Smoked BBQ Brisket

Up close and personal with a slice of some smoked BBQ brisket.

Ah, brisket. The cut of beef I was so intimidated by when I first started BBQing. Gotta admit, I was working the smoker weekly when I started and it took me months to work up the courage to attempt it. After an experienced friend of mine smoked BBQ brisket with me for the first time, it didn’t seem so scary after all. If you are planning your first attempt at this beast of a cut, you’ve come to the right place. If you’ve smoked your share and are researching different methods, I applaud you for staying sharp in the craft.

I’ve cooked many of these smoked BBQ briskets over the last four years and done a variety of methods. I love brisket and it may be my favorite cut of beef to do on the smoker. The process will involve some work, patience, and attention to detail. But don’t be intimidated. It’s fun!

THE SUPER-CONDENSED VERSION

I’m about to dive into the specifics of each step of the brisket cooking process, but if you want to simply read the summary now and skip down to the recipe at the bottom, well you’re in luck because here it is!

I trim off the silver skin on the non fat side, trim some of the fat off of the skinny sides, especially where the point and flat overlap. I trim down to about a 1/2 inch on the fat side, which is a little more left on than others but I Smoke it fat side down because on the grills I use the indirect heat source comes from the bottom. That fat layer on the bottom helps protect the meat from burning. It’s like the fat is sacrificing itself for the meat. I rub with a S&P based rub, something simple for beef. I don’t go too generous, but cover it enough. I spritz a few times during the cook with Dr Pepper, which I think helps with the color more than the flavor. I measure temps where the point and flat overlap, pulling off when it hits 195-199F. I let it rest for 90 minutes to 2 hours before slicing. (NOTE: don’t forget you can make brisket burnt ends too!) If you want to read the breakdown, keep going!

TRIMMING THE BRISKET

Brisket diagram courtesy of eggheadforum.com

I have another blog post in which I review this in more detail and you are free to go check it out. For the sake of keeping this post from being a novel, I’ll go over the important points for you to know.

You trim a brisket for multiple reasons: to enhance the smoke penetrating the meat, creating some tasty bark, and removing some thick portions of fat that don’t render. There is one side of the brisket that has a bunch of fat on it, this is called the fat cap. The other side will have some light sections of fat on it, but likely a bunch of silver skin.

If cooking the brisket fat side down (recommended if your indirect heat source comes from the bottom: pellet grills, ceramic grills, drum smokers), then I recommend trimming down to about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch. I’ve burned the bottom of many a brisket going fat side up because the indirect heat source came from underneath. The heat cooks hotter when its closer to the source. Having the fat on the bottom will act as a protective layer to keep the meat from possibly getting a thin, burnt layer.

If going fat side up, I recommend trimming down to 1/4 inch. The hard fats don’t render, but can add a little flavor to your slices.

Brisket all trimmed up (this view is fat side down).

Here are some bullet points to that I elaborate on in my brisket trimming post:

  • plan about 20-30 minutes for trimming
  • a boning knife is preferred for the trimming due to the skinny point and curve
  • trim fat side down 1/4 inch for cooking fat side up, 1/4 to 1/2 for fat side down
  • trim off the light fat and silver skin on other side of brisket. Silver skin will make for a tougher chew and keep smoke from penetrating meat as well.
  • don’t cut into the fat that separates the point and the flat
  • cut off any little flaps of meat on the brisket. These portions will burn to a crisp due to smoking for many hours
  • best to trim brisket straight out of the fridge. Fat will be harder thus easier to trim

RUB AND REST

Now that the trimming is out of the way, we can get to the applying the seasonings, or the rub as us BBQers call it. If using a bottle of rub, it is recommended to go with one that is more savory as compared to the sweet rubs which are great for pork. As for me, I like to go simple with brisket: 2 Tbsp kosher salt, 2 Tbsp ground pepper, and 1 Tbsp garlic powder.

While you may go generous on the rub when doing another meat such as pork shoulder, I like to go modest to medium on brisket to let the natural meat flavor stand out. Make sure to apply rub on all sides of the brisket, even the narrow thin ones. The crust will have good flavor and compliment the real star of the show, the beef.

Brisket trimmed, rubbed, and awaiting the smoke treatment.

You can let the beef sit at room temperature for a little while without the risk of contamination (unlike poultry and pork), so feel free to let the meat sit for about 20-30 minutes to let the rub soak in a little before hitting the grill. NOTE: before applying rub and letting meat rest would be a good time to get grill/smoker going.

TIME FOR THE LONG SMOKE SESSION

Get your heat source for your grill/smoker up to 250F using indirect heat. As far as smoking wood goes, I have a few that I like, such as hickory, pecan, and oak. To stick with traditional Texas-style brisket, let’s go with oak (post oak to be more specific).

Place the brisket on the grill either fat side up or fat side down (I prefer fat side down due to the types of grills I own: ceramic, pellet, and drum smoker. I explained this earlier in the trimming section). I like to put a water pan in the main chamber to help keep the meat from drying out (then again, I do live in a dry, desert climate).

I do like to spritz with Dr Pepper two or three times during the cook. To help the Dr Pepper spray better, open the can hours before spritzing. This helps the soda to go flat and spray better. I love the color it helps impart and the subtle flavor it gives the bark.

THE EFFIN’ STALL

During the first few hours of the cook, the meat temps will climb quick. Even at the 250F smoking temp, I’ve had briskets go from 50F to 130F internal in three hours. You would think with that type of start that you’re on pace to finish in two more hours. But the brisket will eventually hit a point that it’s internal temperature will stop climbing and level out. This is called “the stall”.

The stall usually happens around 160F. To get a deeper dive in the science of it, the folks over at Amazing Ribs have a great article on it. To summarize, the meat starts sweating and the moisture evaporates and cools the meat. With that said, this is about the time I stop spritzing. The internal meat temp will stay leveled out in this zone for hours.

The smoked BBQ brisket getting wrapped in pink butcher paper to help accelerate the cooking process.

There is a common method to push through this and it’s known as the “Texas crutch”. The Texas crutch is when you wrap the meat in either foil or pink butcher paper to accelerate the temperature the meat is cooking at and giving it no choice but to cook faster.

If going with this method, I prefer the pink (or peach) butcher paper as it allows air flow to go through while still retaining heat. Foil traps the heat and creates moisture inside the cocoon you’ve created and can cause the outside of the meat (aka-the bark) to get soggy and feel like roast beef. If you do go the foil route, I recommend unwrapping during the last hour or so of the cook to help the bark develop.

WHEN IS THE SMOKED BBQ BRISKET DONE?

Smoked BBQ brisket resting and begging to be sliced.

There’s some debate on how to tell when the brisket is done. Some go by time, others by temp, and those who prefer by feel. I don’t like going by time because every cut of brisket is different and cooks different. I recommend temp because it is easier to monitor throughout the process.

On a whole (or packer) brisket, make sure to put the meat probe in the section where the point and the flap overlap. Go halfway in. When the temps reach between 197-201F, pull off the grill and let the smoked BBQ brisket rest. At first, the temp will rise a few degrees while resting but then start to cool off. Let rest about 90 minutes to two hours before slicing. Speaking of…

SLICING IT UP

The flat portion of the smoked BBQ brisket sliced and ready to devour!

Whole briskets have two different sections of meat and the grains go different ways. I like to slice down the middle to separate where the point and the flat are, against the grain. Slicing against the grain makes for a more tender bite. Find the directions the grains go and slice the opposite way for the best meat experience.

Some say a good measure of a great brisket is the smoke ring and the color of the bark. While these features are aesthetically pleasing and quite photogenic, they don’t necessarily mean the brisket automatically tastes good. I’ve overcooked briskets that passed the eye test more than once. Also, I’ve had briskets with very little smoke ring and not as dark of bark but still tasted pretty good. Bottom line is, go off of flavor. If it tastes good to you, then you did it right!

As a reminder, you can use the point portion of the brisket to cube up and turn into mouthwatering burnt ends! Enjoy!

THE RECIPE

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Brisket is the king of all barbecued meats. It can be intimidating to cook due to the time and cost, but this recipe will guide you and make you look like a natural to your friends and family!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 12 hours
Additional Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 14 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 whole (or packer) brisket (11-14 lbs.)
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • 3 oz. Dr Pepper (for spritzing)

Instructions

  1. Preheat grill/smoker to 250F using indirect heat and oak wood
  2. Remove brisket from packaging. Trim fat side of brisket down to 1/4 inch (boning knife preferred). Flip brisket over and trim off silver skin. Also trim off any random flaps of meat as they will burn during cooking.
  3. Mix kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder together and apply on brisket. Apply more on the exposed meat and less on the fat.
  4. Place brisket on grill fat side down. Spritz with Dr Pepper a few times during cook. Wrap in pink butcher paper when meat reaches internal temp in the 160s to accelerate cooking process. Let cook for 12 hours or until internal meat temps reach between 197-201F.
  5. Remove brisket from grill, unwrap and let rest for 90 minutes before slicing. When slicing, pencil thin is the ideal width.

Notes

  1. It's best to trim the brisket straight out of the refrigerator while it's cold due to the fat being more solid and easier to cut off.
  2. After seasoning brisket, one option is to let the brisket rest for about 30 minutes before putting on grill. Some do this to let the meat sweat a little and let the seasonings blend in.
  3. If you don't have oak wood, other woods such as hickory or mesquite will work too (I like pecan with beef, as well)
  4. Measure internal meat temps by placing digital thermometer into the spot where the point and flap overlap. Push thermometer halfway in.
  5. If cutting sugar from your diet, spritz with beef stock or beef broth instead of Dr Pepper

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

4 oz

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 330 Total Fat: 21g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 120mg Sodium: 120mg Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Protein: 32g

Brisket!

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After months of being intimidated contemplating, I decided it was finally time to take on the brisket. I have built this up in my mind as the Mt. Everest of barbecue: the true test of preparation, patience, and execution. I decided I needed to do this with an expert, so I enlisted the help of my buddy Brandon. He has been the Jedi to my padawan, the Obi-Wan to my Luke, the Mr. Feeney to my Cory Mathews.

Meat: brisket (packer, aka-“full brisket”)

Ingredients: beef rub, spicy brown mustard

Wood: cherry

Smoke: 250°F/121°C

Finish Temperature: 195°F/90.6°C

With brisket, I’ve learned there’s two main types: flat and packer. The flat is the more lean part of the cut and consists of the flat muscle while the packer has both this and the point muscle, which comes attached to the flat and is surrounded by fat, which makes this part of the meat quite juicy and flavorful. For this smoke, we went with the packer cut.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of www.amazingribs.com

We let the brisket rest on the counter for a while so it wouldn’t be so cold when we put it on the smoker. That way, it takes a little less time to smoke and we let the rub settle in. Prior to that, we cut some fat from off of the top, cutting it down to 1/4 inch. Then we applied the spicy brown mustard on both sides, which adds some flavor and helps the rub stick. Once the mustard is on, the rub gets applied. Since beef is rather bland, we put on a generous amount of rub to flavor it. We let it sit like this for about an hour before putting it on the smoker.

Prepped and ready to smoke.
Prepped and ready to smoke.

We put it in the offset smoker on Friday evening at 250°F and left it untouched for six hours, occasionally putting in more coals and cherry wood. Since it was 1:00 a.m. and we aren’t in college anymore, we decided to pull the brisket out, double-wrap it in heavy duty foil, and then put it in the oven at 250° overnight while we got some much needed shut eye.

All in all, the meat was on for 15 hours before it reached the internal temp of 190°F and we left it wrapped on the counter to cook a little more. Then we unwrapped it and let it rest so the muscles can expand and let more juices in. The outside of the meat will look burnt, but that is supposed to happen. While I’m not a fan of eating anything burnt, an exception is made for brisket (and those burnt ends. Mmmm…)

Burnt on the outside, just right on the inside.
Burnt on the outside, just right on the inside.

When cutting the meat, make sure you cut against the grain. That way, it is more tender to the taste and easier to chew. Once this was done it was time to chow down! If you’re like me, you like to eat as you cut because you need to make sure it is as awesome as you hoped it would be for all of those hours of waiting…or because you want to hog the best pieces for yourself.

Truth be told: not all of this made it to my family.
Truth be told: not all of this made it to my family.

The brisket was fantastic! I’m so glad I tried it and had the help of a friend. I’m excited to do this on my own next time and tell you all about it.

Do you have any tips, ideas, or suggestions? Please leave a comment.