Water Pan for Brisket – Should You Use One? If So How?

Wondering if you should be using a water pan when smoking a brisket?

Brisket can be notoriously tough to master. Using a water pan can help!

Below you’ll see exactly how to master the technique of using a water pan when smoking a juicy brisket!

Why Use a Water Pan?

The water pan helps regulate smoker temperature.

This helps to prevent the brisket from overcooking and maintains humidity to keep the meat moist.

A water pan can be especially useful when using an electric smoker as they tend to create a drier environment than pellet or charcoal smokers. 

water-pan-in-smoker

Is It Good to Use a Water Pan for Brisket? 

A water pan is used to help keep the temperature in the smoker constant.

You may find you get temperature fluctuations during the long smoking process.

It adds moisture to the air inside the smoker and keeps the heat steady so your brisket can cook at a lower temperature for longer without burning and drying out.

How Does It Work?

The water does not heat past 212°F- the boiling point, as the water pan, is typically placed directly above the heat source in vertical smokers. 

This results in the atmosphere within the smoker maintaining a steady temperature. 

The Advantages of Using a Water Pan 

This method can be a huge advantage due to the long cooking time a brisket can take.

A constant smoker temperature due to the water pan can aid the process by making it easier to predict when the meat will be finished cooking. 

water-pan-in-smoker-for-brisket

The Issue of Using a Water Pan 

A disadvantage of using this method can result in the brisket not developing a decent bark. 

This happens when the steam from the boiling water creates an environment that is too humid. 

How Is a Water Pan Used for Brisket?

Add the water pan before starting to smoke the brisket.

Start with 1 gallon of water which should last for the first 2-3 hours of cooking time, if the smoker temperature remains constant. 

Check on the water level after 2 hours, as you are bound to lose heat and smoke every time you open the lid. 

Add about 1 gallon every time you replenish the water as needed, although waiting a while before adding more water should not affect the end result. 

water-pan-brisket

Where Is the Water Pan Placed?

The placement of your water pan will primarily be dependent on the type of cooker and the amount of room you have to position your pan. 

Placing it directly beneath your food, above your charcoal would be ideal as it helps create radiant and even heat. 

When using a smaller Weber kettle or an offset smoker, you may place it on your cooking grate, between the food and the heat source as it can be difficult to place it on your cooking grate.

If your using a Pit Boss, you place it at the end very bottom of the unit, as you can see in the pictures beow.

When Is a Water Pan Used?

You can benefit from using a water pan whenever you try to cook at a constant, steady, and low temperature for a long period of time. 

Irrespective of the type of meat you are cooking, a water pan will come in handy when cooking at a low temperature for a long period of time. 

brisket-flat-water-pan-for-smoker

When Should You Steer Clear of Using a Water Pan?

A water pan may be of little benefit when cooking at high heat for a short period of time.  

Searing a steak at a high temperature can cause the water in the water pan to boil rapidly and evaporate completely. 

Furthermore, the water pan may prove to be a hindrance rather than a help when cooking chicken, turkey or other poultry with the skin on.

This is because it promotes extra moisture during the cooking process which keeps the skin from getting crispy. 

What Should and Shouldn’t Go Into the Pan?

Water is the only thing that should be going into the pan. 

However, it is recommended to add hot water to save time and energy.

This is because your grill or smoker would take a longer time to come up to an ideal temperature if the water poured in was cold at first as the water would be heated first, before the air in the cooking chamber. 

Although many prefer using beer, apple juice or other aromatic liquids in their water pans.

They serve little purpose as the liquid is not to flavor the meat, but to create a moist cooking environment with an even cooking temperature.  

brisket-water-pan

Water Pans and Drip Pans- Are They the Same Thing?

Water Pans and Drip Pans are not the same things. 

Drip pans catch fat and drippings as the meat cooks, so they are generally positioned beneath the cooking grates.

The drippings can then be used to make gravy or pan sauce when the meat is resting. 

On the other hand, water pans are positioned above the heat source. 

Using a Water Pan in Your Pit Boss?

If you want to know how to use a water pan in your Pit Boss look no further.

Here is complete guide to using a water pan in your Pit Boss.

Cleaning up the Pan After Using It  

After using a water pan in your grill, there will be drippings of fat if it was placed under your brisket while cooking.

There are a number of ways you can clean it up depending on the amount of fat the residue contains. 

If the water is relatively clear and barely contains any fats from the meat, it can be thrown into the garden. – throw it in the hedge instead of the lawn. 

If it contains a small amount of fat, it can be poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet.

Make sure to let it cool to allow the fats to congeal on the surface to be skimmed off to place in the garbage.

Throwing it straight down the sink can cause blockages over time. 

Sometimes the easiest way to get rid of the residue is to dump the contents into a garbage bag or use an aluminum pan so the pan can be thrown out too.  

Using an Aluminum Pan to Smoke Brisket 

To yield a tender, juicy brisket and to prevent its fat drippings from falling into the fire, the meat may be set in an aluminum pan instead of directly on the rack. 

Aromatic vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery, and garlic can be added to the pan to impart extra flavor to the pan juices. 

Set the smoker to 225°F and add the brisket to the pan with the flat side facing up.

Place the aluminum pan on the cooking grate, close the lid, and let the meat cook for 2 hours.

Then flip it so the flat side is facing down, letting it smoke for another 2 hours. 

Flip the brisket fat side up again, then cover the pan with foil.

Return the pan to the heat and cook until the internal temperature reaches 195 – 200°F. 

Take the pan off the smoker and remove the brisket.

You may tent the meat with foil while it rests, being careful to not wrap the foil too tight. 

water-pan-brisket

A Simple Gravy Recipe 

The pan drippings can then be used to make gravy. A simple recipe is as follows:

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter for each cup of liquid, whisking in an equal amount of butter to form a roux.

Next, whisk in the pan juices and simmer until thickened. Finally, season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Use a water pan the next time you are after the juiciest, most tender smoked brisket you have ever had!

Smoke On!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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