After a long winter eating nourishing soups and stews inside my very warm kitchen, I’m happy to be able to do my cooking outside and enjoy the weather. Over the past few weeks I experimented with a friend’s smoker to great success. Having already tackled Memphis style dry rub ribs and southern style pulled pork, Texas brisket was the next logical step in my journey.
Through my brisket adventures, I learned that good barbecue brisket should have a dark, smoky exterior and a tender interior. Achieving this yummy effect takes several hours in a smoker, and a lot of patience.
The real secret to good brisket lies not in a dry rub or a sauce, but in proper temperature control. Many beginner barbecue-ers fail to understand why “low and slow” became the mantra of pit masters everywhere, but it’s the most important part to cooking the perfect brisket.
Certain cuts meat, like beef brisket, beef chuck roll, pork ribs, and pork butt, are tough due to the amount of collagen and connective tissue in the meat. At the correct temperature, collagen transforms into gelatin and the connective tissue breaks down, making these normally chewy portions moist and tender. Keeping the internal temperature of the brisket in the 180F to 205F range for several hours is ideal for gelatin formation. Many of the cuts of meat listed above are popular for this very purpose. However, if you were to try the same technique with naturally tender cuts, such as a NY Strip steak, the results will not be as pretty.
I really wanted to get a 10+ lb whole, untrimmed cut, but this time, I made do with a 4 lb trimmed brisket flat. You may have to get your butcher to order a full brisket for you. Most grocery stores and butcher shops will place special orders without any extra charge. Either way, a USDA Choice cut is preferred if you can find it.
The trimmed brisket flats are not usually ideal for smoking because much of the fat is removed which can cause the meat to dry out during cooking. To counteract this, this cut is generally oven braised in order to retain moisture in the meat. If only brisket flats are available, or your smoking grate is too small to accommodate a whole brisket, you can put a layer of bacon over the meat to help keep it from drying out. Water smokers, such as the one I used, produce steam in the cooking chamber, so the bacon wrapping method isn’t required.
Now that we have our meat selected let’s prepare it and smoke it.
The way I preped the brisket may surprise some people, but I actually cut away most of the fat. My thought is that the rub and the smoke would have a hard time penetrating through a half inch of fat–especially since the cook time for a 4 lb brisket is significantly shorter than a 10 lb brisket.
With that said, cut away most of the fat leaving 1/8 to 1/4 inch where possible. Apply a generous amount of dry rub to the trimmed meat. Pat lightly with your hands to help keep the rub from falling away.
Many rubs work, feel free to make additions or changes to this blend. Simply mix everything together and place in a shaker.
1 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (a bit less, actually)
Wrap the rubbed brisket in foil and return it to the refrigerator.
Four to eight hours later, load your smoker with your choice of wood. Like the pulled pork recipe, nearly any hard wood will do. I used all hickory again because it was what I had on hand. Once the smoker is lit, remove the brisket from the fridge and apply a little more dry rub. Put the brisket in the smoker, fat side up.
The target temperature of your smoker should be around 225F to 250F. As stated above, the internal temperature of the meat should be in the 180F to 205F range. This is ideal for gelatin conversion, and will ensure that the meat stays tender. Cooking time will vary, but a good rule of thumb is 1 to 1- 1/2 hours per pound of meat.
Some recipes recommend turning and basting the brisket. I skipped this for three reasons. One, the smoker I was using was a water smoker. This meant that the smoking chamber was very moist, and dry meat is not a likely result. Two, opening the smoker would have released all that precious smoke. And three, once open, the smoker would have lost a lot of heat and it would have taken some time for the temperature to stabilize in the correct range again. Because this was a small brisket, I felt it best to allow for a longer exposure to smoke and not to disturb the cooking process.
Once the brisket is cooked (mine took 5 hours) remove it from the smoker and wrap it in foil. Place this in an insulated cooler to retain the heat. A 15-30 minute rest will allow the juices to re-distribute. After resting the meat, remove it to a cutting board and use a large chef’s knife to cut the beef, across the grain, into thin strips for serving.
The exterior of my brisket had a wonderful, dark crust (otherwise known as a bark) from the smoke and the rub that contrasted nicely with the tender, smoky meat hidden beneath. The only disappointment was that I did not get the pink smoke ring characteristic of well-smoked meats (though all the flavor was there).
Store leftovers well wrapped and reheat individual servings over medium-high power in a microwave or entire briskets in a 225F oven.