From my perspective (and I am certainly no smokehouse champion) the brisket has been the most difficult to figure out. I believe many make mistakes because they don’t understand the cut of meat itself, distinguishing from the point, flat, cap, etc. and not realizing the brisket is likely the largest, toughest piece of meat many folks attempt to tackle on their own…but I do believe the biggest mistake folks make (myself included MANY times) is rushing the cook and not allowing the meat to rest.
There are several ways to prepare a brisket in a smoker, many folks have “cheat” and move to a pan finish off the brisket, but I have found that wrapping and resting in a small cooler works wonders. It is the patience that tends to be the problem.
This is for a 10lb brisket…..
Get the brisket home, unwrapped and rinsed well with cool (not cold) water. Even if you don’t completely understand the slice of meat you cannot miss the fat cap – the entire side of the meat is a layer of fat…..
Contrary to popular belief, while this layer is very important in the smoking/barbecue process, it is the marbled fat that is within the meat itself the drives the flavor.
Once the meat has been opened and rinsed it is important to first trim off any loose pieces of meat – you don’t have to discard them, but they will often cook much faster than the rest and again, contrary to popular opinion, these do pieces do not constitute the infamous “burnt ends”. It is best to simply remove them and decide what, if anything, you want to do with them separately.
Now that the meat is rinsed and trimmed of loose ends you want to begin to investigate the meatier side of the cut. You will likely notice a thin membrane very similar to that silver lining left on venison (if your butcher is lazy) or over top of a rack of ribs. I recommend removing as much of this membrane as possible. In the process you will also want to trim down some of the layered fat, but NOT the marbled fat. Basically, any fat on the outside of the meat should be trimmed down, without pulling out any of the marbled/ribboned fat. You don’t need to cut it directly to the meat, but getting it close is a good idea. Once the membrane is removed and the fat on the meatier side of the brisket has been trimmed, it is time to address the fat cap.
Flip the meat over so that you are looking at the cap. I prefer the cap to be as close to one inch thick ACROSS THE ENTIRE CUT and most of that I have come across are thicker and more importantly uneven with some spots having a thin layer of fat while other portions very thick. A good fillet knife is a God send in trimming that fat down.
Now the meat is finally ready to “treat”….
I treat a brisket both inside and out and I do so, so that I do not have to constantly open the smoker and impact the smoke and heat. The first step is the rub and for a brisket I have become found a nice flavor with the Open Season Mountain Man Bourbon Rub. I like to use a large glass baking dish or Rubbermaid Tupperware container and place the brisket in the pan fat cap down. Start with the meatier side and generously apply the rub. Don’t just shake it on, rub it in! Flip the meat and score the fat cap, I typically score it to within about ¼” of the meat, using crisscrossing patterns so that the it looks as if there are “x” across the entire cap. Once scored, apply the rub same as the other side. Cover the brisket and refrigerate over-night (12-hour minimum).
The next day…get your smoker ready….you are going to want to put your brisket into a hot, smoke filled box right away, as opposed to let the temps climb with the meat in there. It is widely known that the longer the meat cooks the less smoke it can absorb. In this case most of the smoke will be absorbed in the first few hours of the smoke, so it is important that there is a good smoke going during this time. I suggest a good hard wood, such as hickory or pecan, (pecan is my choice) and you want that box holding 225-230 degrees. Cooking time will vary based on a host of factors ranging from the type of smoker you have to the conditions in which you are running it. A good rule of thumb is 60-90 minutes per pound, but I have seen it completed in 45-minutes per pound. It is also important to remember that in this case you started with a 10lb brisket, but it is likely less after all of the trimming. Once you get your smoker started it is time to inject and prepare the brisket, while the box is heating up.
A great marinade for this brisket (10lb) – 1 cup apple juice, ½ cup of apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup brown sugar, and 3 tbsps. of the Bourbon Rub. Mix all of these ingredients together until it will flow out of your injector with ease. I line my countertop with wax paper and put the smoker great right on the paper. Take the brisket out of the fridge and place on the rack, fat cap down. Begin injecting the beef, attempting to get as even a distribution as possible. It is NOT recommended that you poke 100s of holes, focus on some of the thicker parts, and have the injector penetrate from the sides of the meat as well. You will want to use about 60% of the injection. Flip the brisket over, fat cap up, and repeat the process. The next step is a very important step with specific regard to moisture and tenderness.
At this point the brisket is seasoned, both inside and out, and resting on the smoker grate, fat cap, up. You want to now “shape” the meat; basically you want to compress the meat as much as you can without crushing it. This is important because as the meat cooks it will compress on its own, if it has been stretched there is a much higher chance the brisket will toughen as it cooks. I basically place my hands on opposite ends of the meat and push them together as much as I can without using any real muscle power (if you get my drift). You are trying to squeeze everything together, but not to the point that you are wringing out the meat. I will do this all the way around the meat, trying to cover all angles. Once I am done, I usually sprinkle a little more of the Bourbon Blend on for good measure and it is into the smoke.
You want in the 225-230 degree smoke and depending on your smoker you will want the fat cap up if your heat enters from the top or sides or fat cap down if your heat is generated under the meat. If you have a water pan, use it; I add 2 cups of apple juice to the pan as my goal is two fold - not to open that chamber until the meat hits my temperature mark and to use the pan to also capture the rednering from the cook. Find a nice “average” spot on the meat for the thermometer. Most always go to the thickest part; however, if the thickest part is also the smallest portion, you end up with a mostly overdone brisket. Find a location on the brisket that represents the best average thickness and insert your thermometer there. If you are planning to pull/chop the brisket you are shooting for an internal temp of 200-210 degrees, but if you want to slice and serve you are better off at 185-190 degrees, but here in lies what I believe to be the biggest problem. You do NOT want the meat to reach that temp while it is still in the smoker…If I am slicing my brisket it gets pulled at 175 and wrapped in foil. I then place it in a small cooler and throw a couple of towels over top. It stays in the cooler for a minimum of 1-hour before being served. If I plan on chopping it comes out at 190 and same process. It will actually stay VERY warm for several hours and it is a great way to smoke something at home, pack it and travel to a picnic, barbecue, etc…Be sure you save what ends up in the water pan - a cool trick to pour everything into a cup/bowl and let cool. Once at room temp, put in freezer for an hour (same hour the meat is resting)...most if not all of the fat will be at the top and solid enough to scoop out and all fo the mouth-watering goodness is underneath.
I don't claim to have discovered all of the above information on my own, reviewing sites like SM, as well as, trial and error have certainly shaped my response.
If you try this let me know how it goes – I’m willing to bet you’ll be the envy of anyone who tries it….