What To Do When Brisket Stalls

The very first time that I smoked anything, it was a disaster. I had no idea how to control temperature and didn’t know what to do when the meats’ temperature stalled out. So, there I sat, fiddling with the vents on my Apollo® Smoker, adding charcoal, and freaking out while my family sat watching impatiently from the dinner table.

If you use a smoker with any regularity, you have probably heard of this phenomenon before. The dreaded stall. Also known as the plateau or the zone. What is the stall? What causes it? And most importantly, how do you get past or avoid the stall? Find out here in this article.

What is the Stall?

The stall, the plateau, or the zone occurs when smoking or cooking larger cuts of meat at low temperatures for extended periods of time. It is when the interior temperature of that meat reaches about 150°F to 170°F and stops going up. This state can last for hours.

A friend and smoking enthusiast, Stew (@s2bbq) has worked smoking down to a science, however, even he admits things don’t always go as planned. A pulled pork dinner with friends, which he had done several times before, once took three and a half hours longer than expected. Even after wrapping the pork at 160°, he had a huge stall. Stew eventually resorted to cranking the heat, something he doesn’t like to do. Needless to say, dinner for 6-ish was at 9:30, and the pork did not get rested at all. It was still delicious though.

What Causes the Stall?

Factors that Affect the Stall

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There are many factors that can and do affect the stall, whether it’s for the better or worse. Airflow and humidity are the two biggest.

The weather can sometimes have a huge impact on your smoke. Stew had planned to do an overnight smoke on a 10 lb brisket. The day was slightly overcast, not too hot or cold or humid, and there was no wind. There was also no stall whatsoever. The brisket, which should have been ready at 4 am, was done before they went to bed! It was well wrapped, rested in a cooler until morning, and, when served, pretty darn good. Weather, the density of the charcoal being used, the density of the meat, airflow, and moisture can all make a difference in the way your smoke goes.

Airflow The more airflow in a smoker means the lower the stall temperature will occur at 150°F as opposed to closer to 170°F in a completely sealed unit. This is most noticeable in wood and bullet-style smokers where there are multiple parts, ports, and such like. This doesn’t make these units less effective at smoking an award-winning brisket, it is just a factor that you need to be aware of when using them.

Moisture Moisture is a funny thing. There is moisture coming from the meat, additional moisture from the day’s humidity, additional moisture from a baste, mop, or spray, and additional moisture when you use a water pan. Adding moisture is a double-edged blade when it comes to smoking. Further, you are likely to see a shorter stall on a dry day as opposed to one that is quite humid.

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Using a water pan is a good idea when you are smoking anything. The liquid will evaporate raising the humidity within the unit you are using. This slows the evaporation process on the surface of the meat allowing the interior temperature of the meat to catch up with the temperature on the outside of the meat promoting uniform cooking. The liquid from water pan also condenses on the meat and the smoke will stick to it, increasing the delightful smoky flavor that you are after.

Basting, mopping, spraying, and using a water pan do make an impact on your cooking time by lengthening it. Cool liquid and/or liquid vapor are landing on the surface of the meat and cooling it as the liquid evaporates – the conditions that create the stall in the first place. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to use any of these methods when smoking. You should use at least one of these when smoking to ensure that there is enough moisture available to the meat to keep smoker temperatures at a good smoking level for flavor transference and to keep the process slow enough for the collagen and fat to render properly.

How to Get Past or Avoid the Stall

Just Don’t Look

Finally, you can set your smoker up for the long haul with a water pan and just let it go. Many people use the no-peek technique and will plan the smoke with the stall (and even a second stall – which can happen) in mind. Set your smoker up, only opening things to add more water to the pan, or more charcoal and wood to the basket as needed. Using a wireless digital thermometer like Napoleon’s Wireless Bluetooth Digital BBQ Thermometer will allow you to monitor both the grill and the meat’s temperature.

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Tell us how you manage the stall when you smoke by using the hashtags #TheSmokeStall and #NapoleonGrills and tagging us in photos and comments on our social pages like Facebook and Instagram.

Happy Grilling!

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