First off, thanks to all of you that responded and gave feedback to my original post. It gave me the confidence to go ahead and do my Super Bowl Brisket. Mind you, other than that little scrap of meat mentioned in my original post, I'd never seen or performed a brisket smoking.
I reserved a 14 lb packer brisket, but scaled down to 10 lbs when some guests cancelled. I was nervous the night before because a friend who had made briskets cautioned me that it was going to take a LOT more time than what I was expecting based on my research. I didn't think he was right (at least for what I was planning to do) but it made me concerned that I was wrong in my approach. Plus, a cold weather front blew in and I could hear the wind howling all night the night before and that had given me problems before. However, I was better prepared this time with better quality thermometers with which to monitor my cook.
My butcher threw me a curveball that I had no idea how to manage. When I reserved the packer cut brisket, he said "Would you like me to trim some of the excess fat off for you?" I said "sure", not realizing that we might have remarkably different impressions of what "some excess fat" might mean. I've never heard of someone cooking a packer brisket without the fat cap, but clearly that's his "normal". When I got home and unpackaged my brisket, he had done a beautiful job trimming almost ALL the fat off, including the fat cap. It was ALL gone and I had no idea how the brisket would cook without it.
The wind scared me into prepping the brisket an hour sooner than I had originally planned. I figured the high winds would cost me time. I used yellow mustard as a binder, applied generous coat of SPG, then a a liberal coat of a commercial brisket rub. I injected with beef broth, let it all warm up for 30-45 minutes while the smoker heated up to a target of 250F, then tossed it in about 6:00 a.m.
The first couple hours, I had trouble maintaining an even 250F. I spritzed with apple juice every 30-45 minutes, The wind fluctuations were killing me. It took a full two hours for the wind to die off enough that I could maintain a steady 252F. I was using an Iversion remote thermometer with dual probes: one for the grill temp and the other for the food. Things were looking good.
After five hours, the color was gorgeous and I decided to wrap. I spritzed it down one last time, then added an extra couple tablespoons of apple juice before doing a triple wrap of foil with the temp probe in place.
Here's where I screwed up and I would like to hear your views on whether you think my speculations are correct or whether you have any additional advice or thoughts:
My smoker temp was 258F and steady; my brisket temp was 171F and BEFORE THE WRAP, had been increasing one degree about every 3-4 minutes. I was planning to end the smoke at 195-198F and figured at least 90 minutes till I got there. I was DYING (on maybe two hours sleep with a long day yet ahead of me) so I thought I could safely catch a short nap. I slept for 45 minutes.
When I woke up, the wind had died down and my smoker temp was 266F. My brisket temp was 206F. I freaked because I never imagined it would cook that fast, but in hindsight there are a couple points I think I overlooked:
1) When the wind fluctuations died and I wasn't watching to respond, my grill got hotter than I planned or wanted;
2) Without a fat cap, heat permeated from ALL sides instead of having one side protected by that dense layer of fat. Without that protection, the meat's heat absorption was faster than expected, thus speeding the meat's overall temperature increase.
3) It seems to me that even under similar circumstances, the internal temp accelerated at a faster rate AFTER the wrap than before it. I had deliberately put the "dull" side of the foil on the outside so as to better absorb the radiated heat (as opposed to having the reflective side on the outside) instead of dispelling some of the heat via a reflective layer. I'm guessing that having the reflective side on the inside helped retain more heat, thus cooking the meat faster.
Anyway, I smoked the brisket for 5-1/2 hours, wrapped it for another 2-1/2, and let it rest for three hours (only because it cooked 1-2 hours faster than I expected) and I had a serving timeline to follow. It was delicious and tender, but drier than I would have liked, but attributable (I think) to exceeding the 195-198 target temp I think if I had pulled it out 10 degrees sooner, it would have been perfect.
But I'd love to hear what YOU think: what am I doing right? what am I doing wrong? what should I do to improve? I was close enough this time that I think I can nail it the next time, but I'm interested in any thoughts or views you might have.
Again, thanks in advance for your help. Your feedback has already been helpful and is certainly appreciated. It can only get better from here.