Time to flex your BBQ muscles!
There is no single “right way” to cook a brisket and even among the professional BBQ circuit there is quite a bit of variation in method and technique. We don’t claim to possess the holy grail recipe for brisket, but we do have a tried and true recipe that is founded in the fundamentals that everyone generally agrees upon. Below we will lay out the basics of what you need to know to have success on your first try and then you can read the provided links to dive further down the rabbit hole of everything there is to know about brisket!
The main things you need to know are:
Buy the best quality brisket you can afford. The higher grade, and higher fat marbling the better. You want to see fat running through and inside the meat, not just a big hunk on top. All briskets are going to have a fat cap, but marbling is what will taste good in the end.
This is a very large roast that will need a minimum of 12 hours of low heat cook time and upwards of 18 depending on the weight of your brisket and your cooking method.
If you have a smoker, then that is the best and most traditional way to cook this to build in flavor and get a solid bark on the outside. With some creativity, you can cook this on an offset charcoal grill, but it will require you to be much more involved in the fire management for that 12-18 hours. Brisket is often a team cook, have some friends over and make it a project! If nothing else, you can absolutely cook this in your household oven as long as it is able to maintain a temp of 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit. You won’t get the same color or any smoke ring in the oven, but there are some tricks you can use to help replicate the flavor. You can add some liquid smoke to your beef broth mixture for when you spray it.
A brisket is done when it is done. The goal internal temperature is about 207, but you want to make sure the brisket feels tender, the fat is jiggly and not firm, and the thickest part of the brisket has hit that 207 temp. A very valuable tool is a pair of digital leash thermometers that allow you to see the internal temp of the meat without opening the lid of the cooker. For BBQ I consider this part of the essential tools you need. One in the flat cut and one in the point will give you a full picture of how it is cooking.
Many people will experience “the stall” when cooking large cuts of meat. The short of it is that the meat will hit a high enough internal temperature that it starts to sweat which will cool down the surface of the meat and cause the internal temp to stop rising, sometimes for hours. This happens with brisket, boston pork butts, and tri-tip all the time. If you have the time, you can just wait it out. You can crank the heat some and power through it, but be careful not to burn the outside! You can also wrap the roast, which is the most common approach. On a regulated pellet smoker, like a Traeger, you can just nudge the heat up and push through fairly easily. If you are using wood or charcoal, the fire management for this is very tricky and you will have better success if you wrap. Butcher paper or tinfoil are your two main options, with butcher paper being generally preferred over foil. More on that later.
We will cover the anatomy of the brisket in detail below, but a whole brisket is two different muscles layered together which are the flat and the point. You will want to have the point end facing the furthest away from the heat source so it does not dry out or burn. When you slice your brisket, you will need to separate the two muscles and cut them in different directions since the grain of the muscle does not run in the same direction in both halves.
Be patient! Once the brisket is done it needs to rest, not just 5-10 minutes like a steak, but for a couple of hours. If you cut into it too early then all the juices will run and you will have very dry meat. The meat needs time to soak back up all the juices and rehydrate itself internally. Trust me, don’t rush this. On that note, many people will swear that brisket tastes better the second day if you cook it and let it rest in the fridge overnight. You can bring the whole roast back up to serving temperature the next day (150-165) and then slice almost immediately to serve. This extra time to let the brisket fully soak up all the juices really helps the flavor.
5-10 oz* of R&R Brisket Rub 1 Quart of Beef Broth .5-1 Cup of Yellow Mustard 1 Quality Brisket Roast 1 Igloo style beach cooler *5 oz will cover a small to medium roast. A large roast will need more and this is something you need to heavily season.
A whole brisket consists of the Flat and Point muscles. The point sits over the flat and is only about 3/4 as long as the flat so a full roast will be very thick on one side and taper significantly towards the other end. Cooking a whole brisket is the traditional way, but you can cook just the flat or the point if you want to, but they must be raw. Cooking a corned beef roast in this manner will not come out the same, but if you have a corned beef roast in a bag then you can easily make Pastrami! See that recipe HERE
The Point Cut is always less expensive, is smaller in size, and tends to be fattier. Even though people often avoid fattier meats, the fat in the point cut largely melts down the way chuck roast does in a stew or for a traditional pot roast. This is the good fat that makes meat juicy and if you are going to make burnt ends they are usually cut from the point.
The Flat Cut is very uniform in size, larger, and leaner. The Flat makes better presentation as you can get nice slices from this cut, can display it on a roasting dish as well as get nice long strands if you decide to shred it. However, it can be a little dry sometimes as it doesn’t have much fat.
In general, with brisket, the meat is too dense for the fat cap to effectively get absorbed when it melts if you place the fat cap up. It surely does not hurt, but it doesn’t melt in the same way other cuts of meat do. The fat cap should be placed down if you have a high heat underneath instead of an even heat all around. In this way, the fat helps buffer the meat from burning on the bottom where you can’t see it until it is too late. If you have a regulated pellet smoker then I put the fat cap up and the point away from the updraft.
I prefer to cook brisket on a rack over a tray or pan for ease of handling and so I don’t lose too much rub to the fire. Also, keeping some water or beef broth underneath helps in many ways. First, it will steam and keep a moist heat in your smoker which helps the meat to absorb the smoke better. Second, any juices that drip off are caught and don’t burn which provides a nice source of flavor for jus or sauce later on.
We highly recommend a disposable aluminum pan for this and if you have a baking/cookie sheet that is large enough to hold it then it is good to put under the aluminum pan for support. The contents can get heavy and cause the aluminum pan to bend and spill when hot.
|Anatomy of a Brisket||Wire Rack Setup|
|Rub with mustard||Season Liberally!||Every surface covered|
|Set thermometer(s)||Smoke it!||Wrap rack and roast inside butcher paper|
Smoking brisket on a Traeger
|Wrapped for the stall or resting||Unwrap when done resting||Ready to slice!|