Brisket, traditionally a Texas cut of beef, is generally known as the “pot roast” of barbecue. In Texas and many other parts of the south, barbecue is defined by pork ribs and shoulder clods. Brisket would only be served in those places if an out-of-towner requested it.
Fortunately for us non-Texans, brisket can be made equally well in a smoker or pit with mesquite wood or hickory chips. It can also be cooked on any one heating source like charcoal briquettes in a kettle grill or gas grill.
Brisket is one of the most popular cuts of beef. It's a tough, fattier cut of meat that benefits from long, slow cooking through smoking or braising. It's perfect for summer barbecues when you're cooking outdoors. Brisket is also great meat to practice your barbecue skills with.
You can learn the basics of brisket and then make all sorts of creative recipes by preparing it in your smoker or on your grill. You just don't need to know how to cook brisket in a smoker to make incredible barbecue, but it will certainly help if you enjoyed this article.
How to cook brisket in a smoker
Preparing the brisket
Buying a vacuum-sealed brisket is the easy way to get started smoking your first brisket. If you've ever bought meat that came in a Cryovac package, you're already familiar with how this works. The package consists of layers of plastic film that, when held together under enough pressure, form a molecular bond and remove all the air from within. This prevents flavor-robbing enzymes from doing their work on your meat and also helps prevent foodborne illness by inhibiting bacterial growth.
The process of preparing a whole brisket takes several hours. Be sure to have everything you need ready before you start. A whole brisket should weigh 8 to 12 pounds.
- The first thing to do is trim the brisket. Removing the fat caps (silver skin) and excess connective tissue ensures that your meat will cook evenly. You can do this by taking a sharp knife and cutting around the fat cap, then pulling it off, or you can do the same with kitchen shears. If you separate the flat from the pointed end, there are two more cuts to make. Cut across the flat on a slant right in front of the bone to remove all loose cartilage as well as three inches of fat that run along with it. Then cut quite a bit of lean of the pointed end just behind where it meets the flat end.
- The entire process might be repeated twice more if you want to remove even more fat and connective tissue. Next, remove all excess fat from between your meat and the bones before cutting your brisket into individual slices or serving pieces.
- You can freeze your brisket at this point if you aren't going to use it right away. If you do, place the pieces in freezer bags and store them in the freezer until frozen. When you're ready to begin cooking, put the pieces of meat in a plastic storage bag and return them to the freezer until you're ready to cook them.
- Rub the meat lightly with your hands so that it's not too greasy. Then apply your favorite barbecue rub and let it sit for at least 30 minutes to let the rub penetrate.
- I like to rub every part of the brisket with a hoppy, sweet rub, especially in summer when the brisket is dry. For example, I mix together some brown sugar, a little pepper, and salt, and then apply the mixture liberally. I also keep a few packets of my favorite spices for just such occasions. Depending on how you like your brisket cooked, you can apply more or less of these ingredients after smoking it.
- This is a good time to figure out how you're going to smoke your brisket if it's not already planned out. Traditional smokers like the old-fashioned pits and wood-burning brick pits are great for smoking briskets. However, your pet needs to be hot enough over hardwood coals or a gas fire to cook the brisket evenly.
- I've found that smoking on two Weber kettle grills with charcoal briquettes works well. For example, you can use one grill for indirect heat and one grill for direct heat by piling soaked briquettes equally on each grill. This means that the grill on the indirect side is slightly cooler than on the direct side. A Weber Summit E-310 grill will easily hold two whole briskets. I also use a Bradley Smoker for briskets in cold weather, but you can use any smoker to cook a brisket.
You can smoke your smoked brisket at 200°F in your smoker or on your grill over glowing coals. Never leave the meat unattended over a fire or it will dry out. Try to keep the temperature under 250°F, and you'll have a moist, tender brisket. Allow about one hour per pound for smoking if you're cooking your brisket on a kettle grill and about 4 hours per pound if you're using a smoker.
- When your brisket is done, wrap it in heavy-duty foil or place it on a large bed of hardwood charcoal to hold in most of the juices. You'll need to smoke briskets for several hours to get good results.
- You can also wrap your brisket tightly in aluminum foil and return it to the smoker for an hour or two more if you want to bring the temperature of your smoker up to 300°F so that your brisket will finish cooking.
- You can test a brisket by inserting a knife into the bone to see if it's done. The knife should slide in easily and you should be able to pull it out cleanly with no resistance. You should remove the meat from the foil or charcoal immediately to rest for at least 45 minutes before slicing or serving.
- To serve, slice against the grain and serve with BBQ sauce on the side. Brisket is best served with sides such as bread, corn, baked potatoes, relish tray, and fresh vegetables.
Tips to cook brisket in a smoker.
- I've been smoking brisket on my kettle grill for years, and I have to admit that it is one of the easiest foods to smoke. In fact, you could smoke a whole brisket on your kettle and all it takes is about 6 hours. You can do this in an hour if you're smoking at 250°F and are cooking at 200°F per pound.
- The beauty of this method is that you can cook your brisket until it's ready to be sliced, or even put the whole thing in the smoker again for a second cooking stage without having to adjust the heat by adding charcoal or wood chips. Once you have the process down, you can add more charcoal and wood chips to your fire as needed.
- You could also smoke your brisket in a gas-fired smoker at this temperature because the wood chips will create more smoke.
- After you have your coals lit, place half of them on one side of your grill and leave the other half on the other side. Put the water pan from your smoker in between these two sides then place an aluminum pan of hardwood charcoal on top of that.
- Place a disposable aluminum pan filled with hardwood charcoal between the hot and cold sides of your grill to create a buffer zone for indirect cooking. You can use any kind of wood for smoking except for mesquite, which gives off an unpleasant flavor when burned too hot.
- You can run the smoker with a charcoal chimney as I do and you can place another disposable aluminum pan on top of the fire to use as a water pan. The smoke that goes up the chimney will help keep your foods moist by wicking moisture into them, and your cold side will absorb this smoke through its dampening effect.
- While keeping the firebox open and providing adequate ventilation, you are able to add more charcoal or wood chips to this charcoal chimney when your pile starts running out. Be careful not to burn down the campfire or you will have no wood for future cooking.
- You can also put half of your lump charcoal in the smoker, place a disposable aluminum pan on top to use as a heated pan, then place another disposable aluminum pan on top of that to use as a water pan.
- I even run my firebox for about an hour without any fuel and let the heat radiates out of the grill through the metal and into the ground with no smoke.
- In order to cook brisket like this, you need to get your smoker up to 250°F, so make sure you have hardwood charcoal or wood chips at hand.
- You could also smoke the brisket in a BBQ pit like this or on your grill over an open fire.
How long does it take to cook a brisket in a smoker?
Smoking brisket takes a few hours, and the temperature you use is directly related to how quickly your brisket will be ready. If you have a gas smoker, I recommend cooking at 250°F. It takes about 4 hours per pound to smoke a brisket if you're cooking at this temperature.
As long as your smoker is at the right temperature and you don't open the door to check on your meat, then it should be ready in about 5 hours. If you have more time than money, then you can smoke briskets for up to 10 hours like this because they will remain moist and tender.
How do you smoke a brisket so it is tender?
Overnight, a brisket will absorb the juices in the brine and this helps it stay tender during the smoking process. Some people like to rub their meat with spices and then wrap it in foil before smoking it, but all you really need is some salt and pepper to add flavor.
How can I tell if my brisket is done?
The best way to tell if your brisket is done cooking is by using a knife to test for tenderness. Make sure you cut against the grain when you're slicing your brisket so that it remains tender after cooking.
If your brisket doesn't have much fat on it, then wrap it with foil or place more charcoal on top to keep the meat moist after smoking for several hours.
Should I wrap my brisket in foil?
Wrapping a brisket in foil keeps it moist, but it also traps the juices in the meat. Over time the juices will be absorbed by the meat, and once this happens, your brisket will start to lose its tenderness. If you wrap your smoked brisket in foil, then make sure that it has a lot of rub on it, or add more rub while the meat is still smoking so that you can preserve its flavor and tenderness.
How long can I leave my smoked brisket wrapped in foil?
If you wrap your briskets with aluminum foil when they are almost done cooking, then leave them alone for about 1 hour for each pound that you need to cook. For example, if you're smoking a brisket for 8 hours, then leave it wrapped for 2 hours.
You don't want to wrap your meat at this point because the juices are still wet and creating steam will cause the foil to get soggy, but you also don't want it to dry out either.
If you have never smoked a brisket before, then this is definitely the lesson for you. It will probably take over 6 hours of constant tending to smoke your meat so you will want to set aside some free time after work or on the weekend. You should plan on spending a whole afternoon smoking your brisket, but it will satisfy all of your cravings when you're done.
When I was young, I used to enjoy eating the sugar that used to be in the bottom of my dad's sugar cereal bowl those days are gone now. Smoking brisket is just as easy and delicious as eating it right off the barbecue pit and it requires much less work than grilling them outside on your grill.
If you have any tips for me on smoking briskets, or if you have any other questions about how to cook brisket in a smoker, then leave them in the comment section below. If people find that the information on this page is helpful, then we can make sure that other people will know how to smoke briskets.