Let’s discuss some incredibly important topics to help you avoid common mistakes with smoked brisket, preventing you from one of the most stressful experiences with low and slow barbecue.
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It’s hard to beat a juicy, tender slice of smoked brisket. Preparing smoked brisket doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. I get it though – there’s so much love that goes into it, you don’t want to mess it up! This huge cut of multiple muscles takes almost twice as long as anything comparable to cook. Whole packer cuts typically cost north of $75, so it’s not an inexpensive mistake if it doesn’t impress you.
We’ve all had brisket that’s drier, crispier, and chewier than we hoped for. Just know that if you’ve experienced any of these difficulties or stress, you are not alone. My goal is to share some common mistakes everyone makes when smoking a brisket. Read on, and arm yourself with some guidance to boost your skills!
Picking the Right Brisket
The grocery store has brisket on sale for $2.29 a pound. You call up your friends and tell them it’s barbecue time tomorrow. Grab up the biggest one you can and throw it in your cart because it’s brisket time, baby!
Let’s talk about how to pick a brisket, this is where the process starts:
- Look at the marbling. Not every Prime or Choice are exactly the same. Sometimes you’ll be fortunate and find a Choice that’s amazing. Look at the marbling and fat content. Will you be trimming off 1/4th of the brisket? Does it appear to be too lean? Is there enough fat cap?
- Feel it. Picking up a thawed brisket can tell you a LOT. It should be tender, give some natural bend. It should not be so firm that it doesn’t flop a little bit in your arms. This is an indication of how tender it will be.
- Don’t skimp on size. The best size is at least around 12 pounds for a whole packer. Avoid any whole packers that are smaller than 10 pounds, generally, the muscles don’t cook properly together like the larger ones and you’ll risk inconsistency. I’ve seen plenty of “whole packer” 7-pound briskets that are trimmed so misshapen I would have never guessed it was brisket.
- The thickness of the flat. Purchase a brisket that has more thickness in the flat, the thinner side of the whole packer. I’ve passed up the opportunity to purchase brisket many times because all of the options will have flats that are 1″ or less in thickness. I do not want to waste my time and resources on a dry flat. Be picky!
There are some guaranteed ways to purchase a beautiful beef brisket, but it will cost you. It’s absolutely worth it once you feel confident to go through the process. The best briskets come with a price for a reason.
Purchase at a butcher. Your local butchers are usually going to have amazing cuts of whole packer beef brisket. Call them ahead of time and make sure. Ask them for advice, but be prepared to spend. They would love to tell you about where the beef comes from, and the quality you should expect.
Purchase online. Many online retailers strive for consistency and quality. I’ve enjoyed briskets from Omaha Steaks, which are always around 12 pounds and flash-frozen. They arrived vacuum-sealed, ready to thaw in the fridge. Thankfully the butchers trim them just enough, but not too much, so I’m able to customize it the way I’d like to when I prepare. Their whole beef briskets are also wet-aged, which causes them to be more tender.
Seasoning the Brisket
It’s hard to beat the classic blend of salt and pepper, especially if you tend to love the Texas-style of smoked brisket. I won’t argue that it’s one of the best flavor combinations. There are so many different regional styles, and competition syles that it’s hard to choose! Ultimately you’ll just have to prepared a few smoked briskets to narrow down what you enjoy the most.
I highly recommend using salt and fine-mesh black pepper for your first few briskets, until you’re comfortable with smoking them. This rub will be the most consistent, and provide the least amount of variables for the process.
My only real advice with seasoning brisket is to make sure that the brisket needs to taste like brisket when it’s done. It shouldn’t be so loaded with salts and sugars that all you taste is smoke and crusty bark. Here are some of my favorite seasoning blends to give you options, while providing amazing flavors:
- Christie Vanover’s Competition Brisket Rub: She’s a regular winner on the competition circuit, and shares her blend for us to use. This is a huge hit if your goal is to mimic the delicious and sweeter style of competition smoked brisket. The bark won’t have the super-dark crust you might see with classic Texas brisket, but it has an amazingly complex flavor.
- Chef Chad White’s Brisket Bomb: This Top Chef contestant opened multiple restaurants, and is sharing his delicious coffee-boosted brisket rub. This is a simpler combination, closer to the Texas-style you might crave. The coffee used has complex notes of black cherry and dry cacao, elevating the bark with earthy tones.
- Reload Rub Fully Loaded: Our family favorite that ends up on just about everything. This is a signature blend from Reload Rubs & Seasonings, and it’s easy to see why. Packed with herbs, garlic, and onion, each slice will be quite savory and pairs well with all types of foods. Substitute your Thanksgiving turkey with a Fully Loaded brisket and you’ll never look back. Code: CHILES for 10% off, no kickback for me, this is for you.
Over time I’ll continue to update this list. There are SO MANY delicious rubs and blends out there, I chose just a few with various flavor profiles to provide ideas. Please let me know if you’d like me to review or add another seasoning to this list.
Rest Your Brisket Properly
What does “resting a brisket” mean? Resting a brisket properly means allowing it to cool at room temperature for as long as possible, without dropping below 140 F (food safety). This is critical with briskets for a few reasons, mainly for moisture.
Resting a brisket properly means allowing it to cool at room temperature for as long as possible, without dropping below 140 F (food safety).
How Resting a Brisket Works
When you’re smoking the brisket, the water content rises to the surface between the fibers. You’ll see pools of liquid seep out as they evaporate, leaving the brisket. This causes the brisket to shrink in size.
Once you remove the brisket from the smoker, the moisture no longer evaporates – it stays near the surface of the meat. As the brisket rests and cools, it will seep back into the fibers and thicken.
Slicing into a steak too early will spill the juices out on the board, which prompts most chefs to rest their steaks for 5-10 minutes. It’s the same here, except that briskets are so large that the time is 1-2 hours, depending on the size.
Resting Versus Holding Temp
This is probably the most important section in the entire article: Resting is not the same thing as holding temperature inside an insulated cooler.
Let’s talk about this, it’s pretty important. You just read above that the moisture will seep back into the brisket as it cools. The idea of “holding temperature” is to keep the brisket warm for a longer period of time because your dinner is a few hours away. During this time, the juices are sitting near the surface of the meat, or worse, seeping out because the brisket is so warm in its blanket that it’s continuing to cook.
You’ll open up that beautiful present and see all of those delicious juices. Slicing into that brisket flat you’ll suddenly realize that juice was supposed to BE INSIDE, not poured out into the wrapping. What a bummer…
Just to be clear, I am not against holding temperature. You’ll need to be cautious about how long you hold the temperature to make sure it’s not overcooked. Choosing to do so means that you still need to give it time to rest afterward, cooling and redistributing the juices.
- Rest the brisket at room temperature. This will cool the brisket more quickly, firming up the bark and keeping the juices intact. It will not stay warm as long as other methods, so just be aware before you serve.
- Rest the brisket wrapped in the butcher paper. Don’t peek! You did all of that hard work, so let it sit for a bit longer without opening. I know you can do it. This is a critical step to make sure it can come down in temperature slowly. The porous butcher paper minimizes overcooking.
- Rest until at least 180F. I will typically let it sit for 2 hours, and then move it to an insulated cooler that has foil on the bottom. If you put it in a cooler right away it will keep cooking from that high 200+ temperature and that’s not good.
Avoiding Common Mistakes with Smoked Brisket
Hopefully, you found this helpful to discuss common mistakes with smoked brisket. Let me know if you have any thoughts or would like to see more discussions!
Bottom line: Rest your brisket for at least an hour at room temperature. Placing in a cooler immediately to keep it warm is not resting. It needs time to cool and redistribute juices.
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Excellent summary. I needed this.
Thank you! There’s so much info out there, it’s hard to pick the most helpful tips to share.
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Thank you so much!
Great stuff! I cooked my first brisket last weekend. Had great flavor but lacked a good smoke ring. Gives me a reason to try another one soon, hehe