There’s nothing more gratifying than taking the toughest cut of meat and turning it into something full of flavor that melts in your mouth…welcome to the brisket!
Years ago I was introduced to my first home-cooked brisket when we were invited to a party. The hosts were mentioning how they have spent hours and hours (13 or 14 if my memory serves me correct) cooking the brisket and I was very excited to try it. Finally it was done…excitement builds up…ready to eat and then……dry and tough. Not was I was hoping for.
First, where does the brisket come from (picture from Wikipedia)? As you can see, the brisket is cut from the lower chest. Up front, muscle always being used, and thus tough.
So I have been on a mission to master this tough cut of meat. I started perusing the newsgroups to pick up some tips. What I found out was, like many other things, people are extremely varied, and extremely passionate, on how to prepare this.
My first several attempts were unsuccessful…the dog wouldn’t even eat it. Very tough and no flavor.
How long to cook, what temperature to cook it at, what temperature to pull it off , etc? These are the questions that needed answered. After many, many briskets later, I am now very happy with the results. Tender, flavorful meat that rivals the best cuts of meat!
As I mentioned, many people have widely varied opinions on how to prepare their brisket. As you may know, I love good food and am not happy unless it’s the best it can be. This is what I came up with and extremely happy with (as is everyone I serve it to).
So how do I cook the brisket?
How Much to Buy
For this brisket I cooked yesterday, following is the breakdown:
Pre-Cooked Weight: 5.5lb
Cooked Weight: 3.4lb
This means a loss of about 40%. So the 5 and a half pound precooked brisket will make about 9 six oz. servings.
1. Wash, rinse and pat dry the brisket. You will want to leave the fat on top as this will keep the meat moist during cooking. Note: I always get my brisket from Sam’s Club.
2. Apply the dry rub.
Of course I use our own Williamson House Dry Rub Seasoning. It has salt and sugar and other seasonings in it that when cooking will crust up and seal in the juices, producing a more tender, juicer brisket.
3. Place in glass or a large sealable plastic bag and let sit in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight
4. Pull out of the fridge and bring to room temperature (about 1 hour, longer if a larger brisket)
I have a couple different smokers – a wood/charcoal one and a gas smoker. While you will get better flavor using a wood/charcoal smoker, more and more I find myself using the gas one as it’s much easier to maintain the needed constant temperature. The gas one does allow for the use of wood chips and provides very good results.
What if you don’t have a smoker?
There are some fairly inexpensive smokers out there that I would highly recommend you getting (if not for the brisket alone). But if you don’t get one, you can still cook this on your own grill using indirect heating (place the heat on one side of the grill and the meat on the other side).
The following cooking instructions will be for a gas smoker.
5. I don’t preheat the smoker. Once the brisket has come to room temperature, place in the grill, turn on the grill, add the wood chips, and set the heat to medium. I prefer hickory chips for brisket.
Why don’t I preheat the grill?
It lets the brisket’s temperature come up to heat slowly and allows more of the smoke flavor to penetrate the meat, creating a nice smoke ring. Once the brisket starts to crisp up, the smoke can no longer penetrate the meat
6. You’re going to want to cook this at 200 degrees (Fahrenheit)
Don’t go cranking up the heat yet!!! As I mentioned, you want to bring the temperature up slowly. If after 1 ½ hours, you’re below 200 degrees, you can adjust it up to 200 now.
How Long to Cook it?
Well, till it’s done. There is no set time. It varies on the size of your brisket, temperature of the grill and so on.
If you're looking for a ball park figure, these pictures are from the brisket I cooked yesterday. It took 6 hours and 15 minutes to cook a 5 1/2 lb brisket. For this brisket (factoring in the cold weather yesterday so it took a little longer to get it to the 200 degree mark), that breaks down to a little over an hour per lb.
7. I pull off the brisket when the thickest part of the meat reads 195 – 200 degrees. Then it’s done! This is the magic temperature for me. At that point, it allows the collagen in the connective muscle tissues to completely break down. This is the key to producing a tender brisket. Pull it off before this and it will still be tough. Go over 225 and you’ll be feeding it to the dog.
I insert the thermometer when it’s beginning to look done. Put it in too early and you’ll let all the juices run out, making it dry.
If you used our Dry Rub seasoning (or other quality seasoning with some sugar) it should look like a hunk of burnt meat…this is good!!! That means it sealed in all the flavors and juices.
8 Pull off the grill and let sit about 30-40 minutes to rest and absorb the juices. Cut it before this and all the juices will be lost!
Now that it cooled down a bit, you’re ready to cut it. I use an electric knife. Cut against the grain at a 45 degree angle and cut as thin as you can.
From here you eat as is or serve it with your favorite sauce.
For Extra Tender Brisket
Place the sliced brisket in a pan, douse with Williamson House Traditional Red Sauce, tightly cover with foil, and put in a preheated 325 degree oven for 40 minutes. This will further steam and meat and allow the sauce flavors to penetrate the meat. Mmm, mmm, good!!!!
Follow these steps and you too should be the master of the brisket. Enjoy!