Texas Style Smoked Beef Brisket

Paulo has been honing his BBQ skills ever since we got our Big Green Egg last year. Smoking a whole beef brisket is the ultimate challenge and he decided to do it Texas style, following the method of legendary pitmaster Aaron Franklin. After all, the brisket trend originated in Texas and barbecue beef brisket is considered their national dish.

It’s important to note that US brisket is different to what we know as brisket in the UK, namely a rolled and tied cut of meat that is slow roasted in the oven. Cattle breeds in the UK are smaller so the brisket needs to be treated more delicately as it’s less able to endure heat and doesn’t have the protective fat content and connective tissue for the cooking process. Brisket from the USA is larger, juicier and more stable.

Brisket comes from the cow’s lower chest area, which has coarse muscle fibres that are tightly bound together so it’s a notoriously difficult cut of meat to get right. Get it wrong and it will be tough and hard. Brisket should be cooked low and slow in a smoker as it breaks down the connective tissue for a juicy, tender result. It’s very time-consuming but so worth it for smoky, smooth, buttery brisket with a soft, sticky crust (bark) packed with flavour!

The whole brisket, known as a “packer cut” in the US, comes vacuum packed and is left untrimmed. More on trimming the fat later but in essence, the fat helps keep the brisket moist during the cooking process. The whole brisket includes the point (the thicker, fattier end) and the flat (the flatter, leaner end). Some cooks separate the two for better control over the cooking but we did it Franklin style.

Paulo started off by sourcing USDA certified black angus beef brisket and specialist online butchers Tom Hixson of Smithfield delivered, literally and figuratively. Aside from being helpful on Paulo’s initial phone call, they had a 5kg full brisket in stock. With only a two-day turnaround from the moment we placed our order, the brisket was freshly delivered in a lined box with hydrated gel ice sheets. We were impressed by the quality, marbling and tenderness of the beef.

Our brisket was USDA Choice grade, below the ultimate Prime but above Select. Prime is not easy to find in retail markets so Choice was perfectly fine. Select grade isn’t recommended as it lacks the juiciness and flavour required for a good brisket.

A whole brisket typically feeds about 15 hungry people. Trim the fat whilst the brisket is still cold and leave a fat cap of about a quarter inch to help seal in moisture. The fat continuously keeps the meat moist by rendering down during the smoking process.

To quote Shakespeare out of context, “Ay, there’s the rub.” The rub is strictly no-frills: just half salt, half pepper. Combine equal measures of sea salt and freshly ground pepper in a shaker. The rub shouldn’t overpower the flavour of the meat so there’s no need to pile on the rub but do give it a good sprinkling.

Aaron Franklin shows how to trim the brisket and apply the rub in this video:

Whilst the rub is nestling nicely into the meat and the brisket is warming up to room temperature, it’s time to fire up the Big Green Egg. Add some pre-soaked apple wood chunks to the charcoal then add the plate setter (convEGGtor) in the inverted position (legs up) for indirect cooking. Put the grid on. After an hour and a half or once the dirty smoke becomes clear, lift the grid and place a pan filled with water, beer and apple juice on the plate setter. This will help keep the meat moist and provide additional flavour.

Once the thermometer on the Big Green Egg reaches 250°F (120°C) place the brisket fat side up on the grid with the point (thicker, fattier) end at the back. Part of our Big Green Egg is hotter at the back so the flat (thinner) end won’t burn and the brisket will cook evenly throughout. Franklin’s formula for cooking brisket is 1 hour – 1 hour and 15 minutes per LB (0.45kg) at 250°F (120°C).

More information from the brisket master:

“If you’re looking you ain’t cooking” so don’t open the lid for a least 6 hours. You’ll be losing heat and won’t get the nice, thick bark that’s so vital to a good brisket. At the 6 hour mark (Paulo did this at 3am, now that’s dedication), spritz the entire surface of the brisket with apple juice.

For this brisket, we got past the stall (when the internal temperature of the meat stops rising) at around 10 hours by taking the brisket out of the Big Green Egg and wrapping it tightly in aluminium foil (or better yet, pink butcher paper but we didn’t find any). This method, called the Texas Crutch, speeds up cooking as the steam from the moisture tenderises the meat. Paulo knew it was time to use the crutch when the brisket had a deep reddish brown, nearly black crust on the exterior. He then put the brisket back in the Big Green Egg to finish cooking.

In this case, the brisket was ready after a total of 13 hours. Paulo transferred it from the Big Green Egg to a “faux cambro” (we used a portable cooler). He kept the brisket wrapped in aluminium foil and put a tea towel around it. With the cooler lid tightly closed, holding the brisket for a few hours helps the tenderisation process as it still continues to cook slowly whilst cooling down. This carryover cooking helps melt the tough connective tissue. Also, the dried out surface parts absorb the juices captured in the aluminium foil wrapping.

Then came the moment of truth! Paulo unwrapped the brisket and the bark was black. It looked charred like a meteorite but that’s the way it should be. This doesn’t mean it’s burnt. It’s what’s known as “black gold” and the peppery, sticky, caramel-y bark is the key to a flavoursome brisket. Granted, it’s not pretty to look at but you’ll soon forget once the slicing begins.

It’s important to slice against the grain. The brisket should be moist and juicy but not fall under its own weight when you pick up a slice. It should be able to be pulled apart delicately (known as the “pull test”). The slices should have a pink smoke ring and the fat rendered off.

Watch Aaron Franklin discuss what makes a good brisket and how to slice it:

As Aaron Franklin says, brisket is a very uneven cut of meat, fatty in some parts, lean in others. Some of it is thick, some of it’s thin. The challenge is to have an equal amount of tenderness all the way through. I think Paulo did an excellent job smoking his first Texas style brisket. Our guests were certainly impressed with their first US brisket!

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