Anyone who barbeques will know that brisket is notoriously difficult to cook, and many amateurs have turned a 4lb brisket into a giant chunk of beef jerky. You shouldn’t let horror stories like this put you off though, there is no greater barbequing accomplishment than pulling a perfectly cooked brisket off the grill or out of the smoker after 10 hours tending to your fire.
Great brisket isn’t about fancy rubs, mops, marinades or BBQ sauce. In fact, brisket is a testament to the skills required to master low and slow cooking. Scott explains how to trim and prepare your brisket, as well as how to manage the fire during the long cook. He finishes up by explaining how to properly slice the brisket.
While Scott uses a Big Daddy smoker in this article, the techniques he uses for preparing, smoking, and slicing the brisket can still be used even if you are using a charcoal smoker, a converted kettle, or any other type of smoker or barbequing equipment.
There is a ton of great advice in this series, whether you’re smoking your first brisket or you’ve done this many times before.
TRIMMING THE BRISKET
The problem most people have with brisket is how tough the meat tends to be. This makes it the perfect meat for low and slow cooking. When selecting your brisket, look for marbling and a thick flat so the leaner part will cook at almost the same rate as the larger point.
Use a good, narrow, curved boning knife for trimming the brisket (using a blunt knife is good way to end up stabbing yourself). If you don’t trim any of the fat off the brisket, it will taste too fatty. However, trimming too much will make your brisket dry. Aim to trim off only around ¼” of the fat to make sure the brisket will turn out as tasty as possible.
Brisket is much easier to trim when it’s still cold, so trim it right after you take it out of the fridge. There is generally a thick membrane called the deckle that will not render out during the cooking, which you’ll need to cut out. Trim off any bits that are significantly thinner than the rest, as they cook too fast and are liable to burn.
Think about where the heat will be coming from, and how the brisket will be placed on your cooking surface. Areas that will run hotter can have a little more fat to help protect the meat. So long as you leave about ¼” of fat, and get a good shape, don’t worry too much about trimming. Remember, practice makes perfect.
USING A RUB
Surging in popularity in recent years is too utilize complicated rubs with chili powder, cumin, paprika, and other types of herbs or spices on their brisket. This is Texas style, so Scott uses even parts salt and black pepper, or my favorite rub SPG Salt, Pepper and Garlic.
The biggest mistake people make is putting too much rub on the brisket. You want to be conservative with the rub so that the flavor stands out. Let the brisket warm up to room temperature for an hour, prior to placing it in the smoker, for a more even cook.
POSITIONING YOUR BRISKET IN THE SMOKER
Place the brisket in the smoker with the fat side up. Depending on the style of smoker you are using, if the heat is coming from below, consider smoking with the fat side down to protect the muscle from drying out too much.
Place the fattier point of the brisket, closest to the fire. The extra fat will help insulate it. The flat end of the brisket should always be closer to the smoke stack. Using a water pan to help keep moisture in the cooking chamber is always a great way to avoid burning.
SMOKING YOUR BRISKET
A good rule of thumb for working out how long a brisket will take to cook is:
1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes per pound (0.45 kg) of brisket
at 250°F (120°C)
It’s important to remember that every brisket is different, so keep watch throughout the cooking process, and keep the temperature as steady as possible.
When the hood of the smoker is open, you will be losing heat and smoke very quickly, and it will take some time to recover any lost heat and smoke. If you’re looking, you ain’t cooking. Check it as little as possible, and if it’s looking dry, consider using a spray bottle with some apple juice or apple cider vinegar.
A great way to ensure that you’ll avoid opening the lid too often is to invest in a good quality wireless thermometer setup, with dual probes, so you can measure the temperature of the smoker as well as the internal temperature of the meat.
MASTERING FIRE MANAGEMENT
Try to avoid choking off the oxygen too much because that can cause what is known as a “dirty fire,” which essentially means that creosote (a thick, oily, substance caused by the burning of plant and wood matter) builds up and causes a bitter, oversmoked tasting meat.
Wood choice is equally as important, so try to avoid green wood or overly cured wood. It is not mentioned in this video, but Aaron recommends using very dry wood such as post oak that has been cured for 9-12 months. The idea is that you want to see clean heat coming out of the smoker, and not a load of smoke.
Knowing how your cooker operates, not just operating procedures via the manual, but throughout the cooking process, while also knowing how to manage your fire; this knowledge will only come from experience, so it is important to keep practicing, and not become discouraged if you don’t get things perfect right away.
KEEPING YOUR BRISKET MOIST
The practice of keeping a water pan in the smoker while cooking is really the best way to retain the moisture levels within the meat.
After the first 2-3 hours, start spritzing your brisket with water, apple juice, hot sauce, or apple cider vinegar every 30 minutes to an hour. This will help the meat stay moist, and it will prevent burning. Some people use a liquid mixture to mop the meat, but that process can be very messy, and it can interfere with the bark on the brisket.
WRAPPING YOUR BRISKET AND DEALING WITH THE DREADED STALL
If you are looking to get the “Texas Crunch,” wrapping your brisket in foil or butcher paper is an optional step that can help you in some circumstances. Scott wraps the brisket with butcher paper. If you can’t find it in the shops, you can get a roll of unwaxed butcher paper on Amazon affordably.
At this point, you might want to start cooking your BBQ sauce and sides.
Once wrapped, put the brisket back on at 250°F until done. Scott uses the appearance and feel of the brisket to measure when it’s done, but he has smoked thousands of briskets. We recommend using one of the leave-in thermometers reviewed here, and taking it off when it has reached an internal temperature of between 185-195°F.
SLICING YOUR BRISKET
Once you’ve taken the brisket off the cooker, and let it rest for about an hour, you are ready to slice.
It’s best to use a 12” serrated knife, or check out our breakdown of the best brisket slicing knives for more in depth reviews.
Cut against the grain on the flat side until you get to the point, then turn the brisket 90 degrees, and cut against the grain. Try to avoid scraping off the bark.
Cut each slice around the thickness of a big pencil on the fattier part, and a small pencil on the leaner parts. If you’re not going to use it right away, leave the brisket whole and cut it just before service so it doesn’t dry out.
Make sure the finished brisket is wrapped in butcher paper, foil, then a towel, and hold it in a cooler for a few hours. Brisket tends to be a very uneven meat. Some parts are fatty, some are lean, some are thick, and some are thin. It is for these reasons cooking brisket can take so long to master.