Welcome back to Djalali Cooks Too. I’m Alex, Kelly’s husband. Last week, I showed you how to make egg fried rice with pulled pork. Today, we’re gonna pull out the big guns and try our hand at Texas brisket. On the scale of easy-to-hard, last week’s cook was relatively easy. Today’s… well, it’s hard.
If you’re into BBQ, brisket is basically the Holy Grail. Pit masters spend a lifetime perfecting their recipes. (Check out Franklin BBQ for example.) And if you like meat, there’s nothing quite like a well-cooked one. I’ve been smoking meat for about two years now, and brisket has historically been the biggest pain in my you-know-what. I have ruined so many, it’s embarrassing. But not today. Not today.
Taken from the lower chest of a steer, the brisket is a combination of two primal cuts: the point (aka ‘the deckel’) and the flat—both separated by a large fat band. You can cook each cut individually, but if you cook both, you’re cooking what’s called a ‘full packer’. You can think of the point as the ‘prime rib’ of the brisket; it’s the fattier of the two. The flat would be the ‘sirloin’; it’s much more lean. Something for everyone, really.
Full packers range in size, roughly 10-20lbs. Today, we’re going with a 13.5lb full packer Not huge, but big. Definitely big.
If you’re going with USDA meat, you’re gonna want a choice or prime, preferably the latter. If you’re a pit master, American Wagyu is the way to go. The difference is ultimately the marbling: the more expensive the meat, the more fat marbling there is; and the more marbling, the more flavor. I went with choice today, ’cause that’s what the butcher had. And if you’re not confident in your brisket skills, which I’m not, you don’t want to blow $200 on an overcooked brisket.
Cooking Temp & Time
If you’re gonna smoke your brisket between 250-275 Fahrenheit, anticipate 1-1.5 hrs/lb. I’m no good at math, but we’re in it for the long haul. Important thing, here, is that we’re not cooking to time. We’re not even cooking to temp, at least not initially. We are cooking to color and feel. Already feel overwhelmed? Yeah, me too. Good thing, there are tons and tons of good resources online.
I’m gonna try and streamline the process a bit today and hit the high notes. You can rabbit-hole into any of the below sections, and I’ve tried to provide you with ample links as resources. But if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. With that, here’s how I spent 19 hours.
Prepping the Smoker
8:00AM: Opened fridge. Stared at brisket. Stared some more. And some more. Thorn in my side. Shut fridge. Not today.
10:00AM: At the fridge again. Stared at brisket some more. And some more. Shut fridge. Not today.
11:25 AM: And opened it again. And shut it, again. Fine. We’re doing this. Today.
11:30 AM: Cheated and went with the minion method today: fresh bed of unlit lump charcoal , spread out evenly in the Yoder’s offset firebox. Hopefully no one will gonna find out I’m a cheater.
11:35AM: Heated remaining coals in a chimney. Popped my first Miller Lite (of many).
11:55AM: Coals are lit. Beer is finished. Poured the hot coals—no, not the beer—on the unlit ones. Time to split some wood.
12:00PM: Went Texas-style, so post oak wood today. Picked up two packs from Academy Sports. Should be enough for the full cook. Damn. Probably shoulda bought another bag just to be safe. Gonna go with it. Split logs into halves.
12:10PM: First logs went on the fire. Fire box is totally open. Want an oxygen-rich, clean burn. Temp is rising past 150 Fahrenheit. Popped another beer.
12:30PM: Blue, clean smoke. Temp hit 215 Fahrenheit. Opened exhaust fully, but shut intakes to hold temp while I trim.
12:35PM: Brisket came “trimmed”, but not really. (Trimmed brisket = cheater. Yup, I’m doubly cheating today.) Trick is to hold the brisket from underneath so it “flops” into an arch, and makes your cuts while holding the brisket. Makes trimming way, way easier. Took off about a pound of fat. Started with the point—hard fat has gotta go; it won’t render. Gonna take a little off of the flat too. A little silver skin leftover is fine.
12:45PM: Flipped that bad boy over. Careful now, don’t want my back to go out. Now for the fat cap. Want about .25-.5 inch fat cap. Doesn’t have to be perfect—not a cooking competition.
12:49PM: Cut the corner off the flat, ’cause it’s too thin. It’ll burn and won’t cook evenly. Also, cutting it will help me remember which direction the grain of the meat is running, which will be helpful when it comes time to slice.
12:50PM: Applied the rub. Like I said Texas-style: 50/50 Kosher salt & coarse-grind black pepper. Held the shaker about 6 inches above the meat for an even coating. Didn’t forget the sides.
12:55PM: I’m gonna let the meat sit while I get the smoker up to temp. Want the brisket to come to room temp and sweat. Gonna take about 45 minutes. Sweet meat sweat. (Really, it’s a thing.)
The Pre-wrap Smoke
1:00PM: Beer time. And yes, another Millter Lite.
1:02PM: Back tending the fire. Opened up the intake and threw another log on. Want the temp to reach and hold at 275 Fahrenheit. Not quite low and slow. Definitely not hot and fast. Goldilocks.
1:35PM: Holding steady at 275. Meat goes on with the point towards the firebox. It’s the thickest part of the meat, so I want it closet to the fire. Man, I’m nervous. Don’t want to screw this one up.
4:30PM: Held the fire steady for 3 hours, which takes about one log every 45-60 minutes. Did not open the smoker, ’cause if you’re looking, you ain’t cooking. At the 3 hour mark, I opened the pit and spritzed the meat with a 50/50 water/apple cider vinegar solution. Don’t want the brisket drying out.
5:30PM: Still monitoring the fire, keeping it between 265-285 Fahrenheit. (It’s OK if it oscillates a bit.) Every hour, I spritzed with my solution. Haven’t probed it for temp yet. Judging only by color: I want a dark, not-quite-black burgundy before I pull and wrap.
7:30PM: And again.
8:30PM: And again again.
9:30:PM: And and again again. (Yup, I had a few more beers somewhere in there.)
10:30PM: It’s ready to wrap. How did I know? Color is where I want it: again, a dark not-quite-black burgundy. Touch is where I want it. Pushing down on the point, the meat depresses and doesn’t pop back up quickly. And a quick temp probe reveals the point is at 180 Fahrenheit and the flat is at 170. At a minimum both should be at or above 160.
10:35PM: Brought in the brisket to wrap. Cut two sheets of butcher paper about 3 feet long. Smeared beef tallow and laid the brisket fat cap down. You don’t have to use beef tallow, but the theory is is that it helps retain moisture for the final half of the cook. And believe me, no one, and I mean no one wants a dry brisket.
The Final Cook
10:45PM: Brisket went back on the grill with a temp probe in the point. The flat end toward the firebox, this time. Now it’s just about maintaining temp and waiting.
12:00AM: Brisket stalled. Normal, but weird to watch it drop in temp.
1:00AM: Switched from beer to coffee.
2:00AM: More coffee and threw on 13 Going on 30, because why not.
3:00AM: More coffee, please.
4:30AM: Internal temp hit 200 Fahrenheit. Pulled that sucker. But not done yet. Not by a long shot. The brisket went into a cooler to rest for two hours. (Any cooler will do as long as it’s dry.) Yup, I know what you’re thinking, cause I always think the same thing: want to slice now. But don’t, or you’ll ruin the meat. Seriously.
Slicing the Brisket
6:45AM: Meat is fully rested. Gonna unwrap and slice. I’m SO NERVOUS.
6:50AM: DAMNIT. A PIECE OF THE BARK STUCK TO THE WRAP. LOST THE COMPETITION OF 1.
6:51AM: Recovered. Sh*t happens. Time to slice against the grain. Let me repeat: slice against the grain. If you don’t, you’ll ruin your brisket. Seriously. Ruin it. After, what, 18, 19 hours? (Remember, that’s why we made our pilot cut when trimming, ’cause it reminds us the direction the grain is running. The gotcha, here, is that the flat’s grain direction shifts on a brisket. So, watch this tutorial if this is your first time slicing a brisket.)
The flat is sliced pencil-width thick, the point about 1.5-2 pencil-width thick.
6:53AM: Now for the knife test. Hold a piece of the flat up on the flat side of the knife. Each side of the slice should almost kiss over the knife.
6:57AM: Separated the point from the flat. Don’t necessarily have to, or even want to do that, if serving for a crowd. Purely demonstrative today.
7:00AM. Woke Kelly and the dogs up to try. Success. Even the dogs agreed.
Well, that’s it folks. That’s how to smoke a Texas Brisket. Only took, what 19 and some odd hours? But let me tell you, it was worth it. Really. This one turned out pretty darn good if I do say so myself. Not gonna write up a recipe today, ’cause Texas style BBQ is darn simple: salt & pepper with post oak smoke flavoring. Honestly, the biggest trick with smoking meat is fire maintenance and patience. It’s a slow, slow process that requires a lot of babysitting. I definitely had the time. Still working on the patience.
So until next week, Djalali Cooks Too.
TerrySeptember 18, 2021 at 9:59 am
Alex, let me say this was amazing. 19 hours is crazy but as I can see the results were amazing. We both know how challenging smoking a brisket can be and you nailed it.
You are definitely the grill master here. A regular brisket is challenging but the full packer? We watched those videos on smoking one. And you did it.. all I can say is I’m IMPRESSED you did good wish I was these to taste it it looks amazing ♥️Terry
Alex DjalaliSeptember 18, 2021 at 10:06 am
Hi Terry, and thanks for your warm words! The brisket has long been the thorn in my side. It’s nice to finally get a small victory—hopefully the first of many more.
MariSeptember 18, 2021 at 11:16 am
Alex this was a great and informative guide. Until I read this, I had no idea what to do with brisket. Having sadly discovered there is no brisket fairy, (which crushed me) I decided we would have to do things the hard way. Or at least the long way. I had no idea that using a smoker was that involved. Very foolishly, and naively, I thought you threw your meat in the smoker in the back yard, and went off to do other things. I see now that I was mistaken and it was a case of wishful thinking. Two questions; is there a particular smoker you would recommend, and how do you know where the grain of the meat is, so you don’t cut it wrong and ruin it? I have done this once or twice. I almost always use a reassure cooker or slow cooker, and the meat is tender and practically surrenders on a plate. Also, okay this is a third question: what is the first thing you cooked in your smoker? Aright I lied, I have more questions. After all the coffee and beer, is sleep even possible? Also, I apologize if two posts show up. Nicholas was dancing on my keyboard and the first reply disappeared. I really should know not to turn my back on a bird by now. But I don’t.
Alex DjalaliSeptember 18, 2021 at 11:39 am
Mari, thanks for the note. A few things:
1) Technically, you can smoke a brisket on any non-propane grill. So, you’re looking at anything including a pellet, charcoal, to a stick burner. Here’s the gotcha: you just need to be able to add fuel during the cook. So, this effectively rules out traditional kamado grills like a Big Green Egg and charcoal burners like a PK360. And while I have seen people successfully cook a full-packer on the former using the minion method, I wouldn’t recommend it. By far the easiest way to go is with a pellet grill like a Traeger. In fact, the new ones come with auto-temp control via WiFIRE, if I remember correctly. That means you can “set and forget”, as they say. As for me, I really enjoy “the process” as it were, so I use my offset smoker, which is effectively a metal drum welded together with a firebox. We’ve got a Yoder Loaded Wichita at home. It’s pricey, but well worth the money. If you’re looking to invest in a traditional smoker, just avoid the cheaper ones you find at Home Depot and the like; they’re poorly welded and don’t seal appropriately. Cooking ends up being a nightmare.
2) As for “slicing against the grain”, take a look at the pictures in the “The Trim” section. Specifically, look at the flat. Do you see the meat threads running from bottom-left to top-right? Those are the grains. Notice further that I cut off the bottom right tip of the brisket: this serves as a reminder to which direction the grains are running. When you’re slicing, you’re going to want to slice perpendicular to those grains, or rather “against the grain”. This is actually true with beef in general. The only gotcha with brisket is that the grain changes direction where the flat meets the point. This means when you reach that specific point, you’re going to want to rotate the brisket 90 degrees before continuing to slice.
*Update* I realize that your comment was aimed at determining the grain post cook. The real trick is to make a “pilot cut” to remind yourself of the grain direction like I mention above. (Snapping a quick photo pre-cook helps too.) Didn’t mean the original comment to be condescending.
3) Pork shoulder. And I did them again, and again, and again until I got them down. It’s a super cheap cut of meat ($20 for 7lbs), so I never felt horrible if they turned out poorly.
4) No sleep. 🙂
Suzanne SmithSeptember 18, 2021 at 11:17 am
First of all, I loved your description of the entire process! I was laughing out loud at you staring at the brisket in the fridge, anticipating the ensuing agony that laid ahead! Let’s just say this is how I feel every damn time I cook any meats. Your process looks amazing! I’m drooling because I know that has to be soooo good. If I decide to do a brisket this way, I will definitely use your description! Thanks for making me hungry! Great job!
Alex DjalaliSeptember 18, 2021 at 11:42 am
Suzanne, thanks for stopping by today. Honestly, I went threw a period last year where I ruined every brisket every single time. Like to the point where Kelly wouldn’t even pretend. So, it’s taken a lot of practice on pork shoulders and ribs before working up the courage to try again. There’s still things I need to improve: the first and foremost being make sure your knives are super sharp before you decide to sober up at 6AM.
Sylvia EspinozaSeptember 18, 2021 at 11:31 am
Kudos, Alex, kudos from this Texas gal. Anyone willing to put that much time and effort towards grilling brisket to perfection gets my respect. Wish I could’ve been a taste tester. You’re also a great writer! Funny, as well. Am loving your posts. It’s great that you’ve come on board! ~
Alex DjalaliSeptember 18, 2021 at 11:43 am
Sylvia, you’re so kind. Thanks for leaving a note—it makes all of this worth it. Got a few things in mind for next week. Make sure to stop by and see what we come up with.
Ben ElliottSeptember 18, 2021 at 4:51 pm
This looks incredible. I’ll try your method this week.
Any advice on finding and building a relationship with a good butcher? Is there some cut you get to see how a butcher measures up? Sort of like how whenever I try out a new taqueria, the carne asada taco is the bellwether for whether or not I go back—because if they can do that well, then I know they can do anything. But most butchers don’t serve carne asada tacos. I’m out of my depth.
Alex DjalaliSeptember 18, 2021 at 5:14 pm
It’s a great question, and one I don’t necessarily have a good answer for. We’ve been getting meat from a local butcher in Athens: Butcher & Vine. But we’re subject to what they have, when they have it. I’ve made several mental notes to try the online butcher thing: Snake River Farms seems to come highly recommended. Will keep you updated.
James TerrelSeptember 19, 2021 at 4:20 pm
good job describing the process. However you lost all credibility by drinking Miller Lite instead of Shiner Bock
Alex DjalaliSeptember 19, 2021 at 4:41 pm
When in Georgia…