There are many ways to cook a beef brisket, and this is just one, but it’s easy and people love it. You won’t find this recipe in any book. You can find recipes that involve cooking less than 12 hours, but you won’t like them as well.
Brisket is a tough cut that, most agree, takes a whole 12 hours to cook. Most of the briskets I buy are about 13 pounds, and are NOT trimmed. If you get one that is abnormally large or thick, or very small, use your judgment to adjust this recipe. Otherwise, the recipe is very well calibrated and has stood the test of time. Ordinarily, I do all my cooking on a wood fire, but who wants to inhale that much smoke. So, I cook it 6 hours in the oven (wrapped) and 6 hours on the wood fire (exposed), and stay away from the smoke. Regulating the temperature is quite important, so I take care to control the fire at all times using the vents on the smoker. I use a traditional smoker with fire box at one end, barrel in the middle, and chimney at the other end. The brisket goes midway in the smoker, under the thermometer (a must have), with the large end of the brisket toward the fire. It is really important to place the brisket fat side up.
Put the brisket in a “hobo pack” made of aluminum foil all around. Assemble it as follows:
Lay 5-6 feet of 18-inch wide, heavy aluminum foil on the kitchen counter. To size the foil, we will be laying the brisket at one end and wrapping the foil over the top, then crimping the edges of the upper and lower foil tightly all around. So, the foil needs to be longer than 2 times the length of the brisket. 18-inch wide foil has worked for every brisket I’ve done. That’s where we’re headed, but the brisket must be seasoned first.
Chop up 2 or 3 large onions, not finely. A layer of onion will be placed underneath and on top of the brisket. Place half of the onion on the foil where the brisket will go.
Remove the brisket from its bag. I always rinse it, but opinions vary.
Lay the brisket fat side DOWN on top of the onion. Sprinkle your favorite seasonings, rubs, whatever on the “meat side”. I sprinkle a very thick layer of Fiesta Extra Fancy Salt-Free Brisket Rub, thick enough to hide the meat. Then, I add a moderately thick coat of coarse-ground black pepper. I love the freshness of the Kirkland brand from Costco. Most people would add salt, quite a bit, but I can’t handle it. Then, rub the seasonings into the meat so they won’t fall off when you flip it over.
Now, flip the brisket over so it is fat side up (important), and add the seasonings, similarly. Then, place the remaining onions on top. Part of the function of the onions is to separate the foil from the meat, so spread them out.
Lift the extra few feet of foil over the top of the brisket so the upper and lower edges are together. Crimp it thoroughly all the way around. As the brisket cooks quite a lot of juice will accumulate in the foil. You don’t want this getting out; it will mess up your oven. So, try to orient the crimps at least an inch above the bottom of the foil. If you’re the least concerned about leakage, place the whole package in a large, flat pan if available. (I do). Don’t put a lid on the pan.
Consider timing. The cooked brisket will have an excellent shelf life of a few hours. However, some people like meats served right off the fire. (I do). So, I back up 12 hours from serving time to start the oven, and I hit the numbers very closely. An oven with a timer is priceless. I also like to start cooking with the meat at room temperature. So, I take it out of the refrigerator several hours before starting the oven. Cook the brisket in the oven at 280 degrees for a whole 6 hours.
Prepare for some very nice smells while cooking in the oven.
After about 5 hours in the oven, prepare to start the fire, clean the grill, and raise the temperature to a stable 260 degrees. (Details below). Then, transfer the brisket to the smoker, rather quickly, and remove the foil. I put the brisket, fat side up, directly on the grill. Considerable juice will drip off the meat, so it’s important that no fire is directly below the meat (really).
Various woods are used in cooking red meat. I like a combination of 40% mesquite, 40% oak, and 20% hickory, but 100% oak works nicely, too. If post oak is available, use it. You’ll need 8-12 pieces of wood that will fit in your firebox and use most of its width, depth, and height.
In stacking the wood, I start with a small amount of Kingsford regular charcoal at the bottom, perhaps 30 pieces. It will start the wood burning and be gone quickly. Build a dome of charcoal, and use a small amount of charcoal lighter fluid to get it going. When it’s burning well (20 minutes), spread it out in the middle of the firebox, in a square one layer thick. Then, stack the pre-selected wood, chimney-style, on top of the charcoal, 3 layers in each direction, leaving at least a 4″ x 4″ aperture at the top of the chimney. Good air flow is important to having a controllable, maintenance-free fire. Of course, if you have a very large smoker, you will need a larger fire and larger aperture. To get it raging quickly, pitch some thin kindling down the aperture. (NEVER use more charcoal lighter fluid). Our goal is to hit and hold 260 degrees (preferably without adding wood later), so we will overshoot by 20-30 degrees for maybe 5 minutes with the vents wide open and the door to the firebox cracked, then close the door and adjust the vents to where we expect them to be about right. Adjust the chimney vent halfway open and the firebox vent 10% open. The temperature will drop and stabilize in 10 minutes. If the fire is lit well, and there is plenty of wood, the temperature will stabilize to 250-325. Make fine adjustments to both vents to hit and hold 260 +/- 10, with an average of 260.
When the fire is ready, move the brisket (pan, foil, and all) from the oven and place it on a table near the grill, and remove the foil. Using a large fork and spachula, move the brisket into the smoker, directly under the thermometer, large side toward the fire, fat side up. Close the lid and don’t open it for at least 5.5 hours. If you hit the numbers, you won’t burn the brisket, and it will be damn close to perfect, so there will be no need to open the smoker lid (really). Stay out no matter how good it smells!
Early-on, the firebox vent might be very nearly closed, but as the fire burns down the temperature will tend to drop and you’ll need to open it more and more. I always plan on staying nearby the entire time, checking once every 5-10 minutes. If the temperature should runaway quickly, you could burn the brisket, so close both vents fully, ASAP, and wait for the temp to plunge to perhaps 240. Then open them slowly and let it creep back to 260, and drink less beer. Do not adjust the cooking time or temperature, just get back on plan.
You will not be happy with tough, under-cooked brisket, and 260 will not burn it. Don’t inhale much smoke and have plenty of liquids nearby. It’s a good time to have your laptop and perhaps music also. Above all, enjoy your time off!
If you have questions, catch me on twitter ( @daytrend ) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.