A warning, this is going to be very long, but it is almost all photos and Dick and Jane captions, so not as much reading as you might think...
Ok, the title is a joke. Experienced grillers/smokers know that there is no such thing as perfect when smoking brisket. There are dozens (hundreds) of variables, but more importantly, the final product is very personal. What one guy loves, another valid opinion is that that same brisket is under spiced, over spiced, under cooked, over cooked, too dry, too moist (well, probably not too moist), wrong rub, wrong marinade, wrapping in foil ruins it, can't possibly imagine not wrapping in foil... you get the idea. Grillers/Smokers will spend a lifetime perfecting their very personal "Perfect Brisket"
If you ever see someone claim that their blog could possibly lay claim to explaining how to cook the perfect brisket, know that they are not being honest with you...
Mine is the perfect brisket, and if you copy my style and method, you too will make what every living soul on the planet will acknowledge that is also the perfect brisket...
Really they will...
really... Honest... no kidding this is gonna be perfect...
Would I lie to you... Have you ever been lied to by a man... Of course not.
So with apologies to every other griller/smoker who makes their own perfect brisket...
Here's what i do...
First, how to select a brisket...
First, feel the fat for hard spots. HARD FAT does not make for a great tasting brisket. You want soft, pliable fat (like me) that will cook and melt nicely into the meat and flavor it. Next, you want a pliable piece of meat. If it is stiff and not bendable, it is going to be tough. A full brisket (not just a trimmed flat) should be bendable to where you can touch the ends together as shown.
OK, those are two steps you can take while in the grocery store. Once you get the sucker home...
Do your best to not freeze it. Actually, this is a tip that is true for any piece of meat. Freezing will tighten up the muscles and it will be a bit tougher than a never frozen piece of meat.
I never have brisket that has never been frozen. I am cheap. I shop for sales. I have 5 briskets still frozen in my freezer. They are around $2.99 a pound to $3.99. But if you ever see one for $1.99 or less, do the tenderness tests above and buy it and freeze it. When you thaw it, thaw it gently, in your fridge for a couple days before you are going to cook. It is too big to thaw in the microwave. Plan ahead.
But even after you selected a non hard fat, pliable brisket, it can still be trimmed a bit. Fat is good in a brisket, it flavors and tenderizes the meat. Too much fat makes it very unappealing with that weird texture that people have to cut around or suffer in their sandwiches. Again, any hard pieces of fat, cut out. the fat flap around the brisket should only be about 1/4 inch thick. Do not cut all the fat out, leave a layer, but only a thin layer. I probably trimmed out a half a pound or more from this butcher "trimmed" brisket. that 1/2 pound added nothing to the brisket and would make your finished product have pockets of inedible chewy fat pieces.
Next up (actually, make these decisions in advance so that everything is ready prior to trimming the meat) is getting your rub and marinade ready. Many people will coat their meat in mustard prior to adding the rub. I have done this, but i don't get as good a bark from that process as I do with a dry rub. So, my perfect brisket uses no mustard. Others may... right or wrong, who knows (OK, I know, just trying to be polite to the mustard rubbers out there).
If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have a nice batch of rubs already made up. I did a pretty informative post on making your own rub which you can read by clicking HERE. The beauty of rubs is that there is no definitive perfect rub. If you like lots of pepper, add more pepper. If you want to avoid salt, use less salt... But that is covered in the rub post, and I won't talk more about how to make a rub... You can buy a commercial rub, but if you grill a lot, it is much cheaper to make your own, and it is so much more satisfying to make your own.
But I will talk about how to select a rub. Your brisket, more than any other cut of meat will be flavored by your rub. No offense to my sainted Mother, but the briskets I ate as a youth were bland, tasteless and without gravy would have been inedible. Briskets open a whole new world of flavoring, and it will take you a dozen different cook sessions to find a combination that appeals to you. And then it won't appeal to your wife, and you have to continue for another dozen cook sessions to find a combination that works for you both.
For this cook, I am going to cook half the brisket for sandwiches for my wife's lunch (she has that inconvenient job thing that she brown bags daily). I was also making half for a special purpose. And if there are any fans of Steve Martin's the Jerk, you know that rubbing your meat and special purposes go hand in hand... But I digress.
For the special purpose brisket, I was going to use Steven Raichlen's Mucho Macho Pepper Rub. This has lots of Pepper spices (duh) and is much too spicy for my lovely delicate wife. But for my special purpose, this is perfect...
I flipped the bag over, and noticed that a lot of the salt and smaller ingredients in the rub had settled to the bottom during storage. Those plastic bags are great to remix it all up for better balance.
I was not going to use all of the rub I had made, so i transferred about 3/4 of a cup to a separate dish so i was not putting my contaminated hands back into the rub after touching my meat. I could have used a ramekin for this, but smoking is man's work and I did not want to get hit with a giant can of beer... But I digress... You will use about a full rounded tablespoon per pound. This was about 4 pounds.
It is called a rub for a reason. Don't just sprinkle on, sprinkle on and then rub it in. Don't be shy, unlike high school, you will get much more respect if you rub it good. Ideally, when you flip it over to rub the underside, none of the rub you just put on will fall off.
This is one well rubbed cut of meat, ready for my special purpose.
For my wife's hunk, I planned to inject a marinade. I DID NOT use the Mucho Macho Pepper rub (she would have hated it), but i will get to the rub in a second...
Many of you use a Cajun injector when cooking your Thanksgiving Turkey. The same principle applies when injecting beef, ham, other porks... anything. Marinade when done "normal" penetrates a bit into the meat. When it is injected, it flavors every square inch, inside and out. I LOVE this stuff, and more importantly, my wife loves this stuff. Know your audience, cook to challenge but also cook to please.
All those years of watching junkies shooting up on the subway (I lived in New York City for a bit) have finally paid off. Take a stab at the meat, inject about a teaspoons worth, pull out about half way and do it again.
Much like a spoon full of burning heroin (you have all seen this step in the movies), keep refilling the syringe. Because you only use about a third of the jar, I transferred into a ramekin (shut up) so that I could get a low angle (if you look close, there is a hole in the bottom and towards the bottom of the side of the needle). You have to get low and then straight in order to get more juice than air when you fill.
After you have injected the marinade, you still need to put a rub on. I used a basic rub of spices and brown sugar. and a combination of the JAVA rub (close to the basic, but with some ground coffee to make a crustier bark).
I mixed it well before rubbing in... Same procedure as rubbing the special purpose piece of the brisket.
It is good to let your meat sit with the marinade adjusting to it's new life, and let the rub penetrate into the meat for a bit (say an hour). It also lets the meat get up around room temp before it gets shocked into the heat of the grill/smoker. Don't leave it out for hours and hours, but for just an hour or so, letting the muscles relax is a good thing...
It takes me an hour to get my smoker up and ready for a cook...
Every smoker should have a drip pan. I fill mine with a little water and some orange or lemon slices. This will steam up into the meat as It cooks, adding moisture. Moisture is a good thing. Many cooks will fill with cider vinegar or a bottle of beer. I used to be the beer guy, till I got thirsty once during this process... Water is fine.
Take a moment to look over the grill. be sure the ash pan is empty (if it is too full of ashes from your last cook, the air flow will suffer and it will be harder to maintain temperature (cleaning your ash pan is actually a way to be lazy... shhhh, don't tell my wife).
When doing a long cook (Brisket takes about 12 hours), I use lump coal. Briquettes have to be replenished hourly. Lump coal cooks hotter and longer than briquettes, and I am lazy (shhh).
Use a chimney starter. Lighter fluid flavors the smoke and flavors your meat with petroleum. Crumple a few pages of the newspaper into the bottom, with a full bunch of coal in the starter. It will light just fine, no need for lighter fluid... never, never, never use lighter fluid (and newspaper is cheaper than lighter fluid).
Notice the painful irony as I use the Kansas City sports section to light my fire... I cooked this brisket on the first weekend in October. The Kansas City Chiefs started their season losing all 4 of their first 4 games, also same day as the end of the Baseball season for the doormat of the American league, the KC Royals, while 2009 was the season my beloved Chicago Cubs continue the tradition of not coming close to winning it all in my lifetime (I am fifty plus years old...toss me a bone here guys).
I feel sorry for you Cardinal and Rockies fans that have pay attention to sports in October. I get to think about cooking, I am so lucky to have my October nights free year after year after year ...
After year after year...
Kind of says it all... (just in case you missed that hammer being tossed at your head, that picture is a metaphor for my year in sports... I am very deep)... But I digress...
Look close, this took 5 minutes to get a gentle smoke started (the paper has long since flamed out (like the Chiefs).
Relax, enjoy the day... Here's my flying pig with the usual standard Kansas City beautiful blue sky. Looks like this every day here in god's country.
After 10 minutes, you can see the beginnings of flame down deep in the chimney (look close)
My cat Eng came out to enjoy the day
And at 15 minutes, flames and ash and a nice looking chimney of coal... Almost ready, maybe another 3 minutes... Time to...
Put a final layer of rub on the meat. This final layer is a rub of my own that has more ground coffee in it... I like that dark bark it produces.
Spread your hot coals around...
Add some unlit chunks of coal
Know your smoker, get the temperature up to 225 to no more than 250. Don't want to brag, but I know my smoker and the settings are easy to mask...This only took 5 minutes to get the cook chamber up to temps.
Add the meat, close the lid as fast as you can
Add some chunks of Hickory wood to your coals (it's not called a smoker for nothing)
Do you see the gentle wisps of smoke coming out of the top. Trust me, there is plenty of smoke in the chamber. No need to add so much wood that it billows out.
It's a great hobby for lazy people who nap. But before you leave your smoker, be sure that the temps are stable.
Once the meat was added (cooler than air), it changed the temp of the chamber... Notice that the thermometer is just a hair lower than 225 (this was taken after 10 minutes of closed lids).
I had to open the dampers just a bit to get to 225. More fresh air hitting the coals made them burn just a bit hotter. Know your cooker. When I first got my smoker, I did one smoke without any meat. I spent a couple hours learning how to add or subtract 5 degrees from the chamber. Your goal is (as much as possible) to have one constant temperature through out the entire session. Six degrees of separation makes a great movie, but separates the grill masters from the weekend want to bes.
DO NOT OPEN THE COOKER... Repeat DO NOT OPEN THE COOKER. Every time you open it, you lose 50 degrees or more and you have to work to get it back. What do you expect to see anyway?
BUT, there are a few times you will need to open up. I like to use a mop of cider vinegar and a few spices. Other people use apple juice, and even more waste a beer. they are not wrong, but I use cider vinegar... I mop (which adds moisture) three times; each two hour for the first 4 hours, and after 4 hours.
I add coal if needed. No need to add wood. the smoke taste will come from the lump coal. Only the first hour and a half worth of smoke actually penetrates the meat. Dirty secret, but you could smoke your brisket only for the first couple hours, then move it to a roaster or your oven and get almost the same results... But none of the bragging rights.
Keep checking your temps and aim for that 225.
and after 10 hours, my special purpose piece of meat reached an internal temp of 185. I took it off the smoker and wrapped it in foil for about 2 hours (keeps cooking till it evens out to about 195, and it is done...
And look at that smoke ring! the smoke ring does not alter the taste at all, but it is a visual way to brag about how deep the smoke penetrated. A faster hotter cook will produce a narrower ring.
My wife's hunk of brisket was the "thick" half. It contained the Point, and took an extra 90 minutes to get to temp...
But after another two hours wrapped in foil, it reached the same 195 internal temperature!
That line is a layer of fat that separates the point from the flat. You can do a lot with that knowledge, but it will make this stupidly long post even more stupidly long... Another day..
That big dark hunk in the middle comes from me trimming out the hard pieces of fat prior to the rub stage. Had I not trimmed it out, there would have been a big hunk of fat in the middle of my wife's sandwich. She works hard, she deserves a sandwich without a big hunk of fat.
Don't have a caption for this, just wanted to brag... Isn't that pretty???
Notice how it is cut at an angle, not square on. When you slice a brisket, cut against the grain for a more tender chew (my wife works hard and does not need to work to chew her sandwich). Little things add up to making a great experience.
And here's my "special purpose" hunk... A little thinner, but plenty moist and sweet lookin'.
Again, no caption, just braggin'
don't you wish you were having lunch with me???
Only one more picture to look at...
And what you may ask is my special purpose???
Stay tuned for next week's post on
MADE WITH A PERFECT SMOKED BRISKET
MADE WITH A PERFECT SMOKED BRISKET
R, CAG and G... Good Talk