One of the most frustrating and confusing events that occurs when smoking meat products is the time period when the meat seems to just quit cooking. The temperature levels off and will not elevate regardless of how hot the pit temperature (which is the first thing that most inexperienced barbecuers will do).
During our recent Camp Brisket, we were able to demonstrate the “stall” that larger meat cuts go through during smoking. Actually, the stall has been scientifically documented to be evaporative cooling that is occurring around the surface of the meat. Since meat is approximately 70% water, it stands to reason that moisture will be released during cooking. Briskets commonly “shrink” approximately 50% during cooking, so as water evaporates at the surface, the surface cools – much like when we sweat and the sweat cools our skin. Many barbecue enthusiasts have reported this phenomena at an internal temperature of 140º – 160ºF.
To demonstrate the stall, two similar sized beef briskets were placed side-by-side (point end toward the heat) on a pit maintained at a temperature of 225º – 250ºF. We used hickory wood for a heat source. One probe from an iGrill® was placed in the center of each brisket after the initial two hours. At the end of four hours, one of the briskets was wrapped in aluminum foil with the iGrill® probe still inserted. The wrapped brisket continued the climb it began during the first four hours (see graph – red line) and reached the target 195ºF in approximately 9 hours. The brisket then was moved to a vertical holding chamber (160ºF). The unwrapped brisket (see graph – white line) leveled off at approximately 140ºF for two hours, then increased gradually to approximately 150ºF for two more hours before resuming a climb to 195ºF for a total cook time of 13+ hours. This was a very graphic demonstration of the stall and how if affects cooking time.
Holding the wrapped brisket in the original aluminum foil while waiting on the unwrapped brisket to finish cooking resulted in a more “roast-beefy” flavor. Removing the foil and allowing the surface bark to dry out would have resulted in a more traditional flavor and texture.
Understanding the stall and planning/managing for it will result in briskets and other larger cuts that finish in a more predictable time frame and reduce the panic that many experience when it occurs! Cooking Wrapped versus Unwrapped Briskets