So you’re cooking your brisket and it kinda just stopped at 165 degree internal temp? You took the right approach, you’re smoking it low and slow at 225 degrees but now you’re stuck. What’s going on?? Well, you’re experiencing what seasoned pit masters know as brisket stall.
So, What is Brisket Stall?
It’s a phenomenon that happens after a brisket has been smoking for a few hours and the temperature suddenly stops rising. This stall in temperature can last for over four hours, sometimes even dropping the internal temperature inside by a few degrees. The stall normally happens right about 160 to 165 degrees. Now, if you don’t know already, if you want your brisket to be moist and tender, you want your internal temp to be about 200 degrees. Obviously, with the stall, you’d get nowhere near that.
Why does Brisket Stall Happen?
There are many theories as to why brisket stall happens. If you ask 5 pit masters, you’ll likely get 5 varying answers. A popular belief is that brisket stall happens because of the phase change of the collagen in the meat. The collagen proteins combine with moisture to convert into gelatin around 160 degrees, which coincidentally is when the stall typically occurs. It’s also speculated that fat rendering can cause the stall. We’re not quite sure why this phenomenon occurs, which makes it properly named, but we do know at what point it happens. It normally takes place about 4 hours into the cooking process at 160 degrees or so and can last for many of the next hours.
The Science of the Stall
Chef Phil believes in one theory that he has observed and tested in his many years of smoking and grilling. His theory surrounds evaporative cooling. He says that what happens is a similar process as when you see a pond changing from cold to warm. The same thing can be seen in brisket while it is cooking. Essentially, all the moisture inside the brisket is trying to get outside. Now, if you’ve been smoking your brisket properly, you get this amazing bark on the outside that can only come from drying the meat. This happens during the slow smoking process. Unfortunately, the moisture inside your meat is trying to make its way outside causing the meat to cool, directly causes the internal temp to drop a few degrees.
How Evaporative Cooling Causes the Brisket Stall
So, the brisket stall happens naturally when using low temperatures for cooking. In short, the heat source/conductor in your pit produces energy in the form of heat. That heat is distributed inside your cooker and is absorbed by your meat. Now, some escapes out the sides or vents of your cooker, sure. The problem though, is that the same heat that is warming and cooking your meat is also melting the fat and moisture inside. That evaporating moisture is what is cooling down your meat and keeping it from getting past the 165-degree threshold.
There have even been some experiments conducted by scientists, chefs, other pit masters, and barbecue enthusiasts to prove that evaporative cooling is the true culprit behind the brisket stall. Evaporative cooling is pretty much the scientific term for meat sweats. The same way that our bodies sweat to cool us down, evaporative cooling does to the meat being smoked.
Beat the Stall, Wrap Your Meat: The Texas Crutch
Now, you can either wait out the stall for hours and eventually your meat’s internal temperature will rise. The problem that happens with trying to wait out the brisket stall is that the balance of heat and cold continues while all the moisture slowly evaporates. Now you can wait it out, but you run the risk of drying your meat completely out since you’re losing moisture to the temperature struggle. In our opinion, however, the only way to beat the stall is to wrap your meat. This is also known as the Texas Crutch. Chef Phil likes to use paper to wrap his brisket to beat the brisket stall. Foil can be used as well. Chef says that this layer of paper, or foil, keeps the meat from coming into contact with any cool air. You gotta cook your brisket in the open to get a nice bark and smoke ring, but you have to wrap it to get maximum moisture. Wrapping is essential to speed the cooking process and to beat the brisket stall.
Some pit masters like to add a splash of liquid like apple juice or even beer during the wrapping process. We vote using the beer so you can have a splash, yourself! Continue to slow cook your brisket as usually and enjoy your brisket after a few more hours!
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