How to Smoke Brisket

Everything You Need to Know About Smoking Brisket

The following blog was submitted by Char-Griller Ambassador, Josh (Wolfgang Shmuck), who has been hard at work mastering the art of offset smoking and testing multiple techniques. Through his heartily cultivated knowledge, Josh offers advice on the entirety of his process of smoking brisket from choosing the right cut of meat to step-by-step smoking instructions. 

While the average individual is wholly satisfied with an incredibly prepared Ribeye, I am absolutely fascinated when someone is able to transform a tough hunk of meat into something rich, savory and gelatinous. 

Enter: Brisket 

Choose Your Beef Wisely 

Beef selection is much more critical than some think. From Select, Choice, Upper Choice, Prime, there are many grades to consider. In terms of criteria, we are looking for decent marbling above all else. Sometimes, the sample taken from the cow for grading doesn’t equally transfer across every cut of the cow. You may find a Choice that has better marbling than a Prime sitting next to it or a Prime with better marbling than the Prime beside it. To evaluate, flip the brisket over and look for those striations across the bottom of the flat. This is typically a good sign of overall intramuscular fat content. 

However, if I were forced to choose, I generally prefer Prime Angus for the beefy flavor combined with the (on average) higher concentration of marbling. While grass-fed makes for great fast cook cuts like a grilled Ribeye, I stick to the corn-fed animals when doing barbecue. In my experience, they exhibit better texture and flavor in the end for slow cooks.  

  • Grass-Fed = Aggressively flavorful mineral-y richness
  • Corn-Fed = lighter, sweeter, more tender beef. 

 

Most grocers have their briskets previously frozen, which still has potential to be a great end product. However, meat that has been frozen produces ice crystals that tear internal fibers causing moisture loss and a potentially more mushy overall feel. If you have a choice, go for fresh (which will feel less floppy when holding and have less blood loss in the package), but it is hard to find!

Always look for a thicker brisket plate (flat). The thicker they are, typically the better the end product because the flat’s cook time will be closer to the point’s cook time. Also, if you can get a view of the hard fat (surface fat) thickness, go for one that’s slightly thinner. You will end up throwing most of that away, and since you pay by the pound, don’t waste money on excess hard fat. 

Preparing Your Brisket

First, be sure to shave down the hard surface fat to about ¼ inch. An indicator that you’ve trimmed low enough is when the fat has a fluffy/soft texture. The harder fat on top is what was previously connected to the hide. If you leave it attached, it will not render properly or efficiently and will block smoke flavor from reaching the meat. Alternatively, the fluffy fat underneath will melt down perfectly, almost absorbing the rub as it melts, and give your served slice a much more velvety lush mouth feel.

Keep your seasonings simple! 

Char-Griller’s Steak Seasoning works great!  If you have to make your own, equal parts Kosher salt to 16 Mesh Black pepper is a Texas classic. You should look to compliment the taste of the meat and smoke, not cover it. 

Binders are not necessary, but mustard, oil, or even hot sauce can help the rub stick. Always sprinkle rub as evenly as possible. Don’t physically rub it in! Rubbing can cause an uneventful bark formation and/or visible clumping.  

Cooking Your Brisket

I’m a purist, so my preference is one of Char-Griller’s Offsets such as the Smokin’ Champ paired with your choice of hardwood. Variations of Oak are my favorite, but combinations of Hickory, Mesquite and even Applewood lend great flavor as well.

My primary goal when smoking on an Offset is to produce the cleanest smoke possible.

Clean smoke is obtained by (close to) full combustion, while many of the nastier tasting byproducts are incinerated besides H2O and CO2. Full combustion occurs most efficiently by controlling the temperature of the flames, which is mostly influenced by having properly seasoned wood and proper oxygen/airflow. I find that choking off the oxygen supply to a sticker burner such as my two chargrillers that is getting too hot isn’t helping our end goals much. 

It is more effective to use smaller chunks of wood in order to avoid massive temperature spikes as you feed the fire throughout the cook. An alternative is to open the lid, releasing some heat in emergencies. I know all that precious smoke is released from an open lid, but I argue that losing that smoke is the lesser of the two evils compared to slapping your brisket on bad smoke attempting to choke out flames. Creosote and impure Carbon in the form of soot are not great on the tongue after the first couple bites. 

The most desirably “flavored” smoke is created from flames that are in the 570° to 750° range. Luckily, the temperature at which wood causes visible flames lands right in that range! You can also tell how the smoke is doing by looking at the color. Proper clean smoke is almost a silvery blue in certain angles, and completely invisible in others.

Step-by-Step Instructions

All briskets behave differently, so take notes each time to compare to future cooks, and use your judgement. 

  1. Trim the brisket. While accuracy is important, move quickly. As the brisket warms up, the fat gets softer and harder to deal with.
  2. Apply binder/slather if using. Apply even coats of rub. Allow the brisket to fully warm up to room temperature.
  3. While the brisket is warming, start your fire! If you have time, I recommend starting the fire by creating a coal bed from the wood. Coal will suffice though. Be sure to use Char-Griller’s Charcoal Chimney to get them lit fast and clean.
  4. Once the smoker is around 250°, place the brisket inside. Fat side should face in the direction your smoker gets the most heat. I find that in both of my Char-Grillers, fat side up is best. Have the point face the fire. The denser fat content can take the brunt of the heat better than the flat.
  5. Place a water pan inside, and keep the lid closed for the first 3 hours. As long as you maintain constant temperatures in your smoker, there is no reason to look. Let that heat and smoke do it’s thing! 
  6. After the 3rd hour, open up and check the color. Spritz any crusty dry spots directly with your choice of spritz (I use watered down apple cider vinegar), and very lightly mist entire brisket to promote better crust formation. Continue doing this every 20 minutes.
  7. After about 5-6 hours, your brisket should be breaking through the stall (plateauing of temperature due to moisture evaporation). Always wrap after the stall in order to get the bark formation/smoke penetration. You may spike your heat up to 275° in order to help it get through the stall (but make sure you’re on top of the spritzing).
  8. Once it has gotten through the stall, I use butcher paper to wrap tightly and return to smoker at 275°
  9. About 9-10 hours into the cook, pick up the brisket with Char-Griller Grill Gloves, and test for pliability. The brisket should want to bend over your fingers as you hold it. You may check the internal temperature of the center of the flat. All briskets are different, but I tend to see briskets done more frequently around 205° at the center of the flat.
  10. Pull the brisket out (still wrapped) and let rest until the internal temp is around 150°. 
  11. Slice against the grain, serve, and enjoy!

Wolfgang Shmuck