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.