Brisket Done Too Early? Here’s How To Hold it!

How To Hold Brisket

Because smoking brisket takes so long and there are so many factors that determine how fast your brisket will cook, it can be really hard to time it correctly. It is very common for a brisket to finish much faster than you expected. The good news, this is an easy problem to tackle.

Thankfully, the great thing about smoking meat like brisket, is that you can hold them for long periods of time. In fact, most experienced pit masters will smoke their meat early and hold it until they are ready to serve.

What To Do If Your Brisket Is Done Too Early?

If your brisket is done early, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil or butcher paper and place it in a small cooler filled with towels. You can hold a brisket like this for up to 5 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 140° Fahrenheit. Adding hot water or hot bricks can further extend the time you can safely hold your brisket.

How do you hold smoked brisket?

1) Grab A Cooler:

Ideally, when choosing a cooler, you will use the smallest possible one your brisket will fit into. Additionally, ones that are better insulated will help greatly. I think it goes without saying, but the smaller and more insulated the cooler is, the longer you will be able to hold your brisket.

If you don’t have a small cooler, any cooler will do. You might need to add heat to hold your brisket for longer periods of time, but you can still make it work. If you don’t have a cooler on hand, don’t stress. You can easily use your oven to hold your brisket (more on this below).


2) Optional: Add Hot Water Or Hot Bricks:

I want to preface this by saying that coolers are meant to keep things cool, and while you can use them to keep things hot, they do not handle direct heat well. Direct heat can damage the inside of you cooler, especially with some of the more expensive models like Yetis. Should you choose to add hot water or bricks, it is imperative that you create a buffer between hot temperature and the cooler lining.

With that said, this step is really only necessary if you are looking to hold your brisket for more than 4 to 5 hours, or if you have a very large cooler that you are using. In these cases, you will need to add heat to hold the temperature above 140° Fahrenheit. There are two ways you can do this.

Hot Water:

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Next, you will need some sort of pot, pan, or container to hold the hot water in the cooler. Fold a towel and place it at the bottom of the cooler to set the container you are pouring your hot water into on. Remember, we don’t want direct heat touching the inside of the cooler. Pour your hot water into the container.

Hot Bricks:

This is another great option for those looking to hold their brisket for extended periods of time. Heat your oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Next grab a couple bricks and wrap them in aluminum foil. Place the bricks in your oven for 20-30 minutes to allow them to heat up.

Just like the hot water, we do not want direct contact with the cooler lining. Place a folded towel at the bottom of the cooler before placing your bricks in the cooler. Additionally, I would recommend also wrapping the bricks in a towel for added protection.

hot brick

3) Fill Extra Air Space With Towels:

Now that we have our cooler ready, we want to fill the remaining air space with towels. The goal is to have as little air in the cooler as possible. This will extend the amount of time you can hold your brisket as the towels will hold heat longer than the air would.

Towels in cooler

4) Wrap Brisket Tightly In Aluminum Foil Or Butcher Paper:

Before placing the brisket in the cooler, make sure that it is wrapped tightly. This will hold the heat inside with the brisket and slow the cooling process. It is common to wrap brisket in butcher paper while smoking it, and a lot of people will leave it wrapped in butcher paper when they throw it in the cooler; however, while I use butcher paper for smoking the brisket, I prefer to use aluminum foil when placing the brisket in the cooler for two reasons.

  1. Aluminum foil unlike butcher paper is not porous and will hold the heat inside longer.
  2. Because butcher paper is porous, the juice and fat drippings from the brisket saturate the paper which can make a mess in you cooler.

If you used butcher paper while smoking the brisket, simply leave the butcher paper on and add a layer of aluminum foil.

Holding Brisket

Holding A Brisket In The Oven?

Another great option for holding your brisket is using your oven. Using an oven can ensure a stable temperature for extended periods of time giving you the ease of mind that your brisket is being held safely above 140° F.

To hold a brisket in the oven, simply set your oven between 150° and 170° F. This is the temperature range that restaurants use to hold their food for serving.

How Do You Hold Your Brisket Poll?

When smoking meat, there is usually no definitive way to do things, so I decided to ask the people to see what the most popular way to hold a brisket was. I found that most people wrap their brisket in butcher paper and place it in a cooler when holding it.

Again, any of the above methods will work and the only right answer is the one that works best for you.  

How Do You Hold Your Brisket

How long can you hold a brisket for?

According to the USDA, you can hold food above 140° Fahrenheit indefinitely; therefore, you can hold a brisket as long as you can maintain an internal temperature above 140° Fahrenheit. Once the internal temperature of your brisket drops below 140° it enters what is known as the danger zone and you should either consume it or refrigerate it.

Using the cooler method above, you can hold your brisket up to 5 hours. Adding hot water or bricks can extend that amount of time. If done properly, you can hold a brisket for 12 hours. Additionally, using the oven method you can hold it indefinitely as it remains a constant temperature.

Will Holding My Brisket Dry It Out?

One of the common concerns around holding a brisket for extended periods of time is that it will dry it out; however, properly holding your brisket will not cause your brisket to turn out dry. Following the steps above can help you hold your brisket without causing it to dry out.

More common than not, a dry brisket is usually the result of overcooking it. With that said, holding your brisket in too high of heat could potentially cause it to dry out.

When holding brisket, you should ideally aim for an ambient air temperature between 140° and 160° Fahrenheit and certainly no more than 170° Fahrenheit. This is hot enough to safely keep your brisket warm but not hot enough to continue cooking it. Any higher of a temperature and you risk drying your brisket out.

What Is The Difference Between Resting And Holding Brisket?

Resting and holding meat are essentially the same thing and go hand in hand. Resting is the period of time when meat comes off the smoker and is allowed to cool down. This allows the meat to relax and the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Holding meat specifically refers to holding meat at a steady temperature for a later serving time.

When you hold you, brisket using the method above, you are both resting and holding the meat. These two terms are essentially the same and are often used interchangeably.

How To Keep A Brisket Warm Overnight?

The best way to hold a brisket overnight is to use your oven. You can use a cooler and add heat as mentioned above, but over time the heat will dissipate, and your brisket will cool. Using an oven allows you to hold a set temperature indefinitely making it better for holding briskets for extended periods of time including overnight.

Michael W.

Half of my family lives in Texas and we would visit them often. As a food lover, naturally I fell in love with smoked meat. Smoked brisket and peach cobbler is a staple around where my family grew up and quickly became a favorite of mine. Unfortunately we didn't have good BBQ where I grew up. After enough years, I finally decided to get a smoker so I didn't have to wait for good BBQ until I went to Texas. Getting into a new hobby can be overwhelming. When I first started smoking meat, there was so much conflicting information and so many different styles and techniques that I didn't know where to start. I started this website to help people BBQ better and learn the ropes by sharing my knowledge and experiences.

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