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Question on Altitude vs. Brisket

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  • BMStroh
    Club Member
    • Aug 2018
    • 16

    Question on Altitude vs. Brisket

    I recently grabbed the Masterbuilt dual fuel smoker from Home Depot and did some of the universally recommended upgrades - added a door seal, replaced the chip pan with a cast iron skillet on carriage bolt legs, added a cable gland to run temp probes through - and I've had pretty good luck with the handful of things I've smoked so far. Pork butt, couple brisket flats, St. Louis ribs, salmon, tri-tip, and an assortment of chicken. We rather quickly went from "Are you going to be babysitting that thing all day?" to "I want brisket." from my wife, so by and large, this has been a success.

    That said, I can't seem to convince a brisket flat to get to 200-205 degrees. Last time around, I cut a flat in half so it would fit into the smoker, stuck an iGrill probe in each piece, and got things started. At the stall, I wrapped both in butcher paper and folded the edges underneath. One piece half eventually (14-15 hours later, probably 5 lbs of brisket) hit 199 and I pulled it out to avoid starving to death. The second half was only around 181 at that point. Since it was getting late and I needed to work the next morning, I took the temp from 225 to around 320 for another 2 hours, which pushed it all the way to 183. Tasted great and was absolutely edible, so no concerns there.

    Question I have, though, is should I be factoring altitude into my target temps? I'm at 7900', give or take, in the foothills west of Denver, so water boils around 197. I've dug around on Google a bit as well as here in the forum, and didn't really see a clear cut Yes/No consensus. And if I don't need an altitude adjustment, should I adjust my thinking and just pull the meat when it seems to plateau or do something different to persuade it to actually get to my target range?

    Given my success rate with the recipes on the free side of the site, I'm looking forward to what I find over here...

    Thanks for any advice!
  • tbob4
    Charter Member
    • Nov 2014
    • 2257
    • Chico, CA
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    MBMorgan should be able to help with the altitude question.


    • Huskee
      Pit Boss
      • May 2014
      • 14694
      • central MI, USA
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      Your meat will not go above the boiling point of water since meat is 70-75% water. You simply don't need to shoot that high. 190ish, plus a hour or two faux cambro hold should be all yours will need.


      • BMStroh
        BMStroh commented
        Editing a comment
        Exactly what I was wondering - figure if the boiling point is 15 degrees off, adjusting my target down to 185-190 seems to be a similar step. Thanks!
    • MBMorgan
      Club Member
      • Sep 2015
      • 6042
      • Colorado
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        to fiddle with a more capable cooker)
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      I'm going to disagree with Huskee about meat not ever going above the boiling point of water. The boiling point temp is calculated for fresh water. Add salt or other "impurities" to fresh water (turning it into a solution rather than a solvent) and the point at which it boils will change ... usually to a higher temp. Meat is indeed around 70-75% water ... but that 25-30% of other "stuff" is important, too. Also, meat, while porous, isn't particularly permeable ... which means that its water doesn't just slosh around. Instead, it is held in cells with membranes that pretty much hold the water in place and very much limit its movement through the meat.

      That said, while I've seen lots of data on how adding salt alters (raises) the boiling temperature of water and data on how the boiling point of water is affected by altitude, I have never seen anything on how altitude affects the maximum temperature of meat.

      I live at 6300 ft. elevation about 30 miles southeast of Denver and, while I pay close attention to the effects of altitude on foods that are either boiled or baked, I've never bothered to worry about meat temps. Full disclosure: I haven't done a single brisket since we moved to Colorado about 10 years ago so I can't offer any real helpful information about how they behave at altitude.

      I know that we have several other Colorado-based members in the Pit that might be able to offer some useful insights into their own experiences with high-altitude brisket.

      Perhaps one of these days soon, I'll pick up a cheap hunk of meat (preferably on sale, of course), and conduct an experiment that might shed a bit of light on your question.

      I do agree most emphatically with Huskee that an hour or two (or even longer) in a faux cambro could really be beneficial.

      Edit: I should add that thoroughly brining your brisket might help a little with your problem by getting additional salt into the meat.
      Last edited by MBMorgan; September 5th, 2018, 04:31 PM.


      • BMStroh
        BMStroh commented
        Editing a comment
        Unrelated observation: Since we've moved to Colorado 3 years ago, we almost have to plan baked potatoes a couple days ahead of time - they also seem to take roughly forever... I'm considering jamming a temperature probe in one and seeing exactly how long they take to hit ~195 or so. I should have expected idahopotato.com to actually have temp data on potatoes, but I was surprised to find it.

      • MBMorgan
        MBMorgan commented
        Editing a comment
        BMStroh - I understand. After we moved here, I bought a good pressure cooker to help overcome the altitude induced frustration.

      • Huskee
        Huskee commented
        Editing a comment
        You'll only get it over the boiling point if it's wrapped tightly and sealed (or pressure cooker) or if it dries out to shoe leather. Try it!
    • FireMan
      Charter Member
      • Jul 2015
      • 7362
      • Bottom of Winnebago

      Boy and I thought I was really somethin gettin to know a flavicon & drupal. And Ol’ MBMorgan has my head swimmin again with water n’ meat n’ molecules n’ stuff. Thanks for the splainin.


      • HouseHomey
        Club Member
        • May 2016
        • 4948
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        I love this stuff. Awesome! Unfortunately I have an affliction CRS.


        • CaptainMike
          CaptainMike commented
          Editing a comment
          That only gets better as you get older.
      • RonB
        Club Member
        • Apr 2016
        • 12157
        • Near Richmond VA
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          lots of probes.

        Welcome to The Pit.


        • snowswamp
          Club Member
          • Dec 2017
          • 217
          • Lakewood, CO
          • Weber Genesis Silver B (converted to nat. gas)
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          I’m in Lakewood on the west side. I did a prime packer from Costco a couple months ago. It didn’t go above 200. I pulled it off when my thermapem glided in like “hot butter”. I started checking after it got to 190F. I held it the Cambridge for 4 hours since it got done early and it was great. It took 16 hours (I think) at 225F on a Smoke Vault 24 for a 14.5 lbs packer that I separated the point and the flat after trimming. The point got done about 45 min before the flat.


          • BMStroh
            BMStroh commented
            Editing a comment
            Thanks - glad to hear I'm not nuts. My wife likes her brisket a bit on the dry side, so if I lower my target to 190, she may not be totally thrilled, but based on comments I've seen today, it seems like that's the way to go.
        • Nate
          Charter Member
          • Apr 2015
          • 3815
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          Welcome from Indiana....

          I will just defer to all that smart stuff that those other guys said.


          • Fire Art
            Club Member
            • Jan 2018
            • 988
            • Jackson hole Wyoming

            Some buddy said a month ago that they often hit second stall around 180


            • CaptainMike
              Club Member
              • Nov 2015
              • 2342
              • The Great State of Jefferson
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                Bradley cabinet smoker (Pepper Gomez)
                36" Blackstone griddle (The Black Beauty)
                Thermoworks Smoke and Thermapen.

              We live at 4000' and briskets almost always come off at 195ish and take no more than 10 hours. That's in the pellet pooper as well.


              • CandySueQ
                KCBS President, and Moderator
                • Jul 2014
                • 1536
                • Pellet Fired Jambo, T1000 Woodmaster, FEC100, MAK 2 star, Yoder 640, Backwoods Pellet Chef, 14" & 22" WSM, 22" Weber Kettle, Stoven, Hot Box Grill, Hasty Bake Portable

                I don't know the answer! But I am a victim of high altitude botching brisket. I cooked this one in Alamosa the first weekend of August. Alamosa is 7500 feet above sea level. I cooked longer and a bit lower in temp. Pulled the brisket at 193. It firmed back up in the cambro. Tasted great, but the texture was not right. Perfect after about an hour reheated! Sorry photo is upside down Click image for larger version

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                • JGo37
                  Club Member
                  • Apr 2018
                  • 1345
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                  My attitude has never seemed to have affected my brisket?

                  Oh - ALtitude. never mind...


                  • BlackrazorNZ
                    Club Member
                    • Jul 2018
                    • 48
                    • Auckland, New Zealand

                    Haha I thought this said 'attitude' as well. I was like, 'mmm, it's 'aight, but I prefer pork butt personally.'


                    • Missin44
                      Club Member
                      • Oct 2017
                      • 105

                      I've struggled with here brisket since moving to Colorado, I'm at 7,200'. Huskee & MBMorgan I believe are both correct. While in Virginia I had no trouble getting brisket, pork butts to 203. Here I've never gotten one over 200.3, getting things to the mid-190's are not a problem. The butts have been fine. Briskets have always been a bit dry. A few days ago I did a couple chuck roasts. Once they hit 192 I started probing, they got to 197 hung there for a bit and soon would probe like butter. I took them off foiled and rested. they were perfect.

                      The point is getting meats tender is a matter of temp & time. For example you can get a super tender brisket is sous vide at 150 for 24 hours, in this case its a lot of time at a low temp. Pulling a brisket to 200+ at high altitudes only results in dry meat. Try taking it to low 190's and start probing.

                      CandySueQ might have some thoughts on this also. i would also like to get some insight on her reheat technique

                      Since you live on the Front Range try going to some BBQ comp and do some brain picking.
                      Last edited by Missin44; September 20th, 2018, 10:14 AM.


                      • Missin44
                        Missin44 commented
                        Editing a comment
                        As a follow up. a couple weeks ago I did a 17# prime packer trimmed to roughly 14#, smoked @ 225 for 12 hrs., then wrapped in butcher paper and finished in 250 deg oven for 4.5 hrs. Probed like butter at 196.9, perfect. I've read a lot about how altitude makes no difference in cook times. I have to disagree. Not so much ribs, however with butts & brisket roughly 30-40% longer.

                        Also consider I am putting my stuff on the smoker only minutes after coming out of a dry brine of 24 hrs in the frig.



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