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Need help smoking my first brisket!

Discussion in 'Beef' started by stretch90, Sep 3, 2010.

  1. stretch90

    stretch90 Fire Starter

    Hey everyone,

    So I finally got a smoker, its a MECO smoker that I found through the classifieds for $20. I figured its good enough to experiment with my first few times. One thing I don't know about it is that it doesn't have a proper thermometer with temperature values on it, it just has a range of warm, ideal, and hot.


    So I have a few questions about what I'll be doing..

    1) This is a charcoal-water smoker but I'm not exactly sure what the water is for. What purpose does it serve and is it necessary?

    2) I'm cooking a 5lb brisket and I read somewhere that I would need about 7 hours to smoke it at around 220 F, but since my smoker doesn't display the actual temperature on it and only has an ideal range, I'm not sure how long to smoke it for.

    3) Since I have a charcoal smoker how do I regulate the temperature? Do I just add/remove charcoal from the tray?

    4) I want to use wood in the smoker as well but I'm not sure how much and if I need to soak it. My smoker came with a few decent size chunks of hickory flavoured wood and I also have mesquite wood chips, so I can use either of them.

    5) I know a lot of people use displosable aluminum trays to place the brisket in so I want thinking about doing that too. But does it make the meat watery at all? I'm trying to mimic the smoked meat from the Schwartz deli in Montreal so I want the texture to be similar to that.

    So, I know this is a lot to ask but I'd really appreciate some help. I'm planning on smoking my first brisket tomorrow and I really want it to go well. Also, if anybody has any other ideas that they'd like to share I'm open to them all. Thanks a lot!
  2. Hey there.  Brisket is a tough thing to try for your first smoke on a new smoker, because they are less forgiving then other pieces of meat.  They like a nice consistent temp.

    I use a water smoker as well, and the water is there to add moisture to the smoke..  but also I have found with vertical smokers it can also be used to help keep the temp under control.  In other words if the smoker is running hot, you can add more cold water to the pan to bring the internal temp down.

    I am smoking a brisket this weekend as well.  Here is what I am planning...
    • I separated the point from the flat.  I will smoke both to 170 degrees internal first...
    • I'll then wrap the flat in foil and finish smoking to 190ish.
    • I'll cut the point into cubes, place in a foil pan with some homemade BBQ sauce, cover and put back on the smoker for a couple of hours.  This will make what is called burnt ends, (Meat Candy).
    The above method is a fairly common way to smoke brisket.  Check the beef forum...  I believe there is a good sticky topic on there with a great write-up from Dutch.

    I have done brisket a few times, and I am no expert.  In fact this will be the first time I am doing it where I fully expect to get the results I want.... so I'll share more after and we'll both see how we did.

    Another thing I did this time was do a much better trim job on the fat.  In the past I left a lot of it because I thought it would do the same thing as pork and melt into the meat.  But it does not melt the same and you end up with flavored fat that gets tossed out.

    That's all I have time to write now.  Folks around here love it when you take pictures of the process and post them, so be sure to do that and good luck!!!
  3. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    To be honest you might want to start with a differant piece of meat. I am not saying you can't smoke brisket successfully on your smoker, but a few things to consider:

    1) this is a new smoker to you and you have no idea how it runs, hot, cold, good, bad, ect.

    2) before you do something like brisket you need to put a new thermometer on the outside, one that shows temps between 100° and 400°, the therm that came with it is probably not accurate. Most factory therms are off by 50-75° which is a huge amount when it comes to smoking.

    3) speaking of therms you need a probed oven/BBQ thermometer. One of the ones that has a metal probe that you stick into the meat and leave there, then a wire that runs out of the smoker to a receiving unit that displays the meats internal temperature. All meat, with the exception of ribs is cooked to temp. not by time, one brisket might take 12 hrs. the next one of the exact same size might take 16 hrs., each piece of meat is differant.

    4) do you have a big enough charcoal pan to do the minion method? Minion method being you fill you charcoal pan with unlit charcoal and wood chunks, then put some lit charcoal on top, and let it slowly ignite and burn the rest of the pile. When done properly you can get several hours of burn time without having to mess with your smoker.

    I truely am not trying to squash your idea, but brisket is a piece of meat that you have to cook at a consistant low temp. for a long time to get it to come out tender and juicy. My suggestion would be to start with some chicken leg quarters, the will cook faster, cost less, and will give you a chance to see how your smoker runs and practice fire/temp. controll. We will help you with whatever endevor you want to try.
  4. tigerregis

    tigerregis Meat Mopper

    You will never duplicate Schwartz's. The closest I have come is "Daigle's Smoked Meat" recipe I got from the Sausage Maker site. It requires curing in a brine and a rub. The taste is superb. My first try was an eye of round and then a full packer. My next one will be an eye. Oh, I injected the eye as well. Good luck.
  5. lugnutz

    lugnutz Smoking Fanatic

    3:  you have intake vents and exhaust vents, you can controll the temp by opening the intakes to make it hotter or closing them to cool things off, the exhaust in most cases runs wide open but if you close it a bit it will help to lower your temps.

    4:  Use one or two small ( 2x3 ) chunks ( I put mine in while the charcoal is getting started ).  It doesn't take much wood to get the smoke you want ( avoid the white smoke ).  I do not soak my wood personally but I know some do.  

    Yes you need a good therm to replace your current one. And you need one for your food temp as well.  Check them in boiling water to make sure they are accurate. 
  6. tigerregis

    tigerregis Meat Mopper

    He doesn't need info on vents. He needs a basic course in Pastrami making. For you who have never been to Montreal Schwartz's is a shrine to Eastern European delicatessen. Stretch thinks if he smokes his brisket, he'll have "smoked meat a la Schwartz's". He needs the brine and rub recipes long before he lights his smoker.
  7. stretch90

    stretch90 Fire Starter

    I see what you guys are saying about trying something easier first, but the whole reason I bought this smoker was to smoke briskets and I'm probably too excited to try to do something else first.

    So I'll definitely buy a new thermometer, is it necessary to get one for the internal temperature of the meat as well?

    Also, I've done some charcoal BBQ and in my experience it doesn't seem to produce a ton of smoke, so I'm a little confused about how it will produce enough smoke to cook something on its own. Or is it the wood that's responsible for most of the smoking?

    This is probably a pretty dumb quesiton, but will a little rain completely ruin everything? Or can it still manage to cook?
  8. pokey

    pokey Meat Mopper

    First, go here and sign up for the 5-day-course. It will give you a ton of info.


    Second, the water is not to there steam the meat or add moisture to it. It's there for temperature control. The mantra of smoking is "low and slow". You want to smoke around 225 to 250 degrees. Steam is at the temp of boiling water, 212 degrees. If the output of the heat source in the smoker is making it too hot, the steam that comes from the water tray will displace hotter air and bring the temp back to where you want it to be. It stabilizes the temp.

    Regarding thermometers, there is a Maverick dual probe digital thermometer available on Amazon pretty reasnably. You take one probe and stick it thru a chunk of wood or a potato inside your smoker and it will tell you the temp of the smoker itself. Stick the other one into the meat. Measuring the internal temp of the meat is a must. There are lots of threads on this site that will offer techniques for smoking a briskt, but they all involve knowing the internal temp and doing things (like foiling) based on that.

    Do a little homework and enjoy. Post your results with pics (called QView) and you'll get good feedback.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2010
  9. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    With any of the large chunks of meat internal temp. is critical. Basic brisket method is this:

    1) Put unlit charcoal in the pan with 5 or 6 fist sized chunks of flavor/smoke wood  in the charcoal pan. Then dump about 1/2 a chimney of lit charcoal in the middle on top, let it go for about 10 minutes then put the middle section of the body on and put HOT tap water into the water pan, put on the lid. Watch the temps close and when it gets up to 200° damp down all the lower air intakes to 3/4 closed (leave the top vents 100% open). Watch the temps. if they don't level off close the bottom vent(s) more. You are looking to stabilize the temp before you put the meat on.

    2) Once you have achieved the 200-225° chamber temp. put the meat on racks and put the probe in it. Put the lid back on, there may be a temp. spike when you open the lid and put the meat on, but is should settle back down. Leave it alone for 2 or 3 hrs., unless your chamber temps. start to drop below 180°, if that happens add a half chimney of lit coals. But you want to leave the smoker closed as much as possible, any time you open it to peek or anything you add 10-15 mintes of cook time due to heat loss and recovery time.

    3) Once the internal temp of the meat has reached 165° place it in the foil pan and dump either a can of low sodium beef broth in the bottom of the foil pan or a beer. Cover with foil and then let it go till the internal meat temp. hits 190-200°.

    4) Then remove the meat from the pan and double wrap it in heavy foil. Then wrap that in a towel and place into a clean dry cooler, fill the rest of the space in the cooler with more old towels, and leave the meat alone for 1-2 hrs.

    5) While the meat is resting take all the juices from the foil pan and place them in a container in the freezer just till the fat on top sets up. Remove the fat, then re-heat the juices.

    6) Once the meat has rested for at least 1 hr. pull it out and slice it across the grain into 1/4" slices, put them in the foil pan and then dump the warm broth over them.

    7) Eat and enjoy!

    Now a little bit about smoke and woods. Yes the wood chunks are what produce the smoke flavor and smoke ring, what you want to achieve is called thin blue smoke, meaning it is almost invisible to the naked eye and has a light gray/blue color to it. If you smoke is billowy and white it is creating creasote in the smoker and on the good, which tastes nasty and bitter. Rule of thumb is if you smell smoke, you are getting smoke, whether you see it or not. Now when you first start the smoker the smoke will be billowy and white, but that should settle down to T.B.S. within 10 minutes or so, also every 2 hrs. or so you may need to add more wood chunks to the coals to continue the smoke, it will billow when they are added, but again they should settle down to TBS quickly.

    Differant woods have differant flavors. Mesquite and Hickory are the most common wood chunks to find a Home Depot, Lowes, ect. Hickory you can add 3-5 chunks at a time and be OK, but mesquite is a much stronger flavor. I would suggest a mix of 3 chunks hickory and 1 or 2  chunks of mesquite, added every 2 to 3 hrs. for the first 6 hrs. or so.

    Last but not least - DON'T RUSH IT! Brisket is done when brisket is done, if you run at higher temps., don't cook it all the way to 190-200°, don't rest it for at least 1 hr, or any combo of the three, you  are going to end up with a tough chewey piece of meat. Brisket when done correctly can be cut with fork and is super tender and moist. Good luck, and let us know how it goes! [​IMG]
  10. Don't sweat it bro.  It's only meat.  If you screw it up, America will still be a democracy, and no one will have lost their life. 

    1 - Go to wal-mart.  They have digital thermometers with a probe.  They are a dark blue color and they are made by Accu-Rite. Get yourself two of these.  One you are going to stick in the meat, and the other to measure the inside temp of the smoker.  Drill a hole in a block of wood and put the probe of one of your thermos through it.  What you are trying to accomplish here is making a stand for your probe that will keep it off the grate.  Set this dude on the grate near your meat and use this to monitor the temp in your smoker.  IGNORE THE THERMOMETER THAT CAME ON YOUR SMOKER.

    2 - If you have the standard ECB type smoker, it won't have a damper, which makes it a bit tougher to control your temp.  When I had one, I used the little door on the side of the smoker.  The basic idea is.. Open the door, air comes in, temp goes up.  Close the door, air stops coming in, temp goes down.  I would reccomend drilling some air holes in your charcoal pan.  This helped mine out tremendously.  Also consider using lump charcoal.  It creates very little ash, so it doesn't tend to smother your fire out like briquettes do.  Start with your charc pan about 3/4 full of coals, and add handfulls periodically to keep the temp up.  You want the temp in your smoker to hover around 225.  Keep water in the pan, it will help your temps stabilize and create a more moist environment in the smoker.

    3-  Put the other temp probe in the brisket and keep an eye on it.  There are two main things to watch.  1- For food safety reasons, you need to get the internal temp of the meat up to 140 degrees in 4 hours or less.   2- smoke your brisket until it hits about 165, then foil it and take it up to 185 or so.  At that point, you can pull it off the smoker, add another layer of foil and put it in a cooler with an old blanket or towels for another couple hours.  When you unwrap and slice it, it should be as tender as a mother's love. 

    The only way to learn how to cook is to cook.  Just get yourself some meat and have some fun with it.  It won't be perfect the first time but you will learn something new everytime you light the fire.    Good luck and enjoy!
  11. stretch90

    stretch90 Fire Starter

    So, I've decided to cut my brisket in half and do two different sessions so that I can hopefully learn from the first time around. And it'll take a lot less time since each brisket will be around 3lbs.

    My smoker came with wood chunks but I haven't been able to find any at any stores around here, they seem to only have wood chips. And these chips apparently only last 30 minutes or so, so I have to keep refilling them, which I don't want to do. Does anyone know where I can find flavored chunks? Also, on the chips package it says that I have to soak them, is it the same rule for chunks as well?
  12. lugnutz

    lugnutz Smoking Fanatic

    For chunks Wally World should have em, also hardware stores and even some of the large supermarkets.  Where are you located? Another good place to locate wood might be thru a local vendor of firewood.  Surely when they split wood they end up with small peices that would work for you.. Maybe even see if you could buy a few peices of wood in different flavors just to see what you like.

    Soaking chunks,  I've seen a lot of debate on that subject here.  I don't soak,  30 minutes in water isn't going to make the wood last that much longer in my opinion.
  13. stretch90

    stretch90 Fire Starter


    I just have one last question now. There's a chance that it will rain a bit tonight. What would happen to my smoker if if starts to come down?
  14. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    It would get wet!

    It would be nice if it was under roof or canopy or umbrella or something.

    I have mine on my front porch, under roof.

  15. eman

    eman Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    ok , You said you cut your brisket in half?

     did you seperate the point and flat or did you just cut the thing in half?

     If you had a packer brisket and you cut it in half Now you have 2 entirely different pieces of meat. that are going to need to be cooked differently. If you have just a flat they should cook reasonably the same.

     If you get chips just take a good hanfull of chips and make a sealed packet w/ heavy foil and seal the chips in it poke 4 or 5 small holes in one side of the packet(pencil point size) lay the packet snug up next to the coals not on top w/ the holes up. this will allow the heat to make the chips smoke.

     If you put it on top the coals it will burn foil and all.

     no need to soak any wood.

      Good luck
  16. ak1

    ak1 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    At what point in his post did he say he want's to make Pastrami???

    Stop trolling!
  17. tigerregis

    tigerregis Meat Mopper

    In his first post, he says he "wants to mimic Schwartz's". Montreal smoked meat is pastrami, only using semi-proprietary spice units.

    I'm not a troll. Name your weapons and I'll meet you half way in Kitchener.
  18. tigerregis

    tigerregis Meat Mopper

    More than 24 hours and not a peep from AK1. No apology, no choice between pistols or sabres. The gauntlet is still waiting to be picked up. Maybe you can't find any seconds. The joke is in the location. KITCHENer.
  19. tigerregis

    tigerregis Meat Mopper

    OK, Stretch 90 how did your "smoked meat" turn out?
  20. stretch90

    stretch90 Fire Starter

    It turned out great! But the smoke didn't go exactly the way I wanted it to. I couldn't regulate the temperature properly, but I've used it a couple of times since then and I think I got it down now.

    Anyway, the meat tasted really great and was pretty tender. But since I had problems with temperature, I had to do the last 30 degrees or so in the oven. So, I'm assuming that it would've been more tender if I finished it on the smoker, but I'll see the next time I do it.

    And it tasted very similar to Schwartz' smoked meat, but of course that's because I used their premixed spices that I bought from their store in Montreal...