Today we’re talking all things “How To Smoke A Brisket,” and we’re covering all the bases.
We’ll kick things off with the basics: where brisket comes from, why it’s such a tough cut of meat, and why a proper smoke equals tender, buttery, juicy, beefy perfection.
Then, we’re going to mosey onto important issues like how to pick out the perfect brisket at the store, which quality grade to avoid, and why.
We’ll also talk about the best way to trim a brisket, how that trimming directly affects its ability to bark up later on down the road, and why you might want to locate and ditch the deckle.
Once we’ve got the beginner’s essentials underway, we can get into seasoning, the mop sauce, and most importantly, how to smoke your brisket to juicy, beefy Texas BBQ perfection.
You can count on the big brisket issues to be covered as well: When to wrap it, how to push through that pesky stall, how to properly slice it up for serving…and then some!
WHAT IS BRISKET?
Brisket is a large, tough cut of beef with lots of connective tissue running through, making it a prime candidate for slow-cooking methods, like smoking. It is sold boneless and can range in weight from 8 to 20 pounds.
It’s one of the nine primal cuts and comes from the lower chest/breast section of the cow located near the front legs.
This is an area that gets lots of action and movement and it is the reason brisket is such a tough cut of meat.
This cut is made up of two muscles — the point and the flat. The flat is thinner and leaner, while the point is bulkier, thicker, and much fattier with a great deal more connective tissue than the flat.
The point and the flat are separated by a layer of fat called the deckle.
HOW TO PICK OUT A BRISKET
Ideally, you want to find a brisket between 12 and 15 pounds. More moderately-framed cattle are more tender because they have more marbling and intermuscular fat.
For a Texas-style Smoke Brisket, you want to purchase a whole, untrimmed brisket, sometimes labeled “Packer’s Cut” or “Packer Brisket.”
DO BEEF GRADES MATTER?
It is the marbling that determines the quality grade of beef. Select-grade beef is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to marbling, and for this reason, try to avoid select-grade beef briskets.
When you’re slow-cooking a large cut of tough meat, you need a good deal of intermuscular fat present to keep it from drying out and toughening up even further.
The higher the grade of beef, the more marbling there is, the more tender the end result!
If you want to smoke a crazy juicy, tender brisket, go with high choice (which you’ll usually find in branded beef), prime, or even Waygu, if available and within budget.
You also want to pay attention to the flat, which is the skinny end of the brisket. When looking at the short side of the flat, try to find a brisket with uniform thickness, top to bottom. This will promote even cooking throughout the smoking process.
If you can’t find one that’s uniformly perfect, don’t worry — we’re going to be trimming it before we get cooking.
HOW TO TRIM A BRISKET
Start with the brisket fat-side up. Place the brisket on your largest cutting board, take a large, sharp knife, and lay it flat on top of the brisket. Carefully, begin shaving off the white fat cap until the majority of the excess fat is removed and only an 1/8th inch of fat remains.
You also want to flip the brisket over and trim off any large, loose hunks of fat on the bottom and sides.
Then, take the knife with the brisket fat-side up and trim the long sides of the brisket to create a perfectly straight line. Then, make a third cut across the face of the flat (the skinny end) to make a third straight line.
In a smoker, smoke rolls across the meat for hours. If you have a rigid exterior along the perimeter of your brisket, a proper bark can’t form.
The meat protruding outward will become overly barked, crunchy, and almost inedible, while meat protruding inward will barely bark up at all. This is the reasoning for trimming straight lines along your brisket.
For an extra uniform bark, after trimming your straight lines, round the corners of the cuts you’ve made on the brisket. This will help the smoke to roll evenly, creating a perfectly uniformed bark.
ABOUT THE DECKLE
The deckle is a layer of fat that sits under the point muscle, separating the point and the flat.
This part of the brisket is not very appetizing in taste or texture, and takes a long, long time to render, increasing the overall cook time. Although optional, removing the deckle will not only decrease cook time, but it will give you a more appetizing finished product.
To remove the deckle, you’ll first have to locate it. It will be the white layer between the two red layers of meat. This fat will look obviously different from the fat cap you’ve trimmed; it’s almost spiderweb-like in texture.
Once you have it located, ready your knife at a 45° angle and make one cut from the top of the deckle pointing inward and down. Then, you’ll carefully make another cut from the bottom of the deckle, pointing up and inward.
After these incisions, you should be able to take your hand and peel it out, with minor help from your knife. Take care not to cut too deep into the middle of the brisket.
THE BRISKET RUB
The seasoning on a Texas-style Smoked Brisket is simple — salt and pepper. To be more specific, a 50/50 blend of Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper is all you need. Just grab a half cup of each and mix them together.
Then, spread the brisket seasoning evenly over all sides of the meat. Discard of any leftover spice mix that did not adhere to the meat.
FOR THE MOP SAUCE
In addition to a rub, you’ll also want to prepare a mop sauce. For this, a food-safe spray bottle works best, but you could also prep it in a bowl and have a basting brush handy. You’ll need:
- 4 cups of unsalted or low-sodium beef broth
- 1/2 cup of Worcestershire sauce
The mop sauce enhances the beef flavor of the brisket and also helps to keep it moist; don’t skip it!
HOW TO SMOKE A BRISKET
You can smoke a brisket in an electric smoker with wood chips, in a pellet grill, or on a wood smoker.
Far and away, the best way to smoke a Texas-style brisket is in a wood smoker. It gives the brisket an authentic smoke flavor and it’s the absolute best way to build a delicious bark.
Note, before you start loading up that smoker with wood, set your brisket out at room temperature to take the chill off — 1 to 2 hours. You don’t want it going into the smoker ice cold or it will seize up during the cook.
A WORD ON WOOD
Living in Texas, Oak (and particularly Post Oak) is readily available. It’s a great wood for smoking brisket because oak is mild in flavor and burns for a long time.
If you don’t have access to oak wood, fruit woods like pecan, apple, or cherry are great options.
Avoid stronger flavored woods like mesquite or hickory. Over a long cook, the smoke flavor from these woods becomes pungent and overpowers the flavor of the brisket.
PREPPING THE SMOKER AND BRISKET PLACEMENT
To prepare the smoker, you’ll first need a water pan. We like to use a cast iron loaf pan, although you can use any oven-safe pan that will fit. The water pan will go on a cooking rack in between the heat source and the meat.
Heat your smoker to 250°F and place the beef brisket with the thick side of the point-end facing the heat source on the grill grate and close the cooker.
You’ll wet the brisket down with the mop sauce about once an hour, taking care to minimize the time that the cooker is open so that you do not lose too much heat in the process.
BRISKET | FAT SIDE UP OR DOWN?
Be sure you place your brisket in the smoker fat side up with the thicker end of the brisket (the point) facing the heat source. It goes in fat-side up so the fat melts downward into the brisket as it cooks, keeping it nice and juicy.
SMOKER TEMPERATURE AND CONSISTENCY
Throughout the duration of the cook, you want to make sure that your smoker stays in the 225°F to 275° range. It’s important to keep a careful eye on the temperature, checking on it every hour or so.
BRISKET SMOKE TIME
A general rule of thumb is to plan to cook the brisket one hour for every pound of meat (weighed pre-trimming), however, this can vary based on the fat and water content of the brisket.
If your brisket is 15 pounds, plan on it being ready to eat about 15 hours after you place it on the smoker.
WHEN TO WRAP A BRISKET
Somewhere between the 4 and 6 hour-mark, you’ll want to start keeping an eye on the bark layer forming on the outside of the brisket. When the fat, salt, and pepper have formed a crust that is very dark brown (almost black), the brisket is officially “barked up.” In order to protect your bark from going too far, you’ll want to wrap the brisket up completely.
THE TEXAS CRUTCH
Wrapping a partially smoked brisket in a foil is called the Texas crutch.
Midway through the smoking process, you’ll enter into a time period known as the stall (more on that below). Wrapping the brisket in aluminum foil holds in and radiates heat back into the brisket which helps it to push through the stall faster.
The problem with wrapping with foil is you’ll end up with a crispier bark than intended and some portions may even be inedible. For this reason, we advise against using foil altogether, and rather, embrace the stall.
However, you still want to wrap the brisket with butcher paper. It won’t help you hurry along the stall; its main purpose is to protect the bark.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE STALL
If you have never smoked brisket, you might not be familiar with this term. The “stall” is when internal moisture releases from the meat and causes a cooling effect (similar to a human being sweating while exercising). This will stop, or rather, stall, the internal temperature from increasing. In some cases, it will even decrease a little bit.
The natural reaction here is to increase the cooker temperature — but, do not do this! Under no circumstances should you deviate from the 225°F to 275°F range.
Normally, within one to two hours, your brisket will have pushed through the stall and it will start to steadily climb in temperature again.
BRISKET DONENESS AND TEMPERATURE
Continue cooking the wrapped brisket until the large, point end of the brisket reaches an internal temperature of around 200°F. This is best determined via the use of an instant-read probe thermometer.
Once the brisket has reached an internal temperature of 200°F, remove it from the smoker and allow it to rest (wrapped) for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
If you aren’t ready to eat the brisket just yet, keep it in the butcher paper, wrap it in a bath towel to hold the heat and place it in a cooler for up to two hours.
HOW TO CUT BRISKET
To slice a brisket, grab your largest cutting board and start on the flat end and cut uniform slices about a 1/4″ thick, crosswise. Cut this way about halfway into the brisket until you’ve reach the point muscle, then, cut the point longways into 1/4″ slices.
The important thing here is that you slice against the grain!
WHAT TO SERVE WITH BRISKET
If you’re looking for some BBQ side dish inspiration to go alongside your brisket, look no further! We’ve got you covered.
And, of course, you don’t want to forget dessert!
ABOUT THIS RECIPE
This authentic recipe for Texas Smoked Brisket comes straight out of a Texans backyard from the brisket connoisseur himself — my husband.
It’s not uncommon for friends to drive in from all over the state when word gets out that this guy is smoking a brisket. It’s really that good.
Above, you read his words of wisdom, and below, you’ll find his recipe. If you read thoroughly and put it all to practice, you are likely in for one of the greatest BBQ treats of all time.
However, if you’re a beginner at brisket or smoking meats in general, and you don’t nail it on day one, don’t let that discourage you from trying again.
Philip says it took him close to 30 tries before he developed his method, perfected his recipe, and felt like he could lay claim to a truly great Texas smoked brisket. And, the Texas BBQ king, Aaron Franklin, will tell you the same thing. When it comes to smoking meat, and brisket, in particular, practice makes perfect.
6 MORE TEXAS RECIPES YOU’LL LOVE
- Cheese Enchiladas | These enchiladas come smothered with a Tex-Mex enchilada gravy you could only find in the Lonestar state!
- Texas Kolaches | Kolaches look a little different in Texas! Stuff them with your favorite breakfast meat and bake in a pillowy soft yeast dough.
- Buttermilk Fried Chicken | Crispy, crunchy buttermilk fried chicken says Southern hospitality like no other dish can!
- Steak Fajitas | An authentic recipe for marinated and grilled steak fajitas.
- Texas Sheet Cake | A decadently rich, moist chocolate sheet cake with fudgy icing.
- King Ranch Casserole | Bring on the comfort with this King Ranch Casserole! Shredded chicken, cheese, and tortillas get stacked in hearty layers with a creamy, Tex-Mex-take on Cream of Mushroom sauce.
How to smoke the perfect brisket -- Texas style! All you need is brisket, salt, pepper, beef broth and Worcestershire sauce to smoke a juicy, tender brisket perfect for feeding any crowd!
- 12 - 15 pound whole, untrimmed brisket (a.k.a. Packer's Cut), preferably High Choice or Prime quality grade
- 1/2 cup Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup coarse black pepper
- 4 cups low-sodium or unsalted beef broth
- 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
With a large sharp knife, carefully shave away the fat cap until only an 1/8" of an inch remains, and trim away any large, loose hunks of fat.
Trim the long sides of the brisket to create straight lines along the sides. Then, make a third straight cut across the face of the flat end of the brisket.
Make additional cuts to round off the corners and remove the deckle, if desired.
In a food-safe spray bottle or small mixing bowl prepare the mop sauce by combining the beef broth and Worcestershire. Set aside.
Combine the salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix to combine. Rub all over your trimmed brisket. Discard of any extra. Leave the brisket out at room temperature while you prepare the smoker.
Heat your smoker to 250°F and place an heat-safe pan full of water (like a cast iron loaf pan) on the cooking rack in between the heat source and the meat.
Place the brisket fat-side up in the smoker, with the thick side of the point-end facing the heat source and close the cooker.
Once every hour, open the smoker to generously spray or brush down the brisket with the mop sauce. Take care to keep your smoker in a heat range between 225°F to 275°F throughout the entire duration of the cook. Do not increase the temperature of the smoker if you hit a stall.
Between the 4-6 hour mark, begin checking the bark. Once it has taken on near-black coloring, wrap it in brown Butcher's paper and return it to the smoker.
Cook for approximately one hour per pound, or until the point end of the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 200°F.
Remove the brisket from the smoker and allow it to rest, wrapped, 30 minutes before slicing.
Starting on the flat end, cut the brisket against the grain into 1/4" slices, crosswise. Cut in this direction until you reach the middle of the brisket (to the point muscle), then switch directions and begin slicing long-ways.