How Do You Know When Brisket Is Done [What to Check for]

Brisket is delicious, juicy, and tender when it’s cooked to perfection, but it certainly doesn’t start that way! Before cooking, brisket is a tough meat that requires a long time to cook at low temperatures. Because the process is so long, how do you know when the brisket is done?

When the brisket’s internal temperature reaches 190-195⁰F when using a reliable internal thermometer, it is cooked. Other ways to know if the brisket is done is to poke it with a fork if the fork slides in with no resistance, it is done, or to measure a cooking time of 1 hour 15 per pound.

how do you know when brisket is done

Undercooked brisket is a disaster. It will be tough, chewy, and very unappetizing. However, keep in mind that the meat will increase by 10 degrees during the resting period.

That’s why knowing how to check when your brisket is done is one of the best pieces of pre-cook prep you can do! There are four tried and tested ways to ensure your brisket is perfectly done before removing it from the smoker or oven. 

Some are measurable and technical, while others rely heavily on feel and practice. We’ll cover all the different methods below to help you decide on the best method for you!

Check The Brisket With A Thermometer

For those who prefer using measurable cooking methods, the best way to tell brisket is safe to eat is to use an internal thermometer to check the center temperature of the brisket. Be careful not to do this too often: patience is the name of the game, and opening the smoker or oven too regularly may cool it and slow everything down.

When using a thermometer on your brisket, the best one to use is an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature. Be sure to insert it so that it is in the middle of the brisket to give you a correct reading. Measure too close to the surface, and you may still have tough meat in the middle!

Poke The Brisket To Check If It Is Done

For those who prefer to go by feel, look, and experience when cooking, the ‘poke it’ method may be the best method for you to check if the brisket is ready. 

As the name suggests, it is as simple as poking the brisket with a fork, or if you would like to get a thermometer measurement in with the poke at the same time, poke it with the rod of the thermometer.

You can check how tender the meat is by seeing how easily the fork pushes into the meat with this method. If the fork slides into the brisket easily or with very little resistance, then you know it is probably done. 

If there is resistance to the fork, the brisket probably needs more time to cook. However, if the brisket falls apart quickly or shreds into small pieces, it is overdone. 

Use Cooking Time To Measure When The Brisket Should Be Done

For those who are somewhere in the middle and want a measurable method with a good dose of feel and experience thrown in, you may want to measure the estimated cooking time based on the weight of the brisket. For example, when cooking brisket between 140⁰F-170⁰F, it should be done after about 1 hour 15 minutes – 1 hour 30 minutes per pound.

If you have a one-pound piece of meat, then you know to check if it is done after an hour and fifteen minutes. However, it gets more complicated as the weight goes up because a large brisket or a ‘whole packer brisket’ can take up to 16 hours to cook. 

With that many hours, a lot can happen with the variables of temperature and moisture, and it could be ready long before the 16-hour mark or still need more cooking. So while this is a measurement method, you may end up poking it with a fork or sticking a thermometer in it towards the end anyway.

Even so, it is always a good idea to make provision for the entire length of the cook, especially when using a smoker. Advance knowledge of how long the brisket will take to cook will help you prep and plan effectively. 

When serving guests, you will undoubtedly want to have the meat cooked before they arrive!

Use The ‘Pull It’ Method To Check If It Is Done

After timing the cook, using a thermometer, and poking the brisket during the cook, one final method is to check if the brisket is done once it is away from the heat and has rested. First, cut a slice of brisket about one-quarter inch thick, pinch each end between thumb and forefinger and pull. 

It is ready if the slice easily pulls apart into two whole pieces. If the slice gives resistance before breaking, then the collagen in the brisket has not fully broken down, and it may need some extra cooking time. If the slice crumbles or shreds, it is overdone.

Because this method happens after cooking, it is not, strictly speaking, a method to check if the brisket is done, but it will help you know whether to return it to the heat to try to finish off the cooking or to creatively use the overcooked meat in some other way.

Three Techniques To Rescue Undercooked Brisket

If you have used the ‘pull it’ method and discovered your brisket is undercooked, don’t panic, you can still salvage it. These three techniques will help you get your brisket from chewy and tough to juicy and tender:

  • If you do not need to serve the brisket immediately: leave it whole, allow it to cool, and refrigerate overnight. The overnight resting will further break down the collagen to leave the meat tender. The next day, crank up the smoker or oven to 225⁰F, heat the brisket until the internal temperature reaches 195⁰F, slice and serve.
  • If you have more than a few hours to spare before serving the brisket, do the following: Slice the brisket into slices about one quarter to half an inch thick and lay these slices in a medium-depth roasting pan. Make a mixture of beef broth and red wine and pour the mixture over the brisket slices, being sure to cover all the meat. Cover the pan with foil and cook at 325⁰F for 3 to 4 hours or until the meat is tender.
  • If you need a quick solution to the undercooked brisket, this may be a good option for you: Cut the brisket into small cubes about one inch wide. Place the cubes in a slow cooker and add carrots, cubed potatoes, diced onions, and fresh herbs. Cover the ingredients in beef stock between halfway to just covered. Seal the lid and cook on low for another two hours. The brisket stew will be delicious with tender pieces of meat.

Final Word

There are many ways to check if your brisket is ready: some are technical and require regular measurements, while others are based on feel and experience. 

The three tried and tested ways are: check the internal temperature of the brisket using a reliable internal thermometer – when it reaches 190-195⁰F it should be done; Poke it with a fork, if the fork slides in with no resistance, the brisket is done; or measure a cooking time of 1 hour 15 per pound and cook the brisket for the allotted amount of time – once this time is up the brisket should be done. 

Using one or all of these methods will give you the tools to cook your brisket to perfection and take the guesswork out of when it’s ready to eat. 

Happy cooking!

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