How to Smoke a Brisket


Brisket is one of the ‘Big Three’ of classic meats to smoke that needs to be cooked slow and low.  This means a slow cooking speed and a low cooking temperature to get that ultimate taste and flavor.

How to Choose a Brisket

When you purchase a brisket for smoking, most will buy a whole brisket as this gives you the freedom to trim to your liking.  You can also get a trimmed brisket.  If you decide to buy a whole brisket, look for one that has a thick layer of fat one-quarter to a half-inch thick. 

 Look for marbling, which is meat fibers with the fat mixed in. Brisket is a naturally tough piece of meat and the more marbling there is the juicier and tender the meat. Make sure that the fat is bright white and the meat is deep red in color.  If it is yellow, the brisket is not fresh or has been frozen. From my experience, a fresh piece of brisket wins over a frozen one every time.

Keep in mind when choosing your brisket that it can shrink up to 50% of its original size when cooked and that’s not including removing the fat if you go untrimmed. Butcher’s recommend 1/3 pound of cooked brisket per person, so an 8-pound brisket cooked to 4 pounds will yield approximately 12 servings.

Prepping the Brisket and Trim the Fat

For the brisket to be tender, you need to let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.  If you eliminate this step the brisket will not be as favorable. After you unpack a brisket, let it drain in the sink at least five minutes.  If the fat cap is more than one-quarter to half an inch thick, you will need to trim it. 

At this point, you can separate it into the point and flat or leave it whole.  Using a cross-hatch pattern, cut down to the meat fibers so any marinade or dry rub can reach the meat. Check for any excess silver skin and remove it as this can reduce smoke penetration.

Rub or Marinate the Brisket

You can buy a rub or make your own. When I buy a rub, I go with Kosmos beef rub, but you can also get a rub from the grocery store.  If you choose to make your own, include garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and paprika in a bowl.  If you want a sweet barbeque taste, add some brown sugar.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Pour it on the brisket and rub it in.

 The marinade is a liquid that uses wet ingredients to tenderize the meat.  As with rubs, you can buy premade or make your own.  When making your own, you can use olive oil, maple syrup, salt, brown sugar, and vinegar.  Put the brisket in a large baking dish.  Mix the ingredients and pour over the brisket, covering it on all sides.

When refrigerating the brisket overnight, wrap the rubbed brisket or cover the baking dish with the marinating brisket so it can tenderize. When you are ready to cook the brisket, let it come to room temperature a couple of hours before smoking.

Preparing the Smoker

Make sure that you have preheated the smoker for at least thirty minutes.  The wood chips you are using need to soak in water for sixty minutes.  Put the drip pan below where the brisket will be to catch the dripping fat.  You also need to have a water pan to keep moisture in the smoker.

Good choices for the wood chips would be oak, hickory, and maple.  If you want a sweet, fruity flavor, use apple wood.  Use mesquite if you want a Texas-style brisket.

Smoking the Brisket

The actual cooking time will depend on the qualities of the brisket and the temperature of the smoker. Put the brisket fat side up but not directly over the heat, but put the fat side down if the heat is coming from below the brisket.  The fattier end should be closer to the fire and the flat end closer to the smokestack.  In the middle of the cooking cycle, rotate it 180°.   

If you want to baste it, do not do it more than once an hour.  Basting it will add extra flavor and keep the meat moist but basting is not necessary.  When the internal temper is 185°, the brisket should be done.  Remove from the smoker and put it on a serving dish.

If the internal temperature ‘stalls’ between 160° and 170°, remove from the smoker.  Place it on butcher paper or aluminum foil and wrap tight, using two layers.  Put back into smoker until it reaches the correct temperature.  

How Long to Smoke a Brisket at 225

The actual time would depend on the weight.  You should cook it for one hour and fifteen minutes per pound.  If it weighs ten pounds you would cook it for almost twelve hours.  This is the best temperature to cook a brisket

How Long to Smoke a Brisket at 250

Since you are cooking brisket at a higher temperature, you should figure an hour per pound.

Serving Your Brisket

The brisket needs to rest for sixty minutes after it is taken out of the smoker. When you slice the brisket, do it against the grain on the flat side until you get to the point.  Turn it 90° and start cutting again.  This will help the brisket not fall apart and keep it tender. 

It is suggested that to cut your brisket, you should use a twelve-inch serrated knife. You can serve it straight out of the smoker or put the slices in barbeque sauce and let rest for ten minutes.

In Conclusion:

At first, you may feel a bit intimidated by smoking such a large piece of meat that is known to be tough unless cooked correctly.  If you remember that it takes time and patience to make it melt-in-your-mouth tender, then you will have no problem.  Slow and low is how you smoke a brisket.  Using the right wood and a good rub or marinade will give you a tender, juicy brisket that you will be proud to serve.

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