Many people will agree, there’s nothing quite like biting into a perfectly smoked piece of brisket. But, if you are fairly new to outdoor cooking, smoking a brisket can be a big undertaking. One sure thing, great pitmasters are full of tried and true competition BBQ secrets. Especially in regards to brisket. Everything from starting with the best possible cut of meat to slicing it just right after cooking plays a part in turning out great-tasting and juicy meat.
When it comes to how to smoke brisket that is competition-worthy, some very important tips should be followed. In this guide, we’ll break down some of these insider tips and secrets straight from the BBQ pitmasters and help you get started on your way to smoking a brisket that will have everyone talking. Let’s take a look:
If you want an outstanding brisket you have to start with quality meat. Understanding the different grades of meat, what to look for, and how to select the perfect cut is a crucial part of producing great-tasting brisket. Check out our article on how to buy great beef for more detailed information.
You will want to start with a least a choice grade or higher brisket. Choice grade has good marbling (fat) in the meat. Then, the next grade up is Prime grade which will have even more marbling. Why is that important? Fat adds flavor and helps keep the brisket moist during the cooking process. The fat also helps the meat stay nice and tender.
You want to trim off all the large thick pieces of fat. This “bad fat” will not render down during the cooking process. Sometimes, briskets will have a fat cap on the bottom that will be over 1-inch thick. Trim this down to approximately 3/8" thick and make sure the fat layer is even.
Also, you will see some gray meat on the edges of the brisket. Trim this off just enough until you start to see the redness in the meat. Even after trimming, you’ll still be left with good fat throughout the brisket to help hold flavor and keep it moist.
The three main ingredients in cooking a good brisket are salt, pepper, garlic (SPG). This is a great base rub to use and there are many available on the market today that have this popular combination. Some Central Texas barbecue purists may argue that you should only use salt and pepper in your brisket rub. But, experiment with different rubs and flavors to see what you like best.
You can add a more complex flavor profile to the SPG base by using a rub that will enhance the beefy flavor. Like, for example, the “What’s Your Beef” BBQ rub from our pitmaster Sterling Smith’s own Loot N' Booty BBQ. It really brings out the beefiness and gives the brisket a wonderful depth of flavor.
This is the age-old question when it comes to how to smoke brisket properly. Some swear by meat up, some by meat down. If you have a lot of heat coming in from the bottom then the best way to smoke a brisket would be meat side up. Other then that, it is up to the individual as to how they want to smoke a brisket.
Some people will tell you that with the meat side down, fat side up, the fat juices on top will flow through the brisket as it is smoking and help keep it moist. That is simply not true. Brisket is a very tough, dense piece of protein. The fat will not work its way through the meat.
When smoking a brisket the question often comes up, should I wrap the brisket? When you wrap a brisket three-quarter of the way through the cooking process it locks in the moisture helps get it through a critical part of the cooking process known as “the stall”. The stall is when, after several hours of the meat’s internal temperature rising, usually between 150 and 170 degrees, it suddenly stops rising for several hours or even goes down a few degrees.
What is happening during this time is a form of evaporative cooling. Once the meat gets to a certain temperature, it starts to sweat. That moisture evaporates and slightly cools the meat, “stalling” the rising temperatures. This lasts for several hours until all of the surface moisture is evaporated and then the meat’s internal temperature will continue to rise again and finish cooking. This is also when the delicious external “bark” on the meat is formed.
If you have a lot of time, like 12-16 hours, then you can smoke a brisket without wrapping it. You have to be very careful leaving a brisket on smoke for that length of time though. It can get very smoky and ruin a good brisket. If you are going to smoke the brisket and never wrap it, you have to maintain a very clean fire with very little smoke.
Should you choose to wrap the brisket, you can use either Peach Paper, a pinkish-brown type of food-grade butcher paper, or aluminum foil. Both are good choices. Wrapping the brisket in foil is referred to as the “Texas Crutch”. With Peach Paper you will still get a little more smoke on the brisket as opposed to using foil. Both of these methods will help maintain temperature and power the brisket through the stall.
Source: Hey Grill, Hey
Keeping your meat a consistent temperature for many hours while it cooks is crucial to cooking a great brisket. The key to this is managing your flame. Top pitmasters always suggest easing into your fire. You can easily stoke the fire to increase the temperature slightly. But it is much more difficult to bring down the temperature of a raging fire.
When smoking a brisket, you must keep the smoke thin and blue. If you are billowing out thick, black smoke you are going to ruin the brisket. Since it will be cooking for hours, you have to manage the fire to make sure you don't over smoke the meat.
This is why wrapping is a good idea if you are not great at managing the fire. You can smoke the brisket for four to five hours then wrap it and not over-smoke the meat.
So many people cook a brisket to a target temperature. You can never do that and have a great brisket. Have a good-quality meat thermometer ready but use temperature as a guideline. It’s more important to rely on how it feels.
No two cuts of brisket are the same, so no two will cook the same. You have to cook a brisket long enough that when you run a probe in the thickest part of the flat it will be probe tender. Similar to sticking warm butter. That is when the brisket will be done. Never cook solely to a temperature!
Source: Mishima Reserve
You’ve just smoked your brisket for hours, it’s got a delicious-looking bark, and it’s ready to come out of the smoker. This is another point where patience is key. Don’t just dive in and start slicing it yet.
It is important to let the brisket rest for at least an hour (or as long as a few hours). If you start slicing while the meat is too hot, you’ll lose all of the fats and connective tissues that liquify during cooking. Keep the meat moist by allowing it to cool. This gives the fatty collagen time to thicken and stay inside the brisket.
One way to let it properly rest is to put the brisket in a cooler and close the lid. Some pitmasters keep their briskets in a warmer at a resting temperature of 137.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a warmer to keep it that kind of specific temperature, do your best to aim for right around 140 F.
Once the brisket is done resting, slicing the meat properly is another very important step. This will ensure a mouth-watering bite every time. You’ve just spent hours smoking the perfect brisket, you don’t want to ruin it at the very end.
One of the things you must do when slicing the brisket is to slice across the grain of the meat. You never want to slice a brisket in the same direction the grain in the meat is running. This will make the slices of meat very stringy and tough.
There are two sections of the meat, the point and the flat, and the grain runs in two different directions between the two sections. Make sure to cut the brisket in half first, where the point meets the flat, to separate the two sections. This will ensure you are cutting against the grain for both sections as you continue to slice the rest of the meat.
Timing is also very important. You don’t want to slice your brisket until it’s time to eat it. The sliced brisket deteriorates with every second after it is cut. Keeping this in mind, you also want to make sure you are fully prepared, practicing mise en place, and have everything you need ready to go before you make your first cut. Get your cutting board, knife, and towel ready first.
Source: Texas Monthly
You can’t improve what you don’t know. Great pitmasters keep detailed notes for each run at smoking. Keep notes of what worked and what didn’t, what happened at different temperatures, at various lengths of time, with different varieties of wood, wrapped or not wrapped, etc.
Learning from your mistakes and improving on them is all part of the fun of outdoor cooking and learning how to smoke like a pro.
By following the tips above, you are well on your way to figuring out how to smoke brisket like the champion pitmasters. Critical preparation starts even before your smoker starts heating up, like selecting the right grade of meat and trimming it properly. Maintaining consistent temperatures is also crucial.
These things are just the tip of the iceberg to the information you’ll learn from the pitmasters and grillmasters we have teamed up with here at BBQ Champs Academy. Check out our All-Access pass to get the full inside look on how to smoke an outstanding brisket, detailed step-by-step in stunning 4K video by World-Champion BBQ pitmasters.