Brisket is a popular meat for springtime celebrations. One reason that it’s an excellent choice for entertaining is that it can be prepared in advance. In fact, you must prepare it in advance and cook it slowly to make it tender. Also, because it can be cooked ahead of time and it reheats well, brisket is a great cut of meat to serve to large groups.  

Follow these guidelines from USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline to prepare a delicious, yet safe brisket meal for your family and friends.

Buying, storing, and thawing


— After purchase, fresh brisket can be refrigerated for 3 to 5 days before cooking.

— Fresh brisket can be frozen for up to 12 months at best quality.

— Be sure to allow plenty of time to thaw a frozen brisket. Thawing in the refrigerator can take about 24 hours for a trimmed, first-cut brisket. A whole brisket weighing about 10 pounds can take several days.


— Brisket requires long, moist cooking to make it tender. This can be done on top of the stove or in the oven, microwave, or slow cooker. The USDA does not recommend one particular cooking method as best.

— Whatever method you use, make sure that you cover the brisket. Because it is less tender than many beef cuts, brisket usually needs to cook for 2-3 hours until “fork-tender.”

— Make sure the brisket reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F.

— If eating the brisket right after cooking, allow it to stand for about 20 minutes after removing it from the heat. This will make it easier to slice, which is best done across the grain of the meat for maximum tenderness.

— It’s safe to cook brisket ahead of time. Within 2 hours of cooking or reheating, place the brisket in shallow containers and cool in the refrigerator.


— If reheating brisket before serving, remember to reheat to 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

— Once food is thoroughly heated, keep it hot (140 °F or above) in chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays.

— To serve brisket cold, keep it at 40 °F or below by nesting dishes in beds of ice or use small servings platters and replace them often.

— Brisket along with other perishable food should not be left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature, so check the time and make sure either to either get food back in the refrigerator or discard it.

Storing leftovers

— Store cooked brisket in the refrigerator (40 °F or below) and use within 3 to 4 days.

— Cooked brisket can be frozen at best quality for 2 to 3 months. After that time, it will still be safe but can lose flavor and moistness.

For more information on the safe preparation and handling of beef, check out these resources:

— Fact sheet: Beef…from Farm to Table

— Chart: Meat and Poultry Roasting Chart

If you have any other questions about ham, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at (English and Spanish).


Diane Van, manager, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, wrote this piece, which was originally published April 7, 2011 at