How To Smoke Brisket

Before you learn how to smoke a brisket, I need to let you know that it takes a certain amount of patience. A true, traditional brisket smoke takes many hours to complete, and that doesn't include any of the time it takes getting the brisket ready for the smoker.

Briskets are big cuts of meat, weighing up to 16 pounds or more for nice ones. A whole brisket includes two different muscles, the flat and the point. The grain of each section run different directions, which is something to keep in mind when it's time to slice 'em. The flat runs the entire length of the brisket. The point lies on top of the flat, when the fatty side is up, and to one end.

What Is a Brisket?

The meat contains a lot of connective tissue because the chest muscles are used a lot. Gentle heat applied over a long period of time softens and melts the connective tissue, releasing juice and flavor. Great flavor. And that's what makes a traditional smoked brisket such a thing of beauty.

Purchasing a Brisket

Most grocers always have the trimmed brisket sections on hand; the points and flats that have been trimmed of most of their fat. But that's not what you want. The type of brisket needed for smoking is called a packers cut brisket. You'll find those in the cryovac packaging...that snug-fitting thick and tough plastic wrap. Larger grocers carry them, and the big discount stores and big box stores have them too. If you're lucky, your corner grocery store has 'em. If they don't, ask the meat cutter to order one or two for you.

Recipes Worth Trying

Bigger stores will usually have better prices. It really pays to shop around, since a difference of one dollar a pound can mean sixteen dollars difference. If you find 'em at a good price, buy several and freeze a couple. They'll keep frozen for a year in the cryovac package.

Choose briskets that show some fat marbled through the meat fibers. A brisket that's too lean won't taste as good. There will be a fat covering on one side, which is known as the fat cap. When you trim the brisket, the fat cap will be thinned down to 1/8th to 1/4 of an inch thick. Try to find one that has close the right thickness of fat if you can. The whole brisket has internal fat too. Pick the cold brisket up by one end. If it's stiff, it has more internal fat. If it's loose and flexible there's less internal fat. That's how I test 'em.

Look a the overall thickness of the brisket, too. A brisket that is about the same thickness overall will cook evenly. How is it cut? Does it look nice and even?

Items Needed For a Day (or Two) of Brisket Smoking

  • Meat Smoker
  • Large food grade container for marinating and refrigerating
  • One or two remote cooking thermometers
  • Basting brush or mop
  • Smoking wood or pellets
  • Marinade
  • Dry rub seasoning
  • Basting liquid
  • Aluminum foil
  • A whole packer cut brisket

Trimming the Brisket

Remove the plastic packaging and rinse the brisket. Inspect the fat cap to determine its thickness. Shave off anything over 1/4 inch thick. Inspect the entire piece of meat and trim off any loose flaps of meat or fat. What directions does the grain run on the two sections? Make a mental note of the grain direction so you can slice it across the grain when the time comes.

Marinating Brisket

A large food grade container six inches deep and with a lid is what you need for marinating brisket. The closer the container matches the length and width of the brisket, the less marinade you'll need to make.

Brisket Marinade Recipes

If the marinade is highly acidic, the brisket should be in it no more than 12 hours. Vinegar, lemon juice and orange juice are all acidic. Over long periods they start to break the meat down to the point it loses flavor. This will only affect the surface, but it still should be prevented if possible. If the marinade has very little or no acid, the brisket can stay in it for up to three days, refrigerated. Turn the brisket over twice a day to ensure an even marinade.

Seasoning a Brisket With Dry Rub

How much brisket rub do you use? It depends. How big is the brisket? How much flavor or heat or salt is in the dry rub? Use your good judgement on this decision. With most of the dry rub recipes you'll find here at BBQ-FYI.COM, use about 1/4 cup per brisket. Use more on a really big one, less on a smaller one. The flavor of the rub won't penetrate very deep. It will be mostly at the surface.

I put the rub on in two applications. Rub in half the dry rub, wait a few minutes, then rub on the rest. Place the seasoned brisket in that plastic marinating container to rest for a few hours, overnight, or even for two nights. The longer the rub is on, the deeper the flavor will penetrate. It won't penetrate deeply, but it will penetrate.

Brisket is almost always seasoned with dry rub before smoking. Marinating is optional, as is injection flavor.

Injecting Flavor Into Brisket

You might want to experiment with this technique. Some swear by it. If you're marinating the brisket, try injecting some of that into the meat. Depending on the juice, try about one-half ounce per pound of brisket. Insert the needle completely, then slowly inject as it's pulled out. Distribute the liquid flavor evenly throughout the meat.

Smoking the Brisket

The ideal temperature range for smoking brisket is between 220 and 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Within this range figure on smoking the brisket 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound. Don't overpower the great brisket flavor with too much smoke. It's easy to do, I know. Using a charcoal smoker, mix a few chunks into the charcoal so the brisket gets smoke at the beginning. In an electric or gas smoker, two or three small additions of chips or pellets during the first two or three hours is plenty. I prefer milder flavored woods,like apple or pecan. If you're using strong woods like hickory or mesquite, use less to prevent a bitter taste.

Cooking Brisket

Place the brisket on the smoker grate with the fat side up. Insert the probe of a remote cooking thermometer into the center of the point section. When the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees it will be good for slicing thin, across the grain for sandwiches plate served. At 195-205 the brisket will reach that falling apart tender stage. It can be shredded easily. Slicing should be done with the grain so the pieces hold together.

But don't go slicing that perfectly smoked brisket just yet! If you cut it right out of the smoker, much of the juice will run out, carrying flavor and moistness with it. Here's what you do:

When it's reached the desired temperature, carefully remove it from the smoker and wrap it in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Then wrap it in a nice heavy towel. Place the little bundle of joy in a cooler and shut the lid. Let that perfect beef brisket rest for at least an hour. During that time the juices will be absorbed back into the meat, making it the juicy and flavorful piece of meat it was meant to be!

How to Cut Brisket

So that's how to smoke brisket the traditional way. From start to finish it takes at least one good day, maybe two. An overnight brisket smoke is a fun way to spend a Friday night. Start one up right after coming home from work, and if you're lucky you'll have smoked brisket for breakfast. If not, it will be ready by lunchtime!

Brisket Tips and Information

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Texas Brisket Recipe

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