How to BBQ Brisket like the Pros
In many parts of the country, beef brisket is BBQ. Indelibly tough and bland when cooked with conventional methods, brisket magically transforms, after a long bath in smoke, into a melt-in-your mouth, sweet, savory, smoky treat.
Starting with a full 10-12 pound brisket (called a "Packer.") A “packer” brisket is made up of two parts, the flat, and the point.
The "flat" runs the whole length of the brisket (slice this against the grain and serve as brisket) while the "point" is a cap that sits on top of one end. (It's this cap or "point" you want to use for your burnt ends, more on that later...)
- 1/4 cup sea salt
- 1/4 cup Hickory salt
- 1/3 cup coarse black pepper
- 1/3 cup granulated garlic
First, mix all of the rub ingredients together in a shaker bottle with large holes.
One hour before smoking, pat the brisket dry, and set in on a sheet of butcher paper in a rimmed baking dish. Next, trim off as much of the hard, external fat as you can, until only about 1/4 inch remains.
Next, coat both sides of the meat with all of the rub, patting it down with your hands (gloves come in handy, here) and let it rest for an hour, then put the brisket in your smoker, is a disposable pan(s), inserting a probe thermometer into the thick end (the point) of the meat.
Now sit back and pop a cold beverage, and enjoy the smoke while your brisket smoked to perfection. There are plenty of wood options, but I prefer a mix of oak and pecan.
Keep the temperature inside the smoker between 225-250F degrees (a little fluctuation is okay.) After your brisket has been smoking for 4 hours, start keeping a close eye on the temperature, so you can crutch* it before the stall begins, and maintain as much moisture as possible. You should hit the 160F mark, between 4-5 hours.
Now it's time to wrap. I like to start with a 6ft long piece of heavy foil, or butcher paper, folded in half (lengthwise), and wrap the brisket tightly, making sure it's fully covered. It helps to tie it at both ends with a couple of slip-knots of kitchen string.
Sometimes called the “Texas Crutch” this is a technique employed by the pros about two-thirds of the way through smoking large cuts of meat (around 160F.)
The meat is removed from the smoker, wrapped in a double layer of heavy foil, or butcher paper*, and then returned to the heat. The reason for this is that the meat has already absorbed all the smoke it’s going to and may start to dry out at this point (due to the stall).
Wrapping it holds the moisture in, surrounding the meat in nearly 100% humidity, which negates the evaporation, and prevents that drying.
While pit-masters have been using foil to crutch, pretty much as long as there’s been foil, a newer method is gaining widespread popularity, mainly due to the fact that’s it’s used by Aaron Franklin, owner of the world-famous Franklin’s BBQ in Texas, who smokes, arguably, the best brisket in America…possibly in the world.
The one downside to foil is that it can do it’s good too well, by not allowing ANY moisture to evaporate, it begins to steam the meat, instead of the dry-heat roasting you want. Steaming can create a “crock-pot” environment (and we all know how I feel about that) producing mushy meat with no structure to allow for slicing.
Franklin, and now other (including myself), replaces the aluminum foil with unwaxed butcher-paper, which can breathe a little, where foil cannot. The paper holds in most of the moisture but allows enough to escape to keep from creating a steam-bath.
So, you raise the heat and humidity enough to break the stall and continue cooking, but not enough to end up with brisket flavored baby-food.
See? No reason to panic! 😉
Next, bring the smoker up to 300F, and return the wrapped brisket to the box, and continue cooking until the brisket reaches 205F (typically around 2 hours).
When the weather's bad, or I'm running low on charcoal, I'll do this step in a pre-heated (300F) oven for around 2 hours. If you have trouble maintaining an even temperature in your smoker, this is probably a good idea, as well.
At 205F, I remove the brisket from the box, unwrap, and let it rest 1 hour at room temp. If I'm not serving it right away, I'll put the whole brisket, still wrapped, in a cooler to rest until serving.
Note: Make sure to unwrap it carefully, in a rimmed pan, to catch any juices. I usually de-fat these drippings, and either drizzle them over the plated meal or save them for flavoring beans.
After resting, I slice the brisket in pencil wide slices, against the grain.
One Ring to Rule Them All..
(The Smoke Ring)
Definition: In the world of barbecue the smoke ring is one of the most sought after properties of smoked meats. It is believed to show that you have done a good job and properly low and slow smoked the meat in question. Is particularly prized in smoked brisket.
So what is it?
A smoke ring is a pink discoloration of meat just under the surface crust (known as bark). It can be just a thin line of pink or a rather thick layer.
A good smoke ring is around a 1/4 inch in thickness. The smoke ring is caused by nitric acid building up in the surface of the meat, absorbed from the surface. This nitric acid is formed when nitrogen dioxide from wood combustion in smoke mixes with the natural water in the meat. Basically, it is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat and a prized element in all types and variations of traditional barbecue.
So how to do you get the best smoke ring?
Generally, water-soaked wood produces more nitrogen dioxide loaded smoke than dry wood, but only by a small margin. If you really want to make sure you get a smoke ring then cheat. Coating meat with a salt tenderizer like Morton's Tender Quick will load up the surface of the meat with nitrogen dioxide and give you a great smoke ring.
Because of the prevalence of this kind of "cheating", smoke rings are no longer taken into consideration in barbecue competitions.
Chef Perry's Tips for Better Brisket
If you have a frozen brisket, let it thaw in the refrigerator for 2 days to defrost thoroughly. Two hours before you plan to begin cooking, take the brisket from the refrigerator. Remove the plastic packaging, rinse brisket well with cool water, and pat dry.
Trim, but DO NOT remove ALL of the fat; it provides moisture and flavor as the brisket cooks.
Spritz the meat with apple juice and add 1/8" of the same juice to the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with foil and heat in a 200-250°F oven until warmed to your liking. Just before serving, brush on a thin layer of your favorite barbecue sauce to give the slices a nice sheen.
If you prefer to keep the cooked brisket whole and unsliced, wrap it in foil and refrigerate. Before reheating, open the foil and add some juice or broth as described above, and close the foil tightly.
Heat in the oven or smoker at 200-250°F until warmed to your liking, then slice and serve.
At a minimum, place the brisket on a rimmed baking pan, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 30 minutes before slicing. 60-90 minutes in a closed cooler is better.
When you take into account the trimming of the brisket before and after cooking, plus the shrinkage that occurs during cooking, don't be surprised if you end up with a 50% yield of edible meat from a whole, untrimmed brisket.
That means 6 pounds of edible meat from a 12-pound brisket.
Depending on the brisket and the internal temp you cook it to, it may be as low as 40% or as high as 60%.
If you're cooking brisket for a party, figure 4-5 ounces of meat per sandwich or 6-oz of sliced meat on a plate (8 ounces for hearty eaters). Using a 40% yield, just to be safe, a 12-pound brisket yields 19 4-oz sandwiches or almost 13 6-ounce plate servings.
Traditionally, burnt ends sold in restaurants were the dry edges and leftover bits and pieces of the brisket flat after slicing, mixed with barbecue sauce. These morsels were highly prized for their intense, smoky flavor.
Today, famous barbecue joints like Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City can't meet the demand for burnt ends using leftover bits, so they make a facsimile by cubing fully cooked brisket flats, placing the cubes in a pan and smoking them for a couple of hours, then adding sauce and smoking for a couple more hours.
Another approach for making burnt ends is to separate the point section from the flat section after the flat is done, then return the point to the cooker for smoke for an additional 4-6 hours.
Chop the point, mix with barbecue sauce, and enjoy.
Brisket, along with whole smoked pig, and pulled pork shoulder are the epitome of traditional, low and slow, old-school BBQ.
Settle for nothing less!