First off, No Fear. There is no reason to worry or be intimidated. If you have smoked BBQ before, this really is similar to everything you’ve done previously. I personally smoke mine on a Kamado Joe using charcoal and wood chunks, but this method applies to any set up. So let’s get started.
When you first get your cut of meat (usually around 10 lbs.), be sure to trim the fat cap. This is a layer of fat on one side of the brisket. Be sure to cut off any excessive fat so there is not more than (1/4) inch thickness. Fat adds flavor, but too much makes your end product… fatty.
Once you have trimmed it up, coat it completely in a rub across the entire surface: top, bottom and sides.
Brisket Rub Recipe
While I like to use all sorts of complex seasoning for my BBQ, I personally have found that brisket is an exception. While I have tried making rubs with chili powder, paprika, cumin, etc. I have found that the brisket stands well on it’s own. It has brought me around to being a purist of salt and pepper. A somewhat even mixture of both.
- 1/2 Cup of Salt (table, course, sea, kosher or what have you)
- 1/3 Cup of Black Pepper (table or ground)
Now a lot of people like to use a binder on their meats. This is not my particular preference. I want less in the way of the smoke penetrating the muscle and I find the moisture of the meat to be more than sufficient to have the seasoning adhere to the brisket.
If you feel like it is too much and plan on making brisket often, get yourself a container like this and keep it sealed. You can always add more and save. Be generous in using the rub because some salt will get absorbed into the beef and a good percentage will fall of while you are handling the cut and managing it on the smoker. I personally like a crust of rub but some people prefer to add a light amount. This comes down to your personal preference.
If you are smoking this brisket (and I assume you are), then you are using an indirect heat method. Now it is time to get your heat going. When you have gotten the smoer between 225° – 250°, add your chunks of hickory, or pellets, chips or whatever you use.
I prefer hickory because I find it to be the best match for beef. You can go with what you like, I am just sharing my recipe here. This is about how to smoke, but you can try any combination you’d like.
Now one of the biggest questions is always fat side up or down. I have written an entire article on this and the consensus seems to be UP. Now it is as simple as laying it down on the grates, closing the lid and maintaining the heat of the smoker to between 225° and 250°.
Some people maintain smoke for the entirety of the cook, but realistically it stops absorbing the smoke after about two to three hours. So around three hours in I like to wrap the brisket in butcher paper to help keep moisture in the meat because it is going to be a long cook. Some people use aluminum foil, so this is up to you. Others do not wrap it at all.
How long does it take?
It is not a good idea to commit to a time your cook. If you go onto BBQ groups, you will always get the same answer.
“It’s Done, When It’s Done”
This is very true. As a rule of thumb, you want to try and guess anywhere from 8 to 15 hours. It takes a long time for that connective tissue to finally release. After you have done them a number of times, you will get to know your smoker better and can better estimate in the future.
One more thing to keep in mind is The Stall. Sometimes when you get in the 160° range, you will find that your temperature stops going up. This may happen for an hour or more, but eventually it gets past this. This is where most people panic so now you don’t need to.
What is the ideal internal temperature for a smoked brisket?
The best target temperature for brisket is between 195° and 203°. At this point the low and slow process has released the toughness in the muscle and you have a tender smoked brisket.
So here is the the final secret. Keep an empty cooler handy and a towel to wrap the brisket in. Once you take it of, wrap it up, place it in and close the lid. We want it to rest so it continues to get tender and the moisture evenly spreads back throughout the entire cut of meat. This can be for as little as half an hour or as long as three.
This is how you get good at managing that uncertainty of how long it takes to cook this BBQ delicacy.
If you want to learn more about food temperature safety for meat, check out the USDA.