How to Smoke Brisket with an Electric Smoker: A Beginner’s Guide

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Does anything say “summer barbecue” like smoked brisket? This classic southern dish has rapidly become the holy grail for grill enthusiasts who want to raise their cooking skills to the next level and enjoy a heaping plate of some of the tastiest meat around at the same time.

But if you’ve focussed your grill skill on firing up the perfect steak, smoking is a whole new ballpark: the time you put into marinating a steak and grilling it to perfection is nothing compared to the time it takes to find the best electric smokers to make the perfect smoked brisket. 

Most of us don’t have the time or specialized equipment to smoke meat the old-fashioned way, over a fire. Brisket smoking recipes that use this method can take all day to cook, and because they don’t have a built-in thermostat, the chef needs to pay constant attention to keep the temperature in the perfect temperature range.

Image of Electric Smoker Temperature Control Function

Fortunately, modern electric smokers have made it easier than ever for meat lovers who want to explore the joys of smoking to start cooking professional-grade brisket in their own back yards. Here’s why:

  • They take the guess-work out of temperature and timing, which means you don’t have to spend your entire Saturday sweating over the smoker to get the perfect brisket.
  • They are easy to install and use.
  • They give you more control over the finished product.
  • They come with advanced safety protections.
  • Perfect for beginners.
  • Portable options are available.
  • They are often more exact than non-electric smokers

Electric smokers come in all shapes and sizes, and getting the most out of such a complex cut of beef as brisket is all about finding the right tool for the job. At Fire Food Chef we have reviewed literally dozens of different electric smokers, so check out our product guides to learn more about how you can get the perfect electric smoker today, and to learn more about how to smoke brisket.

Picture of two of the best electric smokers

Which Electric Smoker is Right for You?

Fans of grilling will know that you can spend weeks researching the huge number of barbecue options available to modern grill aficionado. And while electric smokers are still a little more of a niche interest, there is no shortage of options when it comes to buying one.

But finding the right electric smoker means understanding what to look for, which is why we’ve prepared a short guide to help you understand the different strengths and weaknesses that electric smokers have.

·  Size

 Briskets can be quite large, and if you are looking for a smoker that will cook a piece of meat you can feed your entire family with, you’re going to want to make sure you find one on the larger end.

But if your smoking ambitions extend beyond learning how to smoke brisket and include smoking things like sausages, veggies, and fish, a smaller electric smoker that has enough versatility to handle a variety of different foods may fit the bill just fine.

Electric smokers run the gamut in terms of size, and if you want something a little roomier, it’s definitely possible to find affordable electric units that will help you master how to smoke brisket in an electric smoker.

·  Insulation

The most important thing to look for in a smoker in terms of cooking quality is probably the insulation.

Smoking is all about trapping heat and flavour in with your brisket for long enough that the brisket absorbs all that yummy flavour and reaches a consistent internal temperature. A smoker that doesn’t have good insulation won’t just lose heat, it will also cook the meat unevenly.

There’s not quite as unappetizing as a brisket that is overcooked in some places and undercooked in others, so make sure the electric smoker you pick out is well-insulated!

·  Portability

The portability needs of your smoker are mostly going to depend on whether you want a unit you can bring up to the cottage or on holiday with you.

It is possible to find reasonably good quality compact electrical water smokers that can easily be packed up and moved, but what you gain in mobility you will lose in smoking capacity.

If, on the other hand, you want a solid, reliable electric smoker to complement the rest of your patio grilling set, it’s better to go with something like the Bradley Digital 6-Rack Smoker. The Bradley offers great insulation and is easy to clean, but because it doesn’t have wheels, you’ll probably want to park it somewhere it can stay for the whole season. 

If you want to know more about which electric smokers are the most portable, check out our product guides to find detailed info about the best electric smokers.  

·  Ease-of-Use

For beginners, ease-of-use is essential to consider when purchasing an electric smoker. From clear cooking instructions and straightforward set-up to cleaning and maintenance options, the difference between a good entry level electric smoker and a bad one usually comes down to how easy it is to operate.

For example, it may not surprise you to learn that smoking a brisket can be a messy process. So if you don’t want to spend hours and hours on clean-up duty every time you take your smoker out, use our BBQ smoker cleaning guide to find out how to clean an electric smoker, and which electric smokers are easiest to clean.

We have found that the Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker strikes a fine balance between quality smoking and ease-of-use. Not only can operate unattended for up to seven hours, it is quick to clean and offers straightforward, intuitive controls while also delivering a good cooking experience.  

Picture of raw beef brisket

Preparing the Brisket

Once you’ve got the right smoker picked out, you can get to work finding the perfect brisket to cook.

Whole, untrimmed briskets can weigh anywhere from eight to twenty pounds, so if you are still figuring out how to smoke brisket, it’s a good idea to select a smaller brisket, or to simply ask your butcher for a certain amount (five pounds is a good size to start with).

Once you have your brisket, you can use the following steps to prepare it:

  • Trim excess fat, exposing the brisket meat
  • Identify the flat and the tip (these two parts are divided by a thick diagonal layer of fat, and grain of the meat runs in opposite directions)
  • Pat the brisket dry with paper towel
  • Refrigerate until you are ready to apply the seasoning.

Note: while some briskets are sold without the tip, this kind of brisket doesn’t make for great smoking, as the flat tends to dry out faster without the fat-rich tip.

Picture of seasoned beef brisket

Seasoning the Brisket

Any good brisket recipe is going to emphasize the importance of a good dry rub for making the taste of the meat pop, and long-time barbecue aficionados have their own jealously guarded recipes for the perfect brisket rub.

When you’re just getting started, however, it’s not a bad idea to stick to the basics. The overall flavour of the brisket is going to have a lot more to do with mastering smoking techniques and using the right electric smoker, so don’t worry too much about finding the perfect spice combo on the first try. 

Here are some of the most popular spices used in seasoning a smoked brisket:

  • Brown sugar
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chilli powder
  • Paprika
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Some chefs swear by complicated rubs that bring together sweet and savoury flavours, while others say that salt, pepper, and garlic powder are the only things you really need to bring out the flavour of the beef.  

But if you are looking for brisket recipes for a smoker you have to try these five great brisket recipes we have collected to represent a wide range of different regional approaches to brisket smoking. Give each of them a shot, and let us know which one you liked best!

Whatever your own preferences are, we’d recommend following brisket smoking recipes closely while you’re first getting used to the process, and branching out to create your own favourite rubs once you have some experience with how the smoking process affects the flavour of the meat. 

Picture of man smoking brisket

Smoking the Brisket

The first thing you’ll probably find out when learning how to smoke brisket in an electric smoker is that smoking takes time. This has to do with the unique properties of brisket, which is sourced from a cow’s strong chest muscles.

Brisket is a tough muscle: unlike a tenderloin, it’s had to do a lot of work over the cow’s lifetime. If you cook a brisket too fast, or if the temperature is too high, it will simply become chewy and inedible.

That fantastic, juicy flavour you associate with smoked brisket? Those tender flakes of meat that just fall off the knife when you carve it? You don’t get that without careful temperature control over a long period of time.

This is where a quality electric smoker comes in. If you check out our guide to smoking meat you’ll notice that one of the benefits of using an electric smoker has to do with how long to smoke brisket in it.

Electric smokers can be pre-set to a particular temperature for a particular length of time, which means that if you want to smoke brisket in an electric smoker, once you’ve set it up it will keep up a consistent temperature and smoke level on its own.

This frees you up to get down to work on some classic southern barbecue sides, or simply to kick back on the patio and enjoy a beer.

Picture of brisket being served

Serving the Brisket

The last part of learning how to smoke brisket in an electric smoker is learning how to serve it, which means learning to recognize when your brisket is finished smoking.

Most brisket smoking recipes will offer you suggestions as to how long to smoke the brisket (one to one and a half hours per pound is a good rule of thumb), but it is important to remember that these suggestions are just guidelines: the key to most brisket smoking recipes is not time, but internal temperature.

Ask a seasoned smoker how you can know when your brisket is finished, and they’ll likely tell you that you know the brisket is ready to be eaten when the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

Just because it is ready to be taken out of the smoker, however, doesn’t mean its ready to serve. Make sure you follow the following steps before serving.

  • Brisket will continue to cook for several minutes after leaving the smoker, so wrap it in tinfoil when you take it out and set it to cool.
  • Leave the brisket for at least thirty minutes before cutting into it so the juices can settle.
  • If you’re worried about the meat drying out, pour excess drippings into the tinfoil to let the brisket sit in its juices.
  • After thirty minutes, take it out of the foil and remove the tip from the flat.
  • Set the tip aside for pulling, and carve the flat in lengthwise strips.
  • Serve to your guests with gravy or on its own.

Perhaps because it is such a challenging dish to get right, the rewards for smoking a perfect brisket are huge. Carving that first delicious forkful of beef and raising it to your lips for the first taste isn’t just a pleasurable experience in itself: it’s a culinary right of passage.

If you want to bring your barbecuing game to the next level this summer, you now have everything you need to know in order to make the perfect brisket with an electric smoker. 

So what are you waiting for? Check out our product guide to find the best electric smoker for your needs, stop by your local butcher’s shop to pick up a nice juicy brisket, and get cooking!