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May 24, 2013 07:59 AM

Smoked brisket... How to keep it moist?

Have a new smoker & want to smoke a brisket but have heard they can be very dry... Any suggestions?

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  1. Use a water pan and wrap the brisket in aluminum foil (heavy duty) for the last hour or two.

    1 Reply
    1. re: byrd

      Spot on. Also, keep your eye on the temperature. Don't let it roast...

    2. A tricky thing to get right. Give us more info on what you have... is it a full brisket (point and flat) in the 12-18 lb range, a flat in the 6-9 lb range (with fat cap), or something smaller and more trimmed? If the latter, you have a problem for BBQ. You want something of a good size and with fat. What kind of smoker are you using? Generally speaking, smoke at about 225-250, then, often, people will wrap in foil and finish in the oven... maintaining moisture... to about 195-205 internal, when the meat becomes tender. Can take a total of 8-14 hrs, depending on size and cooking temp.

      33 Replies
      1. re: woodburner

        Full brisket, 14 lbs. smoker is auto. Pellet type. Recipe calls for a heavy rub with brown sugar

        1. re: sharon cole

          Been wondering about those pellet type smokers. Traeger does a trunk show once/twice a year at the local Costco. Seems like a great system, but don't know anyone who can verify the results. Looking forward to your experience...

          1. re: bulavinaka

            That's what we have! So far so good. Have done, chicken,turkey, ribs, salmon (my favorite). My husband loves it. Very easy to operate. He wants to use a recipe from the Wall Street journal. (Tim Byrnes from Smoke in Dallas) It doesn't use foil or other moistener. So he is a little worried about dryness

            1. re: sharon cole

              Thanks for the input. The Traegers that I've seen at Costco's trunk shows appear to be very well made, and the heating/smoking system seems to be the closest thing to auto-pilot. Which model do you have?

            2. re: bulavinaka

              I bought one from Costco and LOVE it. I was consdiering a Big Greden Egg, but Costco had the Traeger for a really good price. I've done ribs, port butts, brisket, chicken and love the ability to change wood for diffent favoring. Portk loin with Apple or Cherry wood is great.

              1. re: Bakersfield Hound

                Just picked up a Traeger yesterday at Costco as well. Will try to assemble it this weekend and start bbq season right. Thank you for another vote of confidence.

              2. re: bulavinaka

                I have a rec tech smoker and the results have been nothing short of fantastic

              3. re: sharon cole

                Nice! I go with lots of kosher salt, lots of rough cracked pepper, some garlic and a little cayenne. That's what I'd seen down in TX, and it really lets the beef come through. Kill the brown sugar, IMHO. Run it at 250... it will likely take about 10-12 hrs total. I would do about 6 in the smoker and finish in foil (might as well go to the oven vs. waste pellets at that point) til it reaches about 200 internal, and is fork tender.

                1. re: sharon cole

                  Sharon, I would agree with woodburner. Foiling at or near the stall will shorten the stall and help to retain moisture.

                  Brisket is a funny cut of meat and is not the easiest piece of meat to get right, even for pros. A lot of the variation comes from the meat itself. Some have more fat and connective tissue than others so end results will vary under identical cooking methods. You are on the right track to be using a full packer brisket.

                  Some people inject beef broth solution into the meat prior to cooking to help boost the moisture level.

                  Even in KCBS events you will see people injecting meat and foul before and after smoking

                2. re: woodburner

                  Woodburner, I did my first brisket exactly how you mentioned, this past 4th of July on my Weber 22" kettle grill, and it came out wonderfully. I felt like I was cheating a bit after foiling at 160 and finishing in the oven, but it did allow me to take a nap before guests arrived!

                  Question: as juicy and tender as it was, and as nice as the bark was, the bark could have been crisper. If do decide to crutch next time, could I take it out of the foil and crisp it up a bit over hot coals and not dry it out?

                  1. re: EarlyBird

                    Good question... I haven't really tried, but I think you could put on the grill at med high heat for a couple of minutes per side without doing much damage. Not for a long period, though.

                    1. re: woodburner

                      Woodburner, I don't know whether this would be applicable for grilling like it is for frying and some other methods, so I'm just throwing this out there, but could EarlyBird also add a little bit of sugar and/or a little bit of baking soda to the spices in the rub on the crust and make it a little crisper that way? (I'm thinking it could be like frying chicken and if you increase the pH on the surface of the meat - the alkalinity - you can both speed up the maillard reaction and make the surface a little more crunchy.) Does that sound plausible? What temp does the meat surface get up to, do you know?

                      1. re: ePressureCooker

                        Chemistry at work. It's a good technique to enhance the Maillard rx.

                        1. re: ePressureCooker

                          Hey EPC ! How ya doing? The problem is that when the brisket is foiled the good crisp bark just gets soggy. Relatively speaking (it' still dang good). I don't think anything will help, besides giving it some good dry heat at the last step. Would baking soda really help while in foil? I don't kinow...

                          1. re: woodburner

                            I don't know, if its that moist, maybe not. The maillard reaction can actually take place in moist heat, contrary to popular wisdom, but any crispiness/crunchiness would probably happen in the few minutes after the foil is removed, and that length of time might not be enough given what you say about the moisture.

                            Maybe I'll test it next time I make faux pastrami (I make a pastrami using a commercially brined corned beef brisket, cook it partially in the pressure cooker, then put a crust on it, refrigerate overnight, foil it, and finish it off for an hour in the oven. Maybe I could add a little sugar and a little baking soda to see if it makes any difference within the foil.

                            1. re: ePressureCooker

                              I read about that pastrami on your site... I'd like to hear the results of that test. Here's some of my pastrami for you!

                              1. re: woodburner

                                Ah, I've seen your pastrami before, you pastrami tease, you! I'm sure mine isn't as good as yours (no smoke, alas, since I haven't got a smoker) but its pretty good considering that.

                                I'm kind of surprised with all the BBQing and smoking you do you don't have a blog for it, or are you hiding your light under a bushel?

                                1. re: ePressureCooker

                                  Ha! Well, no blog... this is my world... and the KCBS site, And smoke or no smoke, I would love to sample that EPC pastrami!

                                  1. re: woodburner

                                    Yeah, still tinkering with the crust recipe, though. Thinking about adding a little ground juniper berry next time.

                                    BTW, some of your expert advice on BBQing is needed on the thread about marinating a chicken for 24 hours. Apparently, we've moved away from the marinating question to their attempt to BBQ a spatchcocked chicken over direct heat (because Steven Raichlen supposedly said it was wimpy to use indirect heat - really, he doesn't have to eat the results, it may be wimpy for him, but I say better a wimp with a delicious BBQ'd chicken). I'm sure they could use some sage - as well as sane - advice for the next time.


                                2. re: woodburner

                                  Nice looking sandwich!
                                  Maybe you guys would like to try pastrami's cousin, Montreal Smoked Meat? Similar prep; cure brisket, rinse, rub, smoke, rest in fridge, steam, enjoy. Discussion here

                                  1. re: porker

                                    Yeah, I've been on a wickedly long thread about MSM. Tell me this, very specifically, how do they differ? They are both cured, smoked, then steamed for service. What's the difference?

                                    1. re: woodburner

                                      Ask and ye shall receive.


                                      Speaking of which, it's been a while since I've made some MSM. Far too long. Time to hit the butcher's, I think.

                                        1. re: biggreenmatt

                                          Hey Matt!
                                          I was in a Chinese market a coupla weeks ago and they had these chunks of brisket. Not whole, but squarish, cube-like pieces. Still, that look of streaky meat and fat cover had me thinking of MSM.
                                          While Mrs. Porker was in the condiment aisle, I made an impulse buy on two pieces.
                                          Finally steamed them last night, picked up some kimmel rye, had a coupla beers and washed them down with a MSM.
                                          Yeah its been a long time....but these recent dog-day heat waves had me thinking about anything except firing up the smoker...

                                          1. re: porker

                                            Yeah, I live near a T&T, they have those chunks, I think, for hot pot. Wonder what would happen if they were cured and smoked. Not trying for MSM... just these large, chunky, fall-apart hunks of brisket. S'not a bad idea.

                                            Heading to CSL this weekend to see the inlaws. I've gotten back into my cycling training (lost a few lbs, too) and I really haven't smoked anything this year, with the exception of some smoke and cheese. I've been good, which means I see some Pete's (god I love that joint) and a brisket of my own on tap. Can't wait.

                                            Oh, and if you're coming to Toronto anytime soon, there's a new place for excellent brisket- the Wren on Danforth. There's a thread on it in the Toronto board. Worth reading!

                                      1. re: porker

                                        Yes, what is the difference? Different brine?

                                        1. re: ePressureCooker

                                          I don't know all the nuances of pastrami, so can't make a step-by-step comparison for differences.
                                          But in general, MSM is traditionally dry-cured (I use rough ground peppercorn, coarse salt, sugar, rough ground coriander seed, ground clove, bay leaf powder, and Instacure (pink salt) ) then rinsed (help remove salt), then rubbed with a coriander/pepper mix, weighted down 24 hours, then smoked, then refrigerated, then steamed for tenderness,
                                          I think the biggest difference is the use of coriander, which is in-your-face on the flavor profile.

                                          I know southerners swoon over BBQed brisket (when done correctly, rightfully so). Just a personal preference, if'n I'm gonna do a brisket, I'll make MSM.

                                          1. re: porker

                                            Okay, I can see some of the differences just from your description. Pastrami is actually smoked corned beef, and corned beef is wet brined, using not only the standard pepper, salt, sugar, etc. but things like mustard seed. So there's a difference in the brining technique and in the flavor profile. Also there's a difference in the spices in the rub (or crust, in some cases) used after the brining has been completed. Gotcha. Thanks! ;D

                          2. re: woodburner

                            Question to woodburner, or anyone: I'm marinating my brisket overnight (red wine, worchester sauce, olive oil, etc). When I take out of marinate in morning to cook, do I put on a dry rub, or does marinating handle the flavor? Thx.

                            1. re: BeefcookRob

                              Well, I never marinated a brisket. I go with what I saw in central TX: Salt, pepper, maybe a little garlic and cayenne. Let the beef flavor sing! With the marinade, I would still probably go with light S&P. Let us know how it goes.

                              1. re: BeefcookRob

                                I'm with Woodburner on this. I don't marinate brisket - or any meat for that matter - since I've learned that in fact it doesn't really penetrate the meat. You're better off dry rubbing the meat with a rub which includes salt, which will bring the moisture out, then back into the meat to flavor it.

                                Or better yet, inject the meat with a simple beef broth.

                                1. re: EarlyBird

                                  To elaborate on what EarlyBird said, if you want to dry brine a large piece of meat like brisket, remember that salt diffuses through meat extremely slowly, so you'd want to allow at least 24 hours, and 48 hours is better, for the salt to penetrate all the way through the meat.

                                  Alternatively, you could take EB's suggestion and inject the meat with beef broth.

                                  Brining serves several purposes. First, by salting the whole meat, it tastes better. Second, the salt denatures some of the proteins, so it makes the roast softer and more tender. Third, the presence of the salt inside the roast aids in water retention, which helps make it moister.

                            2. Recipe comes from Tim Byres's BBQ beef brisket. WSJ.

                              1. I don't often do brisket this way (I go the Montreal Smoked Meat route for brisket), but I do know it can be tricky. Throw in a hundred different opinions and you got yourself a quandry.
                                Me? I like woodburner's idears.
                                The long cooking time can lead to dryness and over-smoking (something I did often when starting out).
                                The foil helps keep the moisture in and avoids oversmoking. As woodburner points out, once foiled, smoke is useless - you just need a heat source to finish the cooking.
                                Purists may scoff at the foil, but I think its a great tool.

                                As for the seasoning/rub/marinade/mop/etc, thats personal preference and you'll eventually find what you really like with experimenting.
                                I always suggest to take notes when BBQing (rubs/temps/times/smoke/etc etc). If you do another brisket in 3-4 months, you can refer to your notes and try to improve (or keep the same).

                                Post back with your results!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: porker

                                  Porker... The brisket was fabulous! Moist, tender, very flavorful... My husband put it in the smoker in a large foil pan on a rack ... He wanted to catch any juices. Temp was about 225. He smoked it for about 12 hrs. Did not use any foil wrap. Turned off smoker opened the hood & let it rest for about 1/2 hr before slicing. The drippings were mostly oil, no juices so he won't use the pan again. The crust was black&crisp. He used a recipe from an article in the Wall Street journal byJosh Ozersky. Recipe is from Smoke in Dallas.

                                  1. re: sharon cole

                                    Glad to hear it turned out great.

                                    Check out this thread to learn how to smoke a whole brisket in 5 hours:


                                2. Like SeƱor Porker, I too have some humble experience with the cut of meat affectionately known as brisket, and I must respectfully dissent from his well-reasoned opinion.

                                  I've abandoned all trickery when it comes to smoking brisket (including, but not limited to, the Texas crutch, since I find it interferes with getting a good bark and completely ruins the possibility of getting burnt ends) and now stick to one excruciatingly simple technique:

                                  Temp. Time.

                                  I set the smoker to 200F. I leave it there till it's done.

                                  Nuts to the internal temp, nuts to any kind of schedule, nuts to everything except for temp and time. Notoriously fickle (don't try to schedule a dinner party around it) and a gigantic use of time (an overnight smoke, in my opinion, is essential), but what a magnificent thing to pull off the smoker. Heavy bark on the outside, meltingly beautiful on the inside, with the barest of seasoning on the meat to let the quality of the beef shine through. Simple sauce to finish and you've got yourself a winner.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: biggreenmatt

                                    I can wholly appreciate your opinion, Squire Matt.
                                    However in my (hopefully) unostentatious assessment of the preceedings, I'd like to add another component to your painfully untroublesome modus operandi of
                                    Temp. Time.
                                    That is sir, smoke.

                                    If'n bark is what you'd like, then yeah, you wouldn't want to wrap the beast.
                                    Just a word of caution that smoke plays an important role - if you do a long, HEAVY smoke, you're likely going to oversmoke, which can be nasty.
                                    Me? I always suggest a light hand when it comes to smoke.

                                    As Scuba points out, brisket can be tricky for many reasons. It can also be a road of discovery, finding your likes and dislikes, honing your craft, and zeroing in on that EXACT something you're looking for.

                                    1. re: porker

                                      My Good Sir:

                                      What smoke you smoking, homes? You and I both know that after about four hours of heavy smoking, the protein is smoked up and won't get any smokier. Provided you're sticking with indirect heat and very low temps (200-225F tops), the amount of smoke shouldn't make a difference.

                                      And what can you possibly mean "if bark is what you'd like"??? Are you suggesting that a beautiful, caramelized, smoky bark ISN'T something that anyone would always want?? Of course it is! Next you'll suggest that when you roast your turkeys, you rip off the gorgeous, crispy, fat-rendered skin and throw it in the bin!

                                      Apropos of nothing, I'm in a downtown TO law conference right now and I'm jonesing for a sandwich. Don't care for C's smoked meat, but the joint makes a mean tongue sandwich and has an excellent patio.

                                      1. re: biggreenmatt

                                        That reminds me...
                                        Picked up some fresh pork tongues yesterday - going to cure/cook/pickle them.
                                        (I kinda forgot about them as mrs. porker and I went for a few cocktails before heading to the store last night...)

                                        I guess you can have too much smoke if'n you're using old railroad tie as fuel...

                                        1. re: porker

                                          Feh. Their tongue way waaaaaaay overcooked. Zero texture.

                                          Feh. Better to make it myself.

                                          1. re: biggreenmatt

                                            My dentist says theres an Iranian place in NDG that makes a killer beef brain sandwich.
                                            I'm gonna have to take his word for it...brains ain't my choice of vittles...

                                        2. re: biggreenmatt

                                          >>>Are you suggesting that a beautiful, caramelized, smoky bark ISN'T something that anyone would always want??<<<

                                          Don't know if he is, but if so, I'd agree. I loves me some crispy poultry skin but when it comes to brisket, I couldn't care less about either bark or burnt ends, as long as the meat is smoky and juicy. And while we know the meat itself won't get any smokier after four hours or so, it can get bitter and acrid after too much smoke as the outer layer turns into a thick layer of creosote. I know this because a buddy of mine smoked a poor 2.5 lb. chicken for four agonizing hours until the internal temp was about a million, the meat was as dry as drywall and the skin was black. Of course he screwed up the entire process but the point is, it is possible to over-smoke something.

                                          1. re: acgold7

                                            I live in Canada and started smoking before this new fangled internet thing - kinda groping around in the dark with plenty of trial and error.
                                            Not knowing any better, I used to oversmoke everything in the beginning...