Brisket, the great vista of the BBQ meats, is a combination of the most popular, the most difficult, and the most gratifying to nail perfectly. A large hunk of beef breast meat, brisket is tough and needs a lot of time and TLC to turn into the delectable, smoky, moist, and satisfying BBQ treat we hope for.
Brisket can come in two separate sections- the flat and the point. It can also come all together in one large hunk, called a full or packer brisket. The flat and the point often require two separate styles of cooking, but full packer briskets can also be cooked intact, and very often are, to great results. For a crash course in what a brisket looks like, what the separate sections look like, and how to select a good brisket, please check out AmazingRibs.com’s Texas Brisket article. Then, come back here and we’ll show you how to smoke a brisket on your kettle with your Slow ‘N Sear.
Just like a pork butt or ribs, brisket is laden with fat and collagen, and tough muscle fibers. If you were to slice a piece of brisket and fry it up in a skillet, it would be miserably tough! Therefore, brisket is best suited to low & slow cooking at temperatures around 225 F. Full packer briskets will usually take double digit hours to complete, and up to a 14 or 15 pounder will fit on a 22″ kettle after trimming. Any full packer will fit on a 26″ kettle. You can also easily smoke the flat and point pieces separately. Some will separate the two pieces in order to cook them each to perfection, since they tend to cook at different rates.
Trim: We can’t cook a brisket straight out of the wrapper, there’s a lot of trimming that needs done. The fat cap, or the layer of fat surrounding the meat is quite massive, and we need to trim it down. A good rule of thumb is to leave about 1/4″-1/8″ of fat cap on the entire fat cap side, it’s best not to remove it all. Then one side will have a bare meat surface to build up a nice “bark” layer, and one side will have the fat cap. Removing it completely can cause it to cook faster but this isn’t always best, it can dry the meat out, especially on the “flat” section. Picture when the brisket is cooked and you’re slicing it thin, like thick bacon- you want that little layer of fat on each slice for flavor! It will be soft, smoky and salty, and oh so delicious!
We like to trim the fat layer in between the two layers of muscle too. In the AmazingRibs.com brisket article, you’ll see an in-depth explanation of how and where the two muscles meet. Many folks will separate the two muscles, but you do not need to. What’s great to do however is to remove most of the fat layer between them. This will also help speed up the cook, but it leaves enough internal fat and collagen to not dry it out too much.
Place the trimmed, dry brined brisket, fat cap up, on the indirect side of your kettle after the Slow ‘N Sear has been lit and only after the kettle has come up to temperature, ~225 F. Remember, do NOT use the thermometer on the lid of your kettle, use a good quality digital thermometer. It will pay for itself with one perfectly cooked brisket!
At this time, place a few chunks of wood on the top of the coals as shown in the lighting instructions. Oak is a great wood for beef, so is pecan. But if all you have is apple or cherry, or hickory, use it, it will be fine. Mixtures are great too!
Place a thermometer probe approx 2-3″ away from the brisket about 1″- 2″ above grate level. You want this temp probe to feel the exact level of heat the meat is experiencing. Often the heat toward the wall of the kettle will be higher than the heat nearest the water reservoir, so it’s not a bad idea to rotate the brisket mid-cook.
Place the other thermometer probe in the thickest part of the flat. Make sure the probe is not in the fat cap, but centered in the meat the best you can. Follow the Slow ‘N Sear “Low & Slow 225” lighting directions to cook your brisket.
Jerod Broussard, pitmaster, and moderator for AmazingRibs.com, and “brisket king” has this to say: “Cook fat cap up until that dude is as dark as dark can get. Then flip to make sure the top of the flat [the side that was down against the grate] is dark. If not, let it ride [facing up] until it gets plenty dark, not just a browning of the surface, dark-black.” And, once again, follow Meathead’s Texas Brisket Article at AmazingRibs.com for the prep and cooking techniques. Aaron Franklin of the renowned Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas has some great videos on brisket prep and cooking.
When is it done? As mentioned, briskets often take in the double-digit hours. A common time frame for a full packer brisket cooked at 225 F is about 12 hrs. Please keep in mind though, that this can have huge variances. A brisket could be up to temp and ready for a faux Cambro hold after 8 hrs, or it could take 14, 16 or even 18 hrs. Factors such as whether or not you choose to wrap the brisket during cooking, and when, will dictate overall cooking time, as well as the traits of the meat your using. For the most consistent and repeatable results, order the same high quality meat from the same supplier with each cook.
We suggest cooking your brisket according to the above instructions to an internal temp of about 180-190F, and then wrap the brisket tightly in a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil. This temp will allow the brisket to get past the “stall” and will allow ample “bark”, the salty, peppery flavorful crust on the outside of the brisket, to develop. You don’t need to add any liquid to the foil when wrapping, although this is common with some recipes and some pitmasters, often to prevent the meat from sticking to the foil when it’s finished. It’s really your choice.
After it’s wrapped, keep cooking the brisket the same as you were. If you’re near the 8 hr mark you may need to restock the charcoal reservoir. If so, shove the lit coals tight to one side and add more unlit coals, and clear the ash. Once the meat is wrapped, there is no further need for wood smoke, so don’t add any more wood, or water for that matter. The foil wrap blocks any of that.
Take the temp of the brisket to the 200-205 range, with 203 being most pitmasters’ favorite sweet spot. Try to shoot for ‘probe tender’, when a thermometer probes slides in “like butter” with little resistance, sometimes this happens before our target temp, sometimes not. Once this stage is reached in the thickest part of the flat, you may shut the vents down on the kettle. This is where many will transfer the brisket to the faux Cambro. Even though the meat has come up to the target temp, it still highly benefits from a couple hrs of holding time. This will no longer cook the brisket since the temp is slowly waning, but will allow it to further soften in the heat it’s built up. A brisket can be held in this manner from one hour to several hours, as long as the temp of the meat does not drop below 145 F. A cambro hold of ~2-3 hrs is the most common and is likely to yield the best end results.
After this hold, remove the brisket, unwrap, and prepare to slice! HINT: You do not simply slice all the way across like a regular roast! The flat’s and the point’s grains run in opposite directions, so they must be sliced differently for the best results. After you get a couple briskets under your belt you’ll learn which other things you want to adopt into your personal favorite techniques- injecting, adding liquid to the wrap, using butcher paper to wrap instead of foil, not wrapping at all, etc. For the initial maiden brisket voyage however, we suggest you try the above directions.