August 3, 2014

Brisket is one barbecue’s biggest challenges. A full packer brisket with both point and flat is a lot of meat; there are at least two muscle groups with different amounts of marbling. The flat is what you normally get when you go to the grocery store shopping for brisket. It is a tough piece of meat that, if not cooked properly, you can use to resole your shoes. This is why it is usually pickled or braised or both in dishes such as corned beef cabbage. The point is a wonderful piece of meat to smoke – very tender and juicy. I need to do some research to figure out what that hunk of meat is called when it is on its own so I can experiment with it. But I’m a barbecue guy so at least once a year I have to smoke a full packer brisket to retain my place in the family as the cook. If you are planning on smoking a brisket and don’t get enough detail here, “Meathead” Goldwyn over on is a great resource for folks starting out in the barbecue world. I’ve based my cooks on things I’ve learned from his site.

There are three things you can do to improve your odds on having a nice dinner of smoked brisket:

  1. Pick a tender piece of meat. The two choices you are most likely to find at the market are “select” and “choice” with “choice” having more marbling. “Prime” grade meat is fantastic but you’ll usually only find it at high end restaurants; if you do find it in a store, it will likely be prohibitively expensive. You can find “select” at places like Cash ‘n Carry. It has a bit of marbling but will present a challenge for a long cook in the smoker. That leaves “choice”; it has some nice marbling and you can do some good work with it. If you insist on “select” and are disappointed with the results, blame the meat, not your smoker or prep.
  2. Inject the beef with beef broth. It doesn’t have to be a fancy injection; getting the liquid in the interior parts of this huge chunk of meat will keep it moist during the cook while the salt will help break down the meat.
  3. Get a good rub on the meat. There are dozens if not hundreds of rubs that will work; I like a lot of salt and pepper in mine. Meathead’s big bad beef rub is a good place to start.  

Cooking a 12-14 pound brisket takes a lot of time. In the past I’ve started late at night; that’s pretty easy with a programable pellet smoker like my Mak 2 Star. I’ve found that the brisket will be done too early for a 5:00 or 6:00 dinner. This time I thought I’d try starting real early in the morning. I prepped it by trimming fat, then rubbing with a bit of oil and my rub and wrapping it in plastic and storing in the refrigerator. I then got the smoker set up so all I’d need to to is turn it on, slap on the brisket and go back to bed.

I set my alarm for 3:30 AM, cranked up the smoker, pulled the brisket out of the refrigerator, and started a pot of water in the electric kettle. A pan of water in the smoker helps the smoke penetrate the meat. Once the smoker gets up to temp, I put the brisket in and set it to smoke for 2 hours. You can see the water pan in the back and a temperature probe jammed through a piece of potato in the foreground.

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Brisket on the grill at 4:00 AM

After smoking, the temp goes up to 230˚ F until the internal temp hits 180˚. At that point I put the brisket in an aluminum pan and add a bottle of beer and cover with foil, raise the smoker temp to 210˚ until the brisket gets to at least 195˚. Because my smoker is programable I didn’t have to get out of bed at 6:00 AM to change the temperature. Take a look at my cooking log to see the plan and the hourly (more or less) temps and notes. Using a cooking log is a great way to improve your cooking. This is my fifth brisket and I’ve improved my technique each time by reviewing the logs from prior cooks. You’ll see from the log I fiddled with the temp a bit during the cook; it was a hot day and the smoker can run a little hot.

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Mid morning – brisket is getting cooked. I’ve moved the probe location to get the coolest part of the roast.

While the smoker is doing its thing I start making some barbecue sauce. I’ve made a lot of different barbecue sauces; and I’ve tried a lot of good bottled sauces. Here is a recipe from the August 2005 Cook’s Illustrated that is my go to. 

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The onion and some water goes in the food processor until it achieves the consistency of a sno-cone; we then extract the water through a fine mesh strainer. Mix everything together and simmer about 15 minutes. This sauce is best if you do the day before and let the flavors mingle.

Later in the afternoon the brisket is done. I separate the point from the flat, wrap the flat in 2 layers of aluminum foil and stash in a cooler insulated with towels; it will stay nice and warm here for a few hours. Now we get to the best part of the brisket. Chop the point into 2-inch chunks, toss in the aluminum pan you steamed the brisket in for the past couple of hours (after dumping out all the liquid). Shake a liberal amount of rub (you reserved some, right?) over the chunks and put back on the grill at about 225˚ 

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Burnt ends on the grill

 A summer night’s dinner is more that some “Q”; we need some vegies. I grilled some corn and tomatoes. After soaking a cedar plank in water for at least an hour, I brushed it with olive oil and sprinkled salt and pepper on top and threw on the grill. I took the corn process of cooking in the husks from Dad Cook’s Dinner, one of my favorite sites. 

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Tomatoes and corn on the Weber

Dinner is served. Jeff and Sarah came over to help eat all this food. We sent some home with them and kept the rest back to feed Linda, Starr, and Nancy the following night. 

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Dinner is served
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Dinner; nice smoke ring on the brisket

Brisket takes some time to cook, but the results are worth it; it makes a nice summer meal. And there is plenty so it’s good for feeding a crowd.

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