Will Brisket Shrink When Smoked? [How Much & Why?]

We all know that correctly smoking a brisket is time-consuming. And no one wants all their hard work to go to waste. A frequently asked question in the barbequing community is, will my brisket shrink when smoked? 

The brisket will shrink by 30 to 40 percent during the smoking process. Shrinkage is caused by natural moisture in the meat evaporating due to the heat. Shrinking is an inevitable, natural part of smoking and will happen with any meat prepared in this way. Slow and low helps retain moisture, keeping the meat juicy.

will brisket shrink when smoked

After reading this article, you will understand why the brisket shrinks and that it is indeed a normal occurrence when smoking a brisket. When shopping for brisket, consider shrinkage to ensure there is enough brisket to cater to a certain number of people. 

Will A Brisket Shrink When Smoked?

There is nothing quite like smoked brisket. Regardless of what barbeque you attend, the smoked brisket is always the biggest crowd-pleaser when the family gets together for a cookout.

However, smoking a brisket poses a frustrating and challenging problem. Briskets will always shrink in size when smoked, which can be an issue if you feed many people at once.

During the smoking process, a brisket will lose a significant amount of mass, which will result in a reduction in overall size. Smoking a brisket cooks the meat while at the same time infusing it with delicious flavor. It does, however, also make the brisket smaller.

A brisket will get smaller when smoked, regardless of the size or how it is smoked. The final product will always be smaller than the raw slab.

However, while a brisket that has reduced in size can be frustrating, there are positives and negatives to the loss of mass that a brisket experiences during smoking.

The moisture extracted from the meat during the smoking process is the main reason the meat reduces in size, which can seem to be a loss, but the lower moisture content of the cooked brisket comes with significant benefits.

How Much Does A Brisket Shrink When Smoked?

The amount of moisture a brisket loses when smoked should ideally be between 30% and 40%. The brisket will shrink this much because some of the moisture from the brisket is purged.

If you do not get rid of the moisture in the brisket when smoking it, it becomes a problem when you wrap the brisket to let it sit and cool to serving temperature.

The moisture becomes a problem when the brisket gets wrapped because the juices seep out of the brisket and land up pooling around the bark, destroying that beautiful smoky crisp bark you have spent so long working on.

It may help if you remember that because your brisket can lose up to 40% of its mass, you have to account for this when planning your meal. Calculate an average serving to be roughly half a pound per serving.

When you are smoking a 10lb brisket or more, the unfortunate reality for all the meat lovers out there is that your brisket will lose roughly 3lb or 4lb due to the moisture in the meat being extracted and evaporated by the smoking process—leaving you with 6lb to 7lb of cooked brisket.

If you want to finish with a brisket weighing close to 10lb, you need to start with 16lb. If the brisket is cooked correctly, the weight will reduce to between 11.2lb and 9.6lb. The reduced weight means you are left with roughly 18 to 22 servings.

Brisket Size Reduction Table

It is always helpful to understand how much your brisket will shrink during the smoking process. This will allow you to calculate ahead of time and properly prepare the right amount of food for the number of people at your gathering.

Here is a helpful table to assist you in making the best decision regarding the size of brisket you will need to cook to feed your family or your guests based on how much weight the brisket will lose in the smoking process:

Raw Brisket WeightSmoked Brisket WeightWeight Loss In PoundsRough Number of Portions
10 lb6.5 lb3.5 pounds13
15 lb9.75 pounds5.25 pounds19
20 lb13 lbs7 pounds29
25 lb16.25 lbs8.75 lb32

How To Prevent Your Brisket From Shrinking Too Much

One of the most effective and flavor-inducing ways to smoke a brisket is to use the 3, 2, 1 method. This is especially true for a beginner. It is called the 3, 2, 1 method due to the length of time that each step of the smoking process takes. Let’s take a look at how you use the 3, 2, 1 smoking method.

It goes without saying that you have to cover the brisket in your preferred dry rub mix before you start with the first step of the 3, 2, 1 method (If you are not trimming the fat off the brisket, do not put a dry rub on the fatty part). The steps are as follows; 

  • – The first step is to smoke the brisket for three hours, checking every hour to spritz it with a spray of your choosing. Spraying the brisket periodically will help prevent shrinkage while allowing the smoke to stick to it, providing a thicker bark!
  • 2 – After smoking the brisket for three hours, wrap it in foil and put it back into the smoker for at least another two hours. This is the most critical step because the foil will prevent the brisket from losing too much moisture. This keeps the brisket moist and prevents too much weight from being lost.
  • 1 – The final step is to remove the foil and let the brisket smoke for one more hour. Removing the foil and putting the brisket back on the smoker will help crisp up the bark some more.

By using the 3, 2, 1 method of smoking your brisket, you get succulent meat that melts in your mouth.

Is There Any Benefit To Your Brisket Shrinking?

When smoking a brisket, it will always shrink. This can be frustrating, but not everyone realizes that the loss of overall brisket mass during the smoking process comes with some benefits.

A smaller brisket is a good indicator of how well cooked the brisket is. The smaller the brisket is, the more moisture it has lost, which means it is closer to being ready to eat.

While you can gauge how well the brisket is done is by how much it has shrunk. The best and easiest way to tell if the brisket is done is by using a probe thermometer.

When smoking brisket, the meat releases much of the moisture trapped inside. This means that all of the flavor preparation done beforehand with rubs and brines will become even more apparent.

As the brisket loses moisture, the flavors within the meat will condense and become more intense. The flavor trapped within the brisket is concentrated when the meat shrinks. And this process results in a flavor explosion in every bite.

Brisket that shrinks during the smoking process is not all bad news. When the brisket reaches a small enough size, you will know that it is ready to remove from the smoker, and the loss of mass due to the smoking process intensifies the flavors of the seasoning that the brisket is coated in when cooked.

Remember that if your brisket shrinks while smoking, it’s a good thing! This is the best way to unlock the intense flavor potential within every brisket and to bring your hard-prep work to light.

Final Word

There are two guarantees when you smoke a brisket; the first is that it will take a long time to finish. The second is that if you are smoking your brisket correctly, it will shrink by 30% to 40%, so remember that you don’t need to worry – this is normal!

The brisket shrinking will concentrate all of the brisket’s delicious flavor into a small flavor bomb. When smoking a brisket, the old saying “good things come in small packages” really is undeniable.

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