Need a Backyard Transformation? Watch RTA Work its Magic in the Great Outdoor Kitchen Makeover Watch Now

How to Smoke Brisket on a Pellet Grill Like a Pitmaster in 7 Easy Steps

By Gabrielle Desmarais

February 29, 2024

If you’ve been using your pellet smoker for a while, and feel like your skills are up to snuff… Odds are, you’re ready to tackle smoked brisket.

But even for the most skilled pitmaster… Smoked brisket proves to be a formidable challenge.

Compared to simpler proteins like pork butt or ribs… Smoking beef brisket can truly be a humbling experience if things don’t go as planned.

You’ve surely heard the horror stories already. Hence, why you’re after an article on how to smoke brisket on a pellet grill.

Well, we’ve brought on some heavyweight help to ensure your first brisket on the pellet grill goes swimmingly.

Our very own Ethan Fullenkamp has a long history in the BBQ world, participating in several barbecue competitions in the past… And these days, he runs his pellet grill almost every day of the week.

Point is, Ethan knows brisket like the back of his hand. And he’s learned quite a few tricks of the trade over the years.

Now that you know you’re in good hands… Let’s get started.

Quicklinks:

The Anatomy of Your Brisket

a full brisket on a cutting board

Before you run outside and fire up your Traeger or Pit Boss… We’ve got to breeze through a quick anatomy lesson.

Unlike other proteins you’re accustomed to smoking… Brisket is actually two unique cuts of meat combined into a single piece.

Have you heard the terms “point” and “flat” being thrown around? That’s exactly what we’re talking about here.

The flat is characterized by being a leaner piece of meat… Whereas, the point is full of intramuscular fat and marbling.

Due to this, the point and the flat both cook differently.

“That’s why a lot of people claim that brisket is the king of BBQ. It’s just because of the difficulty of cooking two very different pieces of meat at the same time, and trying to get them done at the same time. That’s tricky”, Ethan explains.

It may be tough to get the flat and point cooked to perfection, but it can be done.

Despite the difficulty… Ethan still recommends you smoke a full packer brisket. (The flat and point together.)

A whole packer brisket just lands you with a better end result. Simple as that! (And you can find these at your local grocery store.)

If you’re still intimidated by the idea… There’s a way to put training wheels on your brisket smoke.

“The only time I would separate the flat and the point is right when you’re about to wrap it. The fat’s a lot more rendered, so you can slice right through and individually wrap those. So whenever each piece is done, it’s done”, Ethan shares.

If you choose this method, a lot of people will cube up the point to make burnt ends.

“Point” is… The flat is your leaner piece, and the point is your fattier piece. The flat is prone to drying out, so keep this in mind.

Before this gets too long in the tooth… Let’s get to trimming your brisket.

Trimming Your Brisket

In essence, trimming your brisket comes down to a single word.

Aerodynamics.

Now, your brisket doesn’t have to be trimmed aerodynamically enough to remain suspended in the air like a plane… But it’s important to take care here.

Trimming your brisket aerodynamically will allow the point and flat to cook as evenly as possible.

How’s it done?

“On the bottom, I’m just making sure there’s no silverskin. The more silverskin you have, the harder it is for the seasoning to penetrate and osmosis to happen”, Ethan shares.

That’s step one.

As for the rest, Ethan recommends to “take all the external fat that’s over the point off, but leave 1/4” right above the flat. I do this for two reasons. One, I like to leave the fat over the flat because it protects the flat meat from the heat source. And two, the flat will absorb some of those fat juices and keep it moist.”

Once your brisket is looking ready to fly… It’s off to apply the rub.

Applying the Brisket Rub

apply seasoning rub to packer brisket

More than any other stage in the process… The rub is where you can let your personal preferences shine.

But if this is your first time smoking brisket… You’ll probably want to stick with more of a tried-and-true combination.

“I like to keep it simple, especially with beef. I’m a salt, black pepper, smoke kind of guy. You can throw garlic powder in there as well”, Ethan shares.

Can’t go wrong there! But since we’re smoking brisket on a pellet grill specifically… Ethan has some additional recommendations to throw in.

“On a pellet grill, you’re not going to get as much smoke flavor, so you’ll have to overcompensate a bit. I have Kinder’s Woodfired Garlic Seasoning that has a really smoky scent. I put that over the brisket along with coarse salt and pepper. This still keeps the seasoning simple, while also adding as much smoke flavor as possible”, he continues.

Whether you’re going for the Texas style brisket with salt, pepper, and garlic… Or a smoke-infused BBQ rub, the world is your oyster with brisket.

Side Quest: What about Injecting?

If you’re looking for another way to ramp up the flavor in your pellet grill brisket… You may want to inject it.

Just to be clear, this step is not mandatory! But it can be a nice, fancy touch for a special occasion.

It’s another chance to add smoke flavor and infuse your brisket with extra moisture.

Next question is… What do you inject your brisket with?

“I’ll dilute liquid smoke with water, worcestershire sauce, and maybe a tiny bit of soy sauce or beef broth”, Ethan shares.

Ultimately, this is an area where you can really play around with flavors and create unique combinations.

But for beginners… Maybe put the injector needle away for the time being!

Looking to Take Your Smoking Setup to Another Level?

An outdoor kitchen makes every step of smoking a brisket a joy to complete.

Getting the Brisket to Your Smoker

You’ve trimmed your brisket and applied your rub… Now, it’s time to actually start cooking brisket.

How Long to Smoke a Brisket on a Pellet Grill

Naturally, one of the first things you’ll need to know is… How long are you in for with this?

The total time for smoking your brisket is dependent on several factors. The temperature you’re cooking it at and the weight of your protein.

But for the most part?

Ethan says the vast majority of briskets will take about 18-22 hours to smoke fully.

In anticipation for this article, Ethan smoked an 8 1/2 lb brisket and the total cook time was 21 hours.

With this in mind… You’ll want to plan your start time around when you actually want to serve the brisket. (Also account for rest time, which we’ll get to shortly.)

It’s going to be a long night, friends.

What Pellets Should You Use?

You’re getting ready to load up your smoker… And another question pops into your mind.

What kind of pellets should you be using?

Ethan isn’t loyal to any particular brand. Just go for options that have no additives or fillers, and are 100% natural wood.

That said, he does have some pointers when it comes to the type of wood pellets you’re using.

“Competition blends are good, and a lot of it is hickory based. If you can find it, post oak is great, it’s a very Texas flavor”, Ethan comments.

The wood pellets you prefer can also play into where in the country you’re from.

The midwest tends to prefer hickory, Texas leans toward post oak, and Tennessee tends to favor mesquite.

As for the best option? Try each one over several different smokes… And figure out your preferences.

Temperature Settings

pellet grill temperature for smoking brisket

You’ve got your pellet smoker loaded and ready to go. Now it’s time to press a couple buttons and set your temperature.

Ethan starts off his smoker at a super low 180°F.

This low and slow temp allows for more smoke flavor to be penetrated into the brisket… And if you start it before you go to bed, it prevents your brisket from getting overcooked while you get your beauty sleep.

About 12 hours later, the temperature gets kicked up to 225°F to speed things up and help get that fat to render.

Once wrapped, Ethan likes to turn the temperature up again to 250°F. This just speeds up the process a bit… And you’re not trying to build up anymore smoke on this point.

We’ll circle back to this a bit more in our recipe below. But for now… Set your smoker to 180°F, and let’s continue.

Fat Side Up... Or Fat Side Down?

You’ve got your wood pellets and your smoker temperature dialed in. Fantastic!

Now, another point of contention is how you’re actually putting your brisket on the grill grates.

Will brisket fat side up or fat side down be better?

Ethan cuts to the heart of the issue.

“It depends on where your heat source is.”

When it comes to a pellet grill, there’s a 99% chance your heat source is coming from the bottom. So with that said, you’ll want the fat cap facing downward.

“Whether it’s a pork butt, brisket, whatever it is, you want the fat cap facing your heat source to protect the meat from drying out. It is a must”, Ethan clarifies.

If your heat source is coming from the bottom, it might feel counterintuitive… But for the best brisket possible, put that fat cap down!

The Dreaded Stall

testing temperature of pellet smoked brisket with meat probe

So you’re smoking your brisket, the temp on your meat thermometer is climbing up… And things are all looking hunky-dory.

Well, that is, until you hit the famed “stall” people seem to love talking about online.

The temperature of your brisket comes to a screeching halt… And you’re left wondering what to do next. What’s happening?

As Ethan explains, “The stall is really referring to the meat sweating. The moisture is evaporating, and it’s basically trying to cool itself down, just like how our own bodies sweat to cool ourselves.”

We’re trying to heat the meat up more… But it’s cooling itself down, keeping the temperature from climbing. A stall, if you will.

“The stall typically happens around 165°F to 170°F. The temperature could stall out for 30 minutes, an hour, maybe even an hour and a half, it just depends”, Ethan continues.

When you’re getting into that temperature range, keep an eye out… The stall is right around the corner.

To get through it, all you can do is wait and get ready to wrap.

The Age-Old Question: When to Wrap?

A quick Google search will reveal just how hot of a debate wrapping brisket can be.

Everyone’s got an opinion on when it should be done. (You know what else they say about opinions!)

From Ethan’s perspective… Your brisket will let you know when it’s time to wrap it.

In particular, there’s two things you need to be looking for. A sight test and a feel test.

For the sight test, “You want a very dark, almost black in some spots, mahogany bark. Look for little splotches of red around the fat”, Ethan explains.

Basically, you want your brisket to look like a dark asteroid.

If your brisket is looking positively other-worldly… Also make sure the texture is right.

“Secondly, I take my finger and poke some of the fatty areas around the point. Is that fat sticky? When I poke it, I should be able rub my fingers together and see some strings from the stickiness of it”, Ethan continues.

That lets you know that hard fat is just about rendered. The collagen structures are breaking down and gelatinizing. (It’s a beautiful thing!)

If your brisket passes each test with flying colors… It’s time to wrap.

So… Aluminum foil or butcher paper?

Ethan’s solidly on team butcher paper. This allows your brisket to breathe, and doesn’t drown out the bark you’ve worked so hard to create.

Once wrapped, it will soon be time to pull your brisket from the smoker.

When it’s Time to Pull Your Brisket

smoked full packer brisket on pellet grill

At this point, you’re somewhere around 18-22 hours into the smoke, and you’re getting antsy.

The incredible aroma coming off the smoker just about knocks you off your feet… And your stomach grumbles in anticipation.

In most cases, an internal temp of 203°F is the signal that your brisket is ready to pull off the smoker.

The challenge is getting the temperature even between the thickest part (the point) and thinnest part (the flat).

“The flat is typically going to take longer than the point to get done. I start with the point over the heat source, so near the end I’ll flip it and put the flat right over the hot spot to help it get to temperature faster than the point”, Ethan explains.

But ultimately, temperature is just an indicator. What you really want to get familiar with is what a brisket feels like when it’s done.

As Ethan put it, “Does it feel like room temperature butter when you probe it?”

If the answer is “yes”… The smoking process is over, and your brisket needs to rest.

Let Your Brisket Rest & Catch Some Z’s

Generally speaking, the longer you can rest your brisket, the better.

But there is a minimum amount of “shuteye” you can get away with.

“If I’m just resting it for a backyard BBQ, you can get away with an hour and a half to two hours. Ideally, you want to cut into it at around 145°F”, Ethan shares.

If you’ve got an outdoor kitchen with a warming drawer… You can rest your brisket for as long as 12 hours!

Even still, there’s nothing to scoff at if you can only let it go for 90 minutes or so.

And after that agonizing waiting period has concluded… It’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Going Against the Grain: Slicing Your Brisket

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Grab yourself a nice, sharp knife… And get ready to slice.

For brisket, you want to check which way the grain is running on the flat. Basically, what direction are the muscle fibers running?

Once you’ve determined that, all you need to do is cut against the grain. This allows you to get nice, tender pieces without stringiness.

When you get to the point side of the brisket, pause for a second. Turn the point 90°, and cut the rest of it broadside.

As long as you make sure you’re always cutting against the grain… You’ll do just fine. And for a quick tip, 1/4” slices tend to be best in terms of thickness.

Well, how does it look? Does it have a stunning smoke ring?

If you’re not sure your brisket would wow the judges at a BBQ competition… Ethan has a couple key tricks to know if your smoke was a success.

How to Know Your Smoke was a Success

The first indicator takes place before your knife hits the cutting board for slicing.

When your brisket is done resting… There’s something you should notice right away.

The whole thing should jiggle.

Yep, your brisket should look like a gelatinized asteroid.

And if your brisket is jiggling like a bowl of cubed Jell-O… You did it right.

As Ethan explains, “The fat should all be liquified on the inside. If you don’t have that, the fat didn’t render. It’s like a water bed. It should be jiggling because there’s so much water in there from the fat rendering.”

Jell-O… Water Bed… Gelatinized asteroid… Whichever term you prefer, if that’s what your brisket looks like, you did well.

Secondly, there’s the bend test.

When you’ve got that 1/4” slice of brisket… It should be so tender that it easily bends when placed over a knife or your finger.

So tender, that when you bounce your knife or finger, the ends clap together.

If you’re looking for a highly official term for this… Ethan calls them “clappers”.

And if that’s what you’re seeing… Give yourself a round of applause. (The brisket can do it for you!)

You’ve successfully smoked a tender, juicy, delicious brisket on a pellet grill.

But before we send you off on your own… Check out our recipe below that details the cooking process in a step-by-step format.

Smoke Your Pellet Grill Brisket in Style

A custom outdoor kitchen makes your smoking hobby easier and more efficient.

Smoked Brisket Recipe on a Pellet Grill

Ingredients:
  • Full Packer Brisket
  • Coarse Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
  • Coarse Black Pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Optional: Premixed Dry BBQ Rub
  • Optional: Injecting Liquid of Choice

Prep Time: 25 Minutes

Cook Time: 18-21 Hours

Total Time: 21-24 Hours (including a 2 hour rest time)

Directions:
  • Begin with trimming your brisket. If there’s silverskin on the bottom of your brisket, be sure to remove this entirely.
  • Then, remove all the excess fat on the point. Take care to trim this smoothly, creating an aerodynamic shape.
  • For the flat, trim the fat so that there is a 1/4” layer of fat across the flat. Even it out as much as you can.
  • Next, apply your rub of choice. We’re partial to coarse salt, black pepper, and garlic powder, but you can get creative here if you have a preferred dry rub.
  • If you’re choosing to inject your brisket, you would do so at this stage.
  • After this, you’ll get your pellet smoker prepared. Fill the hopper with your wood pellets of choice. (Hickory, post oak, pecan, and mesquite are all popular options.)
  • Preheat your grill to 180°F.
  • Place your brisket on the smoker with the fat cap facing your heat source. In most cases, the heat source is on the bottom, so you’ll place the brisket fat side down. (Also remember to insert your temperature probe.)
  • It’s easiest to start smoking in the evening. If so, allow your brisket to smoke overnight at 180°F and revisit it in the morning.
  • After around 12 hours, increase the heat to 225°F. Continue cooking at this temperature for several hours, periodically checking for bark formation and fat rendering.
  • When your brisket is looking nearly-black on the outside, forming a nice crust, and the fat feels sticky, it’s time to wrap. Thoroughly wrap your brisket with butcher paper. You can also choose to baste it with a little melted tallow drippings as an optional addition.
  • Bring the smoker temperature up to 250°F. Continue smoking until the internal temperature reaches 203°F. Rotate the brisket as needed to ensure the flat and point cook evenly. Once the target temperature is reached, use the probe test to determine doneness.
  • Once cooked, remove the brisket from the smoker and allow it to rest for at least 2 hours. It’s best to slice at 145°F, always going against the grain.
  • Enjoy immediately. (No BBQ sauce needed!)

How to Smoke Brisket on a Pellet Grill with Ease

rta outdoor kitchen equipped with a pellet grill for smoking brisket

Now that you’ve learned exactly how to smoke brisket on a pellet grill… You’ll surely have seen how complicated the process can be.

Of course, it’s worth every ounce of effort!

At the same time… How great would it be to simplify the cooking process?

Now that your ears have perked up, let’s introduce some food for thought.

If you want to make your life easier when smoking brisket or anything else… Consider adding an outdoor kitchen to your backyard.

You’d be surprised how much this backyard upgrade can make your hobby even more enjoyable.

Instead of dirtying your indoor kitchen… You can trim, rub, and inject your brisket all right outside.

And from there, it can hop directly onto your smoker.

If you’ve also got a warming drawer… You can even rest your brisket for an astonishing 12 hours with zero effort!

Slice it up right outside, and enjoy the fruits of your labor al fresco.

And that’s not even getting into all the other benefits of an outdoor kitchen.

So if you’re at all curious… Play around with creating a design while your brisket is smoking.

We hope to hear from you soon!

Need Help With Your Plans?

Talk to one of our expert designers and they will guide you from planning to installation. Schedule a call today.

Free 1-on-1 Design Consult

($500 Value + bonuses & monthly promotional offer)

Enter your contact information below and one of our expert outdoor kitchen designers will reach out to you soon to schedule a call at your earliest convenience.

By submitting your number, you consent to receiving calls and texts from RTA Outdoor Living. Calls may be recorded for training or quality purposes. You can reply STOP or unsubscribe to cancel at any time.

Looking For Your Dream Outdoor Kitchen?

Book a Free 1-On-1 Design Call

Why You Should Book A Call Now:

By submitting your number, you consent to receiving calls and texts from RTA Outdoor living. You can reply STOP or unsubscribe to cancel at any time.