How to Smoke a Brisket
Smoking a brisket can be a little more tricky than smoking ribs simply because it is typically a much tougher cut of meat and is hard to get tenderized. Smoked ribs are difficult as well, but will usually cooperate in time. But if you want to smoke a brisket you will need not only time but also a few of these tips that will ensure that your next barbecue night will be a three pound gain for all involved.
But smoking brisket is similar to smoking ribs in that you have to care about what you are doing. There really is not much more to cooking good foods than that; and it is especially true of smoked barbecue because it also takes so much patience.
Prepare the Smoked Brisket
Rinse the brisket in cool water. Use paper towels to pat dry. Coat the entire brisket with mustard, making sure to get both sides.
Do not trim the fat layer off of the underside of the brisket. Season the brisket generously with your favorite barbecue rub. If you do not have a rub handy then just use whatever combination of spices that you do have. Some good choices are salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, chili seasoning, etc. Cover after you have seasoned and put in fridge until fire or smoker grill is ready.
Building the Fire for Smoked Brisket
This really depends on what type of grill you are going to use. I have a plain old barrel smoker with a firebox mounted to one side. If you have a smoker, then just start your fire the normal way - I prefer charcoal as a starter because it lights easy and is cheap. I switch to wood once the meat is on.
If you have a charcoal grill, then you will want to build the fire off to one side. I like to place a large sheet of aluminum foil down first. I put the coals inside the foil and then fold the side in the middle of the grill straight up toward the top of the grill. Here you just need to build a simple wall that will prevent the brisket from being cooked too fast. The more heat that you can diffuse the better. I even like to fold the foil flap a bit back over the coals (once they get going) so that I have more room on the grill grates. Make sure that enough air can still get to the fire and also be sure to leave yourself an opening so that you can feed wood chips or wood chunks into it. Use the foil flap as an air regulator. It helps to punch holes in it. It also helps to have the fire elevated so that air can get under it. Most grills have that bottom grate that allows that airflow, but if you do not have it, just use a couple of bricks or rocks or an old pan. An old colander works great because it is elevated plus it already has holes in it. Uh, make sure it is the metal kind.
If you do not have wood chips or wood chunks for your barbecue brisket then try to find sticks from around your yard, even twigs are better than just plain charcoal. Do not use treated wood due to the chemicals. Do not use sticks with diseased bark. Start your fire and wait for the coals to turn a bit gray. If you are smoking brisket or smoking ribs, then you do not have to wait until they are completely gray because we are only wanting the fire in order to light the wood.
Make sure your grill grates are clean. I like to heat them over the fire with the lid down for a few minutes -- burns all that bacteria right off -- before I scrape it. And then I just use a couple pair of tongs to situate back to where it goes. If I get in a pinch, I will just get the vice-grips out of the glove compartment. Whatever works, eh?
Put the wood onto the fire before putting the grates or meat on. Put the meat on fire, positioning it so that the thick portion of the smoked brisket is further away from the fire than the thin part. This will help achieve an evenly smoked brisket.
You may want to re-season the brisket at this point before it crusts over; much of the initial seasoning usually falls off during handling and from being on the pan. Put the side that was face down on the pan face up on the grill and re-season it. Do not worry about which side it is -- fat side or meat side makes no difference. You will be turning it halfway through the smoking process anyway.
[Many people argue over this layer of fat and whether it should face up or down. Some say 'up' so that the heat can slowly melt it during the smoking process and therefore constantly baste the smoking brisket. This is just crazy thinking. First of all, If you are doing it properly then the fire should not be hot enough to melt fat that is one to two feet away from it. Secondly, we don't baste with grease. If you want to baste, just put a can of water in the grill somewhere and let the evaporation do it. They also claim by putting the fat side down that you are inhibiting the smoke from rising up through the meat. This, too, is crazy -- the smoke is completely surrounding the meat chamber. I tend to favor those that say put the fat side face down, simply because the grease will melt a little and it acts as a natural lubricant on the grill grates so that you brisket won't stick when you turn it.]
Don't forget to add the wood BEFORE the meat. Close the lid or dampers almost completely, leaving just a sliver of an opening in and out. Peek through the opening to see if the fire is burning too high and if it is then choke it off a bit more by clamping the lid or dampers even tighter. You don't want to see orange flames, you want a smolder. Don't deny the fire air for too long, though or else it will be lost.
Smoke the brisket for about four hours, adding wood as needed. Turn and smoke for another two hours or so, depending on how large the brisket is. Re-season and baste as desired. This will take less time if you are using a charcoal grill because the smoked brisket will be exposed to more heat (it is closer to it). If it begins to cook too quickly, wrap the underside in foil. Also, putting a line of bricks right on top of the grill grates and then putting the brisket on the bricks works really good too; the bricks diffuse much of the heat and you can just baste them instead (works sort of like a sauna).
Next, completely wrap the brisket in foil -- use plenty. Cook for another four hours. For this phase the smoke does not matter since the brisket is covered so you can also use your indoor oven or a slow cooker. Cook on low for about four to five hours. During the last hour, open foil and pour in bottle of barbecue sauce and then leave foil undone. Since this does take a long time your can divide the steps into two or three days if you want. Just be sure to wrap the brisket (or cover it in a pan) and refrigerate if keeping overnight. When done, serve warm.
Enjoy your Barbecue Smoked Brisket.