BBQ Brisket – Covering The Basics

“Covering The Basics” is a series in which I discuss the essentials to making tasty food. Not really a recipe but more of the building blocks to creating great food at home.

BBQ Brisket. The holy grail of Texas BBQ. The meat that all BBQ joints in Texas are judged by. The item on the menu that will set you back at least $20 per pound!!

Now I’m not saying that you will be able to recreate brisket served at some of the finest joints in Texas (like Franklin’s or Snow’s BBQ), but lets cover the basics to get going in the right direction.

  • Selecting the right brisket
    • Marbling – check the underside for good marbling. Remember, fat equals flavor. Especially that intramuscular fat
    • Fat cap – the cap shouldn’t be too thin or too thick. It shouldn’t have any bald spots and should feel soft. The harder fat will never render down.
    • Flat thickness – The end of the flat should be about 1 inch thick. Anything less will either burn up during the smoke, or should be removed during the trimming process
  • Trimming and Seasoning
    • Fat cap – trim any excess fat from the fat cap so that the total thickness is about 1/8 – 1/4 of an inch
    • Sides – cut down the side to reveal the meat that is usually hidden underneath a thick layer of fat and brownish looking meat. You want to start shaping the brisket into something that resembles a rectangle
    • Deckle fat – flip the brisket over and remove any deckle fat (the fat between the point and the flat) that is remaining. Again, this hard fat will never render and it not good eats.
    • Underside trimming – Remove any fat on the underside. We don’t want it to come in between the meat and the seasoning
    • Excess bits – when trimming, think airplane wing. You eventually want an aerodynamic rectangle, so get rid of any loss bits hanging on the edges.
    • Seasoning – season liberally! This is a large cut of meat and needs a ton of seasoning. Traditional Texas brisket is only seasoned with salt and pepper but feel free to break from tradition and use your own concoction or a store bought rub.
  • Lets get cooking
    • Setting up the smoker – you’ve probably heard the phrase “low and slow” and something about 225 degrees being ideal. I’m here to tell you that the new low and slow is around 275 degrees. It all comes down to air flow and at 225, the flow will be too low or even stagnant. So set up your cooker to around 275 so that you have a nice, steady flow of smoke.
    • Spritz – during the first few hours you should be spritzing the brisket every 30 minutes or so. The outside of the brisket will get the most heat and can dry out and then get hard. Spraying the brisket with water or diluted apple juice will cool off the exterior and save that precious bark from burning up.
    • Wrap – Wrap when the brisket hits an internal temperature of about 160 degrees. The bark should be set at this point and any more direct contact with the smoke will dry it out and make it overly hard. My choice of wrap is butcher paper. It’s widely available online and it’s become so popular here in Texas, that my local grocery store carries it.
    • 200 degrees – Ish. Insert your favorite probe thermometer and cook until an internal temperature of about 200 degrees. Could be a couple more. Could be a couple less. The probe should easily slide in and out of the brisket and feel like soft butter. If in doubt, go a couple more degrees as I can’t stand a tough brisket and would much rather deal with it falling apart.
  • Rest and slice
    • Resting – it’s important that the brisket rest and let the hunk of meat relax and absorb all the liquid floating around. I usually let it rest in my oven with the door cracked for a few hours. If the brisket is done way ahead of time, wrap it in a towel and stick in a cooler with the lid cracked. You should be able to hold it about 4-6 hours, maybe more, with this method.
    • Slicing – the last important step, is to slice against the grain. Fortunately, this is pretty easy with a brisket as the grain runs parallel with the longest side

Okay, so maybe brisket isn’t really a basic BBQ item, but I sure do hope this write up helps you. Please leave a comment or shoot me a question if something isn’t clear.