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Holiday Christmas Brisket with Cran-Orange BBQ Sauce

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This Christmas Brisket is the ultimate celebration this holiday season! This slow-smoked brisket is perfect for your Christmas dinner or any winter holiday. Served with an easy homemade cranberry-orange barbeque sauce, your guests will leave with happy, full bellies!

green christmas platter of sliced brisket with bowl of cranberry bbq sauce, slices of orange, fresh cranberry garnish

There is nothing better than a slow-smoked brisket. Sometimes, you get tired of eating ham and turkey at every holiday dinner. This holiday brisket is perfect if you want to serve a holiday meal that stands out.

As my family was deciding on a Christmas menu, one of my sisters suggested picnic food. We all had a bit of a hankering for something a little different, especially as we considered the number of holiday meals we would be having all together between different sides of the family, friends, work parties, etc. 

We had a few briskets on hand and thought they would be perfect for a festive picnic food theme. I started thinking about how to make the brisket take on a Christmas flavor and came up with a delicious cranberry-orange barbeque sauce. I’m not always the biggest fan of regular barbeque sauce, but this cranberry barbeque sauce is to die for! It’s tangy, tart, yet sweet with a bite from black pepper.

Brisket for the Holidays

The first time you cook brisket, the process seems intimidating because briskets can take a long time to cook. However, most of the cooking time is hands-off. You need to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to smoke the brisket to the proper temp, as well as allow the brisket to rest. I recommend a good meat thermometer (such as the Meater+) that you can leave inserted so you don’t need to babysit the brisket too closely.

This tender brisket slow cooks at a lower temperature to create tender and juicy meat. Outlined here are my instructions for slow-smoking a brisket perfect for a Christmas feast, but I also have a section dedicated to the slow cooker cooking method for those of you without a smoker.

Ingredients

Brisket

To make this beautiful holiday brisket, you need the following:

  • 3-5 lb Flat Cut Brisket – Most grocery stores sell smaller briskets cut from the flat that are pre-trimmed in 3-5 lb sizes. That is the type of brisket we are using for this recipe. However, you can scale up the recipe ingredients as necessary for larger briskets. Note that a larger brisket won’t fit in the slow cooker if you are choosing to follow the slow cooker instructions.
  • Yellow Mustard – Mustard is a tenderizer for the meat and a good binder for the seasonings. The brisket won’t take on a strong mustard flavor when cooked.
  • Seasonings – Salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried rosemary & thyme are used to create a very simple, yet festive seasoning rub for this delicious cut of meat.
christmas brisket ingredients on marble cutting board

Cranberry-Orange Barbeque Sauce

For the cranberry-orange barbeque sauce, gather the following:

  • Fresh cranberries – Fresh cranberries give the barbeque sauce a seasonal, tart twist.
  • Oranges – I zest and juice 2 medium oranges for this recipe. It is the perfect citrus flair!
  • Honey – Honey will sweeten the cranberries and give a deeper flavor to this barbeque sauce.
  • Brown Sugar – Just a small amount to aid the honey in offsetting the tartness of the cranberries and vinegar.
  • Tomato Paste & Ketchup – Tomato paste deepens the flavor of this barbeque sauce, and ketchup gives a traditional barbeque sauce tang.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – Vinegar is an essential ingredient in barbeque sauce! Apple cider vinegar specifically gives the sauce sweetness and seasonal festivity.
  • Dijon Mustard – Dijon adds a lovely tang to our sauce.
  • Seasonings – I use very simple seasonings of salt, pepper, and cinnamon. There are plenty of strong-flavored ingredients in this barbeque sauce. It does not need a lot of extra pizazz! 
cranberry bbq sauce ingredients on marble cutting board

Brisket Instructions

To make this Christmas brisket recipe on the pellet grill or smoker, follow the instructions below. If you would prefer to use the crock pot, skip to the next section.

brisket ingredients on marble board, unlabelled

1. Bring Brisket to Room Temperature

Remove your thawed brisket from the refrigerator an hour before you’d like to prep it for the smoker. Let it sit on the counter to warm up slightly.

trimming fat off of brisket on wooden cutting board

2. Trim Fat if Needed

Most smaller briskets come pre-trimmed, but if needed, place your brisket on a cutting board and trim excess fat from your brisket with a sharp knife so that the fat cap is only about 1/4 inch thick.

trager control panel set to 250

3. Preheat Smoker/Pellet Grill

​Preheat your smoker/grill to 250 degrees F.

closeup of raw brisket with rub

4. Rub Mustard & Seasonings on the Brisket

Rub 2 tbsp of yellow mustard over all sides of the brisket. Mix the salt, pepper, garlic & onion powders, and dried rosemary & thyme in a small dish, and rub it evenly over all sides of the brisket. You can scale the seasonings up as needed for larger briskets. The amounts listed here will work for a 3 lb brisket, but if it is 5 lbs or greater, I would scale the seasonings up 1.5x-2x. Place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of your brisket.

placing raw brisket on grill grates

5. Smoke the Brisket

Place brisket directly on the grill grates fat side down. Close the lid and let it smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 165-170 degrees F.

wrapping brisket in foil on wooden cutting board

6. Wrap it Up

Briefly remove the brisket from the smoker to wrap it in aluminum foil. Place it back on the smoker and cook it until it reaches 203-205 degrees F. The meat is done when you poke it with a probe and it goes in like butter. If it is tough when you try to poke it, it is not yet done.

gray small yeti cooler used for brisket resting sitting on counter top.

7. Cooler Rest

Wrap the brisket in a couple of pieces of aluminum foil, then wrap a towel around the foiled brisket and place it inside a cooler. Let it rest in the cooler for 2-3 hours. It will stay plenty warm, and this rest time will let the juices redistribute throughout the meat making this Christmas brisket juicy and tender.

platter of christmas brisket on green platter with garnish of cranberries and orange slices

8. Slice & Serve

After the rest period, remove the brisket from the cooler and its wraps. Place it on a cutting board and slice it thinly against the grain. Plate your brisket and serve it with the cranberry-orange barbeque sauce (recipe below) and garnishes of sliced orange, fresh cranberries, and sprigs of fresh herbs if desired.

Cranberry-Orange Barbeque Sauce Instructions

​Making homemade cranberry-orange barbeque sauce for your Christmas brisket is super easy. It’s the perfect condiment for your holiday brisket! Follow the steps below:

zesting orange over stainless pot filled with cranberries

1. Boil Fruit & Honey

Rinse your fresh cranberries and wash your oranges. Since we will be including orange peel (zest) in this recipe, you want to make sure your oranges are clean. Place the rinsed cranberries in a saucepan. Zest the outside of both of the oranges right into the saucepan, then quarter the oranges and squeeze the juice from each quarter into the pot as well. Add the honey to the pot. Place your saucepan onto the stove and heat it to medium-high heat. Boil the cranberry mixture until the berries are broken down and the sauce begins to thicken.

Black and Silver Film Camera on Brown Wooden Surface

2. Add the Rest of the Ingredients

Turn the heat down to low while you add the rest of the barbeque sauce ingredients. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium and continue to boil the mixture over medium heat until it reduces to your desired thickness.

immersion blender in stainless pot of bbq sauce

3. Blend Sauce

Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce right in the pot to create an even texture. You can also do this in a regular blender, but an immersion blender is less messy. 

pouring cranberry bbq sauce in jar

4. Chill

Your sauce is done and ready to serve! Pour it into a jar or other container and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

Slow Cooker Instructions

To make this brisket in the slow cooker, you will still trim the excess fat from the brisket and rub it in mustard and the seasonings outlined in the recipe. But instead of placing it on a smoker, put it in the slow cooker with 1 cup of broth poured around it for a cooking liquid. Cook it on low for 6-8 hours until it is tender, but not falling apart. Check on it periodically–you can poke it with a probe to see when it’s tender enough to remove from the crockpot. If you cook it too long, you’ll have shredded beef on your hands (hey, that may not be the worst thing!)

platter of christmas brisket on green platter with garnish of cranberries and orange slices, angled view

Brisket Tips & Tricks

Wrap or No Wrap?

Wrapping the brisket at 165 degrees F is optional. The purpose of the wrap is to speed up the cook and help you get past a stall. Smaller briskets don’t stall as hard as larger briskets do. However, you may still wish to wrap the brisket. In my experience, it can help keep smaller briskets from drying out, but if you want a crispier bark and stronger smoke flavor, you can skip it.

Timing

To get tender brisket, you need to cook it to a high enough temperature that the connective tissue breaks down. 203-205 degrees F internal temperature is a generally recommended range, but each piece of meat varies. I usually pull my briskets off at 205 degrees F.

However, my best tip to see if your brisket is ready to pull off the smoker is to poke it with a temperature probe. It should go in like butter. If there is too much resistance, keep cooking.

For the cooking method outlined here, it takes me about 1.5-2 hours per pound for my smaller briskets and only a minor stall to work through. If you’re smoking a large full brisket, you may want to plan more time.

close up of christmas brisket slices

Serving Suggestions & Related Recipes

This beef brisket recipe with barbecue cranberry sauce is the perfect main dish for a special occasion. If you want some other ideas for festive holiday main dishes, try my smoked ribeye roast recipe or my spatchcocked Traeger turkey recipe. The cranberry-orange barbeque sauce would be perfect for the turkey!

If ham is more your jam, try my Traeger Smoked Ham.

For some festive holiday side dishes, try my Winter Kale Salad with Pomegranates or my Wild Rice Fruit Salad (while I often serve that at Thanksgiving, it’s also perfect for Christmas).

For more festive cranberry recipes, you’ll love my Cranberry Wild Rice Bread, Cranberry Sourdough, and my festive Cranberry Ginger Mocktail.

Nutritional Information

For a 100-gram serving of brisket, the calorie information is as follows:

  • Calories: 277
  • Protein: 18 grams
  • Fat: 22 grams
  • Carbs: 0 grams

For 1/6 of the cranberry-orange barbeque sauce (about 1/4 cup), the nutritional information is as follows:

  • Calories: 130
  • Protein: .6 grams
  • Fat: .1 gram
  • Carbs: 34.7 grams

Recipe Notes

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

Did You Make This Recipe?

This is a great recipe for your holiday gatherings this year!

Please leave a comment and review! It means the world!

green christmas platter of sliced brisket with bowl of cranberry bbq sauce, slices of orange, fresh cranberry garnish
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Christmas Brisket with Cranberry-Orange Barbecue Sauce

This festive holiday brisket is slow-cooked and served with a tart & tangy cranberry-orange barbecue sauce.
Prep Time1 hour 15 minutes
Cook Time6 hours
Resting Time2 hours
Total Time9 hours 15 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: beef, brisket, cranberry brisket, holiday brisket, traeger
Servings: 8
Calories: 407kcal
Author: Holly Lee
Cost: $50

Equipment

  • 1 Pellet Grill or Smoker recommended, but if you don't have one, use slow cooker
  • 1 Slow Cooker optional–if you do not have smoker
  • 1 Immersion Blender or regular blender

Ingredients

Brisket

  • 3-5 lb Brisket
  • 2 tbsp Yellow Mustard
  • 2 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Onion Powder
  • 2 tsp Dried Rosemary
  • 2 tsp Dried Thyme

Cranberry-Orange Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 cup Fresh Cranberries
  • 2 medium Oranges
  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • 2 tbsp Brown Sugar see notes if you want sauce less sweet
  • 2 tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 3 tbsp Ketchup
  • 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon

Instructions

Brisket Smoker Instructions (See Notes for Slow Cooker)

  • Remove your thawed brisket from the refrigerator an hour before you'd like to prep it for the smoker. Let it sit on the counter to come to room temperature.
  • Preheat your smoker/grill to 250 degrees F.
  • Place your brisket on a cutting board and trim excess fat from your brisket with a sharp knife so that the fat cap is only about 1/4 inch thick.
  • Rub 2 tbsp of yellow mustard over all sides of the brisket. Mix the salt, pepper, garlic & onion powders, and dried rosemary & thyme in a small dish, and rub it evenly over all sides of the brisket. You can scale the seasonings up as needed for larger briskets. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the brisket.
  • Place your brisket directly on the grill grates fat side down. Close the lid and let it smoke for a couple of hours until the internal temp reaches 165-170 degrees.
  • Briefly remove the brisket from the smoker to wrap it in aluminum foil. Place it back on the smoker and let it finish cooking until it reaches an internal temperature of 203-205 degrees F. The meat is done when you poke it with a temperature probe and it goes in like butter.
  • Pull the brisket off the smoker. Leave it in the foil, but wrap it in a towel and place it in a small cooler to rest for 2-4 hours.
  • After the rest period is complete, remove the brisket from the cooler and it's wraps. Place it on a cutting board and slice it thinly against the grain.
  • Plate your brisket and serve it with the cranberry-orange barbeque sauce (directions below) and garnishes of sliced orange, fresh cranberries, and sprigs of fresh herbs if desired.

Cranberry-Orange Barbeque Sauce

  • Rinse your fresh cranberries and wash your oranges. Since we will be including orange peel (zest) in this recipe, you want to make sure your oranges are clean.
  • Place the rinsed cranberries in a saucepan. Zest the outside of both of the oranges right into the saucepan, then quarter the oranges and squeeze the juice from each quarter into the pot as well, followed by the honey.
  • Place your saucepan onto the stove and heat it to medium-high heat. Boil the cranberry mixture until the berries are broken down and the sauce begins to thicken.
  • Turn the heat down to low while you add the rest of the ingredients–brown sugar, tomato paste, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Increase heat to medium and boil until it reduces to your desired thickness.
  • Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce right in the pot to create an even texture. You can also do this in a regular blender, but an immersion blender is less messy. 
  • Your sauce is done and ready to serve! Pour it into a jar or other container and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Video

YouTube video

Notes

You can omit the brown sugar if you want the sauce less sweet.
Slow Cooker Instructions: To make this brisket in the slow cooker, you will still trim the excess fat from the brisket and rub it in mustard and the seasonings outlined in the recipe. But instead of placing it on a smoker, put it in the slow cooker with 1 cup of broth poured around it for a cooking liquid. Cook it on low for 6-8 hours until it is tender, but not falling apart. Check on it periodically–you can poke it with a probe to see when it’s tender enough to remove from the crockpot. If you cook it too long, you’ll have shredded beef on your hands

Nutrition

Calories: 407kcal

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