Oh the brisket. It’s one tough piece of meat, but when you smoke it just right, it becomes a heavenly slab of beef that yields tender meat slices and melt-in-your-mouth burnt ends (beef nuggets).
I’ve smoked a few briskets in my life, and they’ve always been good, but not great. So I studied the techniques used by a few BBQ grand champions and BBQ instagram pals, and ’m passing them on to you.
For a summary of this post, scroll to the bottom for a handy infographic.
Smoke a whole brisket
When shopping for brisket at the market, you may notice a a variety of sizes to choose from. They often come packaged whole or trimmed as just the flat. The whole brisket costs a little more, but it’s worth it. It includes the “point,” which is the fattier, more flavorful end of the brisket. It’s where burnt ends come from – which by the way are not burnt – they’re just covered with smoked on rub that gives them a burnt appearance.
Trim your brisket
In the past, I have taken my brisket out of the plastic, rubbed it and thrown it straight on the smoker. That’s not the best approach.
Fat is flavor, but in the case of whole brisket, there is plenty of fat marbled into the meat. The added cap of fat is not needed. Instead, you want to remove the excess so the rub you apply will bark up next to the tender meat.
BBQ Competition Secret: One of our BBQ friends recommended using disposable corrugated plastic for cutting boards. You can get them online or at a craft store.
Inject, rub and rest
The prep is probably one of the most debated topics when it comes to BBQ brisket. Some swear by injecting their meat for tenderness; others prefer to keep the meat “au naturel.”
You’re welcome to go either way, but I recommend trying an injection at least once. I think you’ll taste the difference. If you want to start simple, just inject your brisket with beef broth.
If you want do what the competitors do, combine 2 tablespoons of phosphates with 1 cup of beef broth. Phosphates help retain moisture. You can also add some rub to your broth, if the grains are small enough to fit through your injector.
What’s an injector? It’s an oversized needle that you can pick up online. You fill a narrow glass with your injection liquid, stick the needle in the glass and pull up on the plunger to fill the vial with fluid.
Then, just like giving a shot, pierce the brisket meat, and slowly push down on the plunger to inject broth into the meat. Continue doing this every inch or so across and down the meat, using up most, if not all, of the liquid.
Next, rub your meat all over with your favorite BBQ rub. I’m a huge fan of Code 3 Spices Rescue Rub and Grunt Rub for brisket. But rubs are as controversial as injections. Find one you really like or even make your own.
For the final prep step, rest your meat 6-12 hours in the fridge covered with plastic wrap. This allows all of that flavor you just added inside and out to really marry up with the meat.
Consider getting a pellet smoker
I’ve smoked on a Big Green Egg, an offset barrel smoker and a pellet smoker. My favorite method for a brisket is the pellet smoker, purely because it allows me to get on with my day without having to nurse the firebox for 8-12 hours.
Some may consider this a lazy approach, but I don’t care. I have ruined too many briskets because I got distracted. You want to keep your heat at 225-250. If you’re heat rises to 300+ without you realizing it, you’re not going to be happy with the final result.
I load my pellet smoker with cherry and hickory pellets and set it to 225 degrees. Once it’s ready, I add the prepped brisket to the smoker fat side up with the point (the thickest end) toward the hopper.
Temperature matters more than time
I can’t tell you how long to cook a brisket. It’s really more about color and temperature. You’ll want to use a thermometer to monitor the temp of your meat throughout the cook.
Where you put the probe matters.
The point part of the brisket will show a higher temp than the flat because it’s fattier. If you remove the meat from the smoker when the point is ready, the flat will not be juicy and tender enough. Insert the probe in the flat about an inch from where the point and flat meet.
Every hour or two, spritz the brisket with apple cider vinegar. Once it reaches about 165 degrees and has a beautiful mahogany bark, spritz it some more and wrap it tightly in two layers of foil. For an 11-pound brisket, this can take about 5-6 hours.
You want to keep that thermometer in the meat because this next temp is the most important part.
Continue cooking the brisket, until your meat temperature reaches 200-205 degrees. The competition diehards swear by 203 degrees, to be exact. For an 11-pound brisket, this can take another 3 hours.
When you pull it off the smoker, you’re not quite done – let it rest
After all of that hard work, I can’t stress how important this step is. You have to rest your brisket. Just think of this as part of the cooking process.
There’s a whole lot of science behind why this step is important, but to keep things simple –> this helps lock in the juicy flavor. Any step that locks in flavor is a good one. Right?
Remove your brisket from the smoker. Wrap it in one more piece of foil. Then, wrap it in a towel and place it in a large cooler (without ice). Leave it in the cooler for at least 3 hours.
Burnt ends are brisket gold
Okay. At this point, you’ve been so disciplined and patient, but there is one more magical step for the best bites of brisket. Adjust the smoker to 275 degrees.
Remove the brisket from the cooler and foil, and cut the flat end off. Wrap him back in foil, and return him to the cooler.
Cut the point end into one-inch chunks. Throw them in an aluminum pan, and gently toss them with more rub and your favorite sauce. Place the pan back on the smoker. Smoke for 1 hour to set the sauce.
During the last 15 minutes of smoking, pull the flat out of the cooler and slice it against the grain. Sprinkle with more rub and brush with remaining juices. A sign of a well-cooked brisket flat is it’s flexibility. If you can drape it over your finger, congratulations!
Remove the burnt ends from the smoker and serve the crowd. If you follow these tips and techniques, you should end up with the juiciest most flavorful brisket you’ve ever smoked.