An Introduction to Smoked BrisketBrisket is among the nine beef primal cuts, sourced from the breast or lower chest of cattle. It is because of this location, the part of the cow’s body that supports over half of its entire body weight, that brisket has a large amount of connective tissue. Lots of connective tissue means that you have to cook it for a long time, making smoking a great approach. When you look to smoke a brisket, there are several factors that need to be accounted for.
- The weight of the brisket. The heavier your brisket, the longer it will take to cook.
- The heat of the smoker.
- Whether or not the brisket is wrapped in something, commonly butcher paper or aluminum foil. Butcher paper tends to trap the heat, meaning wrapped brisket will usually finish smoking sooner than “bare” brisket.
- How often are you opening the smoker to check? While frustrating to beginners, it is a scientific that you lose some heat and smoke every time you open the smoker to check on the brisket.
A Step-By-Step Guide on How Long to Smoke a BrisketRather than list off a series of recipes, this section will cover each aspect of cooking a brisket in a cooker so that you can best prepare and finish your own. That said, we have provided one example beef brisket grill recipe in order to show the theory being put into practice.
Step 1: Choose & Trim the Brisket
When it comes to picking brisket, you want a piece with a good amount of marbling and a thick flat, the latter aspect is relevant because you want both ends to be done at the same time. When it comes to trimming away the fat and gristle, you want to use a reliable boning knife for this process. You should do your best to trim the fat down to 1/4″, no more and no less.
- Do your best to trim the brisket when it is cold because meat is easier to handle when it is fresh from the fridge.
- While you are busy trimming away the fat, remember to extricate the “deckle,” a thick membrane that will defy your efforts to cook it into edibility. You also want to trim away any pieces of meat that are significantly thinner than the rest of the brisket; failure to do so will result in these pieces cooking far sooner than the rest of the brisket and likely ending up a charred, inedible mess by the time the rest of the brisket catches up.
- Be mindful of the side and shape of your brisket and your grill. You can afford to leave a bit more fat on the thicker side of the brisket as long as you remember to orient that side toward the heat.
Step 2: Rub
Whatever you favor for your personal brisket rub, it is important that you err on the side of caution when it comes to applying the stuff; while you definitely want an even coat, you also want to actually taste the meat those spices are clinging to.
Step 3: Heat up the Smoker
Set your smoker to something stable like 225-250°F and give it around an hour to warm up. Place your brisket fat-side up, except in cases where the smoker’s heat comes from beneath-you want the fattier side to be exposed to the heat, using its own fat to help it cook. You want the flat side to be close to the smokestack. Remember that a water pan can be vital to ensuring the smoking chamber has some moisture in it; you can wind up with a fire if things turn too dry. Expect the meat to take 60-75 minutes per pound before it is done smoking (at 250°F).
Step 4: Smoking
Make sure that you use a dry wood, nothing green or cured. Be mindful of the temperature and the fire; you want to see clean heat, not black smoke. Since opening the chamber is a great way for the heat to escape, resist the urge to frequently check on the meat as this will only extend the process.
Optional Step 5: Wrapping and Accoutrements
While this is a controversial approach due to the chance of damaging that beautiful “bark” of a properly cooked brisket, wrapping will reduce your total cooking time. If you are uninterested in risking the bark or just feel uncomfortable with the process, just allow your brisket to cook for 11-12 hours. However, if you are interested in wrapping, wait until the brisket has cooked between 4 and 6 hours, whenever it reaches an internal temperature range of 160-170°F. Remove the brisket from the smoker and swaddle it in either aluminum foil or butcher’s paper, going for two layers of material. Return the wrapped brisket to the smoker and shoot for an internal temperature of 185-195°F. Use the rest of your time to work on any side dishes or your favorite homemade BBQ sauce.
The Final Step: Resting and Knifing
Once your brisket is done cooking, you should leave it alone long enough for the meat to properly rest, doing nothing more than wrapping it in either butcher paper or aluminum foil, if you had not already wrapped it, and then covering the bundled brisket with a towel. Because brisket is an uneven cut, it can take some practice to get the hang of where to start your knifework.
- Cut against the grain, from flat to point, with a 12″ serrated blade. Then give the brisket a quarter-turn and once again cut against the grain.
- Be extremely careful not to scrape away that beautiful brisket bark!
- Try to aim for 1/4″-thick slices when working with the thick end and 1/8″-thick slices when working with the thin end.
- If you do not plan on immediately serving the finished brisket, at least slice it up to prevent the meat from drying out.
Sample Recipe: Texas Brisket Recipe
- Brisket, 12-14 pounds
- Salt, kosher, 2 tbsp
- Pepper, black, 2 tbsp
- Optional: Powder, garlic, 2 tbsp
- Store the brisket in the fridge until it’s time to trim it; cold briskets trim more easily than warm ones. Flip the meat over so the point end is downward and trim any membrane and excess fat from the flat muscle. Make sure to trim along the large crescent-moon-shaped fatty section until you smoothly transition from flat to point. Trim away any excess or loose meat or fat from the point, then square the edges and end of the flat. Flip the brisket over again and trim the top fat cap down to 1/4″ thick across the brisket.
- Use an empty container to blend the other ingredients. Shake the container over the brisket so that you can evenly coat all sides in spices.
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F, aiming to cook indirectly with hardwood smoke. Place brisket on the smoker with the point end directed toward the heat; point is the thicker side of the brisket and can take the heat. Shut the lid and smoke the meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F; this will take roughly 8 hours.
- On a large workable surface, unfurl a large sheet of butcher paper or aluminum foil in such a way that you can place your brisket in the center. Transfer the brisket from the smoker and fold it up in the sheet, edge over edge, so that you have a leak-proof seal. Bring the brisket back to the smoker with the wrapper’s seam facing downward; this will allow the meat’s weight to keep the paper from curling to the point that the brisket is exposed.
- Shut the smoker’s lid and continue to cook, at the same temperature setting of 225°F, until the thickest portion of the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 202°F; this will take anywhere from 5 to 8 hours.
- Transfer the finished brisket from the smoker to the cutting board and give it one hour to rest, allowing the Maillard reaction to do its job. When the meat has sufficiently rested, slice against the grain with a sharp blade and serve immediately.
While the length of time it takes to smoke a brisket is not an exact science nor a quick one, you can eliminate a large amount of the guesswork by sticking to some basics. Expect that the meat will take at least one hour per pound to completely cook and know that both your trimming and the presence or absence of wrapping can influence how soon that brisket is done.