The ABCs of Smoking Brisket
Every once in a while, we get the chance to put on a show made of BBQ dreams. There’s no better example than a classic smoked beef brisket. Family reunions, neighborhood block parties or any other large gathering are all great reasons for smoking meat. Luckily smoking brisket isn’t hard, especially when you have the right smoked brisket recipe, but it is a lesson in patience.
If you're not sure how to smoke a brisket or even how to prepare a brisket for smoking, check out our video tutorial below or read on for a complete brisket smoking guide.
First, what is brisket? There are two parts that make up a brisket. The “flat,” and the “point.” These two part of the brisket sit on top of each other, and have opposing grain. Which we will talk about more later when we get into the slicing process. The flat is a leaner and longer part of the brisket. This part is easily identified from the underside of the brisket, as it generally has significantly less fat, and will show the red meat flesh. The point sits on top of the flat and it is shorter and thicker. The point is more marbled than the flat, meaning it has much more fat content. The two parts are separated by a fat line.
While the two parts of the brisket are available separately, we like to smoke the full brisket. This is often called a “packer” brisket. We think the final product is much better when smoked whole, mostly due to the fat content, which adds flavor and moisture to the leaner part of the brisket as well.
When you’re ready to get going on your brisket smoking adventure, start by trimming the brisket. (make sure the brisket is cold, solid fat will be easier to trim.) If you buy your beef brisket from a butcher or local market, chances are it will be un-trimmed. You might be lucky enough to have your butcher do this for you, but if not, don’t worry, it’s not hard.
From the underside of the brisket, the side with red meat showing, only trim off any silver skin or any gray or brown areas. Silver skin won’t render in the cooking process and is not palatable. The gray/brown spots are just discolored because of the packing and processing.
With the fat cap side up, start trimming the fat off down to a ¼” thickness. Briskets generally come with a good amount of fat on top. Too much fat will not render during the smoking process and will not be a pleasant texture to bite into. Although, we also don’t want to eliminate all the fat either because, of course, fat adds flavor. We want to best smoked brisket after all.
Pick your favorite rub or seasoning for brisket. We used Texas Rodeo Brisket rub for a Texas style smoked brisket. This smoked brisket rub was designed for exactly this reason; A smoked brisket with all the classic flavors – Brown sugar, chili, paprika, mustard and garlic.
Generously sprinkle the brisket rub onto the meat and gently rub it into the meat. It’s hard to use too much seasoning on brisket. Let the rub sit on the meat at room temperature for 1-2 hours. This will start the bond of the seasoning to the meat. Moisture will start to seep out to the meat and combine with the rub to create bark. (Bark is the black covering of the brisket after it is smoked. It’s packed with flavor.)
Choose the smoking wood you’d like to use. We used a hardwood blend which turned out really nice. We generally avoid sweet woods like cherry or apple because we like a more savory smoke flavor.
We smoked our brisket in a 250 degree high-quality electric smoker. You can go down to 225, but you need to expect a much longer cook time for this. When you’re ready to get the brisket smoking process started, place the seasoned brisket in the smoker fat cap down to start. Later when we wrap, the brisket will be flipped in the meat smoker.
If you have a probe that can be left in the meat, use it. If not, you have to open the box to check the brisket's internal temp. This obviously allows heat to be released and can slow the cooking process.
You might already be wondering how long it takes to smoke a brisket but know that smoke time will vary based on a few factors: size of the brisket, capacity of the smoker and how full it is, weather conditions...
Plan on 60 – 75 minutes of smoke time per pound of brisket. The total brisket smoking time will be broken into two parts. The first part is unwrapped and we will smoke the brisket until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. At this point, we will wrap the meat for the rest of the smoke. We used butcher paper to fully wrap the brisket. When you put the meat back in the smoker, place it fat side up. This will allow any rendered fat to seep back into the meat and retain flavor.
Continue to smoke the brisket until its internal temperature reaches 200-204 degrees. If it cooks any more, the brisket will start to fall apart. You would still be able to use it for shredded brisket, but it would be very difficult to slice and keep intact.
Resting your smoked brisket is just as important as the cooking process. Resting meat, whether it’s brisket or s steak or a chicken breast, allows the juices that are disturbed during the cooking process to reabsorb into the meat. If you cut into the meat too soon, it could turn out to be very dry.
Keep the brisket in the butcher paper and place it in an empty cooler with the lid closed. Let it rest for a least 1 hour. The bark will continue to solidify and the temperature of the brisket will even out. Then you’re ready to eat!
Based on preference, you can slice thin or thick slices. Try not to go any thinner than ½” because the meat will dry out faster the thinner the slice.
Using a very sharp knife, slice the meat against the grain starting with the flat. As you slice the brisket, you will come to the section where the point and the flat meet. The two parts of the brisket should come apart very easily. Use the back (dull) side of the knife to coax the two pieces apart by pressing through the fat that separates the flat and point. Once separated, continue to slice the two sections against the grain.
All in all, we had a 15+ pound brisket. The smoke time was just over 16 hours, and the rest time was 2 hours. It was flavorful, had great bark and served about 20 people. When done right, smoked brisket is one of the most satisfying dishes one can make. The time and patience of the brisket smoking process makes every bite worth savoring.
When it melts in your mouth, you know it’s good! This big boy weighs in at 16 pounds, is dripping in juices, smoky and so tender. Go ahead, make your day! This is too good to just look at!
Trim excess fat and fat cap of the brisket down to 1/4”.
Season generously with Rodeo rub and allow to sit for 1 hour at room temp to help rub absorb and for meat to temper.
Set smoker to 250 degrees. Place the brisket in the smoker fat cap side down to start.
Smoke for 6-8 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Wrap the brisket in butcher paper, flip and return to the smoker to continue cooking for another 6-8 hours. Or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees.
You will want to monitor the temperature of the meat closely toward then end so as not to overcook the meat. Overcooked brisket is fine for shredding, but you will not be able to effectively slice and serve.
Place the brisket in a cooler (no ice obviously) with a tight lid and allow it to rest for 1-2 hours before serving and slicing.