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For Thanksgiving, I was planning on slow-cooking a brisket in a smoker. However, I have learned somewhat last minute that instead of my family coming to my place for dinner, I will be going to their place. The issue is that we live roughly 6-7 hours apart by car.

So my question is this: can I do a partial cook in the smoker, then chill the brisket back down and put it in a cooler for transport, then finish the cooking there in a Crock Pot? Most places I've looked at on Google talks about cold-smoking the brisket, but I don't have time to go through that whole process (I leave early Wednesday morning and smoking there isn't an option).

My concerns:

  • Partially cooking the meat then cooling it back down will cause it to go dry and/or chewy.
  • I'd rather not fully refreeze the meat during transport (and I doubt I have time to anyway), but bringing it to fridge temps might result in it sweating during refrigeration and/or transport, damaging the crust and reducing or eliminating the flavor of the smoke.
  • Bringing the meat back and forth through the danger zone a minimum of three times may result in the meat being unsafe to eat.

Is there a way to do this in a way that is safe and retains the flavor (within reason), or should I just forget about it and settle for liquid smoke or something?

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Yes, it can be done safely if you cook it fully (do not only partially cook it), chill it down quickly and keep it cold in transit.

You want to minimize the time that it's in the 'food danger zone' (40°F to 140°F), so even if you're planning on getting it to fridge temperatures, you should still place it directly in the freezer to chill it down for an hour or so, then move it to the fridge. You can also place some sheet pans in the freezer ahead of time, so you have direct contact with something nice and cold as soon as it's done smoking.

Meat that's been cooked and then chilled with have a firmer texture than if it's cooked and served immediately, because you'd have to re-melt the gelatin. (Alton Brown made use of this when he made stew)

To minimize the reheating time, I would heat some sort of flavorful liquid (like beef stock, or if you had drippings from the meat), slice the meat, and then place the meat in the hot liquid to come up to temperature.

I don't think you can save the crust easily. In a question about something similar with a pork roast, someone suggested cutting off the skin and heating that back up separately with dry heat (someone else suggested reheating in an air frier)

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    So it comes down to whether I want to have a smoked-then-reheated brisket with a soft crust or a fresh Crock Pot brisket with no smoke or crust. Maybe it would be better then to just use liquid smoke for the next best thing or come up with a different flavor profile entirely. I'd rather find a different way to cook the brisket at their place than insist on smoking it and end up with a subpar roast from all the cooling and reheating.
    – Abion47
    Nov 22 at 20:21
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    Just a note, I would emphasize that you can not partially cook, cool, then continue cooking, as OP noted, this increases time in the danger zone and hence risk.
    – bob1
    Nov 22 at 20:28
  • @Abion47 : you might be able to reheat it dry, but it's just not going to come out the same as if it were fresh smoked, and I'm not a fan of dry meat, which is why I suggested reheating it in liquid. Maybe you could give them a hot bath to get them heated quickly, then put them in the oven to dry the surface? Maybe someone who does catering would have a better suggestion on how to handle this.
    – Joe
    Nov 22 at 20:44
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    @Abion47 : if you use paprika in your rub, you can swap it with smoked paprika to add a little bit of smoke flavor
    – Joe
    Nov 23 at 1:01
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    @Abion47 - if you wanted to brine for longer, you could easily brine it before transport and potentially during travel too (depending on travel method). The thermal mass of the brine will help keep it cool during transport.
    – bob1
    Nov 23 at 3:59

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