The Brisket Stall: A Simple Explanation With 4 Methods To Overcome It

The Brisket Stall: A Simple Explanation With 4 Methods To Overcome It

The brisket stall can strike fear in the hearts of many beginner pitmasters. Just as you are beginning to think your brisket is almost ready to eat, the temperature suddenly stops rising. 

We can relate to the panic of dealing with the brisket stall for the first time. We’ve decided to share what we’ve learned. In this article, we lead you through a quick explanation of the brisket stall. Then, we’ll show you a few ways you can overcome it. 

What Is the Brisket Stall?

The brisket stall is a common phenomenon for those who smoke a brisket. While the brisket smokes, its internal temperature will continue to rise. Once your thermometer reaches just over 200 degrees, the meat is ready.

When the brisket stall occurs, the internal temperature of the meat suddenly stops rising. This usually happens around 150 degrees, which is not nearly hot enough for the meat to be done.

During the brisket stall, the temperature of our meat reaches a plateau. At times, it can even take a sudden dip in overall heat. While this is frustrating, it is a problem you can overcome. However, before you can solve the issue, you need to know more about why a brisket stall occurs. 

What Causes the Stall?

The brisket stall can be a baffling experience for a novice pitmaster. The reason why such a temperature plateau happens can also be hard to understand. Unfortunately, there are plenty of incorrect theories out there about why the brisket stall happens. To help you avoid those false theories, we have also included a few of the most common incorrect answers to why the brisket stall occurs.

Myths Surrounding the Brisket Stall

If you have struggled with the brisket stall, you’ve likely heard many explanations for why the stall takes place. You may even believe a few of the most common myths. After all, some of these seem to make sense but aren’t actually true.

Here are a few of the most commonly stated reasons behind the brisket stall:

  • The transition of collagen to gelatin
  • Protein denaturation
  • Fat rendering

Each of these reasons seems to be viable on the surface as those processes often take place at a temperature where the brisket stall is common. However, each one is evidence of the fact that correlation does not always equate to causation. 

For instance, as your meat heats up, there is a natural process that takes place in which collagen transforms into gelatin. Even though this process happens around 150 degrees, that does not mean that it is the cause of the brisket stall. The small fraction of collagen in your meat is not enough to make a dramatic temperature change. 

The same mistake is present with the protein denaturation claim. Protein denaturation also takes place around the 150-degree temperature threshold. Again, that may seemingly imply that denaturation is the cause of the brisket stall even though it isn’t.

Others blame fat rendering for the brisket stall. This is yet another misconception. When fat renders, it turns to a liquid state rather than evaporating. That means that the rendered fat does not play a significant role in stalling the temperature of your brisket. 

The Real Reason Behind the Stall

Now that you know a few of the false explanations for the brisket stall, let’s uncover the real culprit behind this occurrence. The true cause of the brisket stall is something called evaporative cooling.

When your brisket reaches a certain temperature threshold, the moisture inside of it will begin to evaporate. Evaporating moisture has the effect of cooling the meat it is coming out of. 

Consider how we naturally sweat during vigorous exercise. That sweat acts as a built-in cooling mechanism to prevent our core body temperatures from rising too much and stops us from overheating. 

The same effect takes place for your brisket as well. When the moisture in the meat evaporates, that evaporation counteracts the heat from your smoker. That cooling effect works against the heat, neutralizing it and stalling the cooking process.

How Long Does the Stall Last?

It is hard to predict how long the brisket stall will last, depending on factors like the temperature of the smoke and the size of your brisket. With that in mind, here is a general explanation of what needs to happen for your stall to cease.

The brisket stall will only end when the evaporated moisture from your meat leaves the smoker. When the moisture leaves, so does its cooling effect. That means that your smoker can take over once again and continue heating your meat.

cook lifting the lid to check on a large beef brisket on a smoker

Unfortunately, it can take several hours for that moisture to leave. That delay is the reason why an average brisket stall can last for about four hours. Thankfully, there may be some tactics you can use to speed up that process. 

Overcoming the Brisket Stall

Now that you know the basics behind why the brisket stall takes place and how long it can last, let me teach you how you can overcome it. There are several methods you can use to achieve your goal.

However, before we jump in, it’s important to know that some BBQ masters do not find any reason to try and circumvent the brisket stall. 

Some grillers consider the brisket stall to be a natural process of smoking that you should leave uninhibited. Some even claim that the brisket stall makes for a better final product. 

That said, there are still many people who want to avoid the brisket stall. After all, the stall adds a significant amount of time to an already long process of smoking meat. For those who want to speed up the smoking process, here are a few tips for beating the brisket stall. 

4 Methods to Avoid It

Considering how widespread the brisket stall is, there are now many approaches to avoiding it. Here are a few of the tips that to successfully beat the brisket stall:

  • Increase the heat
  • Cook in separated portions
  • Increase surrounding humidity
  • Wrap your brisket 

In the sections below, We’ve included descriptions of how you can implement each of these tips. 

Turn Up the Heat to Release Moisture

The standard belief surrounding smoked brisket is that low and slow is always the best way to go, but that is not always the case.

In recent years, there has been a greater prevalence of pitmasters using raised heats while still producing delicious, tender meat. The increased temperature will help avoid the brisket stall as well.

By raising the heat, you make sure that the evaporation phase takes place in a shorter time frame. The shorter the evaporation lasts, the sooner your smoker can remove excess moisture and return to raising the temperature of your meat.

If you choose this method, you should follow some basic guidelines. The first is to recognize that the typical temperature for brisket is around 225 degrees. If you want to increase the temperature to avoid the brisket stall, try setting the temperature closer to 300 degrees. 

Cut Your Brisket Before Smoking

Another method for defeating the brisket stall is to cut your brisket before you begin smoking it. The best way to do that is to separate the flat of the brisket from the point. 

Cutting the brisket has several advantages. For example, I love how cuts make for a fantastic crust on the final product.

If you’re on the impatient side, you’ll like cutting your brisket before cooking because it can dramatically reduce overall cooking time. 

This does not mean that there will be no stall at all for a cut brisket. The evaporation phase still needs to take place. But the increased surface area allows for it to happen faster. 

Make a Humid Environment to Reduce Evaporation

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, the main reason for the brisket stall is excess moisture. However, by making a humid environment, you are discouraging the brisket stall.

High amounts of moisture in the air will reduce the amount of evaporation your brisket will experience. After all, evaporation happens faster and more easily when the air is dry. With less evaporation, it is less likely that you will need to endure a long brisket stall.

One of the best ways to do this is to add water to the meat directly. You can use a spray bottle to wet the exterior of your brisket to ensure a moist cooking environment. 

Use a Foil Wrap

This last method is the most controversial, but it may also be the most effective. If you have tried the other tips and had no success, it might be time to try wrapping your brisket in foil prior to smoking it.

raw brisket about to be wrapped in foil to overcome brisket stall

This technique is called “The Texas Crutch.” The Texas Crutch first emerged as a part of smoking competitions. In those competitions, competitors needed to deliver their smoked meat at a specific time. The use of foil helped to circumvent the brisket stall, which would have killed their hopes of finishing their brisket on time. 

When moisture begins to evaporate from the meat, it needs some open-air to expand into. A foil wrapping essentially eliminates that air space making it much more difficult for the evaporation to take place.

With that evaporation quelled, it is easier for your meat’s temperature to continue to rise. That makes foil wrapping one of the most efficient ways to overcome the brisket stall. 

However, there’s a small bit of controversy surrounding the wrap method.

Foil Wrapping Controversy

Is wrapping a brisket a good idea? The answer to that question depends on who you are talking to. Some old-school pitmasters will never wrap their meat in foil. They claim that the brisket stall is not a problem and that wrapping the brisket in foil does not allow the brisket to breathe properly.

They see wrapping the meat in foil as a multi-faceted problem. First, the foil can diminish the smoky flavor that many people love in a smoked brisket. The foil can also change the texture of the brisket bark. Lastly, wrapping a brisket in foil can lead to the mistake of overcooking your smoked brisket. 

Those on the other side of the debate note that wrapping brisket will make the meat cook faster. They also note that the foil may help to make for a juicer piece of meat as much of the moisture remains trapped in the flesh.

We’ve seen how heated this debate can become, so we won’t attempt to put an end to it today. Instead, we encourage you to do some experimentation of your own. Try smoking a brisket with and without a foil wrapping. Test the results and decide for yourself what you prefer. 

What Meats Can Stall?

Despite the name, the brisket stall is not an issue that is exclusive to brisket. Instead, it can happen to any large piece of meat that you are smoking.

However, it remains most common for briskets and pork butt. So next time you are smoking one of those meats, make sure you are prepared to face the brisket stall. 

Is This Something to Worry About?

Most beginners tend to panic when they experience their first brisket stall, yet much of their anxiety is unwarranted.

Rest assured that the brisket stall does not ruin your meat. The only real issue is that it will keep you and your hungry friends from enjoying your smoked meat quickly. 

If you can remain patient, you will eventually get past the stall and finish cooking your brisket. If not, try using one of the methods outlined above. 

Conclusion

Hopefully now you can recognize what the brisket stall is and that it’s a totally normal phenomenon that will eventually resolve itself.

The entire issue comes down to the fact that evaporation can cool your meat as you smoke it. Only after eliminating moisture can your meat keep heating up. To speed this process up, try increasing the heat, cutting your meat into smaller pieces, or even wrapping it in foil.

D.D. Boyd

Hello, I'm D.D. Boyd, one of the contributors to this site.

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