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Guidance requested, first smoked brisket!

Hi fellow homecooks! I have a 7lb brisket flat in my fridge that I plan to smoke starting tomorrow (Friday) morning, hopefully ready by dinner time... ideally for brisket sandwiches. In researching methods and techniques for smoking a brisket, there are so many opinions and so much dogma, that I thought I'd share my approach for tomorrow and ask some questions. I will be smoking in my Weber kettle grill outfitted with one of those automatic temperature control fans (I'm using the Pitmaster iQue 110).

First, I was planning on doing the rub/marinade starting tonight. I'm less sure about what to add here, or if there are any "no-no's". I was figuring making a garllic oil/confit during the day, rubbing the meat, and then sprinkling on some salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Thoughts? Add any sort of acid? (now or later)?

Then, tomorrow, bring brisket to room temperature, set up kettle for smoking, add brisket, and bring kettle to 225F. I planned on monitoring brisket temp until it reaches about 165F, then taking the brisket, wrapping it tightly in foil, and leaving in the kettle until the temperature reaches 190F. At that point I was going to take the brisket off, still wrapped in foil, and leave it very warm in some sort of insulated cooler for an hour or so, keeping it hot.

Slice against the grain, and serve.

Anything jump out at you? Any tips about the rub? I know there's talk about a hot-and-fast/sear approach, but I think for this first-go, I want to do a simple low-and-slow.

I should add, in case it matters, that I plan on some left-overs, ideally for sandwiches, tacos, stirfry, etc... And would big cuts of the cooked brisket freeze well?

Thanks in advance for sharing any advice.
-Nico

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  1. My husband has his own secret rub, so I can't help with that. But we have found that it comes out much more moist if smoked in a pan, so instead of having the meat on the grate and the drip pan under that we just put the brisket in the drip pan on the grate.

    1. I'd skip the garlic confit and stick with dry rubs, left overnight. Garlic powder, paprika, dry mustard, chile powder, salt, pepper, brown sugar - you can't go wrong.

      Just an FYI: my favorite leftover brisket sandwich is on seedless rye with cole slaw, picked red onions, thousand island dressing and swiss.

      2 Replies
      1. re: katecm

        Thanks katecm... I thought of making the garlic oil and using that to have the rub ingredients stick onto the meat. I don't have garlic powder or dried mustard (just garlic cloves and mustard in a bottle/paste), so I was thinking about ways to offer these flavors too.

        1. re: nasv

          Garlic-flavored olive oil would be fine, and I'm sure regular mustard would too. I just don't want to see pieces of garlic left on the meat and get overcooked to the point of being scorched.

      2. NACV,

        Since you only have the flat, I'm going to strongly urge you to pre-inject a marinade into the meat. It doesn't have to be fancy, beef broth does the trick. But the flat has the least amount of fat of any amount of meat you'll ever smoke so it will dry out unless you inject it.

        Second, smoke does a better job of penetrating wet meat. Scientific fact. What does that mean to you? Don't bring it to room temperature. It's true when you are grilling, but for BBQ, it's actually the opposite of what you want to do. Leave it in the fridge until you are ready to smoke.

        Other than that, I think you are on the right path. Don't panic when it stalls out around 150 degrees. It's a normal process. You can actually put the foil on when it reaches the stall point to shorten up that process. That's what I do. I foil it during the stall to shorten it up, then take it back out once it starts going up again. I then return it to the foil after it hits the temp I'm shooting for (I usually only go to 180 for flats) and put it in the insulated cooker for an hour or two.

        One last thing, cook it at 250. It's Ok, it'll still be slow and low and come out the same.

        Good luck

        10 Replies
        1. re: Db Cooper

          hey Db Cooper, thanks for the tips. I don't have an "injector", but I'm curious if I can introduce moisture simply with the rub/marinade to allow for some pickup. Almost like a brine.

          Can you explain a little more about starting it cold? I guess I'm not seeing the correlation between cold brisket and wet brisket for the smoke penetration.

          Also, for 7 lbs of flat, if I do wrap it when it stalls out, how much time as a ball park. 7 hours? 10 hours? I'll be monitoring with probe thermometer, but just curious.

          1. re: nasv

            Db Cooper is right on about injecting the brisket and starting it cold - there's no need to bring it to room temperature.

            Here's what I'd do:

            1. The night before, inject it with a lightly flavored injection made up of mainly beef stock or bullion or some other concentrated beef flavor such as BV Beefer Upper diluted with water (the best of all three of these options). Put in a body bag (one of those giant zip top bags) and refrigerate overnight.

            2. Take out of refrigerator and, without patting dry, season with kosher salt and dry rub.

            3. Smoke it fat cap up (if it has a fat cap) at 350 degrees F until it reaches 160 degrees F.

            4. Seal it in two layers of heavy duty aluminum and place it back on the smoker, fat cap down.

            5. Pull it when it's probe tender (a thermometer probe enters without resistance).

            6. Leave sealed in foil and wrap in a large towel and place in a cooler for at least an hour or up to 4 hours if it came off too early for service.

            7. After it has rested, unwrap, taking care to save the drippings, and slice against the grain, on the bias.

            8. Defat the drippings. Taste the drippings and adjust seasoning: add salt if it needs it and beef stock if it's too salty.

            9. Dip each slice in the drippings and serve.

            Here are a few tips concerning some of the things you mentioned in your original post:

            - 86 the paprika from your dry rub. Even the freshest, high quality paprika will lose its flavor over the smoking session and often even becomes bitter. For your first one, keep it simple with pepper and maybe garlic and onion powder.

            - Use 3 - 5 tennis ball-sized chunks of smoking wood, preferably apple or cherry. Stay away from mesquite.

            Please post how it goes including pictures if you can.

            1. re: 1POINT21GW

              Tremendously helpful... though I will confess that I just read this after slathering a garlic-oil+beef-broth later onto the brisket, adding my salt, pepper, and paprika... it's wrapped up and in the fridge.

              It does have a fat cap, about a quarter inch throughout.

              Out of curiosity, why put the brisket fat-cap down once it is wrapped in foil?

              Thanks for the tips about the drippings/sauce.

              The wood I have is hickory and apple, about 2oz chunks... several.

              Also, can you explain a little of the logic about not bringing the brisket to room-temp? I'm not trying to challenge you, I'm just trying to understand the science or "why" with smoking the brisket, and why the more dramatic temperature difference would be beneficial.

              1. re: nasv

                Concerning the fat cap, I'm glad you asked because I made a mistake and swapped the two. It should be fat cap down during the smoking and fat cap up while in the foil. The reason being is the fat cap down during smoking acts as a heat shield against the heat of the smoker if the heat is coming up from the bottom as it does in many smokers. The reason for the fat cap up during the foil stage is because the meat will give off quite a bit of drippings and the drippings will begin to braise the meat. There's no need to braise the fat, so it is kept on top and out of the braising liquid. If you accidentally foiled it and put it back on the smoker fat cap down, it wouldn't make a huge difference though. The fat cap being down during the smoking session is more important.

                Concerning putting the brisket on the smoker cold or at room temperature, you might already know the answer. And a better question might be, why do we bring certain cuts of meat to room temperature in the first place? I'm happy to give you the answer, but I'd like to see if you already know based on the knowledge you already have (I think you'll figure it out once you follow this out).

                Apple and hickory are good and the fat cap is trimmed to the perfect thickness.

                1. re: 1POINT21GW

                  Thanks man... generally, I bring my meats to room-temp so that there's less of a difference in starting internal temperature and target internal temperature... leading to target results.

                  So the part where I'm curious is why a greater difference in starting internal temperature and target internal temperature would be beneficial here? What comes to mind is that it would add more time in the smoker before I wrap it in foil.

                  1. re: nasv

                    "I bring my meats to room-temp so that there's less of a difference in starting internal temperature and target internal temperature... leading to target results."

                    But exactly why?

                    If you'd like, I can simply tell you.

                    1. re: 1POINT21GW

                      You can tell me... but my reasoning here is so that I can achieve great crust and browned bits on the outside w/o overcooking the inside.

                      So other than more time in the smoker starting with a cold brisket, I'm confused on other reasoning... tell me tell me :) Unless the reason is the same. Can you tell this is my first time smoking? So more burnt (and I actually mean dark and yummy) bits on the outside, while still more succulent inside? And start cold since this is going to be in there anywhere between 6-12 hours?

                      1. re: nasv

                        You're pretty much saying the answer possibly without knowing it.

                        The primary reason meat is brought to room temperature before it's placed on the heat, or taken the other direction and started colder than normal, or any form of internal-to-external temperature manipulation is to allow a certain part of the meat (oftentimes the surface) to cook while keeping another part of the meat (oftentimes the inside) from cooking past what we want. With a whole chicken, ice packs are placed on the breasts for an hour or so while the it rests at room temperature before the whole chicken is roasted. This is to bring the rest of the bird up to room temperature while the breasts are kept at refrigerator-level temperatures so that the dark meat (which takes longer to cook and should be cooked to a higher temperature) can get a head start with the goal being the white and dark meat hitting their target temperatures at the same time. Unless this is done, oftentimes we end up with either overcooked white meat or underdone dark meat.

                        With all of that said, our goal with a brisket (or pork butt, or baby back ribs, or anything where we want the connective tissues to break down) is to overcook it - the outside, the inside, the whole thing. In order for the connective tissues to have dissolved the meat will be way past "done". So, the whole temperature manipulation thing we talked about earlier is irrelevant here.

                        Now, with all of that said, you can bring the brisket up to room temperature, but I wouldn't simply because it's a waste of time.

                        1. re: nasv

                          My reasoning is two-fold:

                          1. Smoke adheres better to a cold surface
                          2. Smoke adheres better to a wet surface

                          Smoke needs something to cling on to. If your brisket is dry and warm, there is nothing for the smoke to adhere to. But wet and cold, it allows it to create that chemical reaction that gives you a nice smoke ring. It's why I baste my BBQ every 30 minutes or so with a mixture of beer and Italian dressing. And no, opening the smoker for a minute to baste doesn't drop my temperature by more than 2 or 3 degrees at most. That's another wives tale.

                          Finally, a brisket is a fairly large cut of meat. To actually get that thing to room temperature internally would take at least a couple of hours if not more. Now, we all know bacteria can form on the outside of a piece of meat, but when it's on the outside, you know you are going to be able to cook it off when it goes in the smoker. However, the longer you leave the meat out, the more chance you give the bacteria to get inside the meat. 999 times out of 1000, you'll still cook it out. But for me, why take the chance?

                          Frankly, it's the difference between BBQ and Grilling. When you are cooking over high heat, you want your meat to be as uniform as possible. But BBQ'ing is different as you are cooking low and attempting to add flavor via the wood. Just my two cents. I'm sure 1Point21GW has more to offer. And listen because of most the people I've read on this board when it comes to BBQ, his/her advice is by far the most sound.

                    2. re: 1POINT21GW

                      I know, I know!!!!

                      But I'll await nasv's response as to why you put it on cold and why we bring some cuts to room temperature before cooking.

            2. The only thing that jumped out at me was your timing. My husband smokes brisket at between 200 & 225 and it usually takes between 12 and 14 hours to come to temp.

              If it's not ready by dinnertime, don't pull it early. Have a plan B for dinner and cook the brisket until it's perfect. You'll be rewarded with a fabulous lunch the next day. Good luck!

              7 Replies
              1. re: Christina D

                Thanks Christina... I do have that worry too, but I think it'll be shorter for me since I'm smoking just the flat, and since I will be wrapping it in foil when it's about 30F shy of target temp.

                1. re: nasv

                  Regarding the "target temperature", don't pay attention to what the temperature is. It's almost irrelevant. Once you've foiled it you can remove the thermometer probe. What you're looking for is the tenderness of the meat. Once it's tender enough so that a thermometer probe slides in easily without resistance, it's done. The brisket will tell you when it's done.

                  1. re: 1POINT21GW

                    Thanks man. We are a couple hours into the smoke... I'll certainly check for tenderness with probe or similar.

                      1. re: nasv

                        So the brisket stalled out at 154F after being left peacefully for about 5 hours. I have wrapped very tightly in foil, poured some beer in to the foil pouch (I had chosen not to baste or anything, and wanted the additional liquid for the braise), and it is back in the kettle.

                        Waiting patiently :)

                        1. re: nasv

                          Looking forward to your results!

                          1. re: wyogal

                            According to my family that moved from Austin, TX very recently... GREAT brisket!

                            I perhaps was the harsher critic, I expected a little more "juiciness", like what I'd see in a pulled pork or carnitas type preparation. Personally, I was a bigger fan of the leftovers cut really thinly and used for sandwiches and tacos.

                            So after the foil wrapping, the brisket stayed inside of the kettle for another 4.5 hours, and I pulled it off when the temperature was at about 190F. I wrapped it in more foil and in towels, and put it in a pre-warmed cooler for about an hour.

                            next time, I'm not sure exactly what I'd do differently, but this is certainly something to experiment. I might try doing a higher heat at the beginning, fat-side down, and then wrapping. Who knows - there's A LOT of great advice in this thread and in others.

                2. Thanks all for lots of good advice. I did a 3lb brisket in a Weber kettle yesterday: 4 hours at about 225, wrap in foil, another hour in kettle, temp 190, took it out, wrapped in a towel, left in cold oven for about an hour. Disappointing: really chewy, lots of connective tissue still unrendered. Can't quite see how I could have cooked it much longer if it had reached 190. (Beef is local, free range, grass fed, maybe it's tougher?)

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: empedocles

                    You didn't cook it long enough.

                    There's some really good information in this thread. If you follow the advice here, you'll turn out a great brisket every time.

                    You can't go by internal temperature alone when you're trying trying to dissolve connective tissue. The reason you can't go by temperature alone is because the length of time it will take for connective tissue to dissolve is a function of not only temperature, but time at a particular temperature.

                    With all that said, the meat will be done when it's done. Simply pull it when it's tender and not before.

                    1. re: 1POINT21GW

                      Thanks 1POINT, Hawkeye. Clearly need to cook it longer next time. I really thought that little bit (3lb) of meat would dry up and be horrible if I took it beyond 190 (I have one of those dial meat thermometers which has worked pretty well with pork shoulder and chicken) but I guess I was wrong. Next time. Thanks again.

                      We're going to take what's left and chop it up fine for hash and potatoes tomorrow morning for breakfast.

                      1. re: empedocles

                        When conditions are right, brisket goes into a long temperature stall, which is what you want to have happen. That's why the easiest way to start is going slow and low .... I've done it so long that I do not use a meat thermometer, but the link I gave you also covers the best kind to have and what to look for. I learned a lot about brisket by perfecting it in the oven first [and then taking on the smoker].

                        1. re: hawkeyeui93

                          Thanks so much! I grew up in New York City and only lately came to BBQ, I think I learned everything that has succeeded so far from you guys.

                    2. re: empedocles

                      I agree with 1POINT that one issue was time. Another could be the grade of the meat and the size/partial cut you used. I really struggled producing a consistent product until I started using a whole untrimmed packer brisket [with both flat and point] of at least 12 pounds in weight and at least USDA Choice or better. One of the best explanations [with pictures and diagrams] I have seen on the internet for smoking brisket is here: http://amazingribs.com/recipes/beef/t...