How to smoke a brisket

Smoked Brisket

  • Yield: 10-18
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15h 00 min

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By campadmin March 21, 2018

Ingredients

  • Beef brisket – 10-12 lbs
  • Camp Chef All Purpose Seasoning

Instructions

Preheat smoker to 250°F. With a paper towel pat the brisket dry. Generously season all sides of the brisket with rub.

Put brisket in the smoker, fat side up and smoke for 8-10 hours or until internal temperature reaches 180°F. At that point, wrap brisket in aluminum foil and continue smoking for 3 hours or until internal temperature reaches between 190°-205°F. Let brisket rest in aluminum foil for 1 hour in a cooler.

Pro tip: Depending on the size of your brisket, smoking time may vary. Always go by internal temperature to get best results.

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2. Use the right meat.

Let’s talk about a “truck”. One simple word meaning two rather different things, because it can refer both to a pick-up, or a semi/18 wheeler. Why does this matter? Well, it’s going to be damn hard to move a herd of cattle to market in the back of a pick-up! Brisket is similarly confusing, because the one word can refer to several slightly different versions of the cut, and some of the variations aren’t ideal for smoking. What you are looking for is a “packer cut” brisket – a large two-muscle cut with an intact fat cap, that is at least 11 pounds prior to trimming. Generally, the other main version is a lean flat-only cut destined to become pot roast, but if you’d like to learn more about the differences the folks from A&M meat science have you covered here.

Once you have the right cut, you should take into account the quality. The higher grade the brisket, the more marbled it will be. And the more marbled it is, the better your chances of avoiding a dry brisket, and the richer the final taste. This is why Wagyu or Prime briskets are so revered, since they are the fattiest of all.

And finally you should be aware that grass fed and grain fed fats have different melting temperatures, so it’s possible that a fully pasture fed brisket will cook faster than a grain fed.

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4. Always rest after the cook.

Brisket is no different to any other piece of meat, and requires resting after cooking. When you rest the brisket, you remove it from the smoker and wrap it in pink paper or foil, which lets the muscle fibers relax and promotes moisture retention.

Most folks actually place their briskets in a cooler or Cambro after cooking, though this is not actually resting, but rather ‘holding’ because of the insulation. This actually has an interesting effect on the finished product, as the brisket continues to cook very gently using it’s own retained heat, which can in fact yield an even more tender result.

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Whether you give the brisket a true rest or finish by holding is up to personal preference of how each method affects the brisket. In other words, try each to see which works better for you. No matter which you choose, you must allow the brisket at least an hour to rest after finishing the cook.

slices of Texas style brisket point

Got the basics? Good. Here are the extra details :

Brisket Bark

Bark is the desirable exterior crust that forms on the brisket. To create the bark, you need a foundation on which it can form, and the key is the coarseness of the pepper, which is measure by “mesh”. Look for anything from a 10-16 mesh (the lower the number, the coarser the crack), and you can even mix a combination of coarse and cracked for variation.

The type of cooker you use is also hugely influential in creating bark, and without doubt the wood fired offset is the bark king. If you manage to achieve a bark, you’ll want to do all you can to preserve it. Wrapping in porous butcher paper during the resting/holding phase is a great way to keep your bark intact, rather than steaming it back to a mushy state if you wrap in foil.

The Foil Lowdown

There is a limit to how much smoke the brisket can actually absorb, and after a few hours many cooks will then choose to wrap the entire brisket in foil, which is known as the Texas Crutch. Wrapping can help with the notorious brisket stall stage (explained by Meathead here), but (no matter how tightly it’s wrapped) it effectively steams the brisket to doneness, and creates a slightly different flavor profile often taking on a “roasty” quality.

Evan LeRoy has introduced the world to a fairly revolutionary “boat” system where the bottom of the brisket is nestled in a boat of foil 3/4 way into the cook, which is really more of a protective measure than a steaming measure. You may also employ “spot” foiling, where you wrap certain edges that seem to be cooking faster than others (kinda like applying a foil patch) to protect them from further exposure to full heat.

Injecting the meat.

You may have read/heard/seen some folks injecting their briskets prior to cooking with anything from stock to bouillon to MSG. I will try to keep any ranting at a minimum, but here’s the bottom line: you do not need to inject a brisket.

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Competition BBQ teams inject brisket to boost flavor because judges typically only take one bite of their submissions, and they need to make a big impact. They inject because that’s become competition standard, and that’s what it takes to win these days (which frankly is a little sad, but I guess it’s kinda like putting makeup on a 5 year old to win a pageant…).

The brisket is one of the most flavorful cuts on the entire steer – you do not need to inject a brisket to make it tastier. If you are injecting the brisket purely to retain or add moisture, you’re not cooking it correctly. You do not need to inject a brisket to make it moist, you just need to fix your cooking method.

close up of brisket bark

‘So, can I cook a brisket now?’

Short answer- yup! If you have read and understand all the information above, you should have a successful brisket cooking experience. That is, you’ll cook a respectable brisket you can be proud of, and can focus your future cooks on dialing in to create your signature method.

From this point, you can start fine tuning to really hone your craft. That may involve moving or turning the brisket during the cook, experimenting with foil, wrapping with peach paper before the cook is finished, exploring the differences in resting time and many more.

Most significantly, continuing to cook will give you experience –  the most valuable tool of all. You’ll learn that sometimes you’ll just get a weird brisket that won’t behave and respond the way you expect it to (hey, its a natural product after all). You’ll get used to dealing with the perils of weather, and learn how differently your smoker runs from summer to winter. You’ll probably also become best friends with your neighbors who keep poking their heads over every time they smell smoke…

smoked brisket point

How to Prepare a Brisket for the Smoker

The brisket came with a fantastic dry rub from Lane’s BBQ. This signature blend comprised of salt, pepper, paprika, coriander, garlic, mustard, thyme and ancho chilis.

I wanted my resulting brisket to have a significant bark when done so I trimmed off very little fat and applied the whole 4.6 oz. container of seasoning. I rubbed the seasoning into the beef thoroughly, and then wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated it overnight.

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The next day I loaded a hefty vertical barrel smoker with 15 lbs of Wildwood Grilling Maple wood chunks and fired it up. It took about 2 hours for this raging inferno to calm down and produce a layer of red hot coals at the bottom of the barrel.

During the last hour of preheating the smoker, I removed the brisket from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature. This allowed the meat to temper and encouraged even cooking.

The brisket was placed on grates and the lid was set on the smoker. The smoker’s temperature was 300°F at this time.  I didn’t even peak under the lid for the next 9 hours, but the coals remained glowing and hot to the very end.

Although the cooking process ran late into the night, I was patient and when I finally checked the brisket’s internal temperature, the reading was 180°F. Some might say that this is not quite there, as 195°F is the recommended pull temp. To assure that the meat was cooked properly, I immediately wrapped it in plastic film and then tightly wrapped it in some clean towels.

This package was then placed in a cooler with the lid shut tightly. This allows the meat to rest effectively by minimizing fat and moisture loss, the residual heat will also encourage the brisket to rise in temperature 10-15 more degrees.

Four hours later, I removed the brisket from the cooler to find it still hot. The aroma of smoked maple wood on the beef was irresistible, so I carved off a sampler for myself.

Upon looking at my creation, the smoke ring was very visible, the beef was still juicy, perfectly cooked, and almost falling apart. The bark was exactly as I had hoped, it was highly seasoned, crisp, flavorful and most of all, packed with that smoke flavor I was looking for.

This was the best result I have ever had with brisket by a long shot. I don’t think I will ever cook a brisket in the oven again. Low, slow, wood and a great cut of beef is by far the best way to go.

Matt worked his first kitchen job in the country of Malta at the age of 15. He has worked as a restaurant Chef in Arizona, Maine, Spain, the UK, Oregon and finally North Idaho. Now the Executive Chef at Wildwood Grilling, he thoroughly enjoys his day job.

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