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The journey of smoking a brisket low n’ slow and what it takes
Brisket is BBQ royalty and one of the hardest and toughest meats to smoke. It takes many hours, dedication and each brisket has a journey and a story to tell. The journey of brisket all starts with purchasing the correct brisket at the store, whether it’s standard, select, choice, or a prime brisket and along with getting the correct size for your smoker/grill. Standard is the lowest graded brisket, Select is the second-lowest graded brisket, the choice in the middle of the pack and prime is choice brisket that is graded higher due to the marbling and them being tender. I normally go with choice and sometimes prime brisket. If using my offset smoker I like to select briskets that are 15- 18 pounds that have a fatty point and the flat of the brisket is somewhat even throughout and will pick it up to feel if the meat is tender. If using my large Akorns I like to get them in the range of 12-15 pounds so they can fit nicely in. Cardboard, trimming, and seasoning the brisket is the next part of the journey. Before removing the brisket from the plastic packaging, I get cardboard that has no print or stickers on it, and with a switchblade knife, I cut through the cardboard in the shape of the brisket as best as possible. Using cardboard under the brisket while smoking helps prevent the bottom of the brisket from drying out and it also allows you to easily move it around without having to touch it. Using a sharp knife, I trim the brisket when it’s cold, if you allow it to get to room temperature the fat on the brisket becomes soft and jelly-like, it becomes harder to trim the fat. Be sure to leave enough fat on the brisket and don’t remove all of it. I try to leave a quarter-inch sometimes more depending on the quality of brisket, leave enough fat on the point to help keep it moist due to the smoke hitting it. Also, be sure to remove the deckle to help make the brisket aerodynamic. Remove any membrane/silver skin best as possible along with any other non-rendering fat and give the brisket a nice shape, fat on the point. I then use mustard as a binder on all sides of the brisket and season it with beef rub and a salt/black pepper blend. I try to apply a light coating of seasoning to prevent it from being cakey. Before smoking the brisket allow it to come to room temperature. I will also set aside a few pieces of trimmings that have meat on them and smoke them with the brisket for a quick snack to have while the full brisket is smoking, the trimmings cook quickly, and some great snacking. When done trimming the brisket allow it to get to room temperature before smoking to get the cold out so it can smoke immediately and evenly. The next part of the journey is prepping the grill/smoker. Before firing it up, I wipe down the entire outside of the grill/smoker with a dedicated BBQ grease rag with cooking spray oil. I clean the inside of the main grilling and side firebox areas to ensure it is clear of charcoal, ashes, and grease. I then spray cooking oil inside both areas and on the cooking grill gates to season and freshen it up. I will then add a drip pan filled with water to help provide moisture inside the Pit during the smoking process. Next, I fire up a full chimney with lump charcoal and release it into the grill/smoker and allow it to thoroughly warm for 30 minutes and that’s when I start adding smoking wood to the side firebox. If using the Akorn I ignite the charcoal, allow it to warm up, add the smoking wood, and then will place the smokin’ stone over the fire then insert the cooking grill grates. When smoking brisket I prefer to use mesquite smoking wood, use what flavors you like though. Mesquite is a strong wood with heavy smoke but helps provide great flavor and bark. I then will control the temperature and bring it to 250°, I control and manage the temperature by working the side/bottom damper vents, the more the damper/vent is open allows more oxygen to enter, and will make the fire hotter. The more the damper is closed the fire will lower. I keep the top smoke stack open all the way throughout the entire cook to allow the smoke to flow through and around the brisket so it doesn’t suffocate the brisket and over smoke it. Once the grill/smoker is rolling smoke at 250°, place the brisket in the main grilling area of the Offset smoker on top of the cardboard fat side up with the point facing the side firebox and let it smoke, in the Akorn place it in the middle. Once the brisket is real journey begins because it takes a lot of time and patience for many hours but if you stay with it you will get the dark bark, juicy and flavorful brisket you are seeking. I check in on my fire in my side firebox every 1-2 hours and add fuel as need, I check in on the Akorn every 1-2 hours but check on both dampers to ensure the temperature is under control, you don’t add fuel to the Akorn if it was filled when prepping it. I will add a blend of charcoal and the smoking wood throughout the cook to the Offset smoker side firebox. After a few hours of smoking that’s when I begin to spritz the brisket with apple juice and begin to rotate it but keep the point facing the side firebox or clockwise if it’s in the Akorn. Repeating these steps and staying consistent is key and important, there will be moments you want to quit because the brisket is stalling to reach temperature but those are the moments you have to stay strong and allow the brisket to do its thing, try your best not be inpatient. Your work and patience will be rewarded at the end. It takes hard work and know it can be tedious with all the back and forth checking and monitoring the brisket and fire. Use a remote thermometer or probe to help monitor the brisket's internal temperature. It takes one hour per pound to smoke. I smoke the brisket to internal temperature 170° and then wrap it in peach/butcher paper with a spritz of apple juice on the paper. Place it back in the smoker and cook it to internal temperature 200°-204°. Then I place it in a cooler wrapped in a towel/blanket and allow it to rest for 2-3 hours to allow the brisket to stop cooking and to allow the juices to settle. Slice into and enjoy your Brisket journey!