Texas smoked beef chuck is easier and faster than brisket.
It’s so good that after you’ve run a couple of chucks through the smoker you’ll ask yourself if that marathon wait through the “brisket plateau” when the temp is stuck at 170°F is worth it this weekend.
If you’re new to backyard smoking and aim to master the brisket, I say start with a chuck. Smoking a beef chuck lets you develop all the same smoking techniques and offers great results in about half the time. Think of it as cheater brisket.
Here’s what I do:
A 3 to 4-pound beef chuck roast (like the one in the photo above) sat unwrapped in a Weber Smoky Mountain smoker (with the water pan filled) for about 2 hours. This gets the handsome outer crust started. After 2 hours, I wrapped it in foil and smoked it for an additional hour.
As it was getting dark and cold and I didn’t feel like fueling the smoker any longer, I took it off the smoker and put it in a 300°F oven for about 90 minutes because it wasn’t cooked to pull-apart, tender doneness. A little time in the oven and the house smells fantastic, by the way.
Note about smoking — meat can absorb only so much smoke. It doesn’t need endless hours in a smokey chamber. That won’t make it better. After a few hours of exposure to smoke, tough cuts of meat only need steady heat until it becomes tender. Over-smoked meat is no more fun to eat than over-seasoned meat. It’s bitter, acrid, and unpleasant. So, removing your chuck from the smoker after a few hours and popping it into the steady heat of an oven is a hands-free way to get the rest of the cooking done. Nothing wrong with continuing to cook it on the smoker until it’s done, but charcoal is all you need at that point.
Note about timing — as with all low-heat meat smoking (and crockpot cooking, for that matter), times are approximate. If you approach smoking as an exact science you’re probably a really smart, left-brained thinker (not me) who cooks delicious smoked food, but a detailed, exacting approach can be intimidating and off-putting, especially to beginners, and it ignores the art, the “feel” part of smoking meat.
Which is why developing a “gut” for this stuff just takes time. Not every batch of barbecue will be your best. Not every cut of meat is the same and will cook as successfully as others. You’ve just got to put your 10,000 hours in and take it as it comes. So, working on chuck instead of brisket lets you experience success at a pretty good pace. It’s easier to do chuck more often than brisket.
I say this as a guy who freaking loves smoking brisket. A couple of years ago my wife, Chopped champion Mindy Merrell, took me on a trip along the Texas barbecue trail. That trip changed my barbecue life. I realized this waiting in line at Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, TX, and if you’ve been there you know the other-worldliness of that place. My interest in pork barbecue suddenly took a back seat to beef, which is kinda funny when you live in pork-centric Tennessee. A few BBQ places around here fake it with brisket (they fake it with pork, too, sadly), so if you want a good Texas brisket you have to do it yourself.
As far as prep goes, I go with the Louis Meuller/Texas style seasoning—a blend of Kosher salt and lots of coarse ground pepper (roughly 1/3rd Kosher salt to 2/3rds pepper). Spread it generously on all sides of the cut right before you put the meat in the smoker.
Keep the top vent on the smoker cover open, always, and don’t trap the smoke. Use a light touch with your smoking wood or chips — a light wisp is plenty of smoke for a few hours. The chugging steam engine will only make things bitter and you won’t like it. And, as a Kansas City Barbecue judge who’s judged the Jack Daniel’s Invitational, I don’t want it, either. It’s too much of a good thing so use smoke like any other seasoning. Don’t hit anyone over the head with it.
Wrap the chuck in heavy duty aluminum foil after 2 hours when the internal temperature should be about 160F. There’s plenty of marbling in a chuck and you want to slowly melt that fat. We didn’t add any liquid like you might do when braising a pot roast. It doesn’t need it. The chuck is done when pull-apart folk tender, that’s the best test, or at least 190 F. It’s nice to be able to smoke barbecue without a thermometer for once.
Serve the chuck anyway you want. We pull apart bits and load up the saltines Texas-style accompanied with lots of dill pickle chips and sliced fresh onion.
Here are a few of my tips on smoking brisket if you’re interested. How to smoke a brisket the hybrid method.
ALSO, here’s a link to another brisket alternative, Smoked Tri-Tip Sirloin.
Start the charcoal for the smoker and allow it to ash over before adding the meat. Fill the water pan if equipped. For horizontal offset smoker, I place an aluminum pan in the smoking chamber near the fire end and keep it filled with water. Leftover smoked chuck reheats well in a microwave. Set the power to medium and cover the meat with a plate or the lid of a microwave-safe dish as the fat will pop like July Fourth. A couple of minutes on medium should be enough time to bring the chuck back to moist, tender, hot life.
Trim the chuck roast of any excess fat and discard.
Rub the salt/pepper blend all over the chuck.
Smoke the chuck for about 3 hours with a light but steady wisp of smoke. Leave the cover vent fully open during smoking. After about 2 hours wrap the chuck in aluminum foil or butcher paper and place back in the smoker.
Method One: Continue cooking the chuck in the smoker fueled by charcoal only (no more wood chunks needed -- it's smoked already) until the meat easily pulls apart and the internal temperature reaches 190F.
Method Two: Heat oven to 300F. Place the wrapped chuck on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and place it in the oven. Cook for about 90 minutes. Check periodically for tenderness. When the meat easily pulls apart with two forks, remove from the oven. Serve with crackers, pickles, onions, and jalapeños.
Start the charcoal for the smoker and allow it to ash over before adding the meat. Fill the water pan if equipped. For horizontal offset smoker, I place an aluminum pan in the smoking chamber near the fire end and keep it filled with water.
Leftover smoked chuck reheats well in a microwave. Set the power to medium and cover the meat with a plate or the lid of a microwave-safe dish as the fat will pop like July Fourth. A couple of minutes on medium should be enough time to bring the chuck back to moist, tender, hot life.