Fri 24 Mar 2017
Smoking a Beef Brisket
We receive a lot of questions about preparing and smoking a beef brisket on different equipment. There is no question, that people in North America love their beef and anyone who has sampled prime BBQ knows that brisket has a truly unique flavor that puts this food experience on many people’s bucket list. Let me share some of the key tips we offer as well as some of the interesting questions posed regarding this infamous meat.
What’s With All The Names?
Whole packer, Flat, Point, Deckle, Burnt Ends. These are likely names you’ve heard or seen float around. Let’s start with what brisket is – pectoral muscles (there are two) of the animal. They get a lot of work, bearing more than half the animal’s weight, which causes them to get tough. Thus, the reason for a low temperature, long cook time to get this cut of meat tender. Oh, and yes, you can use a slow cooker but that just isn’t BBQ!
When purchased, a whole packer often called Texas Style Brisket will weigh 9-16 lbs. Let’s be clear – the whole packer contains two muscles; the flat and the point. So, there are really 3 cuts offered in most butcher shops: a whole packer brisket (which includes the next two cuts), a flat (1st cut), and a point (the 2nd cut or deckle). These 3 cuts are not the same and will require some changes in cooking. Also, don’t confuse corned beef. Yes, it is brisket but it is a preserved cut that should not be used for barbecue!
Don’t you need all the fat left on to make it tender?
When brisket is sold whole, it will contain a fat cap side that can be up to an inch of fat. This requires trimming! Fat is oil and meat is essentially loaded with water, so the two do not readily mix. However, fat can add a flavorful component to dishes especially when cooked over or with hardwood. Therefore, I recommend you trim all the outer fat layer to ⅛” or at the most ¼”. Regarding the fat cap, my preference is to remove it, but if you want to add some extra flavonoids to your cooking environment, you can always cook the fat cap separate from the meat, allowing it to drip into the water pan and add flavor to the condensation/steam that develops.
If you elect to cook with the fat cap intact, cook the meat with the fat cap down so it renders into the water pan, or coals depending on what equipment you’re cooking on.
There is silverskin so trim any that you see, much like you do with ribs, as this is stiff connective tissue. Remember, the fat needs to be trimmed for flavor to penetrate the meat. Too much fat, and nothing will get through to the meat!
Size: Can I cut it up to reduce the cooking time?
Sometimes I think the biggest obstacle to a successful brisket is the thinking that you must keep this cut of meat as one large piece (if purchased as the packer cut). Generally, you end up with a dry thinner portion and undercooked thicker portion given the long cook time. Why not try cutting this so you have two more equal thicknesses to deal with? That is, instead of attempting the whole packer, purchase the flat and point separately. It’s always a good rule of thumb that if you don’t possess great butchering skills, have the butcher do the cutting for you.
Known as the “Texas Crutch”, this is a technique of wrapping the meat in heavy duty foil with 1-2 ounces of liquid. The purpose? Aiding tenderization of a muscle meat and speeding the cooking process. You will compromise some of the crisping of the bark (outside of the brisket) with this method but not the flavor.
Brisket = All Nighter?
Not necessarily. Although you need to plan 45-60 minutes per pound at an average temperature of 225° F, and that the meat will likely stall around 150° F (when connective tissue and internal fats liquefy), the average full smoker/grill time will be 12-14 hours. You can do a partial smoke on the grill/smoker and then move to the conventional oven. Here’s how – Smoke until the internal temperature is close to 130° F or when the meat stalls at about 150° F, ensuring great wood-fired flavor. Now, you can move that beautiful meat to the oven. Set is still for a low temperature oven say 200 to 225° F. I recommend tenting the pan. Keep in mind, you won’t get a crunchy bark but you will get the peace of mind of a flavorful meat and the ability to enjoy family and friends. If you need the oven for other food items at a higher temperature, just pull the meat, tent it well and allow it to sit untouched until you’re ready to carve.
Rub/Brine/Injection? What do I do?
Food is personal so experiment and find what works for you and the people that you serve. Plus, no one said salt and pepper can’t be your rub so don’t feel pulled to have to add a ton of ingredients for a rub. The key is to marinate the meat with whatever seasoning/rub you choose for at least 6 hours or overnight to ensure that some of the water is rendered out and tenderizing begins. Plus, cold meat will attract smoke vapor. Also, beef does not like sweet so any combination of ingredients you use for a rub, include only a small quantity of sugar.
You can consider injecting the meat with a brine to breakdown the intramuscular fat. The application of salt allows the muscle of the meat to retain moisture and gives the final product greater flavor. Always cook it fat cap side down to the heat. This allows the fat to act as an insulator and keep more moisture in the meat so you don’t have a dry meat result.
Purchase only USDA Choice or Prime beef. Start with 4-6 ounces of wood and add more every 30 minutes for the first 2-3 hours. If you notice a considerable color difference between the top and bottom of the meat, go ahead and turn it. If you plan to foil, do this at 150° F. Shoot for a finished internal temperature of about 200° F. At that point, let the meat sit in the foil for up to 2 hours on the closed cooker or move to a cooler. If you prefer a crisper bark, you can unwrap the meat from the foil following the 2 hour rest and broil for a few minutes on each side or put on a hot grill. It just takes a few minutes on each side. Always slice the meat with the fat side up, across the grain, preferably with the flat and point separated first. Add any sauce or mop after the slicing.