How To Thaw A Brisket Before Smoking

When quality brisket is on sale I always bulk buy, being sure to have a well marbled brisket stashed away in my freezer for the next opportunity. The brisket will stay perfectly fresh and long as it’s stored correctly.

Storing brisket in the freezer is easy for the most part, but there are a few steps to take when you are thawing your brisket to ensure it doesn’t dry out, become tough, or spoil in the process.

If you do it right you will be rewarded with an evenly thawed brisket, maintaining its quality, juices, and flavor, all ready for the smoker.  

Thawing Large Meats: What You Need To Know First

How To Thaw Brisket

If you’ve got yourself a large cut of meat, like a brisket, pork shoulder, or a full chicken, you need to take extra care when you’re thawing it out for a few reasons.

Unlike if you’re thawing a thinner piece of meat like a steak, lamb chops, or chicken breast, when you’re thawing a large piece of meat, it thaws much less evenly.

So, for safety you shouldn’t thaw a brisket or other large meat on the counter. This is because by the time the outside is fully thawed, the middle will likely still be completely frozen. This means if you continue thawing it this way you risk the outside growing bacteria as it will be in the temperature danger zone while the middle is still frozen.

Secondly, unlike with some meats where you can throw them on the grill or start the cooking process when they are partially frozen, like grilling frozen burgers, with larger meats you pose a much greater risk of ruining the texture of the meat. 

Don’t get me wrong,
you CAN smoke a frozen brisket, it just takes way longer and doesn’t come out as spectacular as a properly thawed one!

How To Thaw A Brisket Safely

Thawing Brisket In The Refrigerator

If you have enough time on your hands, thawing the brisket in the fridge is the safest and best option. This allows the meat to thaw at a slow, even pace without ever falling to any dangerous temperatures. 

However, make sure you plan ahead because it takes about 24 hours for a 5 pound brisket to thaw, or roughly 5 hours per pound of brisket to thaw.

So, a 15-pound slab of brisket could take up to three days to fully thaw, depending on the exact temperature of your refrigerator. Although it takes a lot longer than leaving it on the counter to thaw at room temperature, it’s much safer and thaws much more evenly.

When you thaw your brisket, place it on a tray so it doesn’t leak and seep onto other ingredients.

If you have enough room, you can place it in the bottom of the freezer to defrost the brisket so there is no risk of contaminating anything else in the fridge.

Once you’ve fully thawed your brisket, you can keep it in the fridge for a further three to five days. This gives you a little flexibility if you don’t plan on cooking right away. So you can take the brisket out on a Monday ahead of your weekend smoking session.

Thawing Brisket In The Sink

If you’re a bit more pressed for time you can always thaw your frozen brisket in the sink, submerged in cold water. This is my normal go-to method if I need to smoke the brisket the next day, as it takes less than half the time as it would take in the refrigerator. 

You’ll need to wrap your brisket in airtight and watertight packaging before you can submerge it in the water. Believe me, you don’t want any water contacting the brisket directly, nor do you want the juices leaking into the sink as it thaws! 

When thawing your brisket in the sink, you can either fill the sink up directly or place your brisket in a container and fill it with cold water. The cold water will thaw the brisket, and the brisket will cool the water. So, every 30 minutes to an hour and can dump out the water and refill it to keep the brisket thawing quickly, evenly, and safely.

Generally, it takes about 45 minutes per pound to thaw your brisket in cold water. So, thawing your brisket in water is much faster than thawing it in the fridge.

Once it’s fully thawed you can prepare it for cooking as you normally would. Or, when it’s mostly thawed you can empty the water and transfer the brisket to your refrigerator to slow down the defrosting process in case you want to keep it ready for the following day.

Can You Defrost A Brisket In The Microwave?

Honestly, you can defrost a brisket in the microwave if you really have to. However I would recommend against it.

Thawing your brisket in the microwave can compromise the taste and texture of the meat, quite drastically.

Have you ever taken a plate out of the microwave and noticed that the food didn’t heat evenly? You’ll run into the same issue with your brisket. Some parts may remain frozen while others start to thaw–or worse, start to cook in the microwave. This could encourage bacterial growth in the meat and will leave you with a very dry and chewy exterior.

Even if your microwave did heat the brisket evenly, thawing food in the microwave dries it out.

So, you’ll end up with a
tough brisket, with rubbery meat that’s unappetizing and hard to slice. 

If you’re careful and just do very short bursts to slightly defrost your brisket, you may be able to pull it off. But, I’m not sure it’s worth the risk!

How To Freeze A Cooked Brisket

if you’ve got leftover brisket you can freeze it and thaw it out again for later use. However, you don’t want to freeze the entire hunk of brisket. If you do, you’ll have to thaw it out, grab your frozen meat knife, and saw the slices off. Instead, cut the entire brisket into slices so you can take out the right portions.

This is why it’s so critical to store your smoked brisket correctly!

Once you’ve sliced the brisket, place the slices on a tray lined with wax paper. Make sure you arrange the slices in a single layer so they don’t end up sticking together. Freeze the slices until they’re solid, then take the tray out of the freezer and place the slices in an airtight bag. You can keep smoked meat in the freezer for up to two months-three months. If you need more time, you can freeze the brisket with sauce or juices for over three months if you’ve kept it in ideal conditions.

How To Thaw A Cooked Brisket

When you’re ready to eat your cooked brisket after it’s been frozen, take it out of the freezer and thaw it in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Since the cooked beef brisket is in slices, it will be much easier and quicker to thaw, with less risk to the texture when using the microwave.

When it comes to reheating cooked brisket, to get the best results reheat it with beef stock or broth in the oven or the microwave. If done correctly reheated brisket can be almost as delicious as fresh smoked brisket. So, if your brisket is done too early, you can refrigerate it and reheat it to serve. This helps when you’re serving brisket for a large crowd too!

If you are thawing a brisket that hasn’t been sliced then it’s best to leave it in the refrigerator to completely thaw, then you can slice the brisket from there and portion it properly. This way you won’t need to eat it all in one serving, you can slice your portion and keep it refrigerated for a few days.

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