brisket in a cooler.

In this post, I will outline the perks of this method and give you step by step instructions on how to create your very own setup. Let’s begin!

Resting Brisket in Cooler

Should You Let Smoked Brisket Rest in a Cooler?

Even if you are new to BBQ and beef brisket, you know the deal: you have to rest brisket after it has been cooked.

This gives the meat time to reabsorb its juices and liquids, thus resulting in a juicier and more tender brisket.

But, do you really need to rest the brisket in a cooler? Well, in some cases, you do! Let’s find out why this is.

If you have ever smoked any kind of meat, then you know that it can be tricky to estimate the end of the cooking process. Size of the cut, smoker temperature, wind, temperature fluctuations, and other issues can delay your cook by quite a bit.

Now, if you are smoking brisket for a particular meal or are inviting people over, then such delays can be especially inconvenient. This is why most people like to start their cook about an hour earlier than the beef brisket needs to be ready.

When you do this, though, there is a risk of another issue: dry brisket. If your guests don’t show up on time and your brisket is left to rest for too long, then the meat can dry out. Not to mention, you are also left with cold brisket.

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This is where resting brisket in a cooler comes into play.

White cooler box on concrete pavement

Here, you heat up the cooler and then place the wrapped brisket in there. Close the door so that the heat trapped inside the cooler and the temp from carry over cooking maintain the internal meat temperature of your brisket.

When your guests do finally arrive, it will feel as though you are serving them brisket that has just been taken off the smoker. This also works with pork butt and turkey too.

This method of resting brisket in a cooler is known as a faux Cambro.

Pitmasters got the idea from a Cambro – an insulated container that caterers use to keep food at the designated 140 degrees F. Not only does the food taste better, but it is also a great way to ward off foodborne illnesses. Some of these containers even come equipped with their own heater.

The Cambro tends to be rather pricey, so people started making their own homemade versions with the help of beer coolers.

Understanding the Mechanism of Resting Brisket in Cooler

Before I show you how to make this contraption, I want to discuss exactly what goes on when you place a brisket in a cooler once it is done smoking.

When you take your brisket off the smoker, it may register somewhere between 190 and 203 degrees F. Once carryover cooking has taken place, though, the internal temperature of the brisket will begin to plummet.

Letting the brisket rest in an insulated cooler helps to maintain some of this heat, but doesn’t do the trick nearly enough.

This is why you need to wrap the brisket before placing it in the cooler. It can be wrapped in either aluminum foil or butcher paper, depending on your preference. This keeps the heat trapped in.

As an additional measure, we also place a towel below and above the brisket to help maintain the temperature inside the cooler.

Remember, it is important to keep the internal temperature at or above 140 degrees F before it is served. If the temperature drops below this, there is an increased risk of food poisoning.

What You Will Need

Here is a list of the things that you will need to pull this off:

A Cooler

As you can imagine, the cooler is a pretty important part of this method.

Now, you will need a well insulated cooler. Use one that is capable of keeping ice cold for several days at a time. Keep in mind, if the cooler isn’t properly insulated, then the meat will cool down too quickly.

Not only will the brisket not taste as good but you may also risk making your guests sick!

You will also required one with a lid that can be shut properly, allowing it to create a tight seal. If your cooler isn’t all that great, I would suggest borrowing one from a neighbor or a friend.

Just make sure that the interior is large enough to hold your brisket without needing it to be carved up. Remember, there are going to be towels in there too.

Coolers with drains are the best. You will need to drain hot water out of it and it is much safer for you if you don’t have to lift the cooler to tip it out and empty it.

Wheels aren’t a must, but they can certainly help you cart your brisket from one place to another without having to expend much energy.

Men in Sportswear Carrying a Cooler while Walking

Wrapping Material

As I said, you can use either aluminum foil or butcher paper to wrap your brisket in.

Personally, I prefer the butcher paper. Now, you need to be aware that as this paper is porous that it will not trap the heat in quite as well as foil. Thus, you will not be able to store the brisket for as long.

Nevertheless, it can be excellent for maintaining your brisket bark a little better.

Although foil works as an excellent barrier or seal, it causes moisture to be trapped inside. This can soften the bark.

Now, I should mention that your bark will always be a bit compromised when you store the brisket in a cooler. However, the paper helps to mitigate this issue a little bit.

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I know what you’re thinking – why would you need advise on what towels to use?

So, here’s the thing, it is probably a good idea to not use the towels in your linen closet. If it is possible, I would suggest buying towels for this purpose specifically. Look for very thick and fluffy ones.

If you frequently smoke briskets or pork butts for cookouts, this will actually be a good investment.

Now, regardless of the kind of towels you are using, I would suggest washing them in a non-scented detergent. This way, the smell from the detergent won’t permeate into the meat. And, definitely don’t use any fabric softener.

If your towels are new, first wash them in detergent to make sure they are clean. Then, wash them again with just water to get rid of any lingering smell.

An Aluminum Pan

This item isn’t strictly necessary but I would suggest using one. Get a pan that is large enough for your brisket to fit in.

Then, you can place the brisket in the pan and not the bottom of the cooler. If any juices or liquids leak out, it will collect in the pan.

Thus, when it comes to clean up time, it is just a matter of rinsing out the pan and discarding it. As for the cooler, you will simply be able to wipe it down.

Meat Thermometer

Last, but certainly not least, you need a meat probe. As I mentioned, it is important for the meat internal temperature to never drop below 140 degrees F.

A thermometer helps you to keep track of the internal temp. Your best bet is a wireless thermometer that has an app. This way, you can track the temperature via your app instead of needing to open and close the cooler every now and then.

Meat on wooden cutting board

How to Make a Faux Cambro?

Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1

Pour around three gallons of hot water into the cooler. You can heat up the water or use hot tap water. Keep in mind that the water needs to be quite hot for this to work.

Close the lid of the cooler and let the water sit for 30 minutes.

Step 2

Drain the water or empty out the cooler.

Place the towel on the bottom of the cooler and put the pan on top. Place the wrapped brisket in the pan.

Insert the meat probe into the thickest part of the meat.

Place another towel on top of the brisket. Close the lid.

Step 3

Monitor the temperature. Take the brisket out when your guests are ready to eat or when the internal temperature gets closer to 140 degrees F.

How Long Can I Rest a Brisket in a Cooler?

It is difficult to know just how long you can rest a brisket in this type of setup. This is because there are a lot of factors to figure in.

For instance, it does depend on the temperature of the brisket when it comes out of the smoker. The hotter it is, the longer that you can maintain a higher temp.

The other thing to think about is the insulation of the cooler. If it is a high quality cooler, you can easily let the brisket rest for a few hours at a time.

If not, the you may be able to keep the temperature up anywhere from half an hour to an hour.

This is where a thermometer comes in handy. It ensures that you don’t have to rely on guesswork. Instead, you know exactly how well your brisket is being kept warm.

Of course, if you are resting your brisket for a party or cookout, then you don’t want to take any chances.

This is why I would suggest conducting an experiment with a smaller cut of brisket beforehand. This will give you a rough idea of the resting time.

Marinated Barbecue on Blue Ceramic Plate

Maintaining the Bark

As I mentioned, your bark does tend to suffer a bit when it comes to this methodology. However, as I am a big fan of bark, I just couldn’t let this issue rest – no pun intended.

With a little bit of experimenting of my own, I found a way around this problem.

Preheat your grill to high. And, just before you cut and serve the brisket, let it sit on the grill for several minutes. Keep turning the brisket over so that the entire surface can crisp up properly.

Wrapping It Up

If you have ever wondered about resting brisket in cooler – you now know what it is all about! As you can see, this is a great way for storing your brisket until it is ready to be sliced and served.

Now that these secrets have been passed down onto you, you can use them to wow your friends, family, and guests!

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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