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If you want to know how to smoke beef brisket with great results every time then this post is guaranteed to make your next brisket better!! I'll show you all my tips and tricks to smoke beef brisket that will knock your socks off!!
When you’re purchasing a brisket you need to think about what your goal is. Are you competing in a kcbs competition for money and trophies or are you cooking for the family on a Friday night? Do you prefer lean sliced brisket or rich fatty burnt ends? These are the decisions that you need to make long before you get to the store. Here are some terms and types of briskets to look for.
Drop Brisket: Completely untrimmed primal cut. Most likely only found from a butcher shop upon request.
Packer Brisket/ whole Brisket: both sections of the brisket relatively untrimmed. The flat and point are attached with a fat cap. Size will vary from 10 pounds to over 20 pounds. Best for competitions and most versatile.
Brisket Flat: Trimmed Brisket with the point removed. Leaner and intended for slicing. Most commonly found cut of brisket
Brisket Point: trimmed brisket section with the flat removed. A lot more fat and connective tissue. Can be sliced, shredded or cubed to make burnt ends. Harder to find. May need to special order from the butcher.
Once you’ve chosen which cut of brisket now you need to decide what grade of beef. I recommend choosing between: Choice, Prime or Wagyu. Choice is the most economical of the three but still a very good quality cut while Wagyu is much more expensive. If you’re buying Wagyu make sure you’re feeding people you care about or attempting to win money. Prime briskets are the happy medium in between because it has outstanding marbling and deep rich beef flavor.
Trimming a brisket for backyard cooking is fairly simple. You basically want to do some minor shaping and trim any large pieces of fat off. Other than that I like to trim off some of the extra fat on the point to expose more of the meat so a crust will form. I always trim raw brisket on a Large plastic cutting board using a boning knife. The plastic cutting board is easy to clean and will prevent cross contamination. I’ll post a video below from the Brisket Whisperer himself Arron Franklin of Franklin Bbq in Austin Texas. This video is worth its weight in gold and provides a lot of knowledge so pay attention.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to seasoning brisket. Purists will say that you only season brisket with kosher salt and black pepper. You need to make sure to use a coarse salt and never a fine ground table salt. I use Good ole Diamond Krystal Kosher Salt and 16 mesh Coarse ground Black Pepper.
The second school of thought is to treat the brisket more like a pork shoulder and make a dry rub with a combination of different spices, herbs and chiles along with salt and sugar. I tend to lean towards the simpler salt and pepper rub but I do like to add a small amount of granulated onion and garlic. Both are tasty and I encourage you to give both a try and decide for yourself.
I like to use a blend of hardwoods for smoking brisket. Pecan, oak and hickory are all great woods for brisket. Some folks swear by mesquite but I think it’s a bit strong for my taste and the wood tends to burn a little hotter.
I don’t normally use fruit woods when smoking beef but if that’s what you’ve got it’s not a deal breaker. If you enjoy fruit wood you can mix it in with hickory to give you the best of both worlds.
Here is where the lines in the proverbial sand are drawn! Folks that use stick burners or offset cookers will tell you that you can’t get true smoke flavor from a pellet smoker and a true pit master would never use an “easy bake smoker” Learning to smoke meat using an offset cooker is an art form. It requires a knowledge of the cooker itself. Where are the hot spots? What temp does the smoker seem to gravitate to? Every smoker has a sweet spot or a temperature the pit just seems to cruise at. Offset cookers require constant attention, adding logs to the fire, adjusting the dampers and monitoring the pit temperature. Don’t plan on getting much sleep.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the pellet smoker enthusiasts who enjoy sleeping at night knowing that they don’t have to worry about a thing except the temperature of the meat. Pellet smokers these days come in a wide variety of styles and sizes with lots of different features. You can even adjust the temperature of the pit using an app connected to the WiFi from the cool confines of your bed.
I have owned and cooked on both types of smokers. I believe that being able to tend to a fire and produce juicy smoked brisket without modern technology is a skill any serious cook should learn. On the other hand I enjoy sleep and I rarely have time to pull an all nighter sitting outside next to a smoker. The pellet smoker allows me to smoke more often and not be tied to the cooker. I smoked a brisket for 18 hours overnight while at my brother's house visiting family and was able to monitor and adjust the pit temperature as well as keeping track of the internal temperature of the brisket.
I see this question asked all the time in numerous BBQ groups “ should i smoke my brisket fat side up or fat side down. While some swear that brisket should be cooked fat side up so the juices will drip down into the meat I'll argue that general physics says that that's not true. The fact is that the fat cap is not magically melting back into the meat because as a brisket cooks the meat contracts and pushes moisture out as the internal temperature rises.
I prefer to cook fat side down especially on a pit that is heated from underneath. The fat cap acts as a shield to protect the meat from over cooking. And allows the flat to develop a deep mahogany bark. On an offset smoker i always make sure the thicker point side is pointed towards the heat source to protect the thinner flat.
All this being said i've had delicious brisket cooked fat side up and down. It's more important to maintain a steady temperature and cook the brisket properly than what side the brisket is cooked on. Whichever way you decide to cook the brisket make sure that you place the brisket on the pit and form it into the shape you want it to hold. If you stretch out the brisket making it thinner it will cook faster but lose moisture faster as well. If you push the brisket together giving it maximum thickness the brisket will retain more moisture and develop a better bark.
The next controversial topic we will tackle is whether to wrap your brisket or not. Old school pitmasters swear that if you wrap then you don't know how to cook a brisket properly. Wrapping brisket is often referred to as the “ Texas Crutch” . You can definitely smoke a brisket without wrapping and if bark is your number one goal i think unwrapped is the way to go. I will warn that you need to be vigilant that you don't burn any part of the brisket or you will have a bitter taste permeate the entire brisket. Keep the temp low and plan on it taking a few extra hours than if you wrap the brisket. I do have a happy medium solution...Peach Butcher Paper.
During the cook you may notice that the brisket temperature suddenly stalls and may even go down a few degrees. This is often referred to as “ the Stall”. If you're not in a rush simply maintain your current temperature and eventually the bisjet will push through and finish cooking. You can help the brisket push through by wrapping the brisket in butcher paper.
I found a great article that explains in much further detail about the reasons and theories behind the stall. (CLICK HERE)
I’m personally against wrapping in foil but I do like to wrap the brisket in peach food grade butcher paper. Butcher Paper allows the brisket to breathe while helping the brisket retain moisture and hold its color. Foil tends to steam the brisket and softens the bark more than I like. Though I normally wrap my brisket based on the color and texture of the bark, I would recommend checking the brisket around 160-170 degrees F. Wrap the brisket in the butcher paper tight similar to how you would roll up a giant burrito.
Every brisket is a little different so i don't recommend relying solely on temperature to tell when a brisket is done. A high end wagyu brisket can be tender and finished cooking at a lower temp than a choice brisket. The range of when a brisket is tender is between 195 degrees F. all the way to 215 degrees F. I normally begin to check the tenderness once my brisket hits 200 degrees unless I'm smoking wagyu. Gently probe the brisket in different spots on the point and flat. You can probe the brisket with a wooden skewer or the probe on your thermometer. The probe should go in with almost no tension. If it feels tight then continue the cooking process.
Once the brisket is tender and fully cooked it is very important to let the brisket before slicing. The meat is heated to 200 degrees and when you slice the beef the juices will rush out like hot butter. If you let the brisket cool down to between 145-155 degrees the juices will have time to reabsorb into the meat. If you want to keep the brisket hot for a while before slicing, place the wrapped brisket in a dry cooler. I Wrap the brisket in a towel to further insulate the meat. You can rest a brisket in a covered dry cooler easily for 4 hours and still have a hot juicy brisket when you serve it. The type of cooler and size of the brisket will determine how long you can rest the brisket.
When slicing a Smoked Beef Brisket you basically just want to make clean slices about the thickness of a pencil. If the brisket is crumbling that’s a sign that it’s a little overcooked. In this case you’ll want to make the slices a little thicker. On the other hand if you think that the brisket is chewy or not tender enough you can always slice it thinner. These small adjustments can disguise any imperfections in the cooking process.
The hang test is where you hang a slice of brisket over the top of your blade or even your finger. The slice should bend but not break as it hangs. Second is the pull test where you take a slice and give it a gentle tug. It should hold together for just a moment under tension before splitting into two pieces with a clean pull. You can use a Slicer Knife while others prefer using an Electric Carving Knife. Me I just use this 8″ Damascus Steel Chef Knife and it works like a champ.