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first smoked brisket--what did we do wrong?

Is it supposed to taste like beef jerky? Um, I think it's possible to use too much rub and smoke it for too long. When I took them out (two 3-4 lb pieces), the temperature was 190-200 degrees after 8 hrs of smoking. The butcher shop didn't have one big piece, so the two small ones may have needed much less time than they got. So, it's too salty and pretty dry. Did the salt in the rub suck the juices out? After the pork butt, it seemed impossible to smoke anything for too long, but brisket seems more complicated than pork butt. Any suggestions for next time? Now I'm terrified to try smoking fish or poultry--how to keep them from being sad, dried-out meats and hold in that juicy meat goodness?

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  1. Smoking meats is tricky. I usually smoke briskets at about 250 degress with about a 1/4 inch layer of fat left on. First, I cure the meat for about 2 hours for a 10lb brisket.

    After the indirect smoke is ready I add the meat and allow each side to sear for about 20 minutes then I add my wet marinade and let it go.

    I usally keep some liquid in the smoking chamber also to provide some moisture to what is really a relatively lean cut of meat. Coca cola or Dr. Pepper in a pan work well for this.

    The resulting broth tastes almost like your own liquid smoke. Add a bit of this to your BBQ finishing sauce.

    1. What kind of smoker are you using? Also, what fuel - briquets or lump charcoal? My briskets take about 9.5 hours. I don't pay attention to the temp, just the technique. Check out:
      www.wiviott.com for a great technique for smoking anything.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Mutt

        We're using an electric smoker, so the temperature is a constant 200 degrees. We wrapped wet hickory chips in tin foil for the smoke flavor. Thanks for the link!

        1. re: ketchupgirl

          Also check The BBQ Brethren site. Loads of good info.

          Brisket can be tough to get right. We've had dry ones too. And sometimes I think it is just the meat.

      2. I smoke mine for about 2 - 3 hours with heavy smoke at 225 to 250 and then wrap it in foil and cook it another 4 or 5 hours at 225 to 250. I've even finished it in my oven after it's wrapped in the foil just because there's no further benefit from the smoke once it's wrapped.

        Don't use mesquite either - it's the best for grilling, but in my opinion it's way too bitter and harsh for long smoking.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Calamityville

          Calamityville, you are so right. I live in Arizona, and mesquite is a big grilling/smoking wood there, but unless it's already been made into charcoal it give off an acrid, bitter off-taste that really turns me off. I can see adding a little bit for flavor but not using it as the main flavor.

        2. brisket is a great deal less fool-proof than pork shoulder. if pork is barbecuing 101, brisket is like a senior seminar with a cranky-ass professor. i have to agree with calamityville-- unless you're a real pro, don't do the whole thing on the smoker. if you finish it with a quasi braise in the oven, you will be a great deal happier with the results.

          1. I agree with heelssoxhound that it is true that brisket is a lot harder than pork butt. however, I disagree that you shouldn't try whole brisket on the smoker. in fact, I find whole brisket turn out MUCH better on the smoker than small pieces.

            Here are a few problems I see - based on my experience smoking brisket. First, its really hard to keep a small piece of brisket moist and tender. The larger it is, the more protection you get from the elements. With a small piece, there's just too much surface area to internal meat ratio. In a big brisket, the outside bit is always a little dry - it's normal (and good, because it produces good bark... the dark, crispish outside). But on a small piece, there's too much of that dried bits compared to the goodness inside. If you can't get a whole brisket (flat and point intact... usually between 9 and 13 pounds) then at least get a whole flat - usually around 6-8 pounds. As Chef Poncho suggested, leave (if it has any to begin with) a thin layer of fat on the meat. If you want the rub to penetrate, then you can score the fat in a cross hatch patter and rub the rub into the scored fat too.

            so, find a place that sells bigger brisket, and ask them not to trim too much fat off.

            Second, 190-200 it too high for brisket. 190 is the upper end range. I find brisket - when measured in the flat, which is what you had a piece of - is best in the high 180s. More than that and muscle fibers start to squeeze out that lovely juice.

            Third, 200 degrees, in my opinion, is too low for smoking brisket. I'd shoot more for around 230-240. Some folks on the bbq circuit of late have been doing high heat brisket cooks. Some of them are winning. but the majority of folks - and the way its been done for many many years is low and slow. Just not as low as 200. when I've had cooks where I coudln't get my smokers up to 225, I've found the end result to be a bit drier.

            Last, to the chagrin of some die hards in some remote village in texas, I'd employ the use of foil. ESPECIALLY when doing a small cut like you had. Take it up to the 160 degree range before you put it in foil. Then foil it, put it back on the smoker, and keep going until you get to a few degrees shy of 190.

            Don't give up. you can most definitely smoke wonderful brisket at home that is far better than you can get in 99.9% of bbq restaurants around the country. It takes more work than pulled pork or ribs, but it's do-able and worth it.

            good luck!

            7 Replies
            1. re: adamclyde

              Great tips. I have done brisket in the Weber Kettle and it came out great, it may help that in the Kettle there is a drip pan full of water to help with the "humidity".

              1. re: adamclyde

                Thanks so much to all of you for your posts--it looks like the electric smoker with a constant 200 degree temperature is a handicap--does a leap into varying degree smoking translate into a huge commitment to a new type of smoker?

                Even though this brisket didn't send me into orbit, friends who came over really liked it and ate most of it. Even a smoking flop isn't that bad, it seems.

                1. re: ketchupgirl

                  For my home kitchen I use a little smoker that I bought from LL Bean years ago that produces great things. It's a bit cheaper than the one I have in my professional kitchen but it works. I wouldn't give up on the smoker you have now. In the end what matters is that you get the results that make you happy. BBQ is a very subjective thing.

                  1. re: ketchupgirl

                    If your smoker only has a 200-degree temp setting you can still turn out good bbq, I'm sure. While, in my opinion (which may be only mine, who knows) I'd rather cook mine at a higher temp, you can adjust and I'm sure you'll be happy with the product. I'd look at some of the other tips above regarding the different cuts, timing, etc. and start with that.

                    Separately, I do think there are some huge advantages to non electric smokers (some of the commercial ones are great, but for home use, I've found the electric ones to be lacking), but I understand why folks get electric ones. Fiddling with live coals isn't for everyone, nor in line with the time or patience that everyone has. The big thing that is touted with electric is the ease of use. I don't argue with that, but that said, in my weber smoker (which is all I use now... well until my big ole custom rig is finished) was just about as hands free as anything I've ever used. On a single load of charcoal, I can get that thing to run at a near perfect temp for 18 hours. Wonderful things, those weber smokers.

                    Anyhow, good luck and enjoy experimenting. BBQ is like ice cream. the mistakes still taste better than anything you get at a restaurant!

                    1. re: adamclyde

                      You will post details about the custom rig you are getting, yes?

                      1. re: ChinoWayne

                        totally. we are converting a 250 gallon water tank into a trailer-pulled custom bbq rig. With the double rack system, I figure I'm going to have about 3600 square inches of cooking space. We have the tank and drew up the plans. My buddy is the welder and we are cutting this weekend. Should be awesome. I figure that I can fit about 40 or so whole pork butts. or 40 racks of spare ribs - very comfortably - or a whole 150 pound hog + any trimmings we could want... That ought to feed the family for a day or so...

                        1. re: ChinoWayne

                          Very cool, Adam, will you be doing house calls with the rig?