how to smoke a brisket – An Easy to Follow Guide

sliced brisket

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Mastering the art of smoking a brisket can be a challenge. I hear many stories of people trying to smoke a brisket and end up with tough and dry meat. Personally, I had to go through a few failures first before I mastered the right methods to ensure that I always end up with a perfectly cooked, juicy brisket . You can too learn how to smoke a brisket using this guide. In this article, we will teach how to select the brisket, prepare it, and smoke the brisket to perfection.

How do you smoke the perfect brisket? Here are the steps

To smoke “the perfect brisket,” you will need to employ a few grilling techniques, choose the right cut of meats, and use the right seasoning. You can use any type of BBQ smoker, although we prefer charcoal and stick burners.

One of the most important steps in this process is meat selection. Before dreaming of a well-cooked, juicy brisket, it is necessary to have good brisket meat, and I mean good. Additionally, you must properly prepare and season the brisket before smoking it.

While smoking your brisket, you need to monitor the smoker’s temperature, control the fire, and ensure the brisket is placed correctly in your smoker to avoid burning or drying the meat.

Lastly, you also need to control and manage the moisture inside your smoker to ensure the brisket remains juicy and tender.

Step 1: The Intro Choosing A Good Brisket Cut, Grab a Beer, We go Deep!

Many pitmasters and experienced backyard warriors prefer to buy Wagyu brisket. However, if this is your first time smoking a brisket, save the good stuff for later and practice with briskets from your local grocery store.

When choosing your beef brisket, you need to consider the “grade” of meat. Many pitmasters prefer cooking a whole brisket or a packer brisket, which means you get the entire cut from the flat side to the point. The choice is clear. When you purchase a whole brisket, you get to control the trimming process and what the cut of meat will look like before placing it in your smoker. 

Pay close attention to the brisket cut and look for good marbling and a thick flat. Look for USDA Choice, Prime, or Certified Angus Beef to ensure you purchase good-quality meat. You can follow this article to the letter, but if your choice of meat is not the best, your smoke brisket might not be the best.

Your local grocery store will call briskets either full brisket, wagyu brisket. 

Grocery stores have briskets in different shapes, cuts, and sizes. Your local grocery store should also have various labels depending on the locality. You can opt for prime briskets, choice briskets, or select briskets. There is also Wagyu brisket, which is among the best grades of brisket.

Advice for Buying Brisket

When buying a brisket, you need to consider the grade of meat and type of brisket. If this is your very first brisket, I strongly recommend you purchase a low-grade cut of meat, briskets can be hard to smoke, and you will go through a few briskets before you hone in your skills. Once you become an expert, definitely go for the highest meat grade possible. When it comes to smoking the best brisket, meat grade matters extensively.

Here in the United States, beef processed at USDA inspected facilities are graded using USDA standards. Meat marbling is taken into consideration, among other factors.

Here are your primary USDA meat grades:

  • Prime – This is the highest quality meat you can buy, and it has the most marbling, which equals flavor. These cuts of meat will be more expensive.
  • Choice – This cut of meat is the most commonly found at stores but has less marbling.
  • Select – This cut of meat is the leanest and usually less expensive. This lean cut will not be as juicy or tender as your prime cuts.

Furthermore, the meats’ primary grades are broken into subcategories such as upper, middle, and lower grades. For instance, Certified Angus Beef is graded as Upper Choice. These subcategories add more options and price points. You can get an excellent cut of brisket without necessarily going to a prime-graded meat cut.

If you want to try good cuts of brisket, you can try Snake River Farms briskets and have these bad boys delivered right at your door.

3. Prepare the Brisket

Preparing your brisket before smoking is an important step. It involves trimming and applying the rub to your brisket. Trimming the brisket consists of removing extra fat and thin parts of the meat that would cook too fast or burn. A perfect brisket trim will ensure the brisket cooks evenly.

How you season the brisket will depend on the flavor you wish the brisket to have. I only use salt and pepper to season my briskets. This simple rub recipe has worked well for me, and pitmasters such as Aaron Franklin only use salt and pepper their briskets. If salt and pepper is good for Aaron is also good for me!

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the steps you must take to ensure your brisket is ready for your smoker.

As I mentioned before, Aaron is one of the best brisket BBQ masters in the nation. You might think that his success is due to a complicated recipe mix. Surprisingly, Aaron’s brisket recipe is quite simple, salt and pepper. 

Yes, Aaron uses salt and pepper to season his briskets. Below is Aaron Franklin’s recipe.

Ingredients

1/2 cup of freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup of Kosher salt

Steps

Mix the ingredients in a rub shaker of bowl

Apply to the brisket

Is that simple folks!

4. Trim and Season ( Apply the Rub) to the Brisket

The steps involved in the preparation stage include trimming and seasoning the brisket. To trim the brisket, you need a narrow, curved boning knife.

Trimming the brisket ensures the brisket is not too fatty, cooks evenly, or dries. Trimming excess fat from thick areas of the meat will ensure an even cook, and cutting thin parts that might burn before the brisket is done will reduce tough or dry meat sections.

A good rule of thumb is about a quarter-inch of fat on the meat’s thickest areas. You also need to get rid of the thick membrane that does not render well during cooking. The main idea is to use fat to protect the meat, but don’t leave so much fat that the meat underneath won’t cook or taste good. At the same time, remember to cut small and thin pieces of meat that will burn during the long smoking process.

Pro Tip: Ask your butcher to cut the membrane for you; some will be able to.

Trimming is more effective when the brisket is cold, and you should try to trim it immediately after removing it from the fridge.  After trimming, you need to season the brisket. Although most people use paprika, cumin, and chill powder, you will be surprised at what a simple salt and pepper rub can do on a good brisket.

A simple rub allows you to enjoy the rich beef flavor of the brisket. You should also avoid putting too much rub on the brisket as it would mask the beef flavor. While applying the seasoning, keep swirling the mixture to ensure the salt does not settle at the bottom.

Before you put the brisket into the smoker, allow it to warm up to room temperature. That allows it to cook evenly. When possible, you should trim and season the brisket a night before you intend to cook it. That allows the rub to soak into the meat and ensure the brisket acquires a deep flavor.

Using a Beef Brisket Injection

You can certainly use a beef injection to add flavor to the brisket. However, it has been my experience injecting a brisket requires good knowledge of juices and flavors. 

You can enhance the meats’ flavor, but you can also end up with something that tastes like pineapple in pizza. Just kiddin’! We will later write a guide on using beef injections but today, let’s stay focus on smoking that perfect brisket. 

5. Let’s smoke the brisket

Oh, wait, but there is more? Yes, finally we are going to smoke the brisket!

Having prepared the brisket, it’s now time for the cooking. This part of the process is my favorite and the most fun. You may be spending up to 12 hours cooking the brisket, so make sure you plan ahead. 

During the cooking phase, you will be managing the smoker, the fire, and the brisket. You will need to pay close attention to your temperature gage as you will need to keep your smoker at a steady temperature. You will also need to inspect the meat from time to time to ensure it remains moist. 

How long to smoke the brisket ?

There is no rule written in stone on the amount of time you need to cook the brisket. Based on our experience, the best answer always is, “when the probe says it is ready.” However, you can estimate the amount of time needed to cook your brisket.

The amount of time your brisket will take to cook to perfection will vary depending on multiple factors, such as the cut of meat, weight, heat, and even the smoker type you use.

However, a good rule of thumb is to cook a one-pound brisket in about 1 hour 15 minutes at a steady 250°F temperature.

So here is a quick formula to calculate how long it will take to smoke your brisket:

If your brisket is 15 pounds, multiply the pounds by one hour and 15 minutes.

15lb x 1.25 hours = 18.75 hours (WOW!)

Positioning the Brisket in the smoker

The positioning of the brisket depends on the type of smoker you are using. Generally, there are a few details you need to note as you place the brisket in the smoker. Both fat-side up and fat-side down work well. However, if your heat source is below the meat, the fat should be facing the heat to protect the meat from burning and drying. 

The point side ( the thicker side) should face where the heat is coming from. That protects the meat from drying as it cooks. The “point” is typically the fattiest area of the brisket. The flat side (the thinner side) should be closer to the smokestack. Place a water pan in the smoker to maintain the cooking chamber’s moisture and prevent the brisket from becoming too dry.

6. Managing your brisket during the cook

A delicious brisket is the result of meticulous and attentive cooking. You have to keep watch over the smoker’s and brisket’s temperature as the cooking process advances. 

A steady temperature is essential to achieve an evenly cooked brisket. As the meat cooks, try not to open the smoker too often as that will lead to a loss of heat and smoke. You may end up spending more time to cook than initially planned.

This is why it is crucial to have a good meat thermometer or probe in your meat and a good thermometer to monitor your smoker’s temperature. You don’t have to get anything fancy. You simply need to know at what temperature the meat and the smoker are at all times.

The more you open your smoker grill, the less you are actually cooking. Heat and smoke escape when you open your smoker grill, so use your temperature monitoring tools instead.

If, upon checking your brisket, you realize that your brisket seems dry, spritz it using a spray bottle. Use apple cider vinegar or apple juice for the spritzing. Don’t be afraid to “mop” or spray your brisket to keep it moist.

Avoid choking the fire of oxygen as this mistake can cause a “dirty fire.”Dirty fire creates creosote, which sticks to meat and ruins its flavor. 

Find the best wood for smoking your brisket. Using wet or green wood will produce too much smoke and add terrible flavor to your meat. If you want a good, well-balanced taste for your brisket, try post oak wood.

When smoking the brisket, you need clean heat without too much smoke. 

How to Keep Your Brisket Moist

As the brisket cooks, you need to retain moisture in the smoker. The best way to achieve that is by having a water pan in the smoker. Some people over-elaborate ideas, but merely using a water pan in your smoker is the best way to retain moisture.

Once the brisket has been cooking for about two to three hours, you can start spritzing it with hot sauce, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, or water. You should spritz the brisket in intervals of about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how the meat looks. Make sure whatever you decide to spray on your brisket adds a flavor you like.

Wrapping your brisket and dealing with the dreaded stall

Wrapping briskets or other meats during the cook is a practice used as an aid during specific situations. You don’t necessarily have to wrap your brisket but wrapping your brisket or pork shoulder is a well-known practice to combat what is known as “The STALL”.

The stall is a term used to describe when the meat reaches a temperature, and then the meat’s temperature stops climbing, hence the stall. The stall can be due to many reasons, such as firewall management, meat cut, and other factors.

When your brisket temperature reaches about 150 to 170 degrees, its internal temperature can stall, start drying out, and become tough. If you believe your brisket is stalling, apply a wrapping technique. 

Wrapping your brisket will help retain its moisture while managing through the stall.. Don’t rush the meat or crack on the heat. Wrap the meat to accelerate the cooking process while retaining moisture. You can use foil or butcher paper to wrap the brisket. The main advantage of this process is that it helps deal with the stall.  

7. Finishing your brisket 

When the brisket is close to being done, it should have a nice bark and color. The meat should be soft at this time, and you need to try to keep it that way. To ensure the brisket remains warm and soft, you can wrap it with unwaxed butcher paper. After you wrap the brisket, you can place it back in the smoker at 250°F until it is perfectly done. 

Leave the brisket in the smoker until its internal temperature reaches 195-203°F.

Some pitmasters never wrap their briskets, and this step is not to be confused with the stall practice of wrapping the meat to push through a stall.

Tips: After Smoking the perfect brisket

Keeping your brisket warm

It is difficult to time your brisket to be ready at the exact time you want to serve. You can estimate when your brisket will be ready to be served using the formula we provided earlier in this article, but it is hard to predict precisely when your brisket will be ready to put on the dinner table.

Also, let’s be realistic, life happens, guests can be late, or you have to do a last-minute run to the store to stack up on beer. After all, you have been cooking for a long time. You do deserve a cold one, or four. 

How to keep brisket warm

Nevertheless, there are few techniques you can apply to keep your brisket warm. I use one method that has worked for me for years. I wrap the brisket in foil when it is at 200 to 205 degrees, then wrap it further in an old towel and place it in a beer cooler. I personally use a Yeti 110 because, let me tell you, that cooler does the best job at controlling temperature, but you can use just about any beer cooler.

The point here is to use the beer cooler as an oven and keep the temperature steady.

Slicing your brisket

Ok, if you have made it to this step and are ready to slice your brisket, first, I want to congratulate you.

I want to give you some credit. Smoking a brisket is not easy and feared by some. Your first brisket might not be perfect, but give it some time, keep practicing, and soon slicing your brisket will be one of your most rewarding experiences.

Slicing your brisket does not require a precision laser, but do use a good brisket slicing knife. The best knife for slicing a brisket is a 12-inch serrated knife.

As you slice the brisket, cut against the grain on the flat side. When you get to the point, turn the brisket 90 degrees and cut against the grain again. Ensure each slice’s size is about as thick as a big pencil on the side with fat and as thick as a small pencil on the leaner part.

But do yourself a favor and use a good knife. The last thing you want to do is tear up your brisket after spending so much time and hard work smoking it.

If you are not ready to serve your brisket yet, keep it wrapped and do not slice it. Once you start slicing the brisket, moisture will escape, and it will begin to dry.

One Last Word. – Let’s Eat!

A lot goes into preparing and smoking a good brisket. Everything from choosing the right cut of brisket, trimming, seasoning, and the cooking process plays a significant role in the outcome of your smoked brisket.

There are several steps that you need to follow to prepare the perfect smoked brisket. Many people find it hard to smoke briskets. They find the whole process complicated and lengthy. 

However, following a detailed guide such as this article can help you achieve impressive results. You do not have to be a pitmaster to smoke a perfect brisket. All you need are the right ingredients, meat cuts, and tools to wow your friends and family. The rest is about managing the fire and the meat as it cooks, which you will learn over time.

There may be some debate about how to place the brisket in the smoker or how long it should take to cook. However, no one answer is right. When it comes to smoking briskets, everyone has their own preference, and as you start becoming an expert, you will have your own preferences.  The answer depends on several factors. However, this article’s primary purpose is to guide you in the right direction and get you started with your first brisket. The most important thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy the process.

Once you master smoking briskets, trust me, you will become the mayor of your neighborhood.

Enjoy Life, Get Grilling!

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