Juicy beef that melts in your mouth, which is coupled with a healthy smoke ring from an all day smoke session and delicious bark with a side of marshmellow-like burnt ends. This is what comes to my mind when I think of brisket.
Ask most new low n slow bbq cooks what their most daunting thing to cook is, and they will typically tell you its brisket.
However, like most barbecue it doesn’t need to be overthought. Start with good meat, a reliable smoker, follow a basic schedule to your day and you’ll find you can turn out delicious brisket time and time again
Always start with the best cut of meat you can afford. outside of injecting the brisket, a lean brisket is too easy to dry out. Find the thickest and most marbled piece you can spring for, as starting with a poor quality brisket will only lead to a disappointing result.
Buy the biggest whole point end cut that you can fit in your BBQ, you’re dedicating a whole day to this piece of meat, make it worthwhile and an efficient use of fuel, energy and time. If there is one thing that Mike at @meatfingersbbq has taught me its to buy some kranskies and wings while your at it to really make use of time and supply food for the day!
The point end cut includes 2 muscles, the point, and the flat. Don’t confuse this in your butchery for the navel end or beef belly, which although can be good when cooked correctly, isn’t what we are after for a true to style succulent brisket.
As with all low n slow, prepare your smoker aiming for a reliable consistent ambient temperature of 250-275F. For brisket I like to keep to the lower end of this range especially for larger briskets that can get closer to your heat source.
Different briskets from different butchers need different levels of prep. For a well butchered cut you wont need to do much. Ideally you want to remove the hard fats that exist around the edge of the brisket typically where the point and flat meet. these hard fats wont break down, so you’re best to remove them.
I think any of the soft fats you have available should be left in place, Poorly marbled thin flat muscle can be saved by leaving a thin soft fat cap across the meat.
One thing I will always do is cut a small angle of the flat off perpendicular to the grain, This helps to ensure i know which way the grain is running when cooked. Once the brisket is cooked and covered in delicious heavy bark, the grain angle can be a bit more tricky to see so this helps you quickly identify your cut angle.
Rub the meat down with your favorite BBQ rub, If you’re new to the BBQ game try a basic 50:50 mix of sea salt flake and coarsely ground pepper rub - some places would call this 16 Mesh. Apply a healthy covering of this across all parts of the meat
Some pitmasters will use a slathering of american mustard, ketchup or other similar condiments across the beef to act as “binder"“ prior to beef rub application as this can help make the rub stick in place.
Move your brisket to your smoker ensuring that the fat side of the meat points towards the fire, doing so will help protect the meat from the direct flow of heat from the fire. This means in a bullet style smoker such as the Weber smokey mountain or ProQ Elite the fat should face down, Contrary to popular belief the fat will not render and absorb into the meat as Meathead explains well here.
Add wood chunks if using a charcoal barbecue. I prefer strong woods like Hickory, mesquite and our endemic New Zealand tree, the Pohutukawa.
After 1 hour check in on progress and give the meat a light spritz with your water bottle, being very careful not to disturb the rub by spraying too directly or forcefully. Add more wood chunks as required to continue to achieve that clean blue smoke. Remember, your smoke should be near on invisible with a hint of blue tones. If you have heavy white smoke your wood is smoldering and not burning efficiently. Focus on a small hot fire and make sure your wood chunks are always dry and preferably heated warm
Repeat the above every 45-60 minutes for 4-5 hours by which time your brisket should be colouring up well and a healthy bark should be forming. Give the brisket a prick with a probe to get a feel for how well the meat is progressing in its cook. At this point the brisket will still be hard to press into, as the internal temperature hovers around 160-170f.
At this point I either boat my brisket or wrap it,
Boating is taking a few sheets of aluminium foil, and creating a container/tray for the brisket to sit in. the juices then roll out off the brisket, into this tray and the brisket cooks in its juices. This ensures the meat is kept moist while the bark is left to continue to form.
For wrapping I use pink paper to wrap the brisket up. This method is more detrimental to the bark as the steam inside the wrap will soften the bark and may result in it softening up and falling off when it comes time to cut. So for me, the decision around boating or wrapping depends on how well the bark has formed.
Leave the brisket in the smoker for another 2-6 hours.checking in for doneness every hour. While 2-6 hours is a big time range to allow, different briskets will complete their cook at different times so you’re best to check in regularly. Check the cut by probing the meat with your temperature probe or meat skewer, the meat is ready when you can push the probe in with no resistance, i.e. probe ready, probing like warm butter. If you insist on running a meat temperature probe, probe ready can occur anywhere from 195F through to 215+F. It is entirely dependant on the marble quality and size of the brisket. I suggest you Ignore the 203-205F theory that has become popular. Brisket is done when it feels done and certainly not when your app tells you.
THE REST AND THE CUT
Once the meat has reached probe ready, remove the brisket and rest for a minimum of 1 hour. I find the majority of briskets I cook, do not benefit from an extended rest of more than 1 hour but this is entirely dependent on what you started with, as a good rest on a beautifully marbled wagyu point end will do wonders. The best brisket I’ve ever had was served after resting for almost 6 hours.
To rest I start with a quick bench rest in open air for 15 minutes to stop the cooking process, then tightly wrapping in foil to rest for another 45 minutes. If the brisket has finished early and we aren’t ready to eat anytime soon, I wrap tightly in tin foil, before wrapping in towels to store in either the Cambro or chili bin (esky).
When cutting the brisket, its important to cut across the grain. you’ve spent 10+ hours working on this piece of meat, please don’t then ruin it by cutting with the grain and presenting a mess on the board and tough shredded pieces of meat. As mentioned at the start we identify the grain angle prior to the rub application, so use that as a guide to angle your slices starting at the flat.
As we have 2 muscles which are perpendicular to each other in the brisket cut, we have to adjust our cut angle as we get through the meat. To do this, cut the the flat until we get to the half way point of the brisket where the thickness starts to increase rapidly, this will be around about where the flat and the point meet. The point muscles fibers run perpendicular to the flat muscle fibers meaning we then have to rotate the meat 90 degrees and continue our slicing. If you’re looking for a money shot of juices flowing out of a brisket this is where you will get it.
Brisket burnt ends are sticky, marshmellowy morsels of awesomeness that you can create with the point end muscle of your brisket. To do this, you should either separate your point and flat muscles prior to the cook and cook them individually before slicing the point muscle up for burnt ends after it has been wrapped for a few hours .
Or you carry out the same process above except after a few hours of cooking in your boat or paper, cut the point end off and cube into 1 inch cubes. Take the cubes and place in a foil tray with a mixture of apple cider vinegar, BBQ sauce, honey and sugar and let them cook on the smoker for 2-3 hours until the sauces has reduced and the burnt ends are beautifully caramelized. Recipe for this coming soon..