When I say “simple” I don’t necessarily mean easy. There are parts of the process that are easy but some that are not. There is not a high degree of difficulty in cooking a brisket just a lot of steps that need to happen at the right time.
Brisket is a popular meat for many cultures and in america is most popular as a smoke meat. Because of the high amount of collagen fibers throughout the meat it is cooked low and slow to break down the collagen and make the brisket tender. There is several different ways to cook a brisket you can, smoke it, braise it, broil it, or cook it in a crockpot.
In the southern part of the US they cook it over charcoal and hardwood for flavor, in the North US and Britain they will cook it like a roast with vegetables and gravy. In the asian cultures they broil it at low heats and serve it very thinly sliced. It is the primary beef used in Vietnamese phở soup. In traditional jewish meals they braise it in liquid and serve it sliced on holidays or special occasions. In Mexico and South America the brisket is slow cooked in a round taco pans and is served in taco stands all over the continent.
Other uses for brisket is curing it with salt to make corned beef. Smoking a corned beef with an addition of other spices will yield pastrami, one of my favorites.
What is brisket?
Brisket it cut of meat taken from the breast or chest of a cow. A cow does not have a collar bone so the meat contains a large amount of collagen and connective tissue to support a lions share of the cows weight. To make the meat easier to eat, proper cooking techniques need to be used to break down the connective tissues and tenderize the cut. If done right a brisket can be some of the most tender and flavorful of all of the primary cuts of meat on a cow, well at least in my opinion. So now that you know where the brisket is cut from lets take a look at what a cut of brisket looks like.
There are three different cuts that you may come across. A whole Packers cut (see diagram above) which includes the two other cuts that are out there the flat cut (A) and the point cut (B).
The packer cut and flat cut is popular in BBQ because of the amount of people that it feeds and the different dishes that you can make from it. Sliced brisket it most popular. You can also make “burnt ends” and shredded BBQ beef sandwiches. Scraps and cutoff is also used in dishes such as chili and BBQ beans.
The point cut is similar to the packer cut but only includes the meat to the left of the jagged cut on the diagram. This cut most readily available and is used all over the globe.
How do I cook a brisket?
As I stated before there is several ways to cook a brisket but for this article we will go over a simple smoked brisket that will make your mouth water until you cook your next one.
tip: Preparation of the brisket should start 12 to 24 hours before you start to smoke. Cooking the brisket can take 1.5 to 2.0 hours per pan so give yourself plenty of time before you need to serve the meet.
Meat – The first thing that you will need is the brisket. For best results in cooking get a half packer (Point Cut) or a full packer. The fat cap and fat layer will help keep the brisket moist in the constant heat. However some butchers leave too much fat cap or silver skin on the brisket so before you season trim the fat cap to about 3/4 in thickness and remove and of the silver skin. A pan of water is recommended by some pit masters to keep the outside of the brisket moist but basting it will do as well. Pat the brisket dry with paper towel to help remove the packing juices that may be on the brisket. I like to score the fat cap to get the rubs and seasonings down deeper into the brisket. I know I will not get any points at a BBQ cook off but I think it is worth it in taste.
Rubs (Wet and/or Dry) – Let preference guide you here. I use both wet and dry on my briskets and shoulders. Using a wet rub before helps adhere your dry rub before you “pat” it into the surface of the meat. You can find my wet marinade rub recipe on this site, or you could use something as simple as Frenches Yellow Mustard. I find when smoking meats that the simpler the rub the better. I use a mixture of fresh ground pepper, course salt, garlic powder, and Paprika (For Color). Salt is an important part of the next step so make sure that you use it. If you are concerned about health there are much better cuts of meat that you can eat other than brisket.
Marinating period – You do not need to marinate for long if you are in a hurry to get this baby in the smoker. However I find that it makes for a more flavorful and tender brisket. Once you have applied your wet rub by either dunking it or painting it on, apply your dry rub and pat in into the surface. Although it is named a rub, the rough salt and pepper crystals can scratch and cut the surface of the meat. This is aesthetics only and will not affect the flavor, so if you are a stickler for names…rub away.
Now for the scientific part. I don’t get to do this often because I am surrounded by many brilliant people and I don’t get to teach people something that I find fascinating. I talked about the salt being important before and now I will explain why. Osmotic Pressure. This phenomenon is what happens to food when you put salt on it and let it sit. If you were to take a peeled potato or another vegetable and put it into a strainer and the put that strainer on top of a bowl, and then put salt on it something magical happens. You make water! Well, salty water. The salt on the surface of the potato creates an imbalance that causes liquid to excrete from the cells of the potato. The water then accumulates and collects in the bottom of the bowl. If you were to do this to a roast and let the dripping collect at the bottom of the pan the meat would be drier. This is how we “cure” meats as well. We try to draw out as much liquid as we can while creating an air barrier on the surface of the meat to prevent oxidation and spoilage. This is NOT what we want to do with a brisket.
Instead we need to wrap the meat in plastic wrap and let osmotic pressure do its job. The best part about this is it works both ways. Once the liquid is drawn out an held to the surface of the brisket by the plastic wrap it creates an imbalance the other way. The cells in the brisket will draw all of the dissolved salt back into the cells flavoring the meat more.
Well, enough of the Bill Nye stuff, lets get back to preparation.
Keep the wrapped brisket in the refrigerator 12 hours before putting it into the smoker. This will allow for the saline balance to be restored to the brisket. Remove brisket from the refrigerator 1 hour before adding to the smoker.
Cooking or Smoking the Brisket
Suggested equipment: Pellet or offset smoker and a remote thermometer with probe
Before we get to the steps I will mention this as it is the most important part in cooking a brisket. Maintain, Maintain, Maintain, and Patience, Patience Patience!!! Keep your heat even and no peeking. As a a matter of fact if you can keep yourself from peeking at the brisket by lifting the lid the better off you are. That being said your smoker choice will be the difference between a tender delicious brisket or a boat bumper. If your smoker allows you to add pellets, fuel, or chips without lifting the lid the better off you will be. I am not saying that you cannot cook with a grill style barrel or kettle smoker but your results may be better in a pellet or offset smokebox smoker. Both of these choices allow you to add fuel without releasing the steady heat that the collagen so desperately needs to break down. Know your smoker and how it reacts to weather, and outside temperature changes. A full packer can take up to 20hrs to smoke and may go through some drastic weather changes during its smoke. Make sure you know the weather for the cook, or insulate your smoker with welding blankets so that you can ensure a steady heat. Lava rocks or fire bricks can also be used in some smokers to keep a more steady heat.
Now back to the steps.
Preheat the smoker to 180º F. We will be using two temps for this brisket.
Place the fat side up in the smoker, you should be using indirect heat for the duration.
Cook at 180º for approximately 4 hours.
Increase heat to 250º and let the brisket cook until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 180º. At this point the meat has made it out of the stall and the temperature should increase steadily.
This next part is optional and is a preference only..
Foil the Brisket and place in the smoker until the meat reaches the internal temperature of 195º. Check with the probe. The probe should slide in and out of all sections of the meat very easily. I have in the past seen briskets reach 205º before this was achieved.
Remove from the smoker and allow to rest for 30-45 minutes before carving.
While carving slice across the grain. This will give in a marbled look and will keep the meet from being stringy.
Enjoy and Share.