Is that pesky brisket stall temp giving you a hard time? You are not alone.
Let’s sort out all the details and explain the brisket stall temp and all of the nuances that affect it.
“Smoking brisket. Low and slow, how difficult could this be?”
Far too many barbecue pitmasters fall into the trap of believing that brisket is almost effortless to prepare.
Rub it down with a little bit of salt and pepper (maybe some extra spices), stuff it into a smoker with low heat, and pull pounds and pounds of perfect barbecue out hours later.
It doesn’t take long, though, for folks to learn that there’s a whole lot more “under the hood” to cooking great brisket than it appears, and it’s not just the brisket stall temp.
Especially when things go sideways and your brisket (which was chugging along pretty steadily towards the perfect 203°F internal temp you’re looking for).
It seems to stop cooking completely for a couple of hours.
If you’re not prepared for “the stall” you’re going to panic. You’re going to freak out. And you’re probably going to do something that ruins your brisket.
Hit the pause button. Take a breath. There’s nothing to worry about.
By arming yourself with the inside info below you’ll know why the stall happens.
You will also know what to do when you bump into the stall, and how to make better brisket from here on out.
Let’s jump in!
When Brisket Hits the Wall – Understanding the stall
It’s something that every new brisket maker fears but something that experienced pitmasters recognize as just part of the process.
It is something to push through on the way to making world-class barbecue in your backyard.
But what is the stall?
Why does it happen?
What’s really going on when my brisket seems to stop cooking for a couple of hours after it hits a specific temperature range?
First, the stall is the term given to the block of time when preparing a brisket that your temperatures (internal temperatures on your meat) stop climbing at all.
And in some circumstances even begin to fall back a couple of degrees.
You’re going to notice the stall happening when your brisket temp hits anywhere between 150°F and 170°F.
Then, just sort of levels out and locks up for a few hours.
The reason this happens has to do with the temperature of cold meat rising, the rate of evaporation, and the impact that service moisture has on your brisket.
As your brisket cooks (low and slow) moisture is going to be pushed out of the meat to the surface, and then the hot air in your smoker chamber is going to start to steam it off.
If enough moisture gets pushed out of your brisket and turn to steam at the same time (again, usually around 150°F to 170°F) enough steam is created in the cook chamber.
This would help to reach an equilibrium between the cooking rate of your meat and the evaporative rate of the moisture produced.
This is one you’ll notice the internal temperature of your brisket stall out, maybe not moving at all for an hour (sometimes even longer than that).
It’s annoying at first – and may even be stress inducing.
But after you have a couple of briskets under your belt and see that this is a universal factor in cooking great brisket you’ll relax, recognize the stall for what it is.
You might even use a couple of tips and tricks included below to push right through it.
Truth be told, one of the easiest ways to deal with the stall is just to do nothing at all. Just let it ride.
You’ll be fine and the temps will start picking up in an hour or two.
Factors That Influence the Stall
There are a couple of other factors that can influence when the stall happens – or how severe the stall is.
While all briskets are going to want to stall somewhere around 150°F to 170°F.
Airflow inside of your cook chamber is one of the biggest factors that influences the stall.
The more airflow you have in your cook chamber, the lower the stall temperature is going to be (generally).
Lower levels of airflow mean that the stall is generally going to pop up closer to 170°F.
Moisture influences the stall in a big way, too.
The less moisture you’re working with, the shorter a stall you’re going to see.
On really dry and humidity free days you’re going to be able cook briskets a lot faster than you would have been able to on muggy days.
At the same time, the water pan (necessary when smoking anything) you put in your cook chamber and the moisture you spritz on your briskets to get that smoky flavor – are going to contribute to the stall for sure.
Think about that when adding water to your water pan throughout the cook.
Same when spritzing down your briskets, and any time you add liquid to your beef (marinades, mops, or injections included).
To Crutch or Not to Crutch, That’s the Question!
You’ll want to use the “Texas crutch” method if you want to blast through the stall and have your brisket ready to rock and roll a few hours earlier.
Even if you sacrifice the bark that really defines great brisket.
Crunching basically means wrapping your brisket in butcher paper or foil (with a little bit of extra liquid mixed right in), eliminating the stall from happening entirely.
The idea here is that you basically produce a 100% humidity environment and sort of braise your brisket for the last half of the cook.
Like we said, this approach is going to soften any of the bark that your traditionally cooked brisket would have created.
Wrapping your brisket, adding a cooking liquid, and tightly wrapping it up before throwing it back on the smoker.
Some folks love that. Some folks hate that.
It’s your brisket though. If it works for you, there’s nothing wrong with it!
It’s not a bad idea to try briskets that go through the stall “naked”.
It develop that perfect crust side-by-side with briskets that have had the Texas crutch applied just to see which one you like best.
At the end of the day, if you’re going to be smoking brisket you need to understand that the stall is just a natural part of the process.
It doesn’t mean that your smoker has stopped working.
It doesn’t mean that you have to crank up the heat.
It doesn’t mean that you have run your brisket into the oven and finish it indoors.
It just means that this big, beefy block of meat has reached an equilibrium with the amount of moisture evaporating in the cook chamber at around 150° to 170°F.
And that the cook time is going to be extended a little bit.
Maybe that means you push through the stall without taking any corrective measures like so many pitmasters do.
Maybe it means you breakout some butcher paper or tinfoil and use the Texas crutch.
There’s no right or wrong way to deal with the stall, especially when the end result is a perfectly cooked hunk of brisket for everyone to enjoy!