Welcome to the April 2010 edition of the Smoking Meat newsletter. With beautiful spring weather upon us (at least in Oklahoma) I have been getting the smoking bug a lot more often and I find myself offering to cook dinner outdoors a lot more often than usual.

If only we could keep this kind of weather all year long.. wouldn't that be a paradise!!

This month is all about brisket so with no further introduction required.. let's get right into it.

The Brisket Video I Promised

I promised all of you a video on smoking brisket and I have delivered. It was very windy as usual in Oklahoma and I still don't have the exact equipment that I need but I am trying to do my best with what I have. After all it's free and my main goal is to teach the methods visually which is so much better than just reading a bunch of text for a lot of you.

My brisket method is pretty simple, I trim the fat, score the fat, apply the rub then place it in a pan on the grate to smoke for 1.5 hours per pound or more. You will see all of this and more demonstrated in the following video:

Smoking Brisket Juicy, Tender and Tasty

I will tell you right up front that this is a very long tutorial on smoking brisket. I have tried to cover anything and everything about smoking brisket and while you may not see the need to read all of it now, it will be a great reference tool for later.

The brisket is one tough cookie when it comes to meats. It is so tough that it seems almost like it was never meant to be eaten. Ironically, it is extremely tasty and has loads of fat running through it making it a prime candidate for a juicy morsel of tantalizingly flavorful meat. Those who are patient and willing to follow a carefully prescribed method can find themselves at dinnertime with some really wonderful tasting meat in my opinion.

The key to brisket is low and slow. The second key to brisket is it ain't done until it's tender. Forget about temperature if you have to. The tenderness will tell you when it's done. Usually tenderness happens at or above a certain temperature which I will get into laterbut it must be tender or it's not done.

Don't forget that, OK?!!

Now let's just start at the beginning with purchasing a brisket and I will walk you through every step of the process from there and forward.

Purchasing a Brisket

Briskets are not super expensive usually.. I find packer cut briskets (which is what you want to buy) anywhere between $1.49 to $1.99 per pound on a fairly regular basic and this is something I can live with.

I know that briskets are very tough by nature so right off the bat, I am looking for the most tender brisket in the store. How do I do that? Well, here.. let me show you.

Find a packer cut brisket in the 8-10 pound range and if it is wrapped in only plastic, hold your hand out like your are going to shake someone's hand and balance the brisket on the edge of your hand.

Watch the bend at both ends of the brisket. The brisket with the most bend is a good candidate for being the most tender. How do I know that? Just lots of experience in picking out briskets, that's all.

If your store sells the briskets on a styrofoam plate then you will not be able to see the bend in the store. Not to worry, I will still be able to show you how to make it tender and juicy.

You also want to look for a good fat cap. You only need about 1/4 inch so if there is more than this it can be trimmed away pretty easily.

Prepping the Brisket

Unlike a lot of folks, I do very little to prep my briskets for smoking. I have been able to get a tender, tasty and juicy brisket by keeping things very simple and I figure why fix something if it's not broken.

Should You Inject a Brisket
If you choose to do so, you can inject briskets with marinades which can range from something as simple as Dr. Pepper to a mixture of melted butter, worcestershire and other liquids such as beer, apple juice, soy sauce, etc. in any number of combinations.

I am not the one to best inform you on what works the best. I would say that we probably have some folks over at the forum who do inject their briskets and could let you in on one of their secret blends. You can check out the forum later at smokingmeatforums.com if this interests you.

My basic prep includes the following steps:

  • Trimming the Fat
  • Scoring the fat cap
  • applying mustard/rub
  • and nothing else

See, I told you it was simple.

Trimming the fat consists of just getting rid of any fat that seems to be more than about 1/4 inch thick. I don't actually measure it but if it looks thicker than this I will trim it down a little. I want some fat since it renders during the long time in the smoker and keeps the top of the brisket basted with those tasty juices.

Spend a couple of minutes on this and don't get too precise with it.

Scoring the fat cap simply means we are going to cut through the fat down to where the meat starts. I do this lengthwise then crosswise in about 1 inch increments.

Why score the fat? That's simple..

  • it allows the smoke to get down to the meat better
  • it creates pockets to collect and hold the juices
  • it allows a place for the rub to “grab” on to

Now we need something to help the rub to stick a little better. For this you can use any number of things such as olive oil, worcestershire, butter, honey, etc. but I prefer to use regular yellow mustard.

Squeeze out a little mustard onto the top of the brisket and rub it in a little. Pour on about a half cup of rub then massage the mustard/rub into the brisket. You will notice that alot of this mixture will get down in those score marks that we made. This is exactly what you want.

Turn the brisket over and do the same mustard/rub massage on the bottom and sides of the brisket.

Flip it back over and add a little more on the top if you like.

I know what you're thinking and I don't even claim to have ESP;-) Why not do the bottom first then flip it over and do the top?

Well, you could but I like to add some extra rub after the initial rub on the top has started “wetting” and this just works for me. If you prefer to do bottom first then flip and do the top, be my guest. Make it fun, do what works for you and you will end up with something wonderful.

Order my amazing rub recipe

Leave the brisket sitting as we now need to go get the smoker ready.

Prepare the Smoker

I chose to use the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker hereafter referred to as the “WSM” in preparing for this newsletter and the accompanying video. I will tell you that you will need to be able to keep the smoker going for a very long time so brisket is probably not the best thing to start with if you are an absolute beginner with your smoker.

I used an 8 pound brisket for this newsletter and it took just over 13 hours at 225-240°F and luckily the WSM does this easily using the Minion method. Some folks choose to use gas or electric when cooking briskets since the best time to cook these is overnight in order to have it ready for the next day at lunch or dinner.

Whatever smoker you decide to use, do what is required to get it to 225-240°F and once it is maintaining this temperature you are ready to place the brisket in the smoker.

Smoking Brisket Directly on the Grate

Traditionally briskets are placed directly on the grate fat side up as this gives the best bark and allows the fat cap to render and keep the brisket basted. Some folks also place the brisket on the grate but fat side down as they say this protects the brisket from the harsh heat below and turns out a more moist brisket.

Then you have the brisket flipping method (I made up that term..can you tell?) which is simply placing the brisket directly on the grate for 4 hours then flipping it every 1.5 hours thereafter until it is done however long that takes. A generous mop is applied after every flip. This used to by my standard way of cooking briskets and I basted with my very own “mop water” Here is the recipe:

Mop Water Recipe

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 stick of REAL butter
  • 2 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning

Microwave to melt the butter into the water, add the seasoning and mix well.

Brisket in a Pan Method

Many folks cook briskets in a pan and this is a favorite method of mine since it allows me to catch the juices and the brisket turns out extremely juicy since it sits in the pan with the juices and the brisket acts like a sponge and soaks up a lot of those juices while it cooks.

For this method, place the brisket in a large throw away aluminum pan with fat side up for 4 hours then fat side down for a couple of hours then back to fat side up for the remaining time in the smoker.

Brisket Above a Pan Method

I tried this method for the first time in this newsletter write-up. I purchased an enamel coated pan with a rack for this purpose and set the brisket on the rack which held it about 3 inches above the bottom of the pan.

I did not flip the brisket at all since I felt like the smoke could easily get under it. The pan would catch those precious juices and all would be good. I really liked the brisket this way as far as tenderness and flavor goes but the juiciness just wasn't there that I am used to getting with “Brisket in a pan” method.

What Kind of Wood to Use

Well that is YOUR choice but since you're asking me, I recommend pecan, mesquite, hickory or oak or any combination of the above. Pecan is one of my favorites and so is mesquite. I also really like the flavor notes of hickory and oak and I have tried dozens of combinations of these on brisket and believe me when I say.. it's ALL good!!

How Long to Add Smoke

Those of you using charcoal, electric or gas smokers will want to know just how long to add wood and keep the smoke going when smoking brisket and I have a standard answer for almost all meats. About half of the estimated cook time seems to work perfectly for me. My 8 pound brisket was estimated to require 12 hours so I added smoking chunks to the WSM for about 6 hours then just finished it the rest of the way with heat from the charcoal.

Help! The Brisket has Stalled Out!

You don't even want to know how many frantic emails I get like this and it always makes me smile because I understand what they are going through and I know that this is just what we call the plateau on large cuts of meat. The meat will get to a certain temperature usually around 170°F or so and the temperature just levels out for sometimes several hours before it begins to climb again.

This really freaks people out and many folks lose their patience during this time and decide to go ahead and try to eat it. It is frustrating and the best way to handle it is to go into every brisket smoke knowing that this will happen at some point.

You don't rush a woman and you certainly don't rush a brisket.. I am sure my wife will have something to say about this later;-)

You have to let it just take it's own time and do it's own thing.. it is during this plateau that the tough fibers in the brisket break down and become tender. Be patient and you win. Lose your patience and you also lose out on what could be a wonderful thing.

When is it Done

Well, of course, it's done when it gets done but that's not what you want to hear so I will try to remove a little of the mystery for you. We use time to estimate but temperature tells us when it's actually done.

Brisket is officially safe to eat at 160°F but I can guarantee you that it will not be tender at this point. It will be like eating your shoes or maybe your ball glove. To get it tender you will need to continue cooking it past it's safe temperature all the way up to at least 185°F degrees and I recommend taking it all the way to 200-205°F for the best results.

When it Gets Done Early

If the brisket happens to get done a little sooner than you had planned this is not a problem. Simply wrap it in heavy duty foil, wrap it in a couple of thick towels then place it in an empty ice chest or drink cooler with NO ICE. Fill in any remaining space with blankets, towels, pillows, etc. and close the lid. The brisket will stay above 140°F for up to 4 hours. I recommend using a digital probe meat thermometer to verify the temperature at all times during this process.

This is a great way to hold the meat until dinner. I usually plan on getting it done early on purpose as this just further tenderizes the meat and that is never a bad thing.

How to Serve the Brisket

This is based on your preference but I like to let the brisket rest for about 20-30 minutes after taking it off the smoker or after removing it from the ice chest to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

I will then either slice it, pull it or chop it depending on what my wife wants generally;-)

If it's just family then I usually don't go to the trouble of removing all the fat. I just slice and serve. If it's for special guests then it gets separated, fat removed and then sliced, pulled or chopped.

The brisket has two parts known as the flat and the point separated only by a thick layer of fat. Take a long sharp knife and run it through the brisket crosswise and pull the blade along the length of the brisket to separate the two parts. This gets easier with practice so don't expect to do a perfect job the first time. remove any and all fat and gristle from the meat.

Once you have two parts, slice the brisket across the grain thick if the brisket is super tender or a little less thick if it is not as tender as you like. You can also pull it apart into pieces or chop it for sandwiches.

What if the Brisket appears to be Dry

Dry is not really a problem. It's not ideal but we can do something about it really easy. You can use some Au jus from the brisket dripping or you can buy some beef broth ahead of time in case you need it. I like to use the Swanson brand with no MSG and low sodium if possible.

Whether you slice, pull or chop the meat, it can be juiced up with a little beef broth or au jus. You will be amazed at how good of a job this does for you.

How to Get the Au Jus

This is easily done if you smoked the brisket in a pan. Simply pour the juices into a tall container and place it in the fridge for an hour or so. The fat will solidify at the top of the container and can be easily scooped off and thrown away. What is left is the wonderful au jus which can be mixed in or poured over the brisket right before you serve it. The au jus is a mixture of natural juices from the brisket and spices from the rub.. simply delicious!

How to Eat it

If you need help with this then call me and I will come and give a personal demonstration.. I have a feeling you can handle this one pretty well on your own.

Please note that my rubs and barbecue sauce are now available in 2 formats-- you can purchase the formulas and make them yourself OR you can buy them already made, in a bottle, ready to use.
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