Beef brisket can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. We’ve all heard the horror stories of several hour stalls and overcooked end products. We’ve also listened to folks in Texas revere the beef brisket as if figuring out how to perfect a whole packer is some sort of BBQ right of passage. Regardless of where you’re currently at in your brisket journey it’s fair to say that it is king when it comes to high level BBQ!
Look for whole packers with a good amount of marbling. The fat in between the flat and the point of a whole packer ensures a more juicy and tender end product. Brisket experts note a pretty interesting theory regarding left versus right side briskets. Typically cattle lye on their left side which means that when they stand up they use their right leg to push down to raise up. In theory this causes the right side to build more muscle and end up being a tougher and less desirable cut of meat. To determine whether the brisket is the left or right side turn the brisket fat side down and position the point towards your body. The brisket will curve to the right on a left handed brisket.
If the brisket is super stiff it may have loads of hard fat on the fat cap which prevents from bending and ultimately you’ll be paying for a lot of useless fat that you’ll end up trimming. If the brisket easily folds over your hand then the muscle is pliable as opposed to stiff. Most stores will sell just the flat end of a brisket which will typically yield the better looking sliced pieces of meat most folks enjoy the most. However it can be very difficult to cook just the flat in the most effective manner.
Once you’ve made your purchase you’ll want to trim the whole brisket around the edges. Trimming in my opinion is mostly for presentation and fit. I operate on a large Big Green Egg so I find that a 13 pound whole packer is about all that I can fit at one time. Depending on how long the whole brisket is sometimes I have to trim an inch or two off lengthwise. I also trim off any and all hard fat deposits. The hard fat deposits are almost impossible to render down to its best to do away with them.
After trimming I coat the entire brisket with a generous helping of extra virgin olive oil. I know that many people use mustard for the bonding agent. I find EVOO to work the best at tenderizing the meat throughout the cooking process. I’m not a big fan of multi ingredient rubs for brisket due to the amount of beef flavor they naturally have. I don’t smoke briskets for competition so beef broth injections or any injections for that matter are off the table for me.
I’ve found some of the best results when rubbing the whole brisket with a simple mix of EVOO, kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper and granulated garlic powder. I’ve recently spruced up my brisket rub with some ancho pepper powder, celery salt, cocoa and ground Kona coffee.
Once your brisket is good and rubbed you’ll want to get your smoker going. I like to place my brisket in the refrigerator while I work on the smoker. This allows the temperature to drop just a bit. With a slightly decreased temperature you give yourself a shot at a deeper smoke ring. Most of the smoke that will be absorbed into the brisket will be done so during the first few hours when the meat temperature is at its lowest.
It can typically take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get my Big Green Egg temperature dialed in where I want it. I try to replicate what Texans do to their beef briskets as much as possible so the primary wood of choice is oak. However, I’ve found hickory, pecan and pretty much any other hard wood that produces “smoke” to be sufficient. For my personal preference, too much smoke flavor is not nearly enough smoke flavor. Once I have clear or blue smoke streaming out of my Big Green Egg I know that I’m just about ready to place the brisket. Before adding the brisket I put an 11 by 9 inch cake pan directly on top of the plate setter. With a watering can I fill the cake pan with water and place the grate on top of the platesetter and water pan. When it comes to brisket I enjoy the flexibility in cook time so I always buy the largest whole packer that will fit onto my 18 inches of cooking area.
Between the first and second hour I begin to spritz the brisket with an apple cider vinegar / apple juice mixture. I do this to maintain a good amount of moisture in the meat. This coupled with maintaining a consistent amount of water in the pan has yielded some of the most tender brisket I’ve ever tasted.
I usually start probing about half way through the cook. Halfway through for me usually falls between the six and eight hour mark. Many factors can determine the overall cook time including but not limited to weather, quality of wood, quality of meat and fire displacement. Once the temperature reaches 150 degreesI drench the brisket with the apple juice / apple cider vinegar mixture and then I double wrap it in non-waxed parchment paper. In my past life I used to wrap all of my briskets in heavy duty aluminum foil. I didn’t move away from foil for any other reason than I like the way parchment paper looks. There’s just something about parchment paper and the essence of authentic BBQ. At least that’s how it makes me feel.
Once I get to about the ten hour mark I’ll start gently poking the brisket with my finger to get an idea of where its at. I’m looking for a subtle softness yet still a firm texture. I typically wait until the brisket reaches the next hour mark before I take it off of the Big Green Egg. Immediately upon pulling the brisket I place it in a cooler for at least one hour. This allows the hot juices to finish cooking the brisket all the way through.
The key to perfect beef brisket has much to do with cooking technique but all of that can go out of the window if the cuts aren’t perfected. The way to a perfect end product is to cut the meat against the grain. I usually opt for a thicker cut so that single slice ends up being more than enough for a hearty slider. The point is either reserved for shredded beef sliders or burnt ends.