Resting A Smoked Brisket: Myth Or Necessary?

They often say the key to a great brisket is giving it time to rest after smoking it. In fact, if you look at articles, videos, and forums around the meat smoking world, you will see that resting smoked meat is a common practice. But does it actually work and is it necessary?

While not necessary, resting your smoked meat after smoking it will produce a better finished product. After all, go to any meat smoking competition and you will find all the Pitmasters “resting” their smoked meat; however, it is not what you think. Read on below to learn everything you need to know about resting your meat and the misconception around it.

What Is Resting A Brisket And Why Do It?

Resting meat is the practice of allowing a cooked piece of meat to cool down before cutting into it. This is a quite common practice in the culinary world as it allows the juices inside the meat to redistribute throughout the meat, producing a juicer finished product. The most common theory behind resting meat, and the most widely acknowledged is the pressure theory.

According to the USDA, muscle contains about 75% water, give or take, depending on the type and cut of meat. This water is held within the muscle fibers of the meat which act like straws. The pressure theory states that as you cook a piece of meat, these muscle fibers constrict, shrinking these so-called “straws” and pushing the water/juices towards the middle of the meat. When you cut into a piece of meat right off the heat you are releasing the pressure in these “straws” allowing the juices to rush out.

To avoid losing the tasty juices you worked so hard for, one should rest your meat. Resting allows the muscle fibers inside the meat to relax thus reducing the pressure and allowing the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Resting the meat also give the juices time to thicken just enough to keep from running out when cut into.

However, resting tougher pieces of meats such as brisket and pork shoulders, won’t have the same effect. Resting your meat and the pressure method are used when cooking already tender pieces of meat, such as steaks or burgers, over high temperatures until they reach an internal temperature of 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point the meat is considered cooked and is taken off to rest, allowing the juices to redistribute throughout the meat; however, when cooking fattier, tougher pieces of meat such as brisket, a higher internal temperature is required to make the meat tender enough to eat.

Brisket, pork shoulders, and other fatty and tough meat are cooked over low heat (225-300 degrees Fahrenheit) to an internal temperature of 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows the fat and connective tissue inside the meat to break down and render.

During the cooking process, once you reach a temperature of around 160 degrees Fahrenheit, you enter into what we call “the stall”. This is when the moisture in the meat evaporates, consequently cooling the meat and leaving it at a constant temperature for hours before once again rising.

Because tender pieces of meat are pulled off at this temperature, the moisture remains in the meat, thus resting the meat would make sense. When smoking meat, most, if not all the moisture in the meat is getting cooked out, thus in terms of the pressure method stated above, resting the meat wouldn’t make sense. Because these fattier pieces of meat get their juiciness from the fat breaking down and rendering, to produce a juicer finished product, we would instead hold our meat.

Resting Vs. Holding

Now I can hear you saying, “Well why are so many people saying to rest my meat after smoking”. This is where the misconception I talked about earlier comes into play. The term “resting” gets used a lot in the meat smoking community; however, what people are generally referring to is the process of holding.

Holding meat is the process of allowing a cooked piece of meat to slowly come down to room temperature in an warm and controlled environment. This is most commonly done in a faux Cambro. Much like how frozen meat thaws much slower in the fridge than it would on the counter, holding meat allows the meat to cool much slower than resting.

This gives the meat more time to time to continue to tenderize and break down the connective tissue and fat inside the meat, without further cooking your meat. Also just as resting helps redistribute the juices, holding allows the juices produced from the fat to distribute throughout the meat.

So while the differences between holding and resting might seem minimal, I think it is still important to understand as I believe you can taste a difference. Holding meat is also very convenient when you are feeding guests. I usually wake up early, get my smoke done, and hold the meat until the guests are ready to eat.

Smoking meat is going to produce a great tasting meal regardless of if you decide to rest or hold your meat. But if you are looking for everything you can do to produce a better final product, holding your meat after smoking it will help. At the end of the day, trial and error is the best way to improve your skills. Try out the different methods and see which one is the best for you.

How To Hold Smoked Brisket Using A DIY Cambro.

Holding a brisket is quite a simple process and doesn’t require the expensive Cambro’s that the professionals use. Making a DIY Cambro is the simplest and most cost-effective way to hold your meat after smoking, and the best part, you most likely already have everything you need!

  • Step 1: Once your meat is done smoking, it is time to wrap it in tin foil tightly, if not already wrapped. Depending on the thickness of your tin foil you might need a couple sheets. The best way to do this is to lay out the tin foil on the counter, set the meat in the middle and fold all sides on top. This will help keep the juices from running out while holding.
  • Step 2: Grab a towel and just as you did with the tin foil, lay the blanket out on the counter, and put the meat in middle. If you have a larger towel you may want to fold It in half. Now wrap the meat in the towel.       
  • Step 3: Grab a cooler, the smaller the better, and set your meat inside the cooler to hold. In general, we rest our meat for 2-4 hours. If you are in a time crunch you can rest as little as 30 minutes; however, I would recommend taking the time to start smoking earlier and holding it until its time to start serving.

How long should I Rest My Brisket

Larger pieces of meat such as briskets and pork shoulders should be rested for 2-4 hours to allow the juices to thicken and redistribute throughout the piece of meat. You can create a DIY Cambro using a cooler, some tin foil, and a towel to hold the meat above the danger zone of 140 degrees Fahrenheit while allowing it to rest.

How Long Can You Hold Smoked Meat?

You can hold your meat until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point the meat either needs to be served or stored for later. Depending on the size and type of meat as well as your method for holding meat, you can generally hold meat for up to 5 hours above the 140-degree threshold.

In an experiment to look at how carryover cooking effect a pork butt, Malcom at also wanted to see how long the wrapped pork butt would take to come down to 140 degrees. Using a DIY Cambro like mentioned above, his pork butt stayed above that 140-degree threshold for 5 hours.

If you desire to watch the experiment, skipping to the timestamp 7:43 will start his experiment with the pork butts

How does carryover cooking effect larger cuts of meat like brisket and pork?

Carryover cooking is when the meat continues to cook after it is pulled off the heat source. This is more relevant to meats cooked at higher temperatures like steak. Malcom’s experiment from above showed that carryover cooking has little effect on larger pieces of meat such as pork butts and brisket. You do not need to worry about carryover cooking when smoking meat.

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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