The saying is true. Like most techniques, you don’t start out a master. Luckily you learn and grow as you go along, each time a little closer to your ideal. And when you’re talking smoked brisket, there’s a pretty steep learning curve.
The first brisket we didn’t prep the meat before smoking, and also didn’t smoke it long enough, which gave us a flabby, fatty, mostly inedible slab of meat. I hate to say, but the majority ended up in the trash. The bites we ate were out of pity because we couldn’t bear wasting so much meat and money.
The second attempt we bought a small piece of brisket with the fat pared off. The flavor was there, but it gave our jaws an excellent workout. We salvaged the rest by grinding it in the food processor, then lightly sautéeing with tomatillo salsa, cumin, garlic, and oregano. We piled the warm brisket mixture into fresh corn tortillas and topped with cabbage-carrot slaw, cilantro, avocado and sour cream. A C- meal became an A, but still there was room to improve.
So what was different the third time? How did we finally get melt-in-your-mouth, fork-shreddable brisket?
Step 1: Buy a full piece of brisket [ours was 11 lb] with all the fat in tact. A tip for telling if the piece has a lot of fat: the stiffer the meat, the more fat; the more pliable, the less fat.
Step 2: Trim the fat to a 1/4″ thickness all around the meat, and then score in a 1″-square checkerboard pattern.
Step 3: Rub your spice blend all over (we used Penzey’s BBQ 3000). Twice. Then immediately place the meat in a large roasting pan and pop it into the refrigerator to rest overnight.
Step 4: Wake up with the birds at about 5:30a [plan to eat around 6 pm], preheat your smoker and take the brisket out of the fridge to warm up.
Step 5: Allow the brisket to smoke [we used mesquite chips] at 220° F until the internal temperature reaches 190° F, about 11 hours. Keep the water pan inside the smoker filled with a mixture of beer and water.
Step 6: When the meat is at the target temp, remove it from the smoker and wrap tightly in foil to rest, about 30 minutes. Unwrap and shred with a serrated knife or two forks.
Step 7: Serve hot with a cold drink — Weihenstephaner hefeweiβ for instance! Stuff a popover with brisket and spicy whiskey barbecue sauce or just eat a plain pile of the stuff. You really can’t go wrong.
Yes we made a great brisket [and by ‘we’ I mean ‘mostly he’], but have we mastered it? Of course not. There is always room for improvement. And the best part is, we can eat our way to perfection!