SMOKED BEEF BRISKET BASICS
When you buy a whole “packer’s cut” brisket, it weighs 8 to 16 pounds and comes in an airtight Cryovac plastic wrap. There is a cap of fat on one side that can be up to 1″ thick, and it is trimmed pretty close to fat free on the other side. Briskets are the best at 30 to 45 days old.I cannot stress this enough: When shopping for brisket, go for the highest grade you can find, and hand pick the slab with the most fat striation visible. If it is not labeled, chances are it is select. Avoid it. Brisket is the classic example of “garbage in garbage out”.
Trim. Some cooks like to leave the entire fat cap on the meat as insulation, trimming what remains before serving. This helps moderate the heat during cooking. Others trim most of it off before cooking, leaving a layer of 1/8″ to 1/4″, reasoning that spices and seasoning on the fat cap will never penetrate it and then it is wasted when you trim off the fat at the table. Some even remove much of the fat layer between the two muscles. I trim the cap to 1/4″ or less. It helps seal in moisture.
Rub. Before it is cooked, you can use a “Dalmatian rub”: Liberal amounts of kosher salt and coarsely cracked black pepper. You can also add some cayenne and garlic powder to the rub. I leave it on the meat overnight, or you can put it on just before you put it on the smoker.
Pump.I like to inject brisket with an internal marinade by using marinade injector. These “pumps” add moisture, break down tough fibers, and add flavor.If you choose to inject and don’t want all the chemicals, don’t use anything very flavorful, just plain low sodium beef broth. Insert the needle parallel to the grain so it doesn’t leave tracks in the finished meat. It also adds moisture to the meat while it is smoking.
Fat cap up or down.Most people cook with the fat on top. For years it was believed that the melting fat would actually penetrate the meat, but nowadays most prople understand that fat cannot penetrate meat fibers very well. The melting fat does baste the meat, keeping it moist. Some cooks like the fat cap on the bottom, as sort of a heat shield. I cook cap up then turn it at the halfway point.
Temp. Many people swear that low and slow, around 225°F for up to 20 hours for a whole packer, is necessary to make the meat tender and juicy. Some recommend 250°For 275°F and up. The bottom line is that cooking temp seems to be less important than other factors. But because it is hard to make brisket tender, I advocate for low and slow until you have mastered the techniques and are certain that your meat source is superior. I cook at 225°F.
Crutch and Rest. The Texas Crutch is a technique for speeding the cooking and moisturizing the meat. The concept is that you wrap the meat tightly in heavy-duty foil with a little beef broth, apple juice, white wine, or light beer, and let it braise in the cooker. The best time to do this is when it hits the stall, at about 150°F. The Stall is a maddening point in the process when the meat seems like it is stuck. The temp just doesn’t rise for hours at a time. This is freaky and a lot of novices panic when it happens. Many people think the stall is caused by melting collagen. It is not.
Wrapped in foil, the sealed meat goes back on and rises steadily to about 190°F. Then it comes off, it cools a bit so it stops cooking, and sits in an insulated box, for several hours. The foil captures natural jus for use in a sauce, and it helps prevent the dreaded stall cutting hours off the length of the cook. If you don’t wrap, when the meat hits about 150°F moisture rises to the surface and cools the meat by evaporation, like sweat on an athlete. The meat then sits there stuck at 150 to 160 for up to 5 hours. The down side is that the foil softens the crusty bark. You can overcome that by placing the meat over high heat for about 20 minutes per side just before slicing. I think wrapping it in foil and letting it rest in a cooler or in the oven at about 150 is essential.
Recipe for a Whole Packer Brisket
Yield. 12 servings if you are cooking a whole packer of about 12 pounds. Calculate about 1 pound of meat or more per person. There will be significant loss, up to 20% from fat trimming and up to 40% from shrinkage. You’ll end up with about half a pound per person, more than enough and maybe you’ll have some leftovers.
Preparation time. 5 minutes to apply the rub. If you can let the rub soak in for an hour or two, that would be nice. Overnight is better. You can make sauce if you like while the meat is cooking.
Cooking time. Rule of thumb: 1 hour per pound if you wrap in foil at 150°F. If it gets done sooner, you can hold it in a cooler or in an oven at 170 to 190°F (see rest time, below). If you do not wrap in foil, then expect about 90 minutes per pound for a whole packer. But that rule of thumb can vary significantly by as much as 25% depending on how thick it is at the thickest point, and if you chose to wrap in foil (I recommend it). Again, it is the thickness that determines cooking time, not weight. Plan on about 6 to 10 hours for most briskets. There are too many variables to be precise. Once you have done the same cut on the same cooker several times, you’ll be able to better predict.
Resting time. When the meat is cooked, let it rest, wrapped in foil, wrapped in a towel, buried in a plastic cooler, for another 3 to 4 hours. You can also let it rest in foil in an oven, indoor or out, at 170 to 190°F. This is a great fudge factor that lets you take the meat off when it is ready and hold it until the guests are ready. Resting also helps tenderize.
Total Time.15 hours more or less for a whole packer.
1 smoker with lots of fuel
6 feet of heavy-duty aluminum foil
16 ounces by weight of hard wood chunks or chips.
1 good meat thermometer.
1 plastic beer cooler bigger than the brisket (not Styrofoam, which could melt)
1 towel or blanket
1 long, thin, sharp knife
Cooking log if you desire
1 alarm clock
- 12 lb beef brisket
- kosher salt
- coarsely cracked black pepper
- cayenne pepper
- garlic powder
- Trim. Rinse the meat and dry it with paper towels. If you have a packer, trim off most of the fat cap but leave at least ¼”. If you are trimming a packer, until you get the hang of it you might cut off some of the meat while trimming. No harm, no foul. Some cooks will attempt to remove some of the fat layer between the flat and the point by slicing them apart from both sides, but not slicing all the way through so they remain attached. On the meaty side, slice off any silverskin, a tough thin membrane. If you have a good cut of meat, you probably will not need to trim much at all. Just make sure there is no silverskin on the meaty side.
- Pump. This is an optional step, but I almost always inject briskets with beef broth. It is essential to pump a tougher cut. If you have a hypodermic for injecting meat, now’s the time to use it. Pump in about 1 ounce of beef broth per pound of raw meat by inserting the needle parallel to the grain in several locations about 1″ apart and back it out as you press the plunger. Do it in the sink and be careful so you don’t get squirted in the eye. Use broth only. All we want here is moisture. We don’t want the fluid to mask the flavor of the meat.
- Rub. Before you apply the rub, notice the direction of the grain of the flat and remember this so you can carve it perpendicular to the grain. Coat the meat lightly with oil and sprinkle the rub liberally on all exposed meat and rub it in. Not much sense in wasting rub on the fat since most of it will melt off or be cut off by your guests. I coat the meat with oil first because many of the flavors in the rub are oil soluble. If you can, let the meat sit for 1 to 2 hours to allow the rub to penetrate a bit and form a moist paste that will become your crust.
- Preheat.It is important to note that brisket is an inexact science, and the timing can vary significantly depending on the size of your brisket, it’s moisture and fat content, and the nature of your cooker, not to mention the accuracy of your thermometer. But the method I describe has a long period of resting in an insulated beer cooler, and that time is flexible so you can use that buffer time to keep dinner on schedule. Take the meat out of the fridge about 3 hours early so it is not really cold when you put it in the smoker. Get the temp stabilized at about 235°F. We want to cook at about 225°F, but the temp will drop a bit once you load in the cold meat.
- Cook. Put the meat on the cooker, fat side up. On a smoker with a water pan, put the meat right above the water. Place the oven temp probe next to the meat. Add about 4 ounces of wood right after the meat goes on. When the smoke stops, add 4 ounces more for the first 2 hours, usually about every 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water in the pan. Don’t let it dry out. After 3 hours, turn the meat over if the color is different from top to bottom. Otherwise leave it alone. No need to mop, baste, or spritz. It just lowers the temp of the meat. The meat temp will move steadily upward to the stall, somewhere between around 150°F. Once in the stall zone, it will seem to take forever to rise. The stall can last 5 hours and the temp may not rise more than 5°F!
- Texas Crutch. After about 2 to 4 hours, by which time the meat will have hit about 150°F, take it off and wrap it in a double layer of heavy-duty foil or put it in a pan just larger than the meat and cover it with foil. I prefer a pan because foil leaks too easily. Pour a cup of beef broth around the sides of the meat being careful not to wash off the rub before you seal the foil. Then crimp it tight and put the wrapped meat back on the smoker or move it to an indoor oven at 225°F. This step, called the Texas Crutch, slightly braises the meat, but most importantly, it prevents surface evaporation which cools the meat and causes the stall. If you wrap the meat at 150°F it will power right through the stall and cut your cooking time significantly. So when is it ready? In general, I say 190°F. Each brisket is different. “If it never gets tender, pull it off before it hits 205ºF.
- Rest. When the temp hits 190°F, get your plastic beer cooler, line it with a towel, blanket, or crumpled newspaper and put the meat, still in foil, into the cooler on top of the lining. If the foil is leaking fluids, put the meat in a large pan first. The lining is important to prevent the plastic from warping or cracking. Close the lid and let the hot meat sit in the cooler for at least 2 to 3 hours until you are ready to eat. Do not let the temp of the meat fall below 150°F while it is in the cooler or else you could get a tummy ache. If you have a tight cooler it should hold the meat well above 160°F for hours.
- Slice. I suggest you read up or watch a video on how to slice a brisket, remember it dries out quickly once it is cut, so try to slice it just before you serve it.
- Last but not least enjoy!!!
Note: it may take you several attempts to get it right, keep a log so that you can remember the best methods for you.
Recipe and article submitted by: Terry Smith