Believe it or not, brisket being done too early is actually a good problem to have.
Personally, when I'm smoking brisket, I actually prefer to have brisket done the night before so that I can enjoy serving it the next day. This way there is less headache to deal with when you can simply take it out of the smoker/oven to slice (especially if you're a beginner).
Holding brisket for an extended period of time also has the added benefit of carry over cooking which will rectify any tight spots that might exist on the meat.
When someone says their brisket is "finished", it simply means that it's reached tenderness. Usually, brisket will finish at around 195 - 205°F.
Personally, I opt to check for probe tenderness. Meaning, when you slide your probe into the meat, there should be no resistance.
Usually if the entire brisket is at 205°F (in both the fatty and the lean) and feels probe tender, it should be finished.
With that said, even if probe tenderness is achieved and the brisket is "finished," something that people often forget is that the brisket needs to rest before you can slice into it.
It takes brisket roughly 2-3 hours to come down to slicing temperatures - usually around 165°F.
In my picture above, the entire brisket was reading 204-205°F in the point and the flat. However, in some spots I could still feel some tightness.
I knew this brisket would benefit from an overnight hold/rest.
Smoking brisket is a long, involved process - especially for home cooks. Personally, I smoke my briskets on my Weber Kettle (at 250F with post oak) and finish them off in my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker (at 250F) while utilizing the foil boat method.
The last 8 lb brisket I smoked took me 12 hours to finish. That is, to reach 205F internal and probe tenderness; That also doesn't account for "resting."
As you can sort of assume, unless I woke up at 3-5 am, my Family wouldn't be eating at a reasonable hour. Assuming the above brisket took 2-3 hours to get down to slicing temperatures, that's a 14-15 hour cook time.
In order to remedy the problem of timing your briskets, your best bet is to smoke the brisket the day before and to hold the brisket overnight.
Holding simply means to keep the briskets internal temperature above 140°F.
In a restaurant setting, this is especially important because of food safety. Between 40 - 140°F, food enters what's referred to as the "Danger Zone." In this temperature range, bacteria grows quite rapidly.
Resting is an often overlooked part of the brisket smoking process.
To understand what's going on inside the meat, we can look at the denaturing of collagen (the main component in brisket's connective tissues).
Connective tissues in brisket won't begin to breakdown until 140°F. Collagen also begins to melt at around 160°F.
Brisket needs to spend several hours under low and slow heat during this 160-205°F window to breakdown these connective tissues.
During this period, connective tissues like collagen render into a gelatin. Gelatin is hygroscopic and will absorb up to ten times its weight in liquid.
Simply put, the moisture that is expelled by the protein fibers needs time to redistribute throughout the brisket and be absorbed by the gelatin.
If you were to simply slice into the brisket right after cooking, the juices wouldn't have enough time to gelatinize and would run out of the brisket.
The result? A dry brisket.
My current method for holding brisket is using my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. Electric smokers are notorious for being able to maintain very low temperatures for extended periods of time.
My Masterbuilt Electric smoker can operate between 35 - 275°F with maybe a +/-5°F temperature swing.
Before opting to use my electric smoker, I used to use my electric oven. Recently though, I moved and my oven now uses propane.
Personally, I'm not too comfortable having a propane oven run overnight. You run the risk of the pilot going out and possibly filling your entire house with gas.
I've also owned and used electric smokers for roughly 15 years - simply because they work extremely well for beef jerky and beef sticks. You'd be super hard pressed to find another smoker (let alone kitchen oven) that can maintain temperatures better.
Meaning, it's the perfect solution for holding brisket overnight.
There are two ways to look at holding:
If you don't have either of these options, your best bet is to put the brisket in a cooler over night. Essentially, you'll be creating what's referred to as a "Faux Cambro."
A Cambro is an insulated food carrier designed to transport food. A "Faux Cambro" is a towel wrapped meat placed into an everyday cooler.
When done properly, the temperature of the brisket will slowly come down to around your holding temperature of 140°F.
For this method, you need:
When I used to do this method, I would take a pot of water to a boil. I then would pour the water inside the cooler and close the lid.
After doing so I'd take my already wrapped brisket (I used to use butcher paper) and re-wrap with an old towel (to further insulate the brisket). Once wrapped, you simply dump the water out of the cooler.
The reason for the hot water is to pre-heat the cooler, rather than having the cooler wick heat from the brisket.
You then close the cooler and allow the brisket to rest overnight. The next morning, the temperature should be at around 140°F.
In a restaurant setting, Pitmasters need to have food ready a day in advance. In the case of popular spots, when they run out of brisket, they're likely closed for the day (between 2-4 pm).
Pitmasters and BBQ restaurants make use of large offset smokers and in most cases are smoking 50+ briskets at one time.
Briskets go on the Pit at around 8/9 am and finish at around 10-12 pm. Pitmasters then wrap the briskets in either foil, butcher paper, or plastic wrap. They then transfer them to something like a holding oven or warmer cabinet overnight for 10-11 hours for service at 11 am.
The next day at around 8/9 am they check for tenderness. If any feel like they need to further tenderize, they'll bump the temperature of the warmer.
The result are low and slow holding temperatures.