Smoked Whole Brisket Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 20 min. + standing Cook: 12 hours
After using this method to test almost 20 smokers and pellet grills, I can definitively say it's the best way to smoke a brisket. This step-by-step guide will walk you through everything you need to know to make a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth tender smoked brisket with a delightfully peppery bark.

Updated: May 23, 2024

I don’t usually like to brag about my cooking chops, but I would consider myself something of a smoked brisket expert. As a former professional product tester, I’ve tested close to 20 smokers and pellet grills and cooked a perfect brisket on every one of them. Some of the smokers didn’t make it on my recommendations list, proving this smoked brisket method works regardless of whether I used an expensive, top-notch smoker or made a smoker with my grill.

As long as you follow a few basic principles of low-and-slow cooking, it’s easy to smoke brisket to tender, juicy perfection—even if you’ve never smoked meat before.

How to Select a Brisket for Smoked Brisket

Brisket is a large cut of beef that comes from a cow’s pectoral muscle. A whole brisket (aka “packer brisket”) contains two different muscles: the lean flat cut and the fatty point cut (or the “deckle”). Look for a brisket with an even thickness in the flat section and good marbling (the long streaks of white fat visible in the lean meat).

When it comes to the different grades of beef, USDA Prime is the most expensive and the highest quality. Prime brisket has the most marbling, which helps the meat cook up juicy and flavorful. Choice brisket is a good alternative if Prime is outside your price range. I don’t recommend smoking Select briskets, as they dry out quickly with little or no marbling.

How to Smoke a Brisket

The first step to smoking a brisket is to trim off the excess fat. Technically, you don’t need to trim the fat. Brisket has a very thick fat cap on one side, and it will cook just fine without any prep work. However, I recommend trimming this fat to 1/4-inch thickness. While fat is flavor, this much fat is unpalatable. It will become mushy and greasy, detracting from the eating experience. Once trimmed, season the brisket with mustard, salt, pepper and any other desired flavorings.

Next, it’s time to head to the smoker, where we’ll smoke the brisket in two stages. Low and slow is the way to go with this tough protein, so preheat the smoker to 225°F. The first stage involves cooking the brisket uncovered. Once it registers an internal temperature of 165° on a meat thermometer, after about eight hours, wrap the brisket in butcher paper. Continue to smoke it until it reaches 202°, four to five hours.

Why cook brisket in two stages? When the meat reaches temperatures between 150° and 165°, the temperature stalls, or stops rising, because of something known as evaporative cooling. Basically, the meat sweats and releases so much moisture that it cools itself down. Wrapping the brisket traps that moisture inside and prevents evaporation, helping the meat stay juicy as it pushes through the stall.

Finally, we come to the most critical step of making smoked brisket: resting the brisket. You could do everything else right, but the brisket would taste tough if you slice and serve it immediately. Instead, rest the brisket for an hour to allow the muscle fibers to relax and the juices to redistribute within the meat. When it comes time to slice it, slice against the grain (just like how you’d cut a steak). Cutting across the grain shortens the long muscle fibers so the meat feels more tender.

How long do you smoke brisket?

Generally, brisket takes about one hour per pound when smoked at 225°, so you can count on roughly 12 hours to cook a 12-pound brisket (plus an hour for resting). But every brisket is different, so build in a little extra time for wiggle room. You might want to smoke the brisket a day ahead of time—or have a backup plan for dinner, just in case it takes longer than you think.

If smoking a whole brisket sounds like too much time commitment, you can use this recipe to smoke the flat cut instead. Because it contains less fat, the flat cut usually cooks more quickly, about 45 minutes per pound when smoked at 225°. Most flat cuts weigh 6 to 10 pounds, and an 8-pound flat cut brisket finishes cooking in about six hours.

Smoked Brisket Ingredients

  • Beef brisket: We recommend using a whole brisket for this recipe. It creates options when it comes time to serve. Serve from the flat end for those who prefer lean brisket, or from the point end for moist brisket. There are plenty of ways to use the leftovers, and brisket freezes well, so don’t worry about ending up with too much meat.
  • Yellow mustard: Slathering the brisket with yellow mustard adds flavor, helps the seasonings stick and promotes browning for a gorgeous bark. The acid in the mustard also works like a marinade and breaks down the brisket’s tough muscle proteins for a more tender brisket. Olive oil works if you don’t want to use mustard, but the bark won’t be as robust.
  • Seasonings: You can add any number of seasonings to brisket. Here, we use salt, coarsely ground pepper and onion powder.


Step 1: Trim the brisket

A person cutting sides of brisket on a cutting boardTMB Studio

Place the brisket on a cutting board, fat side down.

A person trimming the silverskin and fat from the top of the brisket on a cutting board.TMB Studio

Trim the silverskin and fat from the top of the brisket. Turn the brisket over, and trim the fat to 1/4-inch thickness.

Editor’s Tip: Cold brisket is much easier to trim, so keep the meat refrigerated until you’re ready to trim it.

Step 2: Season the brisket

A person brushing the brisket with mustard pasteTMB Studio

Brush mustard over both sides of the beef.

A person rubbing salt and pepper mixture over the brisketTMB Studio

Combine the salt, pepper and, if desired, onion powder. Rub the mixture over both sides of the beef. Let stand at room temperature for one hour.

Editor’s Tip: Some people say cold brisket gains a better smoke ring, but I always let my brisket come to room temperature before hitting the smoker. The smoke ring is purely aesthetic and doesn’t affect the brisket’s flavor. However, room-temperature brisket cooks more evenly, so it’s well worth the trade-off.

Step 3: Smoke the brisket

Preheat the smoker to 225°. Add wood chips or pellets to the smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Place the brisket in the smoker fat side up with the point facing toward the heat source. Smoke until a thermometer inserted in beef reads 165° and a dark bark has formed, about eight hours.

Editor’s Tip: The point is fattier and bulkier than the flat, so it takes longer to cook. Positioning the brisket so the point faces toward the heat source will help the brisket cook more evenly.

Step 4: Wrap the brisket

A person wrapping the brisket in unwaxed butcher paperTMB Studio

Wrap the brisket securely in unwaxed butcher paper. Continue to smoke until a thermometer inserted in the beef reads 202° and the meat is very tender, four to five more hours.

Editor’s Tip: Butcher paper is a heat-resistant paper that helps to seal the moisture inside the brisket. It’s more breathable than foil, allowing the bark to stay crisp. If you don’t have any on hand, you can wrap the brisket in a double thickness of heavy-duty foil, but the brisket’s exterior will have a soggier texture.

Step 5: Rest the smoked brisket

Wrapped beef in unwaxed paper placed in a tray.TMB Studio

Let the wrapped beef stand at room temperature for one hour before slicing. Cut diagonally across the grain into thin slices.

Editor’s Tip: The grain is easy to find on a brisket. Look for the thin lines running parallel to each other on the meat’s surface. Position your knife perpendicular to these lines, and cut the brisket into thin slices.

A person is cutting slices of smoked whole brisket.

Smoked Brisket Variations

Sliced smoked brisket with sauce on a table.

  • Change the smoker temperature: I’d never recommend trying to smoke a brisket quickly. However, I’ve done several brisket-related experiments, and it is possible to speed up the first cooking stage without affecting the meat’s tenderness. If needed, you can increase the smoker’s temperature to 275°. After wrapping the brisket, reduce the heat to 225° and finish the brisket nice and slow. Of course, pushing through the first stage faster affects the brisket’s smokiness, so consider that before bumping up the heat.
  • Finish the smoked brisket in the oven: The brisket gets most of its smoke flavor from the first stage when it’s unwrapped. If you need to move the cooking indoors, transfer the wrapped brisket to a sheet pan and finish it in a 225° oven. Remove it from the oven when it reaches an internal temperature of 202°, and rest the brisket as directed.

Can you make smoked brisket ahead of time?

You can make smoked brisket a day ahead of time. Leave the cooked brisket whole, and let it cool slightly. Place it in an oven-safe dish, wrap it tightly and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the brisket from the refrigerator 30 minutes before reheating. Slice the brisket against the grain, and return it to the dish. Pour 1 cup of beef broth or water over the brisket, and cover the dish tightly. Reheat the brisket in a 350° oven until it’s warmed through, 30 to 45 minutes.

How to Store Smoked Brisket

Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you’ll probably end up with a lot of leftover brisket! The best way to keep leftover brisket from drying out is to store it whole. Wrap the brisket, and store it in the refrigerator for up to four days. Store any sliced brisket in an airtight container with the juices from the cutting board.

Reheat the brisket as directed above and use leftover brisket to make dishes like brisket tacos or a brisket sandwich. Smoked brisket has a totally different flavor than corned beef, but it can be used as a substitute for most leftover corned beef recipes like corned beef hash.

Can you freeze smoked brisket?

Smoked brisket can be frozen in freezer-safe containers for up to three months. Let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and reheat as directed.

Smoked Brisket Tips

Two plates of smoked whole brisket on a table

Should you smoke a brisket fat side up or fat side down?

There’s some debate in the barbecue world about whether you should smoke brisket fat side up or fat side down. After cooking dozens of briskets, I like the fat side up method because it makes the meat juicier. The fat drips down onto the meat as it melts, basting it with juicy goodness. That said, if you don’t like meat with a fatty finish, you might want to position the brisket fat side down. Putting the fat closer to the heat source helps more fat render, making it less prevalent in the finished brisket.

Should you wrap smoked brisket at 150° or 165°?

Most people (myself included) suggest wrapping a brisket when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°, the temperature where most briskets hit the stall. However, every brisket is different, and some briskets stall at 150°. In this case, consider if you’re happy with the bark’s color and consistency. If so, wrap the brisket early to help it push through the stall more quickly. If not, wait and let the brisket continue to cook, uncovered, until it reaches 165°.

Where do you put the temperature probe for brisket?

To take the internal temperature of a whole brisket, place the probe in the thickest part of the flat cut in the area closest to the point. I recommend probing the flat because the point contains larger pockets of fat, which will register a much higher temperature than the meat. If you have a probe thermometer with multiple probes (like the Thermoworks Smoke X), feel free to place a probe in both the flat and the point to get a more complete picture of how the brisket is cooking.

What is the best wood for smoked beef brisket?

You can use any type of hardwood to smoke beef brisket. Woods like oak, mesquite and hickory will add bold flavor, whereas maple and pecan wood add more subtle flavor. Fruit woods like apple or cherry are good options to impart a sweet character to the meat. Avoid softwoods, as these sappy woods can impart bitter or off-flavors to the meat.

Best Smoked Brisket

Prep Time 20 min
Yield 36 servings.


  • 1 fresh whole beef brisket (12 to 14 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard or olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder, optional


  1. Place brisket on a cutting board, fat side down. Trim silverskin and fat from top of brisket. Turn brisket over. Trim fat to 1/4-in.-thickness. Brush mustard over both sides of beef. Combine salt, pepper and, if desired, onion powder; rub over both sides of beef. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
  2. Preheat smoker to 225°. Add wood chips or pellets to smoker according to manufacturer’s directions. Place brisket in smoker fat side up with point facing toward heat source. Smoke until a thermometer inserted in beef reads 165° and a dark bark has formed, about 8 hours.
  3. Wrap brisket securely in unwaxed butcher paper; smoke until a thermometer inserted in beef reads 202° and meat is very tender, 4-5 more hours.
  4. Let wrapped beef stand at room temperature 1 hour before slicing; cut diagonally across the grain into thin slices.

Nutrition Facts

4 ounces cooked beef: 193 calories, 7g fat (2g saturated fat), 64mg cholesterol, 384mg sodium, 0 carbohydrate (0 sugars, 0 fiber), 31g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 4 lean meat.

Barbecue enthusiasts will love bringing the smoker out to cook up this smoky, tender and juicy smoked brisket. This recipe is the perfect starting base with its light yellow mustard, salt, pepper and onion powder seasoning. Flavor it up with your favorite seasonings, or keep it as it is and use it in a dish like tacos or sandwiches. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin