There is no denying smoked meat is tasty! In this Instructable, I'm going to show you how I smoke beef brisket, the coveted BBQ that when done right is a treat to the taste buds and satisfies the carnivore in us.
People have their own secret rub, spices and methods for smoking brisket but I like to keep it simple. I have tried different rubs, sauces with various degrees of success. After hearing about Franklin BBQ and how he does it, I have since adopted his method and find the best method is letting the meat take on the flavor of cooking meat over fire and absorbing the smoky goodness. I am going to smoke the brisket using mostly wood burning so it's lightly different than how people at home would smoke meat as it takes a bit more work but I think the results are worth it.
The only way to describe smoked brisket that has been cooked low and slow is it comes out buttery and candy-like, especially the bark around the brisket.
Smoking a brisket will generally take about 12 hours, with a few variable affect it such as the amount of meat being cooked, the temperature outside, the temperature of the cooker.
So enough chat, lets get to it!
Step 1: You Will Need
The following is what is needed to smoke brisket:
- Packers cut beef brisket: ask your butcher for the packers cut.
- Equal parts salt and ground pepper
- Granulated garlic
- Smoker or BBQ
- Butchers paper or tinfoil or parchment paper
- Lump charcoal
- Various hardwoods
- Brisket - A tough cut of beef from the chest area of the cow
- Point - The thick and fatty part of the brisket
- Flat - The thinner and less fatty part of the brisket
- Bark - The dark outside of the brisket after cooking
Step 2: Video of the Cook
Here is my video documenting the whole cook from start to finish:
Step 3: Trimming and Preparing the Brisket
The first step is to prep the brisket so it can be ready for smoking. A note about the brisket, I get a "packers cuts" from my butcher. The brisket comes from the chest area of the cow, it's a tough cut of meat that was at one time really cheap but now is getting much more expensive because of demand. It's got a thick layer of fat and lots of connective tissue that when cooked at low heat over a long period of time it renders and breakdowns into moist and tender meat. It's made up of two parts, "the point" which is the thicker section with more fat and "the flat" the thinner less fatty part of the brisket. On the brisket is a "fat cap" which is a piece of fat that covers the entire lengthof the brisket.
The general steps for trimming are as follows:
- The brisket is big so to fit my smoker I cut it in half, separating the point and the flat. This lets it fit in my smoker and also I can remove the flat from the smoker earlier as it will take less time to cook.
- Trim the fat cap of the brisket all the way around so the fat is about 1/4" thick. You want just enough fat so over the long cook of 12 hours the fat will keep the meat moist.
- The harder pieces of fat around the edges should be removed as it doesn't render very well.
- Trim any hanging or loose pieces of meat as these will just burn up when cooking.
- Trim the corners so they are round
For the rub I just use equal parts salt and pepper mixed in a spice shaker and also I like applying some granulated garlic.
- Using a spice shaker mix up the salt and pepper.
- Apply a coat of vegetable oil over the whole brisket, this will help the rub stick to the meat.
- Apply the rub by shaking the spice shaker up high so a nice even coat of rub lands on the brisket.
- Apply some granulated garlic like the salt and pepper.
- Don't apply to thick of a coating, you want to be able to still see spaces between the spices.
Because the cook will take 12 hours, I like to do the prep work the night before and then stick the brisket in the fridge covered with plastic wrap.
Step 4: The Cook
So now that the brisket is ready to be cooked, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is a long process but an easy one. There is nothing magical about smoking meat, you just need to keep the meat at a certain temperature and hold for a period of time and it will become tender. At least that is the theory, in practice it can take a few tries to know your cooker, if it has hot spots and how much management it needs.
I am using a vertical cabinet smoker so I can burn wood. I learned after trial and error that I can burn wood in my smoker but only small pieces, if I use big pieces the fire gets too hot. So I split larger pieces of wood into small kindling size pieces that burn really nice and clean. The disadvantage to this is I need to feed my smoker every 20-30 minutes to keep the fire going. The reason for feeding the fire so often is to get clean smoke, dark smouldering smoke should be avoided as it has a bitterness to that type of smoke. Kamado (egg) type cookers can be used but I find they work more like an oven than smoker, they maintain heat super well, too well to work for smoking. I own a Kamado but since switching over to a real smoker the difference is noticeable. A cheap BBQ can make great smoked meat, you just need to know your machine and it's limitations and how to work around them.
Starting the Fire, Wood and Charcoal
I first start a small batch of lump charcoal in a charcoal chimney so I have a fire base to work with. I dump the charcoal into the smoker and let it burn until the smoker warms up. I like using lump charcoal instead of briquettes as it burns hotter and very little ash is left over. Then I start adding firewood, I like using maple as it burns well and has a nice clean smoke. You can generally use any type of hardwood, I also like using apple wood and hickory, avoid using mesquite, it's way too strong for a long cook. I use about 2 pieces of firewood split into small pieces for this cook.
To keepcook chamber moist and to help keep the meat from drying out too quickly I add a water pan. It also acts like a moderator or heat sink to help maintain temperatures.
Let the smoker warm up to 250F and then add the meat. I am placing the larger "point" closer to the fire and the "flat" on top as it's thinner so it's further away from the fire. I like keeping the fat cap up but some people put it down, I like up so the fat bastes the meat as it's cooking.
Now it's just time to wait and let the heat do it's stuff. There is a saying "if your looking you ain't cooking" and once heard it I completely understood what it meant. Don't open and check on the meat unless you suspect it's burning, every time you open and check on it you lose heat and it takes time to make it back up. Which then extends the cook time.
During this time I just keep checking the fire and adding wood as needed, if it gets too hot I don't add as much wood, if it's too cool I add more.
I like to check around the 2-3 hour mark and spritz the meat with some water. Then I check again at 4 hour mark.
Step 5: Wrapping the Brisket
At the 5 hour mark the "flat" is ready and can be removed and wrapped. I spritz with water and wrap with butchers paper, it allows the meat to breath but keeps the meat from drying out too quickly, they call this the "Texas cheat or Texas crutch". I have used tin foil in the past for my first few cooks and it works but what I find is the meat tends to "pot roast" in the foil. It still comes out great but butchers paper is just that much better. If you don't want to get a big roll of butchers paper (as it's the only way you can get it) you can probably use parchment paper too.
To handle the meat in the smoker I use silicone gloves but a tea towel works well too, you don't want to handle the brisket with utensils as it will ruin the bark formation. I let the "point" cook for another hour before wrapping, since it is a thicker cut it can take more direct heat from the fire before wrapping.
Once the brisket is wrapped I place both the point an flat into an oven set at 250F. I rested it on a wire rack on top of a cookie tray so the meat wasn't sitting in a pool of it's own juices and fat as this will prevent proper bark formation on the bottom. You can leave it on the smoker and keep the temperature at 250F but, really at this point the meat isn't going to absorb any more smoke since it's wrapped so I don't see any point in leaving it on.
Some people like to leave it on the cooker but this is just the way I like to do it and I get excellent results. I check the flat after another 5 hours, I can tell by feel that it's ready, it should feel soft when pushed (this comes with practice). The point was ready 6 hours after wrapping, it was left to rest and cool for 30-60 minutes before cutting so it firms up a bit and makes it much easier to cut.
Step 6: Cutting the Brisket
After the long cook, the brisket should have a nice dark bark all over the surface. At first glance you might think it's burnt but it's not. This is the delicious buttery, candy-like goodness that we have been working towards all day. No other type of BBQed meat produces this bark.
There is a real art to cutting brisket, one that I have not quite yet mastered. There is a grain in the meat and you want to cut against the grain when slicing brisket. Each slice should be sliced to about 1/4" thick. The flat is easy to slice as the grain of the meat mostly runs in one direction. The point changes grain depending on which part of the point is being sliced.
If you cut into the meat and notice the grain is running length wise, change direction by 90 degrees and try again. After slicing, make sure to keep the pieces meat together so it doesn't dry out. Make sure each slice has a piece of the bark, the bark is the best part! Regardless how it's cut, the brisket will taste awesome. It can be served with some BBQ sauce if you like but the best BBQ doesn't need sauce.
After cutting serve it right away and enjoy!