Brisket Serving Temp: The Best Temperature to Slice at

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
August 31, 2022

Brisket is a large cut of meat and can take an upwards of 12+ hours to finish. Smoking brisket requires a lot of time under low and slow temperatures in order to render connective tissues and collagen.

An appropriate serving temperature for brisket is roughly 150 - 165F; This temperature range would more appropriately be called a "slicing temperature."

It's important to note that there is a huge difference between finishing temperatures and serving temperatures.

A serving temperature is the temperature the brisket rests down to (150-165F) after being smoked to a finishing temperature (195 - 205F) where the meat is probe tender.

Brisket Serving Temperature

A "serving temperature" is an often overlooked part of eating brisket.

gelatinized brisket

From a food safety standpoint you have the Food Danger Zone - which is between 40 - 140F. Bacteria grow rather rapidly in this temperature range and can grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.

Meaning, cooked food should be kept above 140F, especially if you're not serving the meat right away.

This is a major reason you'll find that barbecue restaurants will "hot hold" their cooked meats until the next day. They're both resting the meat so that it can gelatinize and they're keeping the food safe to eat for the next day.

There's also the other end of the spectrum where food is too hot to consume. If you were to offer the brisket at 170F+, it's likely too hot to eat and a person could burn themselves.

For this reason, Brisket is best served (and sliced) at around 150-165F internal.

At around this temperature the collagen has also been allowed to gelatinize meaning you'll turn out more moist brisket (more on resting brisket below).

The Difference Between Finishing and Serving Temperatures

Something that I think is important to state - especially for beginners - is that there is a huge difference between a finishing temperature and a serving temperature.

If you were to pull brisket at 150-165F, the meat wouldn't be tender - truthfully it's only just started to stall.

Brisket needs several hours under low and slow temperatures to render collagen into gelatin. Between 160 - 205F, this process is only starting to happen.

brisket internal temperature 205

It's for this same reason you can't simply sear a brisket to 195-205F. The meat may "finish" at a stereotypical internal finishing temperature but the meat is tough because the collagen hasn't "denatured" or rendered.

Rather, a brisket is considered "finished" when the meat is probe tender. Most people will say "it's like sliding through hot butter."

To help understand this concept I took a video a while back of me purposely dropping my probe through a finished brisket. In this video you can actually hear rendered beef fat (tallow) coming out of the puncture in my foil boat.

When someone says "probe tender" - that's what they mean.

A serving temperature is when the meat is made probe tender and has been allowed to rest down to an appropriate slicing temperature.

Only Slice Brisket When it's Time to Serve

As soon as you take a slice off a brisket, it will start to lose moisture. This is the biggest reason the people who run barbecue joints will hold the brisket whole as apposed to slicing it up and then holding.

If you've ever sliced into a brisket after resting, you know that juice loss is inevitable. Resting whole until serving minimizes this moisture loss.

Here's a picture of a brisket I rested overnight:

brisket moisture

As you can see by the lower smoke-ring, there is a small amount of moisture loss but minimal.

Meaning, I'd suggest only slicing when it's time to serve the brisket.

Up until then, hold the brisket in your oven, electric smoker, warming cabinet, cooler/faux cambro, etc. Keeping the brisket whole leaves it with the best potential to remain moist rather than slicing and then serving potentially dry meat.

Note: Ensure your holding oven is accurate. In some cases a home oven can be off by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why Resting Brisket Important

This then begs the question - why is resting brisket important?

Technically when the brisket has reached it's finishing temperature, you can slice into it. However, what will happen is that the juice/free moisture inside the meat will run out the brisket.

The brisket's muscles are made up of connective tissues and collagen. When these components render, they turn into a gelatin. Gelatin is hydroscopic and will absorb up to ten times its weight in liquid.

Meaning, the moisture that's expelled by the protein fibers needs time to redistribute throughout the brisket and to be absorbed by the gelatin.

Brisket takes roughly 2 hours to come down to slicing temperatures of 150-165F.

Slicing into brisket when it hasn't rested will result in dry brisket.

My recommendations for resting are always based on how the brisket feels.

  • If the entire brisket feels probe tender throughout, rest down to 160F and then put in your oven at 145F.
  • If the brisket has a few tight spots, put into your oven at 145F without resting and allow carry over cooking to naturally occur.
Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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