Everyone wants to create a mouthwatering brisket at home that is just as delicious, if not a cut above the brisket served at renowned BBQ restaurants.
I know you just got your pellet smoker, and you are itching to be the backyard brisket champion, but hold on... grab a beer... there is a lot of ground to cover. Trust me, when I started this journey, I tried to pass off some pretty terrible brisket as edible. If I could go back and talk to my younger self, this is precisely the information I would provide.
How do you cook a brisket?
That is a daily question the Smoked Bros Team has received from our followers. There is more to smoking a brisket than seasonings, cook times, cooking temps, Texas crutch, injecting, resting, and slicing. If you are brand new to smoking... STOP, RIGHT HERE! Let me save you some time, money, and frustration. You need to start with Smoked Pulled Pork, because it is SO MUCH MORE forgiving, and you can overcook it without severe consequences. Brisket is not your friend, it is the enemy while you are learning to smoke meat.
If you don't believe me, here are a few quotes from dear friends that are in the competitive BBQ space:
Charlies Gordon from Kentuckiana BBQ Pitmasters: "I think the number one most common mistake for brisket is that people don't rest it long enough. In my opinion, brisket needs (at a minimum) one full hour, but preferably two hours before you ever think about slicing it."
Dave White from Great White Smoke BBQ: "For me, I think it's important to not get hung up on finishing temps! Get that soft as butter probe or good jiggle! Also know the grain direction for BOTH the point and flat so you can slice across them correctly!"
Once you master the basics, focusing on the consistency of your technique, smoking a brisket will not be as difficult as you might think. So let's start the class! We will start off with some anatomy and physiology to ensure we are all familiar with the verbiage and concepts.
First Off, we will be talking about a whole beef brisket. What is a whole beef brisket? A whole beef brisket is a large cut of meat that is harvested from the pectoral muscle of the butchered steer. This cut of meat is tough, with a lot of connective tissue in and around the muscle fibers. The leanness of the meat is due to cattle not having collar bones; these boneless muscles carry the daily load. Hopefully, you are starting to seeing the challenges with this cut from the start. If it's not cooked long enough and the correct way, you'll never achieve a traditional Texas Style Brisket. to break them down.
Parts of a Whole Brisket:
Brisket is actually two separate but tightly connected muscles with very different makeup and feel. We have learned the two pieces by the names ‘brisket flat and brisket point.’
Also known as The Deckle, The Deckel, or Brisket Second Cut. You may come across the word "deckle" in your brisket studies. Deckle is simply another name for the point. The word is sometimes spelled deckel.
The point is thicker, but smaller in overall dimensions. It has more marbling, fat, and connective tissue than the flat. This means significantly more flavor from the extra fat but less meat yield.
Also known as The Beef Brisket Middle Cut; Brisket Center-Cut; Brisket First Cut; or Brisket Nose Cut.
The flat is the flatter, meatier and leaner part of a whole brisket. It is 1-2 inches thick and can weigh anywhere between 5-10lbs. It has little in the way of interconnective tissue and WILL BE tough if not cooked correctly.
Does the side from which the meat is harvested matter? Yes, it matters. There is a greater chance of starting your 12-15 hour smoke with a more tender cut. The reason is that the majority of steers rest on their left side, which means when they stand, they repeatedly bear all the weight on their right legs.
How To Identify Left Versus Right-Sided Brisket
This is a pretty straightforward concept on paper or a blog, but how will you know from which side the beef was harvested? I doubt the young kid at the grocery store would be much help. Here is a repeatable and reliable technique to find your left-sided brisket.
When you pick up a whole brisket, lay it fat side face down. The narrow point end should be facing you. Now inspect the direction the end of the point is curly. If it curves to the left, it’s a right handed brisket. If the curve points to the right, the brisket is left handed. Pretty simple technique to help set yourself up for a little extra success.
Does Brisket Meat Grade Matter?
A brisket is already a tough cut of meat, so the quality does matter, and here is a deeper explanation of how the USDA Grades meat. Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. From a consumer standpoint, what do these quality beef grades mean?
Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat), and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting or grilling.
Choice beef is high quality but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful and are suited for dry-heat cooking. Many less tender cuts can also be cooked with dry heat if not overcooked. Such cuts will be most tender if braised, roasted or simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.
Select beef is very uniform in quality and typically leaner than the higher grades. It is relatively tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. Only the tender cuts should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.
Should I Trim My Brisket?
Let me be get real clear on this point, the fat cap does not penetrate or melt into the meat as it renders down. You should read that again. Some pitmasters like to leave the entire fat cap on the meat, using it as insulation. However, they trim the brisket before serving. This technique has been proven to help regulate temperature during the smoke.
Most often times the brisket is trimmed before the smoke, leaving a thin layer fat that is between of 1/8″ to 1/4″, if you leave the full fat cap on, spices and seasoning will simply drip off the meat during the smoke.
Some pitmasters with also remove the fat layer between the point and the flat. Leaving a thin layer that is about 1/4″or less.
Remember, fat helps retain moisture and will typically shrink to about 1/8″ during the smoke. Your brisket will make mouths drool while slicing, and the rendered fat will make each cut shiny and juicy.
Smoke With The Fat Cap Or Down?
The argument is as old as cooking brisket, and everyone has their preference. We already know that the fat does not penetrate contracting muscle fibers during the smoke. So what’s the correct way? I say trim most of the fat but leave a thin layer, a little less than 1/4″, and I use the fat as a heat shield facing down. Hell, I'll flip the brisket halfway through the smoke just to avoid the debate.
Should I Separate The Point And The Flat?
It is completely up to you. Here are some key points to consider:
When separated, you get a more even and faster smoke.
*Reduces cooking time by 1/3
Smoking a Whole Brisket lends to drier or burnt ends.
*Burnt ends are pretty impressive in their own right
When separated, there is more surface area for bark
When separated, the two muscles are typically uniform in thickness.
What Are The Smoking Temperatures For Brisket?
Most likely, you have heard that low and slow, around 225°F for 18 to 20 hours for a whole packer, is necessary to make the meat tender and juicy.
I have friends that are BBQ caterers, and they advocate cooking brisket at 275°F (135°C) and up. I have witnessed competition teams smoking brisket at temperatures of 300°F - 350°F to finish in eight hours.
Bottomline, I advocate for low and slow until you have mastered the techniques and deliver consistency. 225°F is what I am going to use for this smoked brisket recipe.
Should I Mop Or Spritz During The Smoke?
Once again, the answer is science. It is a scientific fact that wet meat takes more smoke, so mopping or spritzing with water, beef broth, or apple juice will yield better results. It also slightly reduces the teperature of the meat and slows cooking, which allows more time for connective tissue and fat to render.
From a flavor standpoint, liquids have a limited impact on taste. Apple juice, beer, or beef broth do not pack enough rich flavor to dramatically change the flavor profile of brisket. Rubs and injections are what deliver unmatched flavor changes.
What Is A Texas Crutch?
Before we talk about the Texas Crutch, you need to know about "THE STALL" The stall is when a large cut of meat like a pork butt or beef brisket is cooking, and the internal temperature of the meat just seems to “stall” or plateau around 155-165°F for hours.
For brisket, the stall starts typically after two to three hours once the internal temperature of the meat is around 150°F. The stall can last for as long as 7 hours before the temperature of the meat starts to rise again. Once the temperature does start to rise, it can go quickly.
The Texas Crutch is a technique for speeding up the cook and retaining moisture. This method is employed when the meat hits about 150°F (internal), and the brisket is wrapped tightly in untreated butcher paper. The Texas Crutch then allows the brisket to braise in its own juices.
I personally like to wrap at 160°F. Scientifically, when the brisket hits 150°F, the internal moisture is pushed to the surface. This is similar to sweating, and it cools the surface of the brisket.
There is a down side of using the Texas Crutch, being that it softens the crusty bark. However, you can overcome that by placing the meat over high heat for about 10 minutes per side just before slicing.
My experience is that without wrapping you get the best bark, most smoke, and most intense flavors. You should try both and see what you prefer.
When Is The Brisket Done?
When asked, I respond, "It is simply done when it is done." Because this isn't your grandma's casserole, sweetheart... this is a brisket. Throw your concept of exact cooking times and temperatures out the window when smoking a brisket. Because you can't get that gelatinous jiggle with that kind of thinking. Ohh, it is all about that jiggle! If you're unfamiliar with the jiggle, watch a few videos to see what I mean.
However, there is a window for a temperature that you need to start checking for the jiggle. There is a window because it depends on the quality of meat, your smoking technique, and cooking temperature. The internal temperature window that I use to inspect for the jiggle is 199°F to 205°F.
In the jiggle window, the thermometer will glide in effortlessly. If you don't acheive the jiggle by 205°F, pull that sucker off. It will continue to dry out and is most likely due to a really lean cut of meat.
What Is Holding A Brisket?
Absolutely, rest your brisket. As soon as you pull the brisket, wrap it in butcher paper or tin foil. Then place it in an insulated cooler (without ice). Let the brisket rest for 1 to 4 hours, this helps further tenderize the meat and captures the natural jus.
How Do You Slice A Brisket?
Brisket is easier to chew if you cut it perpendicular to the grain. If you cut with the grain, it can taste stringy and chewy. You put all this work in and lets not blow it now. Here are some steadfast rules.
-Don't cut until you are ready to serve. It dries out quickly
-Use the right knife. Preferred is a 14-inch slicer.
- Start slicing the flat section against the grain
- When you reach the point section turn the brisket 90 degrees and start slicing at a 45-degree angle against the grain along both sections of meat.
Texas Style Smoked Brisket Recipe
12 - 14 lb whole packer brisket (Choice grade or higher)
1 Bottle Smoked Bros Knuckle Dragger
1 Bottle Smoked Bros Honey Badger
12-ounce bottle of beer
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
Unwaxed butcher paper
Set the smoker at 225°F.
Trim the fat off the brisket only leaving ¼ in fat.. Pay close attention and remove all hard pieces of fat. Also, remove any “hard” pieced of fat as they will not render off during the cooking process.
Apply Knuckle Dragger to meat side of the brisket. Then make a second pass with Honey Badger. The ratio is 80\20 Knuckle Dragger to Honey Badger. Allow the brisket to rest for approxiametly 20 minutes, Tuen the brisket over to the fat side and repeat the process. Don't go light on the spices. A nice thick coat should be applied. Do not pack the rub into folds or cracks, since that will turn the rub into a soggy paste.
Place the brisket in the smoker fat-side down. Ensure you are spritzing every 30 minutes with the mix one 12-ounce bottle of beer with 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, and 1/4 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire.
When the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160°F wrap the brisket in non-waxed butcher paper.
Continue to smoke the brisket until the meat is in the jiggle window of 199°F to 205°F. Each brisket is unique and must me monitored. Pull if you hit 205°F.
Remove the brisket from the smoker, and place in a cooler for at least one hour. A brisket can safely rest in an insulated cooler for several hours.
Unwrap the brisket.
Start slicing the flat section against the grain. When you reach the point section turn the brisket 90 degrees and start slicing at a 45-degree angle against the grain along both sections of meat.
Brag to all your family, friends, and neighbors.
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