My sister e-mailed me today, asking me for my smoked brisket recipe. Her gain is YOUR gain, too. Here it is:
You can use a whole brisket (flat and point portions) or a brisket flat, depending on how much BBQ you need. Flats are great for smaller crowds but are considerably more expensive. I usually cook whole briskets now because there’s a lot of things you can do with leftovers, particularly the leftover point parts of briskets. I’ll get into that. So:
1/3 cup sweet Hungarian paprika. Don’t buy junky McCormick cardboard-tasting paprika. A lot of groceries sell decent Hungarian stuff in a tin and it’s not very expensive. Use sweet paprika, not hot paprika.
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (“Sugar in the Raw.”) Can’t find it? You can use light brown sugar but I’d use a little less.
1/4 to 1/3 cup kosher salt, depending on how you feel about salt. I usually use about a quarter cup.
Cayenne pepper to taste. Start with a tablespoon, taste the rub and add. I typically might use about a tablespoon and a half.
One tablespoon of onion powder.
One tablespoon cumin.
One tablespoon dried basil (if you’ve got it, no worries if you don’t).
Maybe some chili powder if you’re feelin’ it — maybe a tablespoon tops.
Four parts good-quality apple juice
One part bourbon, more or less (cheap-ass bourbon is fine. DON’T WASTE THE GOOD STUFF!). Don’t bother to measure; just eyeball it.
One hardware store-issue spray bottle
ONE DAY IN ADVANCE:
If you buy a whole packer brisket in a cryo-pack, you’ll probably need to trim it. Cut off the fat so there’s about a quarter-inch left all around. This might require you to remove a LOT of fat — on a whole untrimmed brisket of 12 pounds, I’ll easily carve off more than a pound, often two. You’ll still have plenty of fat left to keep the meat moist. In particular when you’re trimming, target the really hard fat you’ll find on a lot of packer briskets. Smoke won’t penetrate that stuff.
If you buy a flat, you may not need to trim it at all. You do want one, though, that has a solid layer of fat covering one side of the flat — look for that when you buy one.
To prepare: Dump a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil on the brisket and rub it all around. You want a light coating on there and no more. It helps make the rub adhere to the meat.
Apply the rub. I pretty much cover my briskets with a solid layer of rub.
Drop your brisket in a food-safe plastic bag, tie up the bag, drop the package in a bowl (the bowl catches leaks) and put it in the fridge for a day. If you don’t have that time, you can just apply the rub and smoke the brisket, but leaving it on for a day lets the salt and sugar start to break down the meat.
TIME TO COOK!
If you cook the brisket at about 225-250, it generally will take somewhere around an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half per pound. Set up your grill as you see fit. Hickory, oak or cherry all work well for smoking brisket. Don’t use mesquite — it’s too strong for such a long smoke. I usually use chunks of blackjack oak that the in-laws have sent me from Florida.
Don’t use too much wood. I use a vertical smoker and typically use four chunks for the entire cook.
The key to smoking brisket is to do everything you can to keep your temperature steady, and use thermometers to measure both your smoker temperature and your brisket temperature. If you need to speed up the cook, wrap the brisket in foil after a few hours. If you need to slow it down, baste it more often.
So: Get your smoker to the 225-250 range (don’t get your shorts in a ball if it gets hotter — the key is to avoid too many temperature ‘spikes’ more than anything else) and drop on the brisket, fat side up. Do what you need to do to keep the heat constant, but the brisket itself doesn’t need your attention for many hours. Note that if you cook at this rate, it’ll take perhaps 15 hours to cook a 10-pound brisket (in reality, they often get done sooner, maybe 12-13 hours).
Using the hour-and-a-half-a-pound as a guide, leave the brisket alone until you get to the estimated halfway point of cooking.
You can baste it at the halfway point. Mix up the baste in the spray bottle and spray it on. This stops the rub from getting knocked off. You don’t have to make the brisket swim in your baste — just spray on enough to keep the meat moist. Baste again at the three-fourths point, then again every hour or so after this, but do NOT baste for the last hour.
USE A MEAT THERMOMETER TO TELL WHEN THE BRISKET IS DONE. I use a BBQ probe thermometer — I just put the probe in the meat at the halfway point, run the wire out of the smoker and plug in the little digital unit that tells me the temp. They’re widely available for under $20.
I pull my brisket off when the internal temperature reaches about 175-ish degrees. You can bring it all the way up to 185 if you want, but I find this makes it so tender that it doesn’t slice well — plus I like to really rest my brisket, which means the interior temperature will continue to rise after I take it off the smoker.
So: After you’ve pulled off the brisket, you need to rest it for at least 20 minutes. However, you can rest it for MUCH longer if you want/need to.
Cover it loosely with foil if you’re going to give it a short rest. If you want to rest it longer than that — and I think you’ll like the results if you do — wrap it in a double layer of foil, wrap your foil/meat package in two more layers of clean bath towels (old ratty towels are fine), and drop the whole package in a cooler — the smaller the cooler, the better. It will remain VERY hot for well over two hours if you do this and well within serving temperature for more than three hours.
To cut the brisket, separate the point part from the flat and ALWAYS cut the brisket AGAINST the grain. If you can’t find the line of fat that separates the point from the flat, just start carving at one end until you run into the line in the middle of a slice. Now, cut along that line and separate the flat and point.
The point is considerably fatter than the flat. I often take the point and make “burnt ends” out of it that I subsequently use in chili, enchiladas, chopped beef sandwiches, BBQ beans and so on.
To do this: Take your point, cut it into cubes, dump the cubes into a foil pan or any container that can go in the smoker, coat the cubes with your favorite BBQ sauce and return the whole cubes, pan and all, to the smoker for 2-3 more hours. You get some really intensely smoky, chewy chunks o’ meat that you can use a lot of things.
And there you go! — R.