Brisket is a tough, flavorful cut of beef from the breast or lower chest of the cow. It’s one of the most popular meats for barbecuing because it becomes fall-apart tender after hours of slow, low heat smoking.
Cooking brisket can be intimidating for backyard BBQ enthusiasts. It takes patience and precise temperature control over many hours to break down the connective tissues. Rush the process, and you’ll end up with a dry, chewy final product.
But have no fear – if you follow my steps for prep, seasoning, temperature control and resting, you’ll be making restaurant-quality smoked brisket consistently.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover:
- Selecting and preparing the right cut of brisket
- Proper seasoning and marinating techniques
- Setting up your smoker or grill for optimal heat control
- Step-by-step instructions for low and slow cooking
- Determining doneness and ideal internal temperatures
- Slicing, serving and storing leftover brisket
- Troubleshooting common brisket problems
By the end of this post, you’ll have all the knowledge needed to make tender, mouthwatering smoked brisket every time. Let’s get started!
Selecting and Preparing the Right Brisket
The first step in perfect brisket is choosing the best cut of meat. Here’s what to look for:
- Packer cut – This is the full untrimmed brisket with the flat cut and point cut still intact. This allows for the most even smoking and best flavor distribution.
- Well marbled – Look for good marbling between muscle fibers to keep the meat moist during low and slow cooking. Avoid cuts with large areas of visible fat which won’t render correctly.
- Even thickness – Try to find a brisket with relatively even thickness from one end to the other. This will prevent undercooking or burning.
- Approximately 1 pound per person – For backyard BBQ, plan for around 1 pound of raw brisket per person after trimming. An 8-12 lb packer brisket serves 8-12 people.
Once you’ve selected the right brisket, trim off any excess hard fat caps while leaving a thin layer over the meat. The fat cap will help keep the brisket moist.
Apply a dry rub all over the brisket at least 4 hours or preferably 12-24 hours before cooking. This seasons the meat and results in a thicker, flavorful bark when smoked.
Let the brisket come up to room temperature before putting it on the smoker. Now it’s ready for the grill!
Setting Up Your Smoker or Grill
Low and slow smoking is the key to tender brisket. Set up your smoker or grill for indirect cooking at a temperature between 225-250°F using your choice of wood chips, chunks or pellets.
Here are some tips:
- Keep the brisket on the opposite side from the heat source. This slows cooking.
- Soak wood chips in water for 30 minutes then add to charcoal or scatter over a hot plate in electric smokers.
- Use wood pellets in pellet grills designed for low and slow barbecuing.
- Add a water pan to help maintain humidity and prevent drying out.
- Clean grill grates and coat with oil to prevent brisket sticking.
Maintaining an even, low temperature through the entire long cooking time is crucial. Keep the grill’s air vents and dampers adjusted to hold the heat at 225-250°F. It takes patience, but the payoff is worth it.
Step-By-Step Low and Slow Smoking Process
Now comes the fun part – smoking the world’s most perfect brisket low and slow. Here’s exactly how I do it:
- Place the brisket fat side up on the grill’s top rack furthest from the heat source.
- Smoke uncovered for the first 3-4 hours while monitoring temperature. You want the heat steady at 225-250°F.
- Spritz with apple juice or broth every 45-60 minutes to keep the brisket moist.
- Wrap in butcher paper once a nice bark has formed and the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.
- Continue smoking while wrapped until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 200-205°F. This can take 6-8+ hours.
- Remove from smoker and let rest wrapped for at least 1-2 hours before slicing and serving.
The most important temperatures to know when smoking brisket are:
- 160°F – Wrap in butcher paper at this point to power through the stall.
- 195-205°F – Target final internal temperature for perfectly cooked brisket.
Use a digital meat thermometer to monitor the internal temp of the thickest part of the flat without touching the bone. The brisket is ready when a probe slides in with little resistance.
Resting, Slicing and Serving Brisket
Resist the urge to slice into the smoked brisket immediately. Letting it rest is one of the most important steps.
Rest the brisket for 1-2 hours wrapped in a cooler or oven on the “keep warm” setting. This allows the juices to reabsorb back into the meat.
When ready to serve, transfer the rested brisket to a cutting board. Slice across the grain in 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices. Cutting this way makes the brisket more tender.
Serve smoked brisket warm with your favorite BBQ sides like baked beans, coleslaw, cornbread and pickles. Have a selection of sauces on hand for guests to dress their brisket sandwiches.
Leftover brisket keeps well refrigerated for 5-7 days. Reheat slices wrapped in foil in a 300°F oven until warm. The meat also freezes well for 2-3 months.
Tips for Smoked Brisket Success
It can take a few tries to get brisket just right. Here are some troubleshooting tips:
- Use a water pan – This helps regulate temperature swings and prevents the brisket from drying out.
- Wrap at the stall – Foil or butcher paper wrapping powers through the 160-170°F stall for tender results.
- Spritz while unwrapped – A spritz of apple juice every 45-60 minutes injects moisture.
- Don’t peek! Limit opening the smoker to prevent heat loss.
- Rest sufficiently – Never rush slicing or the moisture won’t be reabsorbed.
- Maintain steady heat – Uneven cooking temps lead to dry or tough meat.
Smoking tender, juicy brisket takes patience for low and slow cooking. But with my tips on selecting quality meat, proper seasoning, temperature control, and resting, you’ll have perfect backyard brisket every time.
The next time you host a BBQ, impress your guests with succulent smoked brisket. Just be prepared for lots of requests to make it again!
Now get out there, fire up your smoker, and enjoy the ultimate BBQ meat. Let me know your own brisket tips and tricks in the comments.