I remember cooking my first brisket, I was nervous. Afraid I was going to ruin an expensive cut… And I did!
Living on the East coast I had very little to go by. No one in my area was cooking them. We were in pork country, and the internet content at the time was very limited.
So I made a lot of mistakes.
Brisket is one of the 9 primal cuts of beef, and comes from the lower breast section of the cow. Because cows don’t have collar bones, the brisket has a lot of connective tissue to support all that weight. This means that if cooked slowly that tissue will render and we will have a very tender piece of meat.
Brisket selection is very important. The USDA grades beef so people know the quality of the beef they are buying. The only two we want to cook with are Choice and Prime. My experience with brisket is if you buy a low quality cut, you will end up with a low quality finished product.
Remember the old saying: “If you’re looking, you’re not cooking.” So keep the lid closed as much as possible!
- Set up your grill or smoker for indirect cooking. Temperatures are very important and I suggest you use a grate level thermometer, and an instant read thermometer.
Trimming your brisket
A sharp knife is a must. I prefer to use a stiff boning knife when trimming a brisket.
- Remove all the residual fat and silver skin from the top of the brisket.
- Move to the hard fats. There is one on the top of the brisket and one large on the side of the brisket.
- Then trim the bottom fat cap to about a quarter inch. If there is less than a quarter inch, I don’t recommend trimming it.
Seasoning your brisket
Seasoning your brisket is the easy part. I don’t get fancy with brisket rubs. I want to taste the beef so I go simple with what’s called a Dalmatian rub.
Simple salt and pepper. Heavy application is key with brisket if you want to develop a nice bark and color.
- First, start with EVOO and rub the entire brisket down. This will help the salt and pepper adhere to your brisket.
- Next, apply a heavy coat of kosher salt followed by coarse black pepper.
- Let your brisket rest for about 30 minutes before putting it on the grill.
Cooking your brisket
Once your cooker has come up to temp, it’s time to get cooking.
- Add 2 of the cherry wood blocks to the coals and one cup of the hickory wood chips to the coals. You can use a metal wood chip tray available at almost any hardware store or make your own out of aluminum foil.
- Once you see thin blue smoke it’s time to throw the brisket on the grill. Remember, you don’t want billowing white smoke. We just want what people in the BBQ world call the “thin blue smoke”. It’s smoke you can barely see, and leaves the most perfect taste of smoke on your food.
- If you’re using a charcoal grill, plan on adding 6-10 coals per hour and another cup of your soaked hickory chips and one block of cherry wood.
- If you’re using a gas grill, make sure you have a full propane tank. If you’re running steady at 275°F for the first five hours, do not open the lid of your grill except to add more chips and a block of cherry wood. The old saying goes, If you’re looking, you’re not cooking. Opening the lid can add 15 minutes to your cook time.
- Around hour 5, use your instant read thermometer and it should be between 155-165°F. This is a good time to wrap your brisket.
- Wrap your brisket as tightly as possible and return it to the grill.
- At this point no more wood is needed. Just try and maintain your fire around 275°F.
- After 2 hours, check the internal temp of your brisket. The finished temp should be around 203°F. Using your instant read thermometer in the thickest part of the brisket, if it slides in with no resistance “kind of like a hot knife through butter,” your brisket is done.
- Remove from grill, unwrap and place it on your counter.
Resting your brisket
Brisket needs to rest. This is a cooking process that allows the juices that are being pushed out of the meat to return to the meat, additional rendering will occur, and the brisket will get even more tender.
Brisket should rest at least 2 hours before slicing.
Slicing your brisket
The last step to a great brisket is how it’s sliced. All large cuts of meat have a grain (just like wood) you can follow the grain of the meat. It looks like lines of tissue crossing the flat of the brisket.
You need to slice against the grain, if you don’t you will have stringy tough meat to chew, but if you cut against the grain it will eat tender and beautiful.
*Keep a spray bottle of water handy in case of flare-ups.