Smoking Brisket and Other Topics – Smoking Meat Newsletter

Hello and welcome to this special holiday edition of the smoking meat newsletter. Just a little help with your smoking endeavors this July 4th.

Smoking Brisket

This is something that I have written about before but I will go over it again just to make sure you understand that this is not nearly as difficult as it has been made out to be.

To start with, pick out the most tender brisket you can find. If the brisket is just wrapped in plastic, you can check the flexibility of the brisket by bending it. “The easiest bender is the most tender”.. you could almost make a rap out of that phrase but I digress..

Do NOT get rid of all the fat.. that's were a lot of the flavor is. I know some folks trim all the fat and if you get great results that way then go for it but if you are still learning to cook briskets, leave the fat cap on entirely.

Score the fat cap.. make cross cuts into the fatcap along the length and width of the brisket and then diagonally. Only make the cuts through the fat down to the meat. This will allow the rub and/or marinade to get to the meat a little better. This will also allow the smoke to get to the meat better without sacraficing the flavor, juiciness and protection that the fat cap offers the brisket.

Add a rub to the brisket.. did I mention adding a rub? If you dont do anything else, add a rub mixture to the brisket, one that you like. I use my Jeff's naked rib rub and I think you should to but the main purpose is to add something that will compliment the natural flavor of the brisket. It's a thick piece of meat, you are not going to cover up the flavor of the meat so don't be scared to be generous with the rub.

To make it stick better, rub some regular yellow mustard all over the brisket then pour on some rub and massage it into the brisket. Show it a little love and it will love you back later by becoming really tasty and juicy during it's time in the smoker.

Some folks inject marinade into their briskets.. I don't generally do this myself but I do know that many competitions are won using this method. I say that very lightly since what is served at competitions is now always what I would fix for my family at home. I won't get into that but you can catch my drift. Competition and home cooked goodness may be two entirely different things. Just want to let you know that injecting is certainly an option if you care to do that. What you inject is up to you, equal parts of Worcestershire, beer and melted butter is always a great flavor if you care to try it.

Otherwise, most of the store-bought injection marinades are also pretty decent and the main purpose is to add a little juiciness to the center of the meat.

I have my own tricks for making the brisket juicy that I will share in this article so don't feel like you have to inject the brisket to make it juicy.. it's just an option and I don't want to leave anything out.

Prepare the smoker for about 230 degrees. I know the trend recently has been to smoke at much higher temperatures but I am not conforming to that way of thinking personally. I think there is something almost magical about the the low and slow methods that have been practiced for decades and I just can't seem to get the same results at the higher temps.

If you can do that, then go for it. I don't judge, I just tell you how I do it.

Use a good robust wood for this cut.. it's a big piece of meat and it can handle some big smoke flavor. I almost always use mesquite, pecan,hickory or oak for large pieces of meat like this and it never lets me down. If you have a favorite fruit wood, feel free to mix it in at a ratio of 1:1 such as mesquite and cherry or pecan and oak, etc..

Here's a trick you don't want to take lightly.. if you follow my instructions, it will be the juiciest brisket you have ever eaten and/or served to your guests.

1. Place rubbed brisket in aluminum pan fat side up and place in smoker. Let it smoke for 2 hours.

2. Flip brisket to fat side down and smoke for another 2 hours.

3. At the beginning of the 5th hour, return brisket back to fat side up and cover the entire top of the pan with foil.

4. Continue to cook the brisket until the thickest part of the meat reads 200 degrees. There may come a point when the temperature comes to a standstill.. this is the famous brisket plateau and is completely normal. Just be patient and don't give in to the temptation to turn up the heat.

5. Once the meat reaches 200 degrees, carefully remove the brisket from the smoker and set it on the counter to cool for 20-30 minutes.

6. Remove brisket from pan and set on cutting board. Tent some foil over the top to keep it warm for a bit.

7. Pour the juices from the pan through a grease separator or you can just pour it into a container and place it in the freezer. The fat will solidify at the top and can then be removed.

This fat can be saved for flavoring other dishes like beans or soups or it can be discarded.

Set the juice aside.

8. Go back to the cutting board and use a long sharp knife to separate the flat from the point. There is a layer of fat that runs right through the center of the brisket.. just follow this layer all the way through the meat until the two parts of the brisket are separated.

9. Spend a little time removing any large chunks of fat and anything else that looks inedible.

10. Slice the brisket across the grain in 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Cooking the brisket this way should yield a very tender brisket so you will probably need to slice it fairly thick to keep it from falling apart on you.

Note: watch the grain on these briskets as it changes directions several times.

11. Lay the pieces overlapping in a serving dish in the same order they were sliced for aesthetics.

12. Reheat the juice that we set aside earlier in the microwave.. just enough to get it nice and warm.

13. Pour some of the juice over the brisket and call everyone to come and try it.

14. You will be lucky if you get a piece at this point so you might want to grab yourself a couple of slices and set them aside before everyone comes running.

15. Enjoy the moment!

How Often and How Long to Add Wood Chips

This is sort of like saying how long is a string. It really depends on what you are cooking and what the estimated cook time is. I generally recommend that the smoke continue for about half of the estimated cook time of until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 140-145 degrees. For a 12 hour brisket, I would add wood chips every time the smoke stops coming out of the vent and I would continue this process for about 6 hours of time.

If I was cooking a whole chicken, that would take about 4 hours and I would keep the smoke going for about 2 hours minimum.

Remember, as long as you have a good amount of airflow into and out of the smoker, there is nothing wrong and it could even be beneficial flavor-wise to continue smoking the meat for the entire time. Remember that traditional smokers use wood splits and logs for heat which means the smoke is going the entire time and the flavor of the meat cooked on one of these all wood smokers is amazing.

Using Water or Other Liquids in the Water Pan

If you have a water pan then use it.. my simple recommendation. I don't buy into the notion that it magically makes the meat any more juicy, however, I do think it makes the air more humid inside of the smoker which stands to reason that it could possibly decrease the drying effect of the heat on the meat.

The 212 degree steam from the water pan also works to maintain a more even temperature in the smoker and is believed to decrease the large temperature spikes that certain smokers are known to experience.

My theory.. it can't hurt, It could help, so why not?!

Smoking Ribs – How to Get Them Tender

Ok.. everyone's version of tender is different so I recommend you forget about temperature when it comes to ribs and just leave them in the smoker until they get as tender as you like them. In general, you are looking at about 5 to 5.5 hours for baby backs and 6.5 to 7 hours for spare ribs.

Don't worry about how far the bones stick out of the meat and don't worry about the time or the temperature. Just check them every 30 minutes or so after about the 5th hour by pulling 2 of the bones in opposite directions. This will give you a good idea of how tender they are. You can also pick up one end with some heavy duty tongs and if they start to break in the middle, they are pretty darn tender.

I do recommend removing the membrane and then rubbing them down with some rib rub. Spray them about every hour with fruit juice. I made some the other day and I sprayed them every hour with a mix of cherry and grape juice by Juicy Juice. I could tell a difference in the flavor from the juice that I had sprayed  on them. Very tasty indeed.

Time Vs. Temperature

I also had a ton of questions regarding how long to cook certain meats.. I will give you a table that will help you to estimate the time however, smoking meat requires that you FORGET about the time and cook by temperature alone. Brisket can be estimated at 1.5 hours per pound however, it's just not done until it reaches 190-200 degrees no matter how long that takes.

Make sure your digital instant read thermometer is calibrated properly. Stick the probe down in a glass of ice water and it should be around 33 degrees F. You can also place the probe in some boiling water and it should read 212 degrees or very close to that unless you are at very high elevations and in that case, it should read whatever your boiling temperature is for your elevation.

To reiterate, When smoking meat cook by temperature, not by time.

How to Smoke Chicken Breasts that are Juicy and Tender

Chicken breasts by default are a very lean meat and as such are going to be less juicy than say a thigh or leg however there are a few things you can do to keep it from drying out during it's time in the smoker.

You can always brine the meat as outlined at or you can inject it with melted butter or olive oil however, I have found a method or two that seems to work for me.

My first method involves wrapping the breasts in a piece of cheese cloth and keeping it moistened with butter while it smokes. This more or less takes the place of the skin and allows the smoke to penetrate through while holding in a lot of the moisture.

Another method is to wrap each breast in a couple strips of bacon. The bacon will render or melt while it cooks and keep the breast moist. You don't have to worry about more fat, most of the fat drips off but it does a great job of keeping the breast from drying out.

The greatest thing you can possibly do is to not overcook the breast. All chicken is officially safe to eat at 165 degrees according to the USDA. use a digital probe meat thermometer to test one of the breast pieces at it's thickest point while it cooks. Just as soon as it reaches 165 take it off of the smoker. As you probably already know, the meat will continue to cook and can raise a degree or two even after you remove it from the smoker. By removing at exactly 165 degrees F,  you will notice that it is more juicy and flavorful than if you cook it to the old recommended temperature of 180 degrees F where it will be dry and tasteless and resemble something used to make a pair of good work boots.

Smoking Steaks

Someone asked about smoking steaks.. although smoking meat low and slow is a wonderful process, some things just work better on the grill and steaks are one of these things. This does not mean you can't infuse some smoke flavor into the meat. Wrap a handful of dry wood chips  up in some heavy duty foil making sure it is completely enclosed. Use a fork to make 2 sets of holes in one side of the wood chip package.

Lay the wood chip package on the grill directly over the flame on the grill with the fork holes facing up when you cook the steaks. You will notice a nice smokey flavor in the steaks.

You could also cold smoke the steaks for 30 minutes before grilling them by using a smoke generator such as the smoke daddy or the A-Maze-N-Smoker to infuse some really good smoke flavor into the meat before grilling them.

Smoke Daddy –
A-Maze-N-Smoker –

I own both of these products and they work really well for this type of application.

Smoking Brats

This is a 4th of July favorite and they do so well..

Super easy but just remember to not overcook them. Smoke them at 225 degrees for no more than 2 hours and they are done. Any more than this and they will get tough on you. I have some ready for the holiday as well.. I have cheese brats and original and those are going to taste so good with pecan/cherry smoke.

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Sausage Fatties

These are every bit as good as they sound and if you have not tried them.. OMG!!

I can't even start to show you how to do them in this newsletter but fortunately I have a complete write up on them where I show you how to weave the bacon and perform the whole process. It's not hard and you will love them.

See the picture tutorial at /january-2010-bacon-wrapped-stuffed-sausage-fatty

Using a Propane Smoker – Getting the Flavor

When using a propane smoker, it is best to use wood chunks and a thin walled box for holding the chunks. Turn the heat on high to get the chunks to smoking. If you have to leave the door ajar slightly to keep the inside of the smoker from heating up too much during this process, that is fine.

Once the chunks are smoking real good, latch the door shut and rest assured the smoke will flavor the meat.

I tend to get about 1 to 1.5 hours of smoke with a full smoke box of chunks. Each smoker will vary but the important thing is to give it the heat it needs to get them to smoking and then you can lower the heat to maintain the smoke and the proper heat in the smoker.

If you are having a really hard time getting the smoke flavor in your meat, try using dry hickory or mesquite chunks with some dry wood chips mixed in. I do NOT recommend soaking the wood chips or chunks before using them in the smoker. If the chunks are catching on fire then find a way to reduce the oxygen to the chunks by wrapping them individually in foil with a few small holes to let the smoke escape or by covering some of the holes in the smoke box to allow less oxygen in.


One Comment

  1. Clayton July 28, 2013 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    I smoked a brisket today and followed the instructions in your newsletter 7/1/10.  After obtaining the 200 degree thermo reading, I removed it, let it sit, etc.  However, after slicing into it (both directions) it was still very tough.  I'm not an expert on briskets so this was my first and I believe it was just the flat end (from a beef we had butchered last year which was pretty lean).  It also had a lot of the fat already trimmed from it so I didn't do any at all before smoking.  Total time after covering with foil at the 5 hour mark was about 30 minutes.  Any ideas as to why this would have been so tough after this amount of time?  Do flat ends vary from the point ends and whole briskets since they have more meat?  Let me know your thoughts.

    Thanks!  Clayton

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