Do you flip brisket when smoking? I do, should you?

Most serious smokers agree that flipping a brisket when smoking is necessary to ensure a uniform cook and the best brisket at the end of cooking. Cooking and eating brisket is a labor of love. It can quickly turn from being an almost spiritual experience to feeling like you’re chewing the leather soles of a pair of dress shoes from the 19th century.

How many times and the time in between flips is up for discussion and open to personal taste and opinion. Sure, there may be a handful of hardened brisket aficionados who will tell you that you just drop the canopy on your bbq or smoker, and let the magic happen. But typically, flipping the brisket at least once will give the best results. I personally go for two flips, as do a lot of other folks.

In this article, I’m going to explain why brisket flipping should be embedded in your psyche and the rationale behind it. I wrote about how to smoke a brisket like a champ, you might want to take a read of that post too. People seem to like it.

Why do you flip brisket when smoking?

The idea behind flipping a brisket while cooking is that by doing so, more uniform cooking of the meat can occur. Additionally, brisket typically has a fatty side and a non-fatty side. People like to debate whether you should cook your brisket fat side up or fat side down. There are pros and cons to both methods depending on who you talk to. Personally, I always like to start the fat side up as this allows the fat to baste and coat the brisket from the start, and prevents it from getting dry.

The location of the heat source is also an important consideration. This could include the type of heat, the distance from the meat, how uniform the heat source is distributed, etc.  The difference between a $20 bbq or a $2000 state-of-the-art smoker is like night and day. Worth bearing in mind, although many people get incredible results on cheap equipment, and others have all the best gear and create that dress shoe sole every time.

Radiant heat from cheap or poorly designed smokers will dry a brisket out in no time, and often scorch it if not monitored closely. Most modern smokers will not allow radiant heat to hit the brisket directly, and use a convection system to create good airflow around the brisket, which will draw the moisture out of the meat. If you measure the temperature with a probe like this one, you’ll see that most smokers will keep the temperature consistent above and below the meat. This is what ensures a great smoke with a uniform ‘cooking’.

When should I flip my brisket?

Flipping your brisket at least once during smoking, more if it is large and thick, will give you the best of both worlds. Ideally, I like to flip once every couple of hours. You can assess the cooking time of your meat and work out how many flips you’ll need. So a brisket with a 5 hour smoking time would typically be flipped twice, once on the 2hr and again at the 4hr mark.

There are a couple of things to consider when smoking brisket, and working out how many flips it deserves. One of those considerations is the size and weight of the meat you’re smoking. The larger the brisket, in particular the thickness of it, should help determine how many times it should be flipped. What we are trying to achieve is a uniform and thorough smoking and cooking, but still keeping the meat soft, succulent, and tender. So, size DOES matter in this instance, don’t let your partner tell you it doesn’t 🙂

Flipping Brisket While Smoking – The Pros and Cons

Pros – Flipping your brisket every couple of hours will ensure that the meat has a chance to rest when it is further away from the heat source and to reabsorb some moisture. This prevents one side of the brisket from drying out. As it is flipped, at least for half the cook time it is being self-basted with the melting cap of fat.

Cons – Each time that your brisket is flipped, you are exerting pressure on the meat, which forces moisture out, when you are fighting to keep the moisture in. This is why basting is important at every turn, to encourage moisture retention and compensate for the moisture that has been lost. If however, your smoker has a water pan creating moisture, basting becomes less important an issue.

Should you flip a brisket after wrapping?

Many people like to wrap their brisket, to retain moisture, although this is generally not required. Once smoked and wrapped the juices within the meat will permeate down through the brisket keeping it moist, but the heat held within it will encourage moisture and heat to rise towards the top of the meat. As the meat cools, this moisture will again, permeate down and keep your brisket juicy.

Summary

There is a wide range of views on smoking and the best smokers to use. Everyone is an expert, and it’s typically a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. Sure, it is certainly possible to produce an outstanding brisket without flipping, and as you become more experienced, experimenting with this is something I would definitely encourage. But sticking to a basic rule of flipping over a couple of hours of cook time will always serve you well. It has for me, and many friends I know who live for their summer brisket smoking adventures.

By the way, my tool of choice for smoking brisket is a pellet grill. I’ve put together a short guide on how does a pellet grill work, I think you’ll find it useful. Let me know

Enjoy your smoking!

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