Ahhh… the beef brisket. It is heralded as one of the trickiest cuts of meat to perfect, and I gotta say that’s not far from the truth. Professionally, I have cooked many a brisket using several different methods and have only recently have I begun to unravel the mystery. The most important ingredient to all brisket recipes is definitely patience. No matter what method you choose, cooking this cut is going to take time.
The brisket is a muscle that is located in the lower chest area, essentially the breast of the cow. This area offers a good majority of support for the entire animal, which means that it requires a lot of connective tissue. It also means that there is a very large portion of lean meat on a brisket, called the ‘flat.’ The ‘point’ is the part of the muscle that is layered heavily with fat. Slow cooking allows for some of that extra fat to be redistributed to coat the leaner ‘flat’ muscle. No matter what, slow and low cooking is necessary to break down the connective tissue and create a tender piece of meat.
Smoking a perfect brisket is the holy grail of the BBQ world. A well-smoked brisket is hard to find in most BBQ shops, maybe because it requires a well maintained fire and diligence. Smoking on a charcoal or gas grill is possible, but there has to be enough surface area to keep the brisket in a heat zone, around 275 degrees. Indirect heat is also imperative. A spike in temperature will cause the meat to dry out and develop a crust too soon and end up burning or drying out.
Salt and pepper serve to be the perfect seasoning for a brisket, but don’t shy away from any other seasonings. Paprika, chili powder, garlic and onion will all do well with the unctuous beefy flavor of the brisket.
The key to smoked brisket is determining when to wrap it and when to pull it off of the grill/smoker. It is best to cook the brisket to an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees. At about 170 degrees, it’s I recommended wrapping the brisket in either butcher’s paper or aluminum foil. If using a charcoal grill, foil is probably best because butcher’s paper could catch fire if it gets close enough to the direct flame. Wrapping the brisket will allow for more moisture to be present in the final product by ‘trapping’ the fat that is rendering as the internal heat rises. Resting is key to the process as well. Allowing the meat to sit for at least thirty minutes will keep the juices in place. Slice thick and serve however you see fit.
Smoked brisket works on tacos, Texas toast, pizzas, salads, fried potatoes, fried eggs… the list is endless. Pair it with an herbaceous chimichurri or a tangy and spicy BBQ sauce if you feel that it needs it, but a properly cooked brisket can usually go without. A brisket is a good sized chunk of meat, so it is always best to call some folks over to enjoy it. You might even talk them into making the side dishes. Nothing better than sharing a whole mess of food with a great bunch of friends.
Smoked Beef Brisket
1 whole beef brisket, trimmed
Equal parts salt and freshly ground black pepper
Charcoal or gas grill with a smoke box OR off-set smoker if available
About 15# of hard wood and charcoal combined, oak and hickory are preferred for beef
- Trim the brisket of excess fat, leaving about 1/2 fat cap on the meat. Fat equals flavor, and with brisket it can also keep the meat moist.
- Combine the salt and pepper and rub the mixture into the meat on every side. Make sure the meat is well seasoned. It will take about 1/2 cup to season a 12# brisket, or 1/4 cup for a 6# flat.
- Leave the seasoned brisket in refrigeration overnight.
- Pull the brisket from refrigeration about an hour before cooking and allow it to come up close to room temperature.
- Prepare the grill or smoker for indirect cooking. Make sure your grill surface is big enough to hold the piece of meat far enough away from the heat source to endure it doesn’t burn or overcook. Several inches are good for indirect heating.
- Build a fire and monitor the temperature in the indirect zone. The ideal cooking temperature is between 250-275 degrees.
- Put the brisket onto the grill and allow to cook for a few hours. Continue to monitor the indirect heat, adding more fuel to the fire as needed. Alternate coal and wood to keep the smoke and heat at a fair constant.
- Once the brisket reaches 170-180 degrees internally, wrap in foil or butcher’s paper. At this point, the brisket is 2/3 of the way done. The last 25 degrees will take awhile.
- Once the brisket reaches 200-205 degrees, it is ready. Pull the wrapped brisket and place it in an empty cooler, or tent it with foil so that it can rest for at least 30 minutes. Keeping it in a space that allows for steam to develop will keep it moist.
- After the brisket has properly rested, slice it thick and serve.