Brisket… That super-awesome, tasty, tender, barbequed wonder-meat. We all know it. We all love it. We all wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, licking our lips with a deep, soul-aching craving for it… okay, maybe that’s just me. Whatever. Brisket, when done right, is a thing of Hellenic beauty. So, there must be only one “right” way to do it, right? One time tested, foodie approved means by which to prepare it… right? Pfft.
If you Google up “how to smoke a brisket” you will be bombarded with literally dozens… nay, HUNDREDS of opinions on the “right” way to do it. So, to save you the trouble of ever having to defend me as “right” in a knife fight brought on by a heated discussion on the finer points of brisket smoking, let me just say, I’m not here to tell you what is “right.” I’m just going to tell you what I did, and how well it worked. You may draw your own conclusions as to my “rightness,” “handsomeness,” or “manliness.”
So let’s assume that you already know what a brisket is, what part of the cow it comes from, et cetera, et cetera… If you don’t, seriously… Wikipedia or something. I can’t be expected to cover everything for you, I’m a busy dude.
For our recent Halloween / Housewarming party, we decided that a nice brisket was called for, so the first thing I did was call a butcher. That’s right, an ACTUAL butcher, none of this grocery store meat counter nonsense. The grocery store is a great place to find your lean ground turkey and your previously frozen and artificially colored salmon fillets, but when you’re dealing with serious meat, do yourself a favor and contact a serious meat purveyor. You’ll be glad you did. So, by Friday morning I had gotten my hands on two 11 – 12 pound briskets. I ordered them untrimmed, because I believe that with brisket, as with all meats, if you trim all the fat, you trim all the flavor.
“But Hooligan, I’m all health conscious and shit… don’t fatty meats lead to fatty asses?”
Okay… let’s just go ahead and clear one thing up RIGHT fucking now. There ain’t a damn thing in the world wrong with a big ass. That being said… go hide in a yoga class, hippie. You can enjoy your wheat-grass smoothie while the rest of us carnivores enjoy this fine, smoky treat. Leave the fat on the brisket. I mean it. All you need to do to that piece of meat is give it a rinse and pat it dry. No excess labor required.
Let’s take a minute and talk about smoking woods. Settle down, hop-heads… I said smoking WOODS. For the purposes of brisket, I find that fruit woods like apple or cherry give a brisket a nice sweetness. It’s my opinion that mesquite is just too… mesquitey. What I chose to use this time was wood chips from busted up Jack Daniel’s aging barrels. They added a whiskey sweetness to the beef that I found intoxicating. See what I did there? Whatever smoking wood you decide to use, the most important thing to remember is that you gotta soak those chips for HOURS in advance. Like overnight, even. Just cover them with some water and let ‘em sit. When you’re ready to use them, drain off the excess water. That’s it.
So, we have brisket. It’s nice and fatty. It’s been rinsed in some clean, cold water and patted pretty much dry. The next concern is the rub. I used a mix of sea salt, ground black pepper, red pepper, smoked paprika and garlic powder. You’ll note that we don’t call it a “sprinkle.” It’s a rub. Grab handfuls of that flavorful stuff and rub it into the meat. Give that slab o’ beef a nice massage, and don’t stop until there’s so much rub on there that it’s making a nice paste. Not only will this provide plenty of flavor, it’ll help develop a super tasty bark. You want that.
Done rubbed? Good. Now comes the fun part.
I don’t have a smoker. Do you? If you do, you probably know how to use it, so I won’t get into it. For those of us who don’t have an actual smoker, I will cover how to turn a gas grill into a lean, mean, smoking machine.
My grill has three burner elements in it. Most will have at least two. Basically you want to apply heat to your wood chips, but not to your meat. It’s called “indirect” heat. So, I fired up the burner on the far right, put a two dollar foil baking pan filled with soaked wood chips right onto the burner (down below the grilling surface), and put my brisket on the far left, away from the actual fire.
Use a baking thermometer to verify the temperature within your “smoker.” You’ll want to keep it between about 200 and 225 degrees F. Figure on smoking your meat for about an hour and a half per pound of beef, maybe longer. The goal is to get the brisket to an internal temperature of 190 F. That seems to be the temperature at which all that stringy, no-good connective tissue breaks down and becomes juicy goodness. Be careful not to smoke for too long though, or your brisket will dry out, and that will suck buckets.
In order to thoroughly smoke my two 11 – 12 pound briskets, I used three whole pans of wood chips, most of a cylinder of propane and 18 – 19 hours of smoke time. I turned the briskets over once, halfway through smoking, and made sure to change their direction as well, so as to make sure that I wasn’t keeping the same end of the brisket pointed at the heat source for a solid 18 hours. Every hour or so I would pop open the “smoker” to check the temperature and to mop the brisket with apple juice. Plain old, straight apple juice. Helps to keep things nice and moist.
Once I was happy with my brisket’s internal temperature and tenderness, I pulled it from the smoker and let it rest for a good 30 minutes. During this time, a crowd of party-goers gathered to “ooh” and “ahh” over it. The aroma coming off of it was simply maddening. By the time I started carving the brisket, folks looked like they were about ready to start chewing on each other. But carve I did. The brisket was so tender the knife just glided through it. Pockets of fatty juice popped and ran out over my board as I cut. Every platter of brisket that I put on the buffet disappeared in a flash. Conversations dimmed and halted as everyone dug in. My Jameson’s Barbecue sauce was applied liberally by many. One party goer expressed a desire to make sweet, sweet love to my brisket. You know who you are… I don’t have to point fingers.
All in all, I declare brisket success!
So really, is there someone out there who will read this and think, “God save us, he knows NOTHING about brisket!” Undoubtedly. In fact, I’m sure there are roughly a million Texans who, as we speak, are discussing the finer points of brisket smoking based on generations of trial and error passed down the family tree. Whatever. I’m no barbecue god. I just know that when my brisket hit the table, people ate… and ate… and ate, and were happy. Isn’t that the point of it all? To see that look… you know the one… on the faces of the people that you’ve just slaved over a hot stove for. That blissed out, slightly stoned expression that tells you you’ve done it “just” right? I love that look. I live for it, and that’s why I cook.
Thanks for reading. Now go smoke something good!
PS. > Thanks to Chip for the extra pic!