It's no secret that I love smoked brisket in all it's beefy, delicious goodness whether it's sliced, chopped, or made into burnt ends.. I love the stuff. It's a great game day food and in this recipe, I'm going to walk you through the process of preparing and cooking a brisket in the smoker so that it comes out a winner.
I highly recommend you try my perfectly balanced, original sweet and spicy rub on this brisket. Some will tell you not to use rubs with sugar on brisket.. I aim to change your mind with this recipe. If you insist otherwise, you can always use my Texas rub with great results.
I promise you’ll love my dry rub/seasoning recipes and my barbecue sauce recipe or you don’t pay!
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Place the brisket meaty side up (fat side down) on a cutting board or better yet, down into a large, deep foil pan to help contain the mess.
Notice how you can see the strands of the meat and the direction that they run? This is called the grain but once we have rub on the meat, you won't be able to see this grain direction
For this reason, it's a good idea to mark this somehow so you'll know how to slice it later.
We always slice across the grain as this gives you the most tender bite.
I sometimes notch the meat but an even better idea is to simply run an extra long toothpick through it in the same direction that the slices need to be cut. This stays in throughout the cooking process.
This side will be facing down in the smoker but let's season it up before we flip it over.
I sometimes use mustard, spicy mustard, olive oil, barbecue sauce, etc. to create a sticky surface on the meat so the rub will stick. Rub is no good to anyone if it just simply falls off when you flip it over or when you are placing it on the smoker grate. A sticky surface under the rub fixes this problem.
Pour on some molasses..
Then use your hands or a cooking brush to spread it out all over this side of the brisket.
Let it sit for 5 minutes or so before flipping it over.
The fatty side of the brisket called the “fat cap” only needs to be about ¼ inch thick. You can trim it down to this thickness using a sharp knife if you want to.
As you can imagine, the smoke and rub does not get through that layer of fat so you might wonder why we leave it on instead of just trimming it all off..
Well, during the cooking process, this fat will begin to melt and as it does, this super tasty juices will flow over the brisket and down the sides sort of self-basting.
One thing that I like to do and it has proven to be a great method is to cut a crosshatch pattern into the fat cap. Try not to cut into the meat but it's not the end of the world if it does happen.
This allows the juices to get trapped a little down next to the meat helping to keep it more moist. It also gives the rub a place to hold on to so the melting fat cap doesn't just wash all of the rub away. I also believe this gives the smoke just a little bit of access to the meat that it wouldn't have on that side otherwise.
Now let's do the molasses thing to the fat cap..
The brisket is now in the correct configuration and is ready for the smoker.
Set up your smoker for cooking with indirect heat at about 240°F if possible. Lower heat is ok if you must but, just know that this means it will take your brisket a little longer to get done.
If your smoker has a water pan, fill it up with water.
When the smoker is ready, place the brisket on the smoker grate fat side up and close the door or lid.
I used a pecan/cherry mix but any good smoking wood will work great.
For large, normal sized packer briskets, you can expect it to take about 5-6 hours to reach 155-160°F which is the point at which some folks wrap the brisket in foil or paper.
I love my orange ThermoPop and because it reads so fast (3-4 seconds), I can raise the lid, get a reading and close the lid in under 5 seconds. That's lightning speed in the world of instant read thermometers. If you don't have one, these are very affordable at $29. The fact that I can get them in 9 beautiful colors, it's splash-proof so I can wash it easily and the read-out rotates depending on how I want to hold it just sweetens the deal even more!
Should you wrap the brisket once it reaches 155-160°F?
Wrapping a brisket helps it to get done faster, creates a more tender brisket, and it helps to retain the moisture so it ends up a little more juicy. The bad side is that the bark can end up soggy instead of nice and crisp.
Wrapping in paper does help the bark to maintain most of it's crispness and seems to be what a lot of folks are using nowadays. I sometimes wrap in paper or foil but often I choose to leave it alone.
This is completely your decision to make so if you haven't tried wrapping, you probably should so you can make a good decision on whether to wrap or not wrap on future briskets.
If you do decide to wrap, just simply wrap it in foil or paper making sure it is tightly closed. Double wrapping is not a bad idea to ensure it won't leak. Place it back in the smoker as quickly as possible in the same configuration as before.
Continue cooking the brisket until it reaches about 185-190°F at which point I start checking it for tenderness using the butter test.
The butter test means that when a brisket is perfectly done, pushing a sharp probe or skewer into it should feel like it's going into soft, room temperature butter.
I put a half-stick of butter on the counter for a couple of hours to soften so I could compare the feel..
I then slid a wooden skewer into the top of the stick of butter before probing the center of the brisket flat. You can do this at home to get a feel for what a done brisket feels like.
It should go right in with very little resistance when it is done.
Usually this ends up being about 196-198°F and can even be 200°F or so but it's a great way to learn how to tell when brisket has reached it's sweet spot.
Once the brisket hits this “sweet spot” I recommend removing it from the heat right away.
Before serving the brisket, it needs to be rested for 1.5 to 2 hours in a dry, empty cooler wrapped in a layer of foil during which time, the juices will redistribute throughout the meat and it will end up being more juicy and tender than it would if you skipped this step.
Place the brisket on a long piece of heavy duty foil..
Wrap the foil completely around the brisket..
Place the brisket down in the cooler..
I like to place pillows, towels, etc. on top of the brisket to insulate it while it rests.
Once the brisket is rested, it can be removed from the foil wrapping and sliced up for serving.
Beautiful mahogany color and juices puddling on top..
(don't forget to remove the toothpick)
First cut.. and beautiful smoke ring.
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There's nothing better on game day than smoked brisket and in this recipe, I'll show you how to prep and cook it from start to finish and end up with a winner.