brisket - smoking meatHomestead Smoked Beef Brisket

One of our favorite activities on the homestead is smoking meat on our Big Green Egg. We can’t say enough how much we love the hot, smoky, moist, and delicious briskets, ribs, chicken, and more that this bad-boy produces with patience and experience. We’ve been smoking meat on our Big Green Egg since the summer of 2011. As we recently celebrated our anniversary and wanted to enjoy a special meal prepared at home with love, we decided to smoke a brisket for the enjoyment of no one else but ourselves.

Brisket is a boneless cut of meat from the chest of beef cattle, and since the chest is extremely muscular and contains a significant amount of connective tissue, it must be prepared correctly in order to break down and tenderize the muscle and tissue. It’s worth it though, as brisket produces a very tender, moist, and delicious tasting meal, especially with the right selection, preparation, and serving methods. Considering their large size a full brisket will feed many hungry mouths.

Buying

If you plan to purchase a brisket you may need to call ahead and place an order with your butcher. Grocers often do not carry this large and heavy cut on their shelves. Tell your butcher you want the whole packer which consists of the flat and the point together. The flat and the point are the two sections that make up the complete brisket and will generally weigh anywhere from 9-16 pounds. One section is more lean and flatter while the other is fattier and round.

Recipes

Our favorite recipe, hands down, is a creation of the chefs of Cook’s Illustrated. After smoking several briskets following others recipes and preparation methods, including renowned BBQ personality, Steven Raichlen, kitchen scientist, Alton Brown (their recipes are similar), and the advice of countless online smoking, grilling, and Big Green Egg enthusiast websites, we struck gold with the precious nuggets of information found within the pages of “The New Best Recipe” by Cook’s Illustrated.

Not only do they provide recipes along with methods of preparation, which you’d expect from any cookbook, but they also provide very informative and conversational dialogue regarding the selection of cuts, the processes they tried that didn’t turn out great, as well as their final recommendation, and alternative instructions for people who need a quicker turn-around or are working with other sources of heat, like a gas grill versus a charcoal grill, electric smokers, or even, yes, an oven.

All of their recipes are developed like that. The book was approached from the angle that whatever recipe you’re using now may not be the best one, and they’re going to test them all and prove which one is best. In the end, your recipe, or grandma’s recipe for that matter, may actually be best, but you can bet the chefs in the kitchen at Cook’s Illustrated working on this book tried all of them, documented the process, tasted the final product, and then shared their findings as being the absolute best. With regard to their recipe for beef brisket, I’m on board. You can join their website for free for a period of time and download the article on Barbecued Beef Brisket on the Charcoal Grill, or you can review our summary below.


Dry rub

A dry rub is a critical step in achieving smoked brisket perfection. While many chefs say to let the meat stand on its own with just salt and pepper, all but the most extreme purists of beef brisket will much prefer a brisket that’s been seasoned well with the right amount of spices. We like to use the high-quality seasonings sold at Penzeys spice shop. They’re much more potent than the supermarket variety. If you cook a lot, it’s worth the investment for spices guaranteed to be fresh and flavorful. The recipe in “The New Best Recipe” recommends liberal application of a cup of the following combined dry rub seasonings per each 10 pound brisket to be smoked.

  • 4 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground oregano
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

For a dry rub to be effective you need to let the seasonings and the meat meld for a while. Wrap in plastic wrap overnight in the refrigerator for maximum flavor. An hour before smoking, while bringing our Big Green Egg up to temperature and soaking the wood chips, we take the rubbed brisket out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature.

Smoking

We stabilize the temperature in the Big Green Egg around 225 degrees. On a mild summer day we can hold that temperature for several hours without adding more hardwood charcoal. Soaked mesquite wood chips add an excellent flavor to brisket – so that’s what we use, and plenty of it. A 10 pound brisket is ready for the next step after 2 hours.

BGE thermometer - Smoking Meat

Finishing

At this point the meat isn’t ‘fall-apart tender’ yet so you will be able to move it with two pairs of tongs onto heavy-duty aluminum foil where you’ll be sealing it for moisture retention and improved temperature stability to power through ‘the stall’, a period of time when brisket refuses to increase in temperature as the collagen is breaking down and other processes work their magic.

Once sealed in foil, put it back on the Big Green Egg for several more hours. Add preheated coals if necessary, but beware you don’t exceed the desired temperature. 300 degrees for 3 or 4 hours is desirable. Too low and you’ll be waiting all day for brisket. Too high and you get more than just burnt ends. You’re leaving it on like this until the brisket hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees. Then pull it off. The instructions in The New Best Recipe are to finish in an oven preheated to 300 degrees. Good advice for a smoker that isn’t temperature controlled. I’ve personally had success with that finish method many times.

Resting

The hardest part of the process by far. It’s tempting to start eating now, but we promise you the rewards will be well worth the wait if you can set the foil-wrapped brisket into a cooler insulated with towels for about an hour. Resting is a step many people who like to grill and smoke meat sometimes skip, and those people aren’t going to enjoy their brisket as much as those who wait.

Slice and Serve

It’s going to be hot and it’s going to be juicy. You’ll need a large prep area to work. We recommend performing the following in a large, rimmed, glass pan. Open the foil slowly and save any juices. Separate the point from the flat (it’s held together by a layer of fat) and align the grains. Finally, carve it on the bias across the grain into long, thin slices. If you’ve reserved any brisket juices, pour those back over the brisket and serve!

We love our smoky, hot brisket with sides like grilled corn on the cob, a bread roll, chips, and other outdoor picnic fare. If you’re not serving for a crowd you will have leftovers. The leftovers are excellent in dishes like chilaquiles for breakfast the next morning, enchiladas, chili, and beef brisket sandwiches. We’ll be eating smoked beef brisket leftovers at the homestead for quite a few days…

If you’ve been avoiding smoking a big beef brisket for any reason, contact me. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have and offer helpful tips. Sometimes you just need someone to talk you through the process.

What’s your favorite smoky food? Do you have any recommendations or suggestions we should try next time on the Big Green Egg?