The Brisket Stall Explained and How to Beat It

Low and slow smoking brisket can be pretty intimidating for beginners as well as for pro pitmasters.

One of the main frustrations for those who are smoking a brisket and other large cuts of meat is the so-called “brisket stall.”

The brisket stall is the moment during your low and slow cooking when the meat thermometer simply stops at an internal temperature of the meat of about 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and doesn’t seem to move for hours.

This plateau during the cooking can be nerve-racking for many, and some may even think that it is something that they did wrong during the meat prep and the smoker setup.

The truth is, the brisket stall is actually perfectly normal, and there is an actual chemical reaction that causes it and can explain it.

The good news is that the stall won’t affect the cooking and flavor of the meat, and in some cases, may even improve it.

But if you don’t have the patience and time to simply wait for the stall out, there are ways to beat it and to finish up your cooking with the best results.

Read on to find out what to do to avoid the brisket stall, shorten it, and ways to get through this plateau during your low and slow BBQ session.

The barbeque stall explained

A BBQ stall or plateau usually occurs after two or three hours of smoking a large meat cut. This is the moment when the internal temperature of the brisket or other cut reaches about 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit and stops there.

In some cases, a barbecue stall can last for 5-6 hours before your meat thermometer shows that the temperature starts rising once again.

While different pitmasters and experts have different theories regarding the reason for this phenomenon, one of the most likely explanations that have significant scientific backing is that the plateau in the temperature is caused by evaporative cooling.

This means that the moisture from the meat begins to evaporate after 2-3 hours in the smoker, and as a result of the cooling inside it, the thermal energy produced is balanced out, which causes the stall. It can take several hours for the moisture to evaporate entirely and stop cooling the smoker, which is when the temperature will start rising again.

The process is similar to the fact that people sweat when it is hot, which helps cool down the body on a hot day.

With barbecuing, the stall of the temperature will continue until the evaporative cooling stops affecting the heat produced in the smoker.

Three misconceptions about what causes the brisket stall

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Ever since pitmasters start experiencing the brisket stall, there have been debates regarding its causes and the best solutions for avoiding or shortening the plateauing of the temperature during low and slow cooking.

But, due to the fact that there have been so many different theories regarding the barbecue stall, t some myths and misconceptions have appeared through the years. The main problem with these myths is that they make people believe that certain solutions will work while others won’t for avoiding the stall, resulting in disappointing results.

Here are some of the most common myths regarding the reasons for the brisket stall:

Myth #1: The reason for the stall is actually due to the latent heat lipid transition

This may sound confusing and very scientific, but the term refers to the moment of the cooking when the heat causes the collagen in the meat to combine with the water in it, turning it into gelatin.

While this chemical reaction is an actual process that occurs when you are smoking and cooking meat, adds more flavors to the meat, and begins occurring at a temperature of about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not the process that causes the stall.

The reason why this misconception is not true is the fact that collagen makes up only about 2% of the meat. This means that it is impossible for such a small amount of collagen to affect the heat in the smoker and cause a brisket stall.

Myth #2: The denaturation of the protein causes the stall

Denaturation is a process that every protein undergoes when it is exposed to enough heat.

The energy from the heat causes the protein to transition from a more complex shape into a much looser one. This makes it easier for the protein to combine with water and other substances in the meat.

Protein denaturation occurs at temperatures of 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit, which are similar to those when the stall occurs, but as with the previous meat, there is no way that the meat has so much protein in it to offset and affect the heat in the smoker.

Myth #3: The rendering of the fat in the meat causes the stall

Although this theory sounds very plausible due to the fact that a meat cut like a pork shoulder contains about 15% fat, there is no scientific evidence proving that the rendering of this fat is what causes the stall in the cooking.

In fact, there have been experiments that debunk this myth and show that a piece of pure fat will continue cooking, and its internal temperature will continue increasing after it starts melting and reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit when the stall usually occurs when cooking brisket or other similar meat cuts.

The probable explanation is that when fat renders, it melts and doesn’t evaporate, and as such, uses up less heat.

Can avoiding some meat cuts prevent the stall?

While it may sound like a good idea, unfortunately, choosing specific meat cuts over others will not help prevent the barbecue stall.

This is due to the fact that the evaporative cooling, which occurs when the moisture of the meat starts evaporating at a certain temperature during low and slow cooking, will be similar when using low and slow cooking for large meat cuts, which all contain about 65% water.

It is essential to understand that it is the combination of the low temperature, the water content of the meat, and the size of the meat cut in the smoker which causes the BBQ stall.

The stall usually occurs when cooking larger meat cuts such as pork butt and brisket but can happen when smoking all other types of big cuts of different types of meat.

What is the duration of the stall?

When smoking brisket, you can expect that the stall will begin after about 2-3 hours of low and slow cooking, when the meat temperature reaches about 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

This is when the moisture from the meat starts evaporating, and it starts from the outer parts of the cut and gradually moves to the center. This evaporation will offset the heat in the smoker and cause the plateauing of the temperature.

The stall will continue until there is not enough moisture left in the meat to balance out the thermal energy produced inside the smoker.

As we mentioned earlier, a stall can last for hours, sometimes up to 7 hours, before the internal temperature of the meat begins rising once again.

It is important to keep in mind that once the stall is over, the internal temperature of the brisket or other meat will begin rising very quickly. In some cases, you can expect that the internal temperature of your brisket will rise from 170 to 203 degrees Fahrenheit for just 1-2 hours after the stall is over.

While it is not possible to predict the exact duration of the barbecue stall, there are some factors which when combined, can affect it, including:

The size of your meat cut

The larger it is, the bigger its water content, so the longer the stall will be. Also, if your meat has a large surface area, you can expect more moisture to evaporate from it.

The type of smoker you are using

The more air flowing in your smoker, the faster the evaporation of the moisture will be. Some smokers with good airflow and with fans can help make the stall of the cooking shorter. If you are using an electric smoker which is securely sealed, then the evaporative cooling causing the stall will be reduced too.

Water pan use

While water pans help reduce the drying of the meat during smoking and help add the smoky flavor to the meat, they can cause an extension of the temperature plateau because they will add moisture to the surface of the meat, causing lengthier cooling evaporation.

Brushing, mopping, or spritzing the meat

Many pitmasters prefer to use one or more of these methods for adding moisture and flavor to the surface of the meat during low and slow cooking. While this has multiple benefits for the flavor, texture, and bark of the meat, it too can cause the stall to continue for longer.

You may try to calculate how long a stall you can expect by taking all of these variables under consideration, but it is very likely that your calculations will end up far from the actual results.

Five ideas on how to beat the stall

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Photo credit: oklahomajoes

Now that we know what causes the stall and what affects its length, here are the five best tips for beating the barbecue stall:

1. Give yourself more time for prepping, cooking, and resting the meat

If you have the time and the patience, the best way to beat the stall without affecting the taste, texture, and look of the meat is to start early enough when preparing, smoking, and resting it.

Make sure that you have the meat prepped and in the smoker early enough, and give it several additional hours for the expected stall so that you have time to cook it to perfection and then rest it before serving it.

The best timeline to follow is to plan ahead and start early enough so that the meat reaches the desired doneness at least one hour before it is going to be served to family and friends.

This is the best stress-free approach for beating the stall and will not have an effect on the end results of your cooking.

Once the meat reaches the desired temperature, you should remove it from the smoker, and then wrap it in butcher paper or foil, and then in several towels and place it in a cooler to keep it warm for up to 4 hours or more, until it is time for eating it.

Please, keep in mind when using this so-called “faux cambro” method, of the safety recommendations for the temperature and time which you can store the meat without danger of harmful pathogens starting growing when leaving the meat in the cooler for hours. If your cooler is properly insulated, then you can rest assured that the meat will be hot and safe for about 3-4 hours.

By using this method, you can make sure that the meat will be ready when needed and that it will remain warm, juicy, and tender right until it comes time to slice it and serve it. In the meantime, you can relax and enjoy some drinks with your friends without stressing out about them being left hungry.

2. Utilize the Texas Crutch method

The Texas Crutch is an efficient way to beat the brisket stall. It is very simple and involves wrapping the meat tightly with aluminum foil, and adding more moisture to it, such as juice, beer, or other.

This is a popular method used by pitmasters around the country and is preferred because of the steam produced when the moisture is added and the meat is wrapped, which actually speeds up its cooking.

The Texas Crutch works because by wrapping the meat, you will prevent the moisture from evaporating and causing the evaporative cooling inside the smoker.

And while this method will shorten the barbecuing process, it will most likely prevent the formation of a beautiful dark and delicious bark on your brisket or another meat cut because the moisture will be trapped under the foil and next to the surface of the meat.

If you don’t mind and want to use the Texas Crutch method for beating the brisket stall, then here are the steps for doing it properly:

  • Smoke the brisket or other meat cut for about 2/3 of the total cooking time, which will allow for the bark to start forming and reaching a good color.
  • Once the stall begins at a temperature of about 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit take the meat out of the smoker.
  • Proceed to wrap it with two or more layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • Then seal it tightly to prevent as much moisture from the meat from escaping and evaporating as possible.
  • Return the wrapped meat to the smoker and keep monitoring the internal temperature, which should soon start rising.

If you want to get the best bark possible even when using the Texas Crutch method, you may want to remove the wrapping once the desired internal temperature is reached and leave the meat inside the smoker for a while.

3. Wrap the brisket with butcher paper

If you are like many of the pitmasters who don’t feel comfortable wrapping the brisket with foil and creating a barrier between the smoke and the meat, then you can try the butcher paper method instead.

By wrapping your brisket or another cut of meat with pink butcher paper, you can still shorten the stall, but since the paper is more porous than the foil, the meat will not be completely sealed during the smoking.

Due to the more porous structure of the butcher paper, some of the smoke will be able to permeate it and get to the surface of the wrapped meat.

But on the other hand, the fact that it is more porous means that the evaporation of the moisture will not be halted completely, so the stall may be shortened but will not be avoided completely when using this method.

4. Use sous-vide

Yes, sous vide may sound like a cooking technique used only in the fanciest restaurants and kitchens, but it is a fact that you can combine barbecuing with sous-vide and can get great results. Plus, you can avoid the brisket stall altogether.

If you have a sous-vide setup, then you can try avoiding the barbecue stall by doing the following:

  • Smoke the meat until it reaches 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit, and the stall begins.
  • Remove it from the smoker, and vacuum pack it.
  • Place it in the sous-vide and cook it until done.

By using the sous-vide method, you will wrap the meat completely and thus prevent any evaporation of moisture during the cooking.

Plus, with sous-vide, the meat will cook at the exact temperature you want and in its own juices.

One of the downsides of this method for preventing the dreaded BBQ stall is that the cooking process will need to include yet another step, which some may find complicated, and that you will need to have a vacuum sealer and a sous-vide set up in order to do it.

But if you are ready to try this method out, you will be amazed at the results in the end!

5. Switch to hot and fast

You may have seen some pitmasters use hot and fast cooking during BBQ competitions instead of low and slow. The hot and fast cooking will not only shorten the cooking time of the meat but also will shorten the length of the stall.

Unfortunately, this is not the best way to prepare brisket flat because it will result in dry and tough meat, but if you are planning on cooking brisket point, you can try the hot and fast method and make the barbecue stall as brief as possible.

Here is how to prepare a brisket point using hot and fast cooking:

  • Choose a brisket point that weighs about 5-6 lbs.
  • Season the meat using salt and pepper.
  • Turn the smoker on and set it up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Once the temperature is reached, place the meat in the smoker.
  • Use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the meat, and once it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (in about 2 hours), remove it from the smoker and place it in a roasting tin.
  • Pop the meat in the oven, which you have preheated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Roast the brisket in the oven until the meat thermometer shows a reading of 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Once the desired internal temperature is reached, remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest at room temperature until its internal temperature goes down to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Slice the meat against the grain and serve it.

Final thoughts

We hope that we have helped you understand what a brisket stall is, what causes it, which factors can affect it, and what the best methods are for beating it.

Having a better understanding of the causes for the BBQ stall and the variables that might affect it will help you deal with this perfectly normal problem when smoking large meat cuts low and slow.

Knowing this will help save you the frustration and stress next time you are hosting a big BBQ party.

Our recommendation is to embrace the idea of the barbecue stall as something perfectly normal and to make sure that you start cooking earlier on, giving yourself enough time to prepare and cook the meat to perfection without stressing out that the guests will arrive and that the brisket is not ready.

Of course, you can use any of the other techniques for avoiding and shortening the BBQ stall as well, and we will be very happy if you share the results with us!

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