Why Does Brisket Stall? [What Does It Mean?]

The brisket has been on the smoker for a few hours, and it smells fantastic. Your guests are staring hungrily in the direction of the meat. And you start to panic. Something’s wrong. The meat temperature is just not getting to where it needs to be. It might even have dropped a bit in temperature. What on earth is going on? This is the infamous brisket stall. 

The reason for the brisket stall is evaporative cooling – evaporation of liquid from the meat’s surface. When the heating rate of the meat and the smoker’s temperature matches the rate of evaporative cooling, it temporarily causes the internal temperature of the meat to stop increasing. 

why does brisket stall

This is science at work. But there is more to know about this phenomenon and how to deal with it, so read on.

What Exactly Is The Brisket Stall?

When you place a large piece of meat on the smoker, and it appears to stop cooking after two or three hours. This is the very annoying brisket stall. 

The ‘brisket stall,’ also known as the ‘barbeque stall’ or ‘meat plateau,’ happens when the internal temperature of the meat temporarily plateaus during the cooking process. As mentioned earlier, this is due to evaporative cooling. 

This stall in the cooking process usually happens at around 150°F. And instead of increasing towards our goal of 203°F, it stops rising and might even drop in temperature. All in all, this is quite frustrating as it can last for up to six or seven hours. 

The good news is that the stall doesn’t last forever. There is only so much excess liquid that can evaporate in this manner, and once it has evaporated, the meat will begin to increase in temperature once again. 

And if you’re concerned that this evaporation of excess moisture will cause the meat to become dry and unpalatable, fear not. The rest of the moisture in the meat comes from collagen, fat, and protein, and the meat should still be tender and delicious. 

Why Does The Stall Happen?

The simplest way to explain the stall is that the process of evaporative cooling, as described above, is similar the what happens to our bodies when we sweat due to working hard or exercising. The sweat cools us down. 

There are a couple of ideas about why meat might stall in the cooking process, but evaporative cooling is the most likely reason. 

The plateau may start at an internal temperature of between 150 and 170°F. The stall doesn’t always happen. But when it does, and how long it lasts depends on the particulars of the piece of meat itself, as well as the type of cooker you are using.

The moisture that evaporates from the meat stalls its temperature out, and the stall moves from the outer surface to the center. 

It continues until sufficient moisture has evaporated that it can no longer balance the thermal energy produced by your smoker. This is when the temperature of your meat begins to climb again. 

When the temperature increases again, it usually goes quite quickly, and it can get up to 203°F in just another hour or two.

How Long Does The Stall Last?

It is hard to predict how long the stall will last as it depends on several variables: 

  • The size of the meat cut and its surface area – the larger the piece, the longer it can stall.
  • The design of the smoker – a smoker with more airflow or a fan, encourages evaporation. Electric smokers also tend to reduce evaporative cooling.
  • Using a water pan will keep the humidity inside your smoker high, preventing moisture loss during cooking. But because they add to the moisture on the surface of the meat, the stall time may be extended.
  • Using a wet mop/brush/spritz also adds time to the stall.

How Do You Get Past The Stall?

Now that we understand what the stall is and why it happens, let’s look at how to deal with it. 

Start cooking earlier 

Probably the best method to deal with the stall is to accept that it is part of the process and allow enough time in the cooking process to accommodate it. For example, if the meat is done before you need it, you can simply take it off the smoker and leave it to rest until ready to serve. 

If the meat was wrapped in foil or butcher paper, wrap it in some towels and leave it in a cooler to stay warm for three or four hours. The advantage of this is that the meat has time to rest and relax (and so do you).

The Texas Crutch

Another way to beat the stall is but employing ‘The Texas Crutch.’ Wrap your meat tightly in aluminum foil during the stall. You can also add more moisture in the form of beer or fruit juice. 

The reason that this method works is because the foil prevents evaporative cooling. Instead, the moisture leaving the meat condenses on the inside of the foil. And pools at the base of the meat-in-foil package.

While it is a valuable way to avoid the stall, it makes it very difficult to build up the crusty bark that everyone loves in a brisket. 

When the internal meat temperature plateaus at around 150-160°F, remove it from the grill and wrap it in a few layers of heavy-duty foil. Seal it up tight to ensure that as little moisture can escape as possible. 

Place the wrapped meat back in the smoker, and it should break out of the stall soon after. Remove the foil as soon as the meat reaches your target temperature to achieve as much bark as possible. 

The Butcher Paper Method

You could also beat the stall with pink butcher paper, which will not entirely seal off the meat, and still allow smoke to reach the meat. 

The meat might still stall, but probably for a much shorter time than without wrapping. If you want a solution that can help you beat the stall while not entirely sealing off your meat, you can use pink butcher paper.

The Sous-vide Method

Another way to get past the stall is to smoke the meat until it reaches the stalling stage and then move it to a sous-vide. This involves vacuum packing the meat to prevent evaporative cooling. 

Vacuum packing the meat and having a sous-vide set up is a bit of a process, and not everyone wants to add the extra steps. 

Hot and Fast Cooking 

If you’re willing to swap out your brisket flat for a brisket point that is fattier and contains more collagen, you can cook it hot and fast, and you can be done in around six hours, without the stall. 

Final Word

The brisket stall can be annoying and a challenge, but now that you know what’s behind it, you can make a plan to beat it.

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