All Things Brisket
Cooking a brisket for the first time can feel like an impossible task, but with a little planning and effort, an amazing brisket can be accomplished at home. It does take an investment in time and money, however, the final result is something ridiculously delicious. We heartily encourage you to take the plunge and give cooking a brisket a try!
A whole brisket is identified as a 120 Beef Brisket, Deckle-Off, Boneless by the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP). You’ll sometimes see full sized briskets referred to as a full packer or packer brisket. These are the kind of briskets sold by Snake River Farms.
Briskets are the chest or pectoral muscles of beef cattle. There are two briskets on each animal, and barbecue mythology aside, there is no discernible difference between the right and left briskets. Each brisket is made up of two separate muscles. The deep pectoral muscle (pectoralis profundus) is the largest section and you’ll hear this referred to as the flat. The second part of the brisket is the smaller superficial pectoral muscle (pectoralis superficialis) or the point. We remove the hard fat and intercostal meat on the inside surface of the brisket.
American Wagyu briskets are generally larger than the ones from conventional cattle. At Snake River Farms, we sort briskets into six different size ranges: 9 to 12 pounds, 12 to 14 pounds, 14 to 16 pounds, 16 to 18 pounds, 18 to 20 pounds, and 20+ pounds. No matter which size you choose, a full packer brisket is a large cut of beef. This is a meal that is perfect for serving a crowd.
Why Snake River Farms American Wagyu?
Just like any of our cuts, American Wagyu briskets have more marbling than conventional beef including top-rated USDA Prime. Our highly marbled briskets are the not-so-secret weapon for top competitive barbecue teams. In fact, 9 of the Top 10 KCBS Team winners in the Overall and Brisket categories won using Snake River Farms.
Aaron Franklin, James Beard Award winning chef and celebrated pit master, says our American Wagyu briskets are “magically textured, with all that intramuscular fat melting slowly and turning that piece of beef into a buttery, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth kind of experience.”
Preparing a brisket is an all day task and not something you can rush. We’ll discuss two methods, the classic low and slow cook and the hot and fast method. Low and slow cooking uses an offset smoker, a kettle grill (like a Weber), a Kamado grill (such as a Big Green Egg) or a wood pellet grill (Traeger). For a 12 to 15 pound brisket, a low and slow cook can take anywhere from 10 to 14 hours.
The hot and fast method uses an upright drum smoker (like a Gateway) and, like the name explains, uses a higher heat to cook a brisket faster. In general, the cook time is around 5 to 6 hours, half the time of low and slow.
You can find volumes of information on how to trim a brisket and there are varying philosophies around this step. We’ve seen seasoned brisket vets trim away fat and meat and also seen examples where it seems very little was removed. The general idea is to create a uniform size and smooth surfaces so your brisket cooks evenly.
You find two very different sides to each brisket. One side has the fat cap and we’ll call this the top. The other side has more meat exposed and we’ll call this the bottom. Trimming a cold brisket keeps the meat and the fat more firm and makes the process easier.
Start at the top and cut off excess fat to get an even layer leaving about 1/4 inch, our preferred thickness. Flip the brisket over and trim off the larger pieces of fat and membrane.
Classic Texas BBQ calls for just salt and pepper, but we enjoy the flavor and color that comes from other ingredients. To keep it super simple, use our SRF BBQ Brisket Rub which we created with the help of long time friend and award winning BBQ Chef, Steph Franklin.
You can also go DYI and create a rub with your favorite flavors. Popular rub ingredients are salt, sugar, black pepper, garlic and onion.
Some folks like to use a slather, something viscous and sticky, to help keep the rub attached to the brisket. We’ve found it really doesn’t add to the final flavor and the rub sticks just fine to the moist surface of the brisket.
No matter what rub you use, be sure to apply it liberally to all surfaces. Using your hands or a shaker, put some distance between the seasoning and the brisket, then let it rain. Your goal is to have a thick and even layer of rub on the entire brisket.
After you’ve trimmed and seasoned your brisket, let it rest up to an hour at room temp to prepare it for the smoker.
Fat Up or Down?
This question comes up a lot in brisket cooking, and like so much of brisket lore, there are many opinions. A common thought is to cook fat side up because the cap will melt and infuse the meat with rich, rendered fat. Many beef experts point out the muscle fibers of the brisket is too tight to allow this to happen.
We’ve cooked briskets both ways and lean toward fat side down. Kettle and Kamado cooking delivers most of the heat from the bottom, so placing your brisket fat side down protects the luscious meat from the heat. On a wood pellet grill, Chad Ward, Director of Marketing for Traeger and fearless leader of award-winning Whiskey Bent BBQ, also recommends fat side down because it produces a uniform bark, creates a better looking final brisket and melting fat doesn’t inadvertently wash away the rub.
Like all beef, a brisket is best when sliced against the grain. This shortens the muscle fibers and creates a texture that’s tender and easy to eat. As discussed above, a brisket has two primary parts, the point and the flat. The muscle fibers, or grain, go in different directions in each of these pieces so take note of the grain before slicing.
A method that works well is to separate the flat from the point. You can find where the point ends and the flat tucks in underneath. Start with the flat and cut even slices. A popular thickness is ¼” which many point out is the same width as a pencil
Take the point, rotate it 90 degrees to orient the so it runs parallel to you and slice. Some folks also use cube the point to make burnt ends, a specialty of the Kansas City barbecue scene.
We’re going to focus on kettles, Kamados and wood pellet grills for this section.
Smoke and Fire
Fully load your kettle or Kamado with lump charcoal, light a small fire and set the temperature to 250° F. Add 2 to 3 chunks of smoking wood (hickory is a good choice). Add a water pan to boost and maintain the humidity for kettles. Kamados have thick ceramic walls that insulate and a water pan isn’t necessary.
For wood pellet grills, set the temperature to 225° F and set to “super smoke”.
Meat Meet Grill
It’s time to load the grill as soon as the smoke turns from white to blue-gray. Set the uncovered brisket fat side down d
The First 3 Hours
Your instructions for the first three hours are easy, but sometimes hard to follow. Do nothing. Do not take a peek under the hood. Leave well enough alone. While you’re cooling your heals, your brisket will take on smoke and start the metamorphosis from big chunk of meat to delicious BBQ.
Manage the Middle
After the 3 hour mark you’ll hit the middle of the cook. About this time the brisket surface will dry out and turn a darker color. Now’s the time to break out your highly accurate, fast read digital thermometer and begin checking the internal temp in the thickest part of the brisket. Chris Sussman, the BBQ Buddha and author of the book “The Four Fundamentals of Smoking” offers these suggestions for the middle of the cook:
Once you have made it through the first 3 hours of the cook you should have decent color forming on the outside of the brisket. You want to ensure your pellicle (the layer formed when the outer layer of brisket dries) is not too dry or too wet. At this part of the cook, you may need to spray the outside of the brisket with water. To know, look inside the smoker and touch the surface area of the flat part of the brisket with your fingertip. Do not move or pick up the brisket as you do not want to interrupt the bark formation. You want the surface to be slightly sticky to the touch but not wet. If it is dry and streaky, spray the surface with a spray bottle full of the water mixture. This will help the formation of the bark more than anything else. At this stage in the cook, most if not all of the smoke flavor has been absorbed into the meat. But the gases and oils being released from the wood smoldering inside the firebox need to adhere to the surface of the meat in order to form that dark color you want.
You can fill your spray bottle with water, apple juice or use Chris’ recipe: 3 parts water, 1 part apple cider vinegar, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a dash of your favorite hot sauce.
A brisket is a large piece of meat and during a low and slow cook there is a stretch of time where the temperature stops increasing for several hours. This is called the stall and it usually happens around 5 to 6 hours into the cook with the temp hovering in the 150° to 160° F range. Don’t panic when this happens, it’s completely normal. While there is not an exact time, the stall usually ends 5 to 6 hours into the cook.
Use your thermometer and check the temperature every 30 minutes or so to see when the stall ends. Do not wrap your brisket at this time. You’ll lose valuable heat and the brisket will not have the chance to fully cook so the collagen melts, the rich dark bark forms and the desired tender texture is achieved.
As soon as the internal temperature starts to climb a degree or two from the stall, the fat cap is rendering and the exterior bark is deep rich, almost color, it’s time to wrap.
That's a Wrap
Wrapping the brisket helps braise and tenderize the meat. It also helps speed up the cook time. You can use aluminum foil or uncoated butcher paper like our SRF X Oren Pink Butcher Paper. Paper is porous and allows some steam to escape but traps most of the rendered fat.
Use two lengths of paper about 2 ½ feet long. Overlap them, place the brisket in the center and wrap all sides to make a neat package. Place the wrapped brisket back on to the grill.
Determining when your brisket is done is a bit of art and science. The brisket temperature is a good guide, but the feel of the brisket is the final factor to decide when it is ready to come off the grill. The range we shoot for is 197°F – 205°F. When your brisket reaches this point, insert the thermometer probe. It should pierce the bark and feel effortless like sliding into a cube of butter. When you reach this temperature range and pass the probe test, remove from the grill.
Give it a Rest
Resting your brisket allows time for the temperature to equalize and juices to be reabsorbed. The temperature will actually increase from the carryover cooking effect. Here’s advice from Chris Sussman on resting:
Crack the wrap slightly allowing heat and steam to escape, put the semi-wrapped brisket in an aluminum pan (to catch and drippings), and let it sit at room temperature in until the internal temperature drops to 165° (74° C) (usually an hour). This stops the carryover cooking and brings the temperature of the brisket to a place that is optimal for resting. Now take that brisket out of the aluminum pan (leaving it wrapped in the butcher paper), wrap it in plastic wrap, wrap that in an old towel, and place it in an empty cooler for 1 – 4 hours. This resting is a key step to getting your brisket as juicy as possible.
NOTE: I say 1 – 4 hours as the longer the brisket rests, the more the juices settle, and the collagen breaks down. The sweet spot for most people is 2 hours but you can wait and extra 2 as needed if it accommodates your serving time.
Slice and Serve
Like the name implies, this is a way to cook your brisket at a higher temperature and cut the cooking time in about half. This requires an upright drum smoker, like a Gateway.
Follow the guidelines above to trim and season your brisket, then follow this checklist:
Heat smoker to 300°F. Place brisket in smoker, fat side down, and cook until internal temperature reaches 160 to 165°F (about 2 hours).
Remove brisket from smoker to wrap.
To wrap brisket, place 3 to 4 long sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil on a counter or table and lay brisket on top. Carefully pour 1 can of beef consommé around the edges of the brisket. Seal tightly with foil, avoiding any leaks.
Place wrapped brisket in a large foil pan and place back on smoker. Cook for an additional 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Begin checking brisket for tenderness after 1 hour. To check for tenderness, carefully open foil slightly and insert skewer or thermometer probe into brisket. Desired tenderness is achieved when the skewer easily slides into the brisket. It should feel as though you are inserting skewer into a stick of butter. If brisket is still tough, re-seal foil and repeat test every 30 minutes. It is far better to slightly over-cook a brisket than to under-cook one. This is a “feel” operation, but target temperature is about 210 degrees.
When brisket reaches desired doneness/tenderness (usually between 210 -214°F), remove from smoker and slightly open the foil to vent for 5 to 10 minutes. Wrap brisket tightly and let rest for 45 minutes before slicing.
Brisket will be very hot so remove carefully and discard foil. Slice, add sauce and serve.