Anything declared “the official BBQ dish of Texas” has to be good. This defines authentic BBQ brisket. And it should come as no surprise that some good things take time to prepare. Lots of time.
Lots of time with lots of cold beer.
The key to good brisket is selecting a quality cut of meat, and then smoking it at a constant temperature, slow and low over hardwood chips for many hours.
You’ll note that many people prefer to baste the surface of the beef with a light coat of yellow mustard before adding the rub. This is called “the glue” by BBQ afficionados, and in theory, helps the dry rub ingredients bind to the meat and keep it moist while smoking. In all honesty, I’ve never noticed a difference in taste, texture or juiciness with or without it. You decide.
Selecting a Quality Cut of Meat:
The grade of beef brisket available in most supermarkets or meat shops vary in quality and are: Select, Choice and Prime. Prime is the best you can get, and you will pay a premium for it, so be prepared to take a hit on your wallet. If you’re looking at a reasonably-priced cut of Select brisket on sale in your local supermarket, my advice is to not waste your time. You’ll want to go with a cut that’s at least Choice grade. Remember, Quality in = quality out… you really do get what you pay for. Spend a bit more money for an unbelievable finished product. Here are some tips for getting started:
1 Choice or Prime-grade cut of beef brisket; flat or point (calculate total pounds needed) with a generous fat cap and good marbling
BBQ brisket rub (Click here for Jim Fanto’s secret rub recipe)
Wood chips for smoking – either Hickory or Oak, with a small amount of Mesquite
Apple juice for the drip pan
You will also need:
Empty beer cooler (the unfortunate assumption is you’ve drank all of the beer while you waited.)
Thick bath towels
Plastic wrap and heavy aluminum foil
The night before you plan to smoke the brisket, lay out the meat on a large cutting board and trim the fat cap down to 1/4″. Note the grain of the meat* – you’ll need to use this for determining how to cut it after it’s done smoking (More on that in a bit.) Sprinkle generously with dry rub, ensuring all sides are coated. Pat down with your hands and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, calculate the hours needed for the smoke, including time needed for the stall, or plateau and a 45min-1 hour rest before slicing, using 1.5 hours per pound as a minimum for your guide. For example: Shown below in the photos is a brisket flat that’s just under 3 pounds. Let’s do the math; 3 x 1.5 = 4.5 hours. Add at least 1 hour for the stall (explainer below), and one hour for the rest before slicing. This particular cut took exactly 6.5 hours, from the time I put it in the preheated smoker, to the time I took it out of the cooler after resting. Now, with that said, you will never know exactly how long the stall is, as this time varies by the weight and structure of the meat — if it has a lot of fat and marbling, it will react differently than a more lean cut of meat. After time, you will know roughly what to expect when planning for the stall.
The Stall, or Plateau, Defined:
There is nothing more frustrating thinking you’re going to be serving your BBQ masterpiece at 6pm, only to find out it stalled for over two hours at a fixed temperature, throwing off your plans until well after 8pm. At roughly 160-degrees F., meat will hover at a constant temperature before rising again to the proper temperature needed to remove and then let rest. This is called “the stall” and it’s a phenomenon caused by the evaporation of moisture from the meat in the smoker box, effectively cooling the meat for a time, until the temperature-to-water ratio in the box corrects itself. At this point, the temperature will increase again, with the final hour or two increasing more rapidly due to the rendering process of the fat.
Remember, the brisket will be done when it’s done, and it may not be a time that you can control. You’ll need to plan ahead for this in your calculation, giving you enough time for the smoke and rest.
An hour before you are ready to smoke, preheat your smoker to 225-degrees F. Ensure the ash is cleaned from the wood tray and that the wood tray is properly seated around the heating element. Add about two cups of apple juice to the drip pan and close the smoker door. At this time, remove the brisket from the fridge. Remove the plastic wrap and allow to warm up on your counter.
Oil a grill grate with peanut oil on both sides. Place the brisket on the grate and carefully place in the smoker. Insert the digital probe into the thickest part of the meat. Close and lock the door, ensuring it’s tight. That door needs to stay closed and be treated like a Prohibition-era bank vault for the entire smoke! No peeking! Add one cup of wood chips to the chip loader and then start a digital timer.
After 45 minutes, reload the wood chips. Add wood again after another 45 minutes. You will not need to load more wood after 135 total minutes as the meat will not absorb more smoke. In case you’re wondering, the magic meat temperature for this cutoff is about 140-degrees F.
Your target temp for removing the meat from the smoker is 195-197-degrees F. As discussed above, at about 160 the meat will hit the stall and hover there for at least 45 minutes to several hours. At about 170-degrees it will start climbing. Check the internal meat probe temperature often after this point as it will continue to rise more quickly.
Remove the brisket from the smoker when it hits your target internal temperature of 195-197. Working quickly, remove the probe and wrap tightly in heavy aluminum foil.
Place the meat in the bottom of an empty beer cooler. Layer towels over the top of the meat (this acts as an insulator) and seal covered for 45-minutes to 1 hour.
Remove and slice carefully, perpendicular to the grain* in 3/8″ planks. Serve immediately with your favorite BBQ sauce on the side, potatoes, beans, roast corn, or just about any other Southern dish you can think of. Brisket plays nice with everything. Enjoy!!