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How long should you rest a brisket in a cooler?

Resting a brisket after cooking is a crucial step to ensuring the meat turns out juicy, tender and flavorful. During the rest, the meat continues to cook gently from residual heat while the juices are reabsorbed back into the meat fibers. Rushing through this step can lead to dry, tough brisket, so it’s important to allow enough time. But how long exactly should a brisket rest? Here’s a closer look at the ideal brisket rest times and tips for a successful rest.

Why Resting Brisket is Important

When brisket is cooking, the collagen breaks down and the meat fibers begin to contract, forcing moisture and juices out to the surface. If you were to slice into the brisket immediately after taking it off the heat, those juices would simply run off, resulting in dry meat.

Resting gives the collagen time to gel back up, trapping those juices inside the meat. The fibers also relax during the rest period, allowing the juices to redistribute back into the meat rather than pooling on the surface. In addition, the residual heat continues to gently cook the brisket during the rest, breaking down collagen and connective tissue even further.

All of this adds up to a moister, more tender brisket with pronounced beefy juices and flavor. Simply put, resting is essential for optimizing the texture and moisture of your final brisket.

How Long to Rest Brisket Without a Cooler

If you do not have a cooler on hand, you can simply rest the brisket right in the pan or on a cutting board after removing it from the smoker or oven. The length of time needed will depend on the size of the brisket:

  • Whole packer brisket (12-16 lbs): Rest for 1 1/2 – 2 hours
  • Flat cut brisket (6-8 lbs): Rest for 1 – 1 1/2 hours
  • Smaller flat cut (3-4 lbs): Rest for 45 mins – 1 hour

Aim for the longer end of the time range for really large briskets. The large thermal mass of bigger cuts of meat means they retain heat well into the rest.

Why Use a Cooler for Resting Brisket

Resting in an insulated cooler provides two key advantages:

  1. Consistent residual heat: The cooler traps the heat radiating from the brisket, creating an environment that slowly drops in temp rather than quickly cooling down to room temp. This allows the meat to continue gently cooking and breaking down collagen during the entire rest period.
  2. Moisture retention: The insulation also helps lock in moisture that would otherwise evaporate from the brisket’s surface in an open environment.

Both of these factors mean you can get even more tender, juicy meat by resting in a cooler. It’s like a mini oven that slowly finishes off the cooking process to perfection.

How Long to Rest Brisket in a Cooler

When using a cooler, you’ll need to increase the resting time in order to take full advantage of that retained heat for continued cooking:

  • Whole packer brisket (12-16 lbs): Rest for 2 – 3 hours
  • Flat cut brisket (6-8 lbs): Rest for 1 1/2 – 2 hours
  • Smaller flat cut (3-4 lbs): Rest for 1 – 1 1/2 hours

Be sure the cooler is preheated before putting the brisket in. An hour before resting, add a couple towels or blankets to the empty cooler and close it up. The insulation of the cooler traps the ambient heat from these items to create a warm environment.

Tips for Resting Brisket

Follow these tips for a successful brisket rest:

  • Allow the meat to rest in the same position it cooked in. Flip it over only once halfway through the rest time.
  • Tent loosely with foil to retain some heat while allowing steam to escape.
  • Place brisket in an empty cooler and stuff with towels to insulate. No ice.
  • For a cooler rest longer than 2 hours, add broth, juice or water to the wrapped brisket to keep moist.
  • Let the brisket rest undisturbed in a quiet spot away from drafts.
  • Do not slice or poke during the rest period.

How to Tell if Brisket is Done Resting

Checking for doneness is difficult since you don’t want to prematurely cut into the brisket. Instead, look for these signs that the brisket is ready after its rest:

  • Meat has firmed up and is no longer jiggly in the center.
  • External fat has rendered and softened.
  • Texture is relaxed rather than taut.
  • A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 210°F or below.

The brisket will continue to cook and firm up during the resting time. Use the time guidelines above based on size along with these visual cues to determine doneness.

Can You Rest Brisket Too Long?

It is possible to rest brisket too long, but you have a generous window of time before that becomes an issue. Within the recommended rest times above, you are unlikely to over-rest the meat. The main cons of a prolonged rest are:

  • Cooling too much, which prevents further tenderizing from residual heat
  • Surface drying out
  • Risk of bacterial growth in the danger zone between 40°F-140°F

To minimize these risks when going longer:

  • Ensure the cooler is well-insulated to retain heat.
  • Keep the meat tightly wrapped or tented in foil.
  • Add moisture like broth or pan juices before wrapping.
  • Rest for no longer than 5 hours maximum, erring on the lower end of the time range.

Common Resting Mistakes

To get perfectly rested brisket, avoid these common mistakes:

  • Not allowing enough resting time – The brisket will be tough and dry.
  • Resting at room temperature – The meat will cool too quickly rather than slowly cooking through.
  • Leaving unwrapped – The exposed areas will dry out.
  • Resting in ice water – This shocks the meat, tensing up the fibers.
  • Frequently peeking – This releases moisture and heat each time.
  • Cutting into early – Juices will spill out before reabsorbed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you wrap brisket when resting?

Yes, it’s important to loosely wrap or tent the brisket in foil when resting to trap in heat and moisture. Allow a little vent for steam to escape. Do not tightly seal the foil or the brisket will braise in its juices.

Should you rest brisket fat side up or down?

It doesn’t make a major difference, but resting fat side up helps protect the meat underneath and bastes it with rendered fat. Start fat side up, then flip halfway through the rest time.

Is brisket still cooking when resting?

Yes, the residual heat left in the brisket continues to gently cook and tenderize the meat during the rest period. This helps break down collagen and allows juices to fully redistribute.

Can you leave brisket wrapped in a cooler overnight?

It’s not recommended. At a certain point the brisket will cool down too much and you run the risk of bacterial growth. Stick to the recommended rest times of 2-3 hours max in a cooler.

Should you let brisket come to room temp before resting?

No, you’ll want to rest the brisket immediately after cooking. Letting it cool to room temp first would cause the meat to seize up and lose too much residual heat for the rest period.

The Bottom Line

Allowing enough resting time is a must for tender, juicy brisket. For the best results, rest brisket in an insulated cooler for 1-3 hours based on size. This allows the meat to gently cook through while retaining moisture. With the proper rest, your brisket will come out perfectly fall-apart tender every time.