Learning how to smoke a brisket can be a very daunting task. I learnt the hard way by ruining three briskets before I got serious and started doing my research. After talking to BBQ fanatics, friends, family and scouring the internet for the best information, I was able to start making a great brisket. Practice makes perfect. An informative guide like this can fast track you to a family favorite meal. A couple questions that I get is how long does it take to smoke a brisket? Give yourself a lot of time to complete a brisket. A brisket takes 1 to 1.5hrs per pound. So give yourself 12-18hrs of cooking time. There is nothing worse than your company waiting until 10pm to start having dinner. It has happened to me and that is when you can get Angry!
What is a brisket?
The brisket is the breast or lower chest of the beef. Originally, the brisket was used to make ground burger at butcher shops. Later, the popularity of smoked brisket took off and now it has become an expensive cut of meat. My father in law is a retired butcher and he can’t believe what people are paying for brisket today. When I first told him that I’m doing brisket for a family dinner, his eyebrows raised and was wondering why I’m serving such a low grade cut of meat. After he ate the brisket, he understood why it’s gaining popularity.
The brisket area of the beef is a major muscle that supports over 60% of the beef’s weight. Because of this type of muscle the brisket contains a lot of connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, muscle fibers), which are not typically appetizing. This is why brisket needs to be cooked low and slow to taste great.
Brisket usually comes in very large sizes, such as 9-15lbs cuts, so you’ll be making a meal for a lot of friends and family. Good news is my family and I enjoy the leftovers and make brisket sandwiches the next day. Another favorite leftover is brisket tacos which we have listed in our recipes.
Brisket Selection and Preparation
How to pick a good brisket
When going out to buy your brisket, do not cheap out. The butcher shops will have prime and select grades available. I recommend buying a prime (AAA) grade packer brisket. You are investing a lot of time and effort to make a great meal, do yourself a favor and spend more on a premium cut. Be picky with your brisket. When you pick up a brisket, do the “flop test”. Pick the brisket up in the middle and if it “flops” on the ends, this is good. This means it has the right amount of fat marbling throughout. If it is hard and does not flop, put it back and look at the next one.
Our friends at Snake River Farms sell Wagyu briskets. Wagyu is by far, the most premium beef on the market today. Check them out for your next brisket cook. They sell some amazing wagyu briskets.
What items do I need to make a brisket?
Making a brisket does not need a tremendous amount of gear or ingredients. Here is an easy list to work with.
- Prime Packers Cut Brisket (obviously)
- Smoker: This can be any smoker that can provide consistent heat and good quality blue smoke. I mainly use my pellet smoker for simplicity and ease of use. If you have the time and patience, an offset smoker provides the best results.
- Oak Smoking Wood: I typically use oak because I prefer the Texas style Brisket.
- Meat Thermometer. I find a wireless or wifi thermometer works great because you can keep a close eye on your brisket temp at all times.
- Brisket Rub. I use the Texas standard. 50% coarse pepper and 50% coarse salt. Simple and perfect.
- Butcher Paper: Wax-less butcher paper. To be used with the Texas Crutch (if needed). This will be explained later.
- Heavy Duty Tin Foil. Wide cut if available.
- Towels: Old towels to wrap the finished brisket while it is holding (resting).
- Large Cooler (Cambro)
- Sharp Knife: Narrow Curved Boning Knife. Or any medium sized sharp knife
- Apple Juice
- 12 Beer or More
How to trim a brisket
Trimming and preparing a brisket is a crucial step in making a proper brisket. Mastering this part takes time and you will get better at this by your third or fourth brisket. We are still getting better at this every time. Make sure the brisket is cold for this step. I sometimes throw the still packaged brisket in the freezer for 20 mins before I plan to start trimming.
I prefer a narrow curved boning knife because it makes trimming the fat easier. The brisket has two different sides to it. The flat (lean side) and the point (taller, fatty side). You will want to reduce the fat cap to about ¼” thickness. This helps keep the brisket moist and juicy through the smoking process. I always smoke with the fat cap facing up.
You’ll notice very hard and thick parts of fat on the point and underside. Remove most of this as you can. This fat will not render and is not the type of fat that compliments the flavors of the brisket.
Aaron Franklin demonstrates trimming a brisket below.
Once trimming is complete, it is time for the rub. I prefer Texas style brisket so I use the traditional Texas brisket rub. 50% coarse black pepper and 50% coarse Kosher salt. This is all you need. For a more sweeter taste, you can try our homemade Kansas City style Brisket Rub. We also have our own spin on the traditional Texas brisket rub.
Evenly spread the rub over the brisket but don’t overdo it. You can easily put too much rub on. You can let the brisket sit on the counter up to an hour before cooking.
Start the Smoking Process
Now is a good time to get the smoker started and brought to temp. I like to run my smoker at 225-235 degrees F. Depending on your smoker, this may take some time.
Everyone has a different opinion of what wood to smoke. I typically use oak wood for my brisket but everyone has a different opinion when it comes to smoking woods. . My favorite BBQ joints in Austin, Texas use Oak. Oak provides a medium smoky flavor that is a bit lighter than Hickory. Hickory provides a sweeter finish and is great for low and slow cooks.
Once the smoker is at temp it is ready for the brisket. Now is the time to insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the brisket. Make sure the probe is in the meat and not the fat. Place the brisket in the smoker with the fat cap facing up and the point facing the heat source (more important on offset smokers). The point requires more time to cook compared to the flat, so it is best to have the point closer to the heat source.
To keep the moisture up during the cook, I put a bowl of 50% apple juice and 50% water in with the brisket. This helps the brisket stay moist and creates a better bark because smoke likes the cool and moist areas of meat. When you’re smoking brisket for a long period, keeping the smoker humid helps ensure the brisket does not dry out. After a couple hours of smoking I start to spritz the brisket with this 50/50 mixture every hour until it is time to wrap.
Now is the time for patience. Do not constantly go back and open your smoker to inspect the brisket. Trust your meat thermometer and leave the brisket alone. Slow and consistent heat is what makes the best brisket. Also, make sure you’re providing quality blue smoke to the meat and not billowing white smoke. White smoke contains creosote which is gives an off flavor to the meat and is also unhealthy to consume. Understanding the science of smoke with meat can help you with future briskets.
The Brisket Stall
After several hours you will notice that your brisket internal temp has been sitting the same for quite some time. Probably around 160 degrees F. This is normal. It is called “The Stall”. Here is what’s happening.
The brisket is at a temperature where the fat is rendering down and creating a cooling effect on the meat. This can go on for hours depending on how much fat content is in the brisket. When this happens, the inexperienced BBQ’er starts to panic. They will start increasing the heat to compensate or believe their temperature probe is faulty.
Do not panic at this point. If you started the brisket early, you will have more than enough time to cook through the stall, without intervening. If time is tight, you can use the “Texas Crutch”.
The Texas Crutch has been used for a long time. It is used to speed up the cooking process of the brisket, especially through its time consuming stall. I believe it also makes a better brisket. It aids in keeping the brisket juicy and moist. I always do the Texas Crutch with the waxless butcher paper. There have been two trains of thought with the Texas Crutch.
- Wrap the brisket in aluminum foil and cook
- Wrap the brisket in wax-less butcher paper and cook. Both work but they provide different results.
Aluminum Foil Texas Crutch
The foil definitely speeds up the cook through the stall, but this method will give your brisket more of a roast beef taste and texture. You’ll typically lose that bark finish that I love on a good brisket. If you use the aluminum foil, make sure to wrap the brisket very tight and keep your meat probe in the brisket (it’s helpful to have the extra wide heavy duty aluminum foil).
Butcher Paper Texas Crutch
Many people are using wax-less butcher paper to wrap their brisket during the stall. The butcher paper can still breath and let some of the smoky flavors through. It helps speed the cook like Aluminum foil and it also leaves a bit more bark on the brisket. Again, make sure to wrap the brisket tightly without leaving air gaps around the paper and brisket.
Finishing the Brisket Cook
Now after the 12-18 hours of smoking your brisket you are nearing the end of the cook. When the brisket starts getting close to 190 degrees, I suggest staying very close to the smoker. The final degrees can happen quickly and you do not want to overcook your brisket.
How to know when a brisket is done
As the temperature gets to 190 degrees, I’ll check to see if the brisket is done. I’ll take a meat thermometer and poke into the brisket to feel how tender it is. I do not want to feel any resistance when I’m poking into the brisket. If there is still resistance, it may not be ready. Once I can poke the probe in without any resistance, I know the brisket is done. The final temperature could be 190-210. I have had briskets totally done in that large range, so you really have to poke the brisket to know if it is done.
How to rest a brisket
After I remove the brisket from the smoker I move quickly. I wrap the brisket in more aluminum foil followed by wrapping the brisket with old towels. I want to keep as much of the heat in the brisket as possible. I then, put the brisket into a cooler (home made cambro); that is preheated, to let the brisket rest. You can use hot water but make sure the cooler is dry for the brisket. The resting period is crucial because the liquid juices will re-enter the meat and add to the flavor. You can rest a brisket for hours. I typically let my brisket rest for 2 hours before serving. It makes all the difference in the world. Read our article that explains in detail how to properly rest meat.
How to cut a brisket
You’ve finally waited the 2 hours of resting and now it’s time to cut the brisket. There actually is a proper way to cut a brisket. I use a serrated bread knife, as it cuts through the bark of the brisket. Cut the brisket in half separating the point and the flat. You want to separate the two because the meat grain runs differently between each. You will want to cut across the grain of the brisket meat. Cutting across the grain ensures a more tender tasting brisket. Cut the pieces about ¼” thick.
Congratulations. You’ve just smoked your first brisket and I hope it went well for you. If you followed all the tips and guidelines, I’m sure you are quite happy with the end result. Feel free to share with your friends and family so their next BBQ will not be an Angry BBQ.
Brisket Sides and Sauces
Try making out Amazing Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe that goes well with Brisket. Homemade Mac and Cheese is a perfect side to serve alongside your brisket. Finish off the dish with a vinegar-based coleslaw.
You’ll have plenty of leftovers from a brisket, especially if you were only feeding your family of four with it. Check out our brisket tacos. They are a huge hit and our kids prefer them to a same day brisket dinner.