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Beef Brisket (The King of BBQ)

Beef brisket is a classic barbecue dish. In Texas, when they say Texas barbecue, there's a good chance they are talking about brisket. Here in my part of Southern Ontario, it is more of a challenge to find a full packer cut brisket in any grocery store or butcher shop. You can find full briskets at Costco in the U.S., but not here (they do sell points, but not the full brisket). If you search around, you will find them -- I finally tracked down brisket at Whole Foods here in Oakville (which makes sense -- whole foods was started in Austin, Texas!). Briskets are also sold at World Meats in Mississauga, among other places.

This brisket is 5.5 kg, or just over 12 pounds. It is a huge piece of meat, so be ready for a mammoth cook. There are many guidlelines in terms of how long it takes to cook a brisket (1 hour per pound, plus 2 hours; 1.5 hours per pound; and so on). But the bottom line is that the brisket is done when it hits your target temp. Do not cook by time.

For this cook, I am aiming for a target temperature of 190 degrees. I will be wrapping the brisket in foil and placing it in a cooler lined with towels and newspaper to let it rest, so it will continue to cook to approximately 195 degrees by the time we eat. At that temp, it slices beautifully and is extremely tender and juicy. But be forewarned: I was expecting a cook of up to 16 hours at 200 degrees. This cook ultimately took 20 hours!

I am going with a fairly straightforward Texas-style approach with this recipe. We will do a light marinade, a rub and then into the smoker with hickory wood chips for a long round of low and slow.

Ingredients

Short and sweet:

  • one packer cut brisket (10-12 pounds)
  • marinade (4 cups beef stock with 1/4 cup white wine vinegar)
  • my favorite brisket rub mix (see below)
  • hickory wood chips in an amount suitable to your smoker type

Here is my rub mix for brisket. I think it tastes great. Use this entire amount on your brisket:

  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup coarse black pepper
  • 1/8 cup sea or kosher salt
  • 1/8 cup mustard powder
  • 1/8 cup dehydrated minced onion
  • 1/8 cup dehydrated minced garlic

I like to have some sauce on the side as well -- even though you may not use it. This brisket was so amazingly juicy, that you didn't need it. But I like it for the spice. One of my favorites is this Texas Barbecue Mop Sauce from AmazingRibs.com. I make it with 2 cups of drippings from the brisket captured as it cooks, along with a few other twists of my own.
 

The Smoker

Brisket is one of the few cooks for which I use my electric smoker -- in this case, the Smokin' Tex 1400. I like this style of electric (and Cookshack's) because you can use your own woodchips and add lump charcoal as well to get a combustion smoke ring. Twenty hours is a long cook, so I like not having to recharge my smokers several times throughout the cook. I am not a fan of puck-type electric smokers and pellet smokers as I do not like proprietary or pre-fabricated wood pucks or sawdust pellets. Just my personal preference.
 

Preparation

When choosing your brisket, be sure that it is nice and flexible -- stiff briskets seem to tend towards dryness.

Prepare your marinade in the quantities noted above and let your brisket marinate overnight. Mine marinated for 20 hours in a large-size Ziploc bag (it's hard to believe a 12-pounder will fit in these bags, but it does when folded -- another benefit of a flexible brisket). A marinade is not absolutely necessary, but I like to hedge my bets and keep my brisket as moist as possible before the cook. This marinade is beef stock, so it won't go altering your final flavor in any big way.

Approximately five hours before your cook, remove the brisket from the fridge, drain the marinade and apply the rub. Be sure to get the rub on all sides and in all nooks and crannies. Rub it in well. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about five hours.
 

The Cook

Prepare your smoker for an indirect cook and get the temperature up to 200 degrees. Your target temperature is 190 to 195 degrees.

Spread the chips on the hot coals.

Place your brisket in the smoker with fat cap up and I recommend inserting a temperature probe into the fattest part of the flat. Because briskets can take varying amounts of time to cook to their finished temperature, you will want to be able to monitor what is happening without having to open up your smoker. The only time you will need to open your smoker is to recharge the lump charcoal, if you are using a smoker that cannot go up to 20 hours at a time.

If this is your first brisket, you need to be aware of the stall period. After a certain amount of time, your brisket will reach the 160s and it will go into the stall period. This is when the fat is rendering and the brisket is tenderizing. It can be alarming if you are not aware of this. In the case of this brisket, my stall lasted for five hours. The temp sat locked at 161 degrees for five hours. Eventually, the stall period will end and the temperature will begin rising again. So do not panic when you hit the stall and do not think that your thermometer is not working!

When the brisket reaches 170 degrees, increase your smoker temp from 200 to 225. This will help to get it done a bit quicker and has never affected the moistness or tenderness of my briskets.

When your brisket reaches the 190 range, you are done. Remove the brisket from the cooker and let it rest before cutting. There are many ways to do this and many people (including me) like to use the cooler and towels approach to let the brisket sit for a while and redistribute its own juices.

The brisket pictured here took 19.5 hours to reach 190. I then let it sit wrapped in foil in a cooler for another 30 minutes before cutting and serving to my eager guests. This brisket was incredibly tender and juicy.

Beef brisket marinating.

Here is the brisket folded in half and squeezed into a large Ziploc bag for its long marinade. These large bags are great!

Brisket after 20 hours in marinade.

After marinating for 20 hours, the brisket is drained and is awaiting the rub.

Rub applied to full brisket.

Rub is applied to this side of the brisket -- sprinkle it on liberally and then rub it in well.

Rub applied to fat cap of beef brisket.

Here I flipped over the brisket to the side with the fat cap. I don't like how close this fat cap was trimmed by the butcher, but in the end it was still amazingly juicy. This is how the brisket will go into the smoker: fat cap up.

Brisket ready for the smoker.

Apply the rest of the rub to the fat cap side and be sure to cover all meat with the rub -- including all sides and all nooks and crannies. Let the brisket sit in the rub for several hours and then it is ready to smoke.

After 19.5 hours, the beef brisket is done.

After 19.5 hours, the brisket was finally ready. Be sure to leave yourself lots of time because you never really know how long it is going to take (but it is worth the wait).

Sliced beef brisket, smoked to juicy and tender perfection.

Sliced, juicy and tender...and ready to eat.


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