If you're reading this article you most likely already know the joys of perfectly smoked brisket. Few culinary bites can compare to the tender, salty, goodness of a brisket, well-smoked. It is also likely that you have encountered brisket that left you wanting. Maybe you tried smoking one and are wondering why it did not live up to your expectations. Done incorrectly, brisket can be dry, tough, and flavorless. Follow the simple instructions here, and you will learn how to smoke a moist, flavorful, tender, and delicious brisket.


What You'll Need: Meat, Spice, & Gear

Gather everything you need several days before the smoke. This will ensure that you don't run into any unexpected delays. If you smoke meat often, you'll already have most of what you need on-hand.


The Meat

A Brisket is a heavily used muscle group within a cow and a tough cut of meat. That's why smoking and braising are the most popular methods for preparing it. Low-and-slow cooking relaxes the meat and dissolves the tough connective tissue. If you can, it's best to buy your brisket from a local butcher. Near a large city, you'll likely have quite a few options for grades of beef. You might see:

  • Grass-fed
  • Organic
  • USDA Prime
  • USDA Choice
  • USDA Select

For your first brisket, choose USDA prime or choice. These distinctions refer to the amount of marbling or fat content within the meat. Prime and choice have a higher fat content and will give you a greater margin for error when you're learning how to smoke a brisket.  The fat will provide most of the flavor and almost 100% of the moisture.

After a few attempts, when you feel as though you have a good idea of how to smoke a brisket, you can venture out to grass-fed or organic beef. These may not have the same level of marbling and require a little more care and expertise to cook correctly. Many people, however, prefer the taste (or ethics) of these options.

Get the whole brisket. Sometimes butchers and grocers will sell the two muscles separately, but you might as well go for the whole experience. Some of your guests will prefer one muscle over the other as they vary in leanness. It's best to provide a choice. Buy a cut that weighs 6-8 ounces per person.


The Rub

assorted spices

Image via Pixabay

It is best to use a dry spice rub to flavor your brisket. A rub will help create an outer "bark" on the finished brisket that people absolutely love. There are three main components to a proper spice rub:

  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Herbs and spices

Keep it simple to start. Try sea salt (4 parts), brown sugar (1 part), and one or two traditional herbs or spices (1/4 part). Dried onion or garlic work well. Once you have mastered the basics of how to smoke a brisket, try out a rub with more ingredients. Most grocery stores also carry a wide variety of pre-mixed rubs that remove the guesswork. You'll need enough rub to coat the entire cut of meat with a generous—but not ridiculous—layer.


Other Gear

Obviously, you'll need a smoker to undertake this project. If you don't yet have a smoker, check out other articles on this site for choosing your best option. The most important consideration for smoking a brisket is the ability for the smoker to maintain a consistent temperature for a long time. Unless you have experience with temperature maintenance in a charcoal smoker, an electric model with a digital thermostat is best. You will also need:

  • Heavy duty aluminum foil (to wrap the whole brisket)
  • A probe thermometer
  • Soaked woodchips or smoker pellets (hardwood)
  • A foil pan (for catching the drippings)

Preparing the Brisket, Yourself, & the Smoker

smoked brisket cut into pieces

Image via Flickr

With proper preparation, your smoke will go off without a hitch. Plan to get your brisket ready the day before. Make sure you have completely thawed the meat before seasoning. This can take hours or up to a day for a large cut, so plan accordingly. A frozen brisket will frustrate you to no end. Cooking will take much longer than expected.


Seasoning the Brisket

24 hours before cooking, pull the brisket from the refrigerator and grab your spice rub. Trim excess fat, leaving at least a quarter-inch of fat in place.

Sprinkle the rub evenly over the surface of the meat. Once you have a generous layer, rub it in firmly to ensure good contact with the meat. Flip it over and repeat this process on the other side. Then massage all around the sides with more. Wrap it up tight in a plastic bag and return it to the refrigerator.

You'll eventually find that the seasoning stage is one of the most important steps in learning how to smoke a brisket. This is your chance to flavor inside the meat. If you apply the rub too close to cooking time, little flavor will reach the inside.  Give the rub plenty of time to soak into the brisket; the flavors (especially saltiness) become evenly distributed and you won't run into a situation where the outsides of the meat are overly salty while the inside is entirely flavorless.


Understand the Commitment

meat in smoker

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Smoking a brisket will take a long time. Some pitmasters smoke the brisket for upward of 16 hours. Plan on approximately 90 minutes of smoke time per pound of brisket. If you are serving the meat for lunch, you must work backward to know when to fire up the smoker and get started. 16 hours of smoking requires that you start at 8 the night before. You must let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving, so add that into your calculations.

The brisket won't require much attention, but you will need to intervene at a few points. Plan to check the temperature of the meat periodically throughout. Keep your foil handy; you'll need to wrap the brisket once it reaches a certain landmark.

If you plan to stick close to the smoker for the duration, grab your favorite:

  • Beer
  • Book
  • Friends
  • Snacks

The hours will fly by. If you have friends around, you can share what you have learned about how to smoke a brisket!


Setting Up Your Smoker

You likely already know how you like to set up your smoker to keep it clean and operating during a smoking session. That's great! It is essential you understand this when you are first learning how to smoke a brisket. Briefly:

  • Line the bottom of the smoker with foil to catch any dripping fat
  • Stock the pellet chamber or have plenty of chips on hand
  • Make sure fat traps and drains are free of debris
  • Ensure proper clearances around the smoker to avoid fire danger

How to Smoke a Brisket

Sliced Smoke Brisket

Image via Flickr

It's finally time to get this thing going! An hour before cook time, pull the brisket out of the refrigerator to bring it up to room temperature and help it cook faster. Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees. The cooking has four distinct phases:

  • Smoke application and bark formation
  • The stall
  • The finish
  • The rest

Applying Smoke and Creating Bark

This stage starts the process and adds all the rest of the flavor that doesn't come from the rub. Make sure your smoker is up to temperature and smoking well. Place the brisket fat side up in the smoker. This placement ensures the melting fat will drip down and season and cook the meat. Yum!

Place your thermometer probe in the thickest part of the meat and setup the remote viewer. Assuming the smoke is flowing, and the temperature is stable, all you need to do now is wait. The direct application of the heat and smoke will impart delicious smoky flavors and dry out the outer surface, creating a beautiful, dark "bark." Some consider the bark to be the best part of a finished brisket!

Now you wait. This will probably be the longest wait during the whole process. You're looking for the internal temperature to reach 150-165. When this happens, move on to the next stage.

The Stall

Somewhere around 150-165 degrees, your brisket will seem to have stopped cooking. The temperature will not fluctuate much. This is normal, so no need to worry. There is a way to help it along: wrap it up in that aluminum foil you have ready! This should be the only time during the entire process where you will open the smoker.

By wrapping the meat, you'll trap the remaining moisture inside the foil and help cook the meat to its finish point. Some enthusiasts add sweet or acidic liquid into the foil pouch (1/2 cup of vinegar or fruit juice) to make sure there is plenty of moisture. Be sure to stick the probe back into its place.

sliced smoked brisket

Image via Flickr

Finishing the Cook

You're minutes from finally being able to declare that you know how to smoke a brisket! All that's required now is for the internal temperature to reach that magic number. What magic number? It depends who you ask. Every serious smoker has their preferred finish temp. Luckily, anything between 195 and 205 will be okay.

The Waiting Game

After two-thirds of a day, temptation will strike. You'll want so badly to slice and devour your brisket. Don't do it! The last 30 minutes to an hour make all the difference. Leave it wrapped in foil and set it on the counter or in an insulated cooler (without ice) for 30-60 minutes. This rest allows the moisture to find a home within the meat rather than draining out the second the knife hits it.

After the rest, carefully remove the foil. You should be able to distinguish between the two distinct muscles. Since the meat is now falling-apart-tender, you can easily separate the muscles. Do so, and slice—as thick or thin as you please—across the grain, leaving delicious and tender brisket slices.



smoked brisket and sausage

Image via Flickr

If you're into barbecue or meat-smoking, you absolutely must know how to smoke a brisket. This walk-through helps simplify the task and provides everything you need to start your journey toward brisket expert status. Is your mouth watering yet?

Featured Image: Flickr

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