How to Smoke a Brisket: The Angry BBQ Way

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. How long to smoke a brisket? Give yourself a lot of time to complete a brisket. A brisket takes 1 to 1:15hrs per pound. So give yourself 12-15hrs of cooking time.

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.

Cow with cuts of meat

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. Keep reading for the best smoked beef brisket recipe.

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 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. 

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.

  • 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. You can also use a charcoal grill with wood chips or an offset smoker.
  • Wood Chips: I typically use hickory but other fanatics use oak or cherry.
  • 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
  • Water
  • Apple Juice
  • 12 Beer
  • Patience

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 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.

Brisket Rub

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.

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.

Brisket with Rub

Start the Smoking Process

Smoker Setup

Now is a good time to get the smoker started and brought to temp. I like to run my smoker at 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 hickory wood for my brisket, but lately I’ve been using oak. My favourite 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. 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. When you’re smoking brisket for a long period, keeping the smoker humid helps ensure the brisket does not dry out. Some fanatics spray the brisket with an apple juice / apple cider mixture throughout the cook, but I do not want to open the smoker unless I have to.  If you’re lookin, you ain’t cookin!

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.

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”.

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. There have been two trains of thought with the Texas Crutch.

  1. Wrap the brisket in aluminum foil and cook 
  2. 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.

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. If I have to use a Texas Crutch, I use the butcher paper method.

Finishing the Brisket Cook

Now after the 12-15 hours of smoking your brisket you are nearing the end of the cook. When the brisket starts getting close to 195 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 200 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 200-210.

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 up to 4 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.

brisket wrapped in foil resting in homemade cambro
Our Homemade cambro

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.

Half of a Brisket
Brisket Bark
Cutting the brisket against the grain
Cutting the brisket across the grain

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

Amazing Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe that goes well with Brisket. This Homemade Mac and Cheese recipe is our family’s favorite side with Brisket.

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