A smoked brisket needs only a knife, a sleeve of Saltines, a jar of pickles, some sliced onions, and cold beer. Now, how to smoke brisket at home with simple backyard gear.
Smoked brisket in a backyard smoker is easy. Which is why guys love to complicate it. And why women are completely justified in rolling their eyes when recalling “that time Bob tried to smoke a brisket on the patio.” A tough cut of meat needs only a modest, steady heat, a little smoke, some salt and pepper. That’s how cave women did it. Cave men, on the other hand, continue to clutter up the process with needless rules, and their brisket is no better.
Before we get started, here’s what we’re after. Piles of sliced smoked brisket.
Here’s how to smoke a brisket at home with great results and no anxiety, and no fancy equipment.
The Cheater Chef Hybrid Method — Outdoors in a simple smoker for a few hours and indoors in a low oven to complete the cooking. The uncomplicated hybrid approach solves the problems folks have with brisket.
First, the brisket cut. Regular supermarkets usually carry the 4 – 6 pound flat section of a brisket (the thick, fatty nose end removed). Be sure to choose one with a visible layer of fat on one side. A fat layer will make a moist brisket; no fat and it’s too dry. In Nashville, whole briskets (about 15 pounds) are available at Wal-Mart. A couple supermarket flat cuts are plenty good, though. Rinse them off and dry them well, and rub generously with Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper. Complicated, secret ingredient dry rubs are unnecessary.
Start the Smoker. The vertical water smoker and the horizontal off-set barrel smoker work just fine. Even a Weber kettle with medium heat off to the side will do. Fill a charcoal chimney starter with briquette-style charcoal and light with a piece of newspaper. Briquettes burn long and steady, perfect for barbecue, and will easily ignite the hardwood charcoal and wood chunks that provide the smoke.
Let the briquettes ash over and dump the briquettes into the fire pan/fire box, add water to the pan, and set clean racks in place. Always open any smoker vents fully (same with the flue on the horizontal smoker’s chimney). Trapping smoke in the meat chamber makes the meat bitter. Smoked, yes, but more like bitter chair leg, which is not the goal. Too much smoke is the most common mistake in barbecue.
Simple “Texas” rub — Kosher salt and course ground black pepper. Fat side up, always.
Add the Meat. Place the brisket fat side up on a generous piece of heavy duty aluminum foil and set it on the smoker rack. No need to wrap the meat in foil as that will discourage a crust and will not make the meat more tender. The foil makes transporting the meat a little easier when you have to move it. Put the cover on the smoker, but remember to keep the vents open.
Two halves of a whole (14lb) brisket with a substantial fat cap that will help tenderize the meat. This is a bullet smoker. Two racks, a water pan and a fire box.
The Smoke. The number one cause of bad smoked meat is too much smoke. More is not better. If the smoke hits you over the head when you take a bite, you burned too much wood. Think of smoke as a flavoring agent, much like salt and pepper. You just need a light flow of smoke out of the vents, not the factory scene from The Simpsons. Use the air control vents on the bottom (or at firebox end) of the smoker to slow down the burn to an even, steady rate, and to keep your wood chunks from flaming (and not smoking).
Once you’re up and running keep that lid on to retain the heat and the top vent all the way open for smoke to escape.
Add a handful of hardwood charcoal or a few chunks of smoking wood as the smoke fades. We like pecan with brisket, available in short split logs at big box sporting stores. Hickory, oak, apple, and mesquite are also usually available. Pecan is a lighter version of hickory and works well in most smoked meat applications. Wood smoking chips, available everywhere, burn faster than larger wood chunks, but they can add plenty of smoke. Just takes more fiddling.
How much time does it take? A brisket must reach an internal temperature of 190° to 200°F in order to be tender enough to enjoy eating. Once the meat has absorbed enough smoke, (four hours should do it) the source of the heat to complete the cooking is irrelevant. You can either stay outdoors and keep feeding charcoal to the smoker (but no more wood at this point) until the meat is cooked, at least 4 or 5 more hours, or you can bring the meat inside and let the oven finish it off. This is a great method.
Just lift the brisket onto a baking sheet using the foil as a handle and place it unwrapped in a 250° oven for 4 to 5 more hours. Both indoor and outdoor cooking methods produce terrific brisket, but the steady, even heat of an oven is less hassle and frees up your time for side dishes.
The oven finish is pretty great. And the house smells like Taylor, TX.
Serving. Pour the liquid fat and meat juice in the baking sheet into a container, cool, and refrigerate. Remove the layer of fat from the top and re-warm when serving. Slice the brisket against the grain of the meat. Cut a corner off the brisket to see the grain. If cut with the grain the meat will be difficult to chew.
To re-warm refrigerated brisket, we first slice the brisket while it’s still refrigerator-cool — it’s much easier to make nice clean cuts when the meat is firm. Lay the slices on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan, pour the de-fatted meat juice over the slices, and warm in a 300°F oven, about 30 minutes. Don’t over do this. When you smell the brisket it’s probably warm enough.
Roll out some butcher paper on the table and lay it all out – brisket, crackers, pickles, onions, whatever else you like. That’s really all there is to it.
While that is Texas beef smoked sausage on the cracker, we wanted you to see the delivery system at work. Alternating brisket and sausage keeps things interesting. Saltines, pickles, sliced onion, occasionally sliced jalapenos are about all we ever eat with brisket, unless we’re making up some brisket hash for breakfast.
The Inspiration. The Texas Barbecue Trail. The Holy Grail. Stop #5 on the Barbecue Trail in central Texas. The half dozen margaritas we had in San Antonio that night didn’t make a dent.