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Smoky, tender, flavorful and MEATY! Yum, I ♥love ♥ smoked brisket.
While making smoked brisket takes a little planning and time, it’s so worth it and actually pretty easy! I know, I know, you’re thinking this girl is completely cracked. How could something that I have to babysit for 8 hours be considered easy? But the fact is, yes, smoking a brisket is time consuming but not overly difficult. This Smoked Brisket Tutorial will have you making your own smoked brisket like a rock star (or at least a BBQ Pit Master)!
In general, smoking a piece of meat is accomplished with indirect cooking. Indirect cooking is where you heat one side of your grill and cook the food on the opposite side. Basically, turning the grill into an oven. The heat from the hot side warms up and surrounds the meat on the cool side to provide low and slow cooking. Cool, right?
Don’t worry, I’ll be with you every step of the way. Lets get started, shall we?
Choosing a brisket
Okay, so first step is to pick your meat. But what is brisket?
The brisket is a cut of meat that comes from the chest of the beef which supports most of the animals weight. Therefore, this cut of beef is very tough, with a lot of connective tissue. But, oh so flavorful! Beef brisket requires low and slow cooking (in this case smoking) or braising to transform it into a juicy, tender and super flavorful piece of meat. For more information about beef brisket, check out this article from Chef’s Resources.
There are a couple different main cut options for purchasing brisket:
- Flat Cut-This is the larger inside muscle. This cut is leaner and yields much prettier slices
- Point Cut-This is the smaller outside muscle. Typically fattier and lends more to shredding than slicing. Typically less expensive than flat cut.
- Whole brisket (sometimes called Texas Brisket)-This is the big mamba jamba! While price per pound is usually lower, you should make sure you have the room and appetite to finish off this hunk of meat! (Texas Brisket always reminds me of Fred Flintstone and his big old ribs, LOL! 🙂 ). This cut is usually about 20 lb or so and as such would require a MUCH longer cooking time.
The choice is entirely yours. Even though the flat cut is more expensive, I tend to prefer it for this recipe while I would use either flat cut or point cut for making corned beef. I have not smoked a full Texas Brisket, yet…
Preparing the brisket
Depending on the cut of beef, you may need to do a little trimming. For smoked brisket, you want to leave a bit of the fat cap on as this helps to retain moisture and “baste” the meat as the fat cooks off. Remember, you are cooking this brisket for about 6-8 hours so you want to make sure your meat doesn’t completely dry out. I like to leave about 1/4″ of fat cap on the brisket.
Once you have trimmed your brisket, give it a quick rinse under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Give the brisket a rub with homemade Soy Free Barbecue Rub. You could certainly start smoking your brisket right away but I prefer to let the meat rest in the fridge for at least 6 hours but typically overnight. Hey, we already planned ahead and have plenty of time to smoke this big beautiful hunk of meat, might as well make it the best and most flavorful we can, right?
About a half hour before you are ready to actually start smoking your brisket, remove it from the fridge to start to bring it up to room temperature.
Maybe, in your neck of the woods, a mop sauce is a normal everyday sauce. Here in the Pacific NW, I had never even heard of a mop sauce until I read “How to Grill” by Steven Raichlen. He is the author of “Barbecue! Bible” and even had a TV show on OPB back in the day. “How to Grill” is probably my favorite cookbook of all time. He breaks down everything into very simple, easy to understand steps.
Anyway, a mop sauce is simply a vinegar based sauce used to baste the meat while cooking to help keep it moist. While a barbecue sauce can burn, a mop sauce does not contain any sugar so it won’t burn and will help keep the food juicy while adding in wonderful flavor. I love using a mop sauce with my Mediterranean Herb Chicken. More on that one coming soon. 😉
In this case, we are doing a pretty simple mop of vinegar and beer with onions, garlic and some more Soy Free Barbecue Rub. But there are tons of options you can do. Whiskey, wine, red or white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, jalapenos, red pepper flakes, and on and on.
I will usually mix up the mop sauce ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Right before I use the mop the first time, I like to pull out the onions and garlic and reserve in a separate bowl as well as about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the liquid. Later on I will saute up the onions and garlic with a little bit of the reserved mop sauce to serve on top of the meat. YUM!!!!! Totally optional but really tasty and I like that the onions aren’t going to waste after doing their time flavoring the mop sauce. Win!
You can use a barbecue mop like this one (it looks like a mini string mop you would use on your floor), basting brush or just slowly pour the mop sauce over the brisket.
I have a Weber gas grill that I absolutely love. I have seldom cooked on a charcoal grill, although I wouldn’t mind trying it again. Mostly because I don’t have a charcoal grill, I have a gas grill. 🙂 Also, I absolutely love being able to walk out on my deck, push a button, and BAM my grill’s heating up!
I have done this smoked brisket on a completely crappy, cheesy gas grill and a few in between models before we bought the Weber. Each one worked well, but I do think the Weber is easier as it has better temperature control and more even heat distribution than our older crappy grills. Regardless, use what you have, gas, charcoal or smoker. A Traeger would be totally AWESOME for this recipe!
Smoking Options, Tools and Wood
There are lots of different options for types of wood, vessels, etc. We will just cover a few here.
There are many different types of wood that are good for smoking meat. Some work better for different types of meat such as Chicken, Pork or Beef. For me, I think its all about the taste and the length of the cooking time. My favorite is Apple wood for Chicken and a mix of Oak and Hickory for Beef like this smoked brisket. Really, I think that picking your wood is very individual and just depends on your taste, how long you are smoking, and what cut of meat you are using. This article from The Spruce has a great reference about the different types of wood to use for smoking.
Some common options are:
You can also use either wood chips, wood chunks or pellets depending on your grill. Wood chunks would work well for a Charcoal grill as you can put the wood directly on your coals and you would get a longer “burn” from the wood chunks than you would from wood chips. That said, for a gas grill, I prefer wood chips. Pellets are usually used with smokers like a Traeger.
Okay, we’ve picked our wood, now what? Well, unless we want a super huge mess on our hands and potentially a big old flame out, we need some sort of vessel to contain our wood chips. Enter smoker pouches and smoker boxes. A smoker box is a metal box that you would use to hold your wood chips. A smoker pouch is essentially the same thing but homemade out of aluminum foil. I prefer heavy duty aluminum foil but you could also double up regular aluminum foil. I actually use both a smoker pouch and smoker box (more on that in a little bit).
Pro’s and Con’s.
- Smoker box
- Pro’s: Reusable, better overall heat distribution for more even smoke, sturdy construction (easier to pick up out of hot grill). Seems to release more consistent, even smoke.
- Con’s: Up front expense of $10.00 to $20.00 each, wait time to cool between uses, have to clean, longevity-most don’t last very long.
- Smoker Pouch
- Pro’s: Disposable-just toss the whole pouch when you are done. Cheap-just aluminum foil. Expandable-Can make as big or as little as you like to adjust the amount of wood being used.
- Con’s: Flimsy “bundle” to remove from grill especially when hot. Not as even distribution of smoke. Creates waste.
How to make a smoker pouch
Soak the wood chips for 1 hour then drain the chips. I drain mine outside in the yard as little bits of wood can escape the bowl and you don’t want those getting trapped in your garbage disposal. (Trust me on this one. We had about a cup of chips go down the drain on accident one time. Total pain in the ass!).
Spread out a piece of aluminum foil and place the wood chips in the middle. Use about 1 1/2 to 2 cups for each pouch. Bring the long pieces of the aluminum foil up together lengthwise in the middle, then fold them over several times to seal. Next fold in the short pieces to where you now how have a long rectangular pouch. Note, you want to leave a little bit of air space in the pouch or you will not get as much smoke. Once you are ready to put on the grill, poke a bunch of slits into the foil. You want to create room for airflow in the pouch and for smoke to escape but not so much that your pouches fall apart. I use the end of a steak knife. That’s it. Easy peasy, right?
To soak or not to soak. That is the question. (ha, ha)
For use on a gas grill, I prefer to soak the wood chips for 1 hour before smoking. Soaking the chips helps to ensure that you are getting good flavorful smoke. When the chips are dry, they can catch fire very quickly and this can lend towards a strong bitterness. Your looking for smoke not active fire. The exception could be using wood chunks with charcoal. As the wood chunks would be added directly to the hot coals, chunks can be better for long cooking like this smoked brisket. Also, since it is a chunk, it will take much longer to actually catch fire. That said, I would still soak wood chunks just like I do the wood chips.
Some people soak their chips in beer, wine etc. I have used beer before and it does add a very mild change to the flavor but honestly not enough to warrant wasting the beer. 🙂
Remember how we talked about indirect grilling above? This is how we apply that to smoking the brisket.
To get the wood chips to smoke, we need to heat them to a pretty high heat. But, this high heat would be way to much for our brisket. Remember, this is a very tough piece of meat that we need to cook low and slow. The trick is to heat up one side of the grill really hot, add the smoker pouch/smoker box, get it smoking really well, then turn down the heat and put your brisket on the opposite (cool) side of the grill.
For a three burner grill I turn on the left and middle burner to high and leave the right burner off. Add the smoker pouches/smoker box and heat until little wisps of smoke come out of the slits. Once you start seeing (and smelling) consistent smoke, turn down the heat as low as possible and add the meat to the “cool” side of the grill. My Weber grill tends to run really hot so I have even turned off the middle burner and just left the far left burner on low. Your goal is to keep your grill around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the configuration of the grill, you may need to play with which burners are used.
Typically the wood chips would need to be replaced every hour or so. To leave them on the grill any longer can result in a nasty bitterness to the food. Your nose knows. Pay attention to how the smoke smells and that will tell you when the wood chips are spent.
Now we could certainly replace the smoker box/smoker pouch with another batch, turn our heat up to high, wait for it to smoke and turn our heat back down. But…… what happens to our lovely brisket during that time? To get our chips to smoke we are subjecting our meat to WAY to high of a heat.
My solution? Double or triple up the smoker pouches and add all the smoke in the first one to two hours of cooking. As you can see in the picture, there are two smoker pouches and one smoker box in the grill. All the smoke is added in the first 1 1/2 hours of cooking. Once the smoke reduced and started changing in smell, we pulled the smoker box and pouches and put them into an old metal bucket to cool. Then continued cooking our brisket low and slow. If you are using a charcoal grill, you will have to replace your coals every so often anyway (a chimney starter can be great for this) in which case you could easily continue to add wood chunks throughout the cooking time. So, the type of grill really determines which method you try for your wood chips/chunks.
Smoked Brisket Instructions
Remove the brisket from the fridge about 1/2 hour before starting to cook.
Prepare the grill and smoke pouches/smoker box
Before starting the grill, put a disposable aluminum foil pan (to act as drip pan) in the grill directly under the grate where you will be smoking the brisket. This helps to catch any drips in the first few hours of cooking. This step is totally optional, just know you might have a bit more clean up if you skip this step.
Preheat your grill to High heat on one side of the grill then add all your smoker pouches/smoker box to the grill and heat until smoke starts to wisp out of the slits in the smoker pouch. Turn the heat to low and monitor until grill is at 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Start Smoking Brisket
Add the brisket, fat side up, to the cool side of the grill and cover. Monitor the heat, you want the grill to be at about 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. If your grill is still running too hot, turn off the middle burner.
Smoke covered for one hour. If the smell from the smoke pouches has changed to be a bit bitter or the amount of the smoke has gone way down, then it is time to pull the pouches. I keep an old metal bucket around that I can put the hot pouches and smoker box to cool. We’ve also put them on concrete patio, but be sure to discard as soon as possible so you don’t have any staining on the concrete. Be very careful, the pouches/box are hot! We usually use tongs in combination with a grill spatula to support the bottom to take care of this easily and safely.
Once the smoker pouches have been removed its time to transfer the brisket to a second aluminum pan. This keeps the bottom of the brisket from drying out and allows the fat from the top to melt and baste the meat. You can put the meat directly into the pan before smoking but I like to keep it open for the first hour or two so that the smoke can penetrate the bottom of the meat as well. Mop the brisket with the mop sauce.
Keep mopping the meat every hour or so and keep an eye on the temperature of the grill. Again, its super important to cook brisket low and slow. Keep the temperature around 225-250 degrees. If the meat starts to get too dry during the last few hours of cooking you can cover the aluminum pan with aluminum foil. I have done a 4-5 lb briskets in about 6 hours and this 8 lb brisket took 8 hours. Your time will vary a bit based on what temperature you were able to keep your grill and the size of the brisket.
Let it Rest
Once you remove the meat from the grill, tent it with aluminum foil for about 15 minutes to allow the meat to rest and all the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. I like to remove the extra fat at this point then slice in very thin slices against the grain at a bit of a diagonal. The same way you would cut London Broil. See the picture below. You could also shred the smoked brisket with two forks. Preference is up to you.
Look at that lovely smoke ring and bark on the outside of this Smoked Brisket. Mmmmmm! Yummy!
I hope you love this Smoked Brisket. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. If you try this recipe, please snap a pic and put it on Instagram #naturallyliz.