Smoked Brisket – Tender, succulent, and juicy, seasoned only with salt and black pepper and the scent of sweet smoke from hardwood. The first slice reveals the smoke ring, a mark that the brisket has been slowly cooked for 10 to 12 hours with care.
Central Texas Style Smoked Brisket is one of the purest forms of cooking. Its birth place has humble beginnings in places like Lockhart, Lulling, Elgin and Driftwood just to name a few. The choice of meat in Texas is beef. The cut is Brisket. Cooking this cut of meat requires time, patience and practice. It was during the 17 years I lived in Texas that my love and appreciation for this style of cooking developed and blossomed. I’m still on a quest to learn more about what makes good Smoked Brisket each time I break out the smoker. I want to share what I’ve learned over the years with you.
What makes a good Smoked Brisket? There is no shortcut to a good Smoked Brisket. The hallmarks of a brisket slowly cooked over hardwood are:
- “The Bark” – The outer crust of the Smoked Brisket should be well colored, seasoned, and the fat should be well rendered and feel sticky when ready to serve.
- “The Smoke Ring” – Slicing the brisket open should reveal a reddish-pink rink ¼” to ½” from the edge of the “Bark.” This is a sign of the time the brisket was lovingly basked in the heat and smoke of the hardwood.
- “The Tug” – A well cooked Smoked Brisket will be tender and easy to pull apart when lightly tugged on. There will be a good amount of beef juice flowing from it also: a sign that the cook took their time to slowly cook the brisket to render the tender beefy goodness.
- “The Taste” – The taste reveals a tender texture with a well seasoned beef flavor that is infused with sweet smoke from the hardwood.
There are no short cuts to making a good Smoked Brisket. You only have the brisket, salt and pepper, a smoker, the fire and time. The wood choice in Texas is Post Oak dried for at least 6 months. Living in Michigan I have access to hardwoods like Maple, Cherry, or Oak. I like Maple best. I find Maple smoke flavor has a subtle sweetness that pares perfectly with the brisket as it cooks. I dry the Maple for at least 6 months and then cut and split it into smaller pieces making it easier to maintain an even temperature throughout the cook time in the smoker.
When it comes to purchasing your brisket you are looking for a whole brisket with cap on. I would recommend visiting a few butchers and meat markets in your area to see what they have available and compare the quality and price. When I lived in Texas I could go to the local grocery store HEB and purchase a whole Choice Cut Brisket for under $2.00. Sometimes the price would drop to less than $1.00 a pound. That is when I’d purchase a few and put them in my deep freezer for later.
Cooking a Central Texas Style Smoked Brisket isn’t complicated. The seasonings are simple, the cooking technique is straight forward, it’s being focused and taking care to execute each step well. The recipe for cooking (smoking) a brisket is a series of processes, techniques and time. Understanding how your smoker works and maintaining the proper temperature is the most critical aspect of cooking the brisket.
The full instructional video for Smoked Brisket – Central Texas Style is at the bottom of this blog post. Follow this link to “LIKE” and “SUBSCRIBE” to my YouTube Channel “Just One Bite, Please?”
Here is the list of equipment and ingredients you’ll need:
- Cutting Board
- Boning Knife
- Smoker (off-set, kettle, barrel, etc.)
- Hardwood (dried and split)
- Matches or Lighter
- Long Handled Tongs
- Small and Large Aluminum Pans
- Heat Proof BBQ Gloves/Latex Gloves
- Full Sheet Parchment Paper/Red Butcher Paper
- Aluminum Foil
- Medium Size Cooler
- Whole Brisket with Cap On between 12 to 15 lbs (5.44 to 6.80 kg)
- ¼-cup Kosher Salt
- ¼-cup Cracked Black Pepper
The Process and Techniques for Smoking Brisket:
- The Brisket:
- There are two parts of the brisket: The Point (very fatty and full of collagen) and The Flat (leaner). When choosing the brisket look for one that is well marbled with a thicker flat so the brisket will cook more evenly. Also bend the brisket where the flat and point meet. It should be flexible. Look for a brisket that weights between 12 to 15 lbs (5.44 to 6.80 kg).
- Use a sharp boning knife to trim the brisket. Trimming and cleaning the brisket is necessary in order for the best cook possible. The fat cap must be trimmed to about ¼-inch (0.635 cm) in order to render during the cooking time and keep the brisket moist and succulent. There are thick hard layers of fat that must be removed as this fat doesn’t render or add any significant flavor to the cooked brisket. If you run your hand over the fat and it feels hard then trim it.
- The Seasoning :
- Equal amounts of Kosher Salt and Cracked Black Pepper are blended together and sprinkled evenly over the entire surface of the trimmed brisket making sure to get the edges of the brisket also.
- Let the brisket stand at room temperature for at least one hour before placing on the smoker.
- The Wood :
- Choose hardwood that has been dried for at least 6 months. This will produce the optimal heat, smoke, and flavor as the brisket cooks in the smoker. Split and cut the wood into small pieces. This will give you more control on how the wood burns throughout the cooking time.
- The Smoker:
- Place a large aluminum pan underneath the grates where the brisket will sit to catch the drippings.
- Place the small aluminum pan next to the firebox in the cooking chamber and fill with warm water. This will help to keep the brisket moist during the cooking time.
- Prepare the smoker by lighting a small fire in the firebox. Build up the coals and temperature while preheating the cooking (smoking) chamber to 275℉ (135℃) for at least 45 minutes before the brisket is placed into the smoker. The goal is to keep the temperature between 250℉ to 275℉ (121℃ to 135℃). It is better to err on the cooler side and take more time than to try to rush the cooking process. Move the coals and add wood as necessary to keep an even temperature throughout the entire cooking process.
- To cook (smoke) a Brisket requires your commitment to tend to the fire and check the brisket as it moves through the cooking process. Your job for the 8 to 12 hours is to maintain an even temperature in the smoke chamber. Depending on the style of smoker you have this might require checking in every 30 minutes my smoker needs. My attention about every 45 minutes or so. “Remember only you can prevent bad BBQ.” There are tools such as electronic temperature gauges that can help remind you to tend to the fire if the temperature drops too low or goes too high. Use an instant read thermometer to check on the progress of the cook when you are first learning. We are looking for an internal temperature of 180℉ (82℃). When the brisket hits that temperature it is time to wrap the brisket.
- Wrapping the Brisket – Finishing the cooking of the brisket while wrapped is important to keep the moisture in and to stop the bark from drying out. Wrap the brisket in parchment paper or red butcher paper and then in heavy aluminum foil and then place it back onto the smoker for at least 2 hours or until the temperature of the brisket reaches 200℉ (93℃). Now the wrapped brisket is ready to come off the smoker.
- Letting the wrapped brisket rest in a cooler for at least 2 hours before slicing is crucial. This allows the juices to be reabsorbed and the temperature to come down to a place where you can handle the brisket without being burned.
- Slicing and Serving the Smoked Brisket:
- Here is where your hard work and patience will have paid off: The reveal of the smoke ring as you divide the brisket into two parts.
- Use a slicing knife to divide the Smoked Brisket into The “Flat” (leaner) and the “Point” (fatty).
- Slice the “Flat” across the grain about ¼-inch (0.64 cm)
- Turn and slice the “Point” in half and slice into pieces slightly larger than the “Flat” across the grain.
- Slice and serve the hot brisket immediately to experience the best flavor possible.
- Traditionally Smoked Brisket is served with sliced white onions, sliced pickles, hot sauce and white bread or crackers. Add your favorite sides like potato salad, coleslaw or baked beans to round out the meal.
Storing the Smoked Brisket: Wrap the unsliced pieces of brisket in parchment paper and heavy aluminum foil and refrigerate or freeze. If the brisket is frozen then thaw completely in the refrigerator before reheating the brisket. To reheat the wrapped brisket: place the wrapped brisket in a pre-heated 200℉ (93℃) for 30 minutes before slicing and serving hot.