From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Awesome, TX BBQ

I've been asked several times over the last few months to share my smoked brisket recipe.  Of course, I'm always happy to, but it's more of a "methodology" than a simple recipe.  In any case, I'm happy to here you go!



Over the years, I've smoked brisket on several different types of smokers.   I started on a Weber bullet smoker, "Smokey Mountain".  For many years, I used an offset smoker, until the firebox eventually rusted through (it was merely 1/16" steel, you really need 3/8" if you want something that's going to last...)

At this point, if I'm smoking a single brisket for my family and neighbors, I'm absolutely loving the Blaze Kamado, from the good folks over at  20" diameter and made of 2.5" thick cast aluminum, this is a Japanese kamado cooker, in the style of a Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe.  But rather than a fragile, ceramic shell, we're talking 200 lbs of solid aluminum.  This thing holds heat beautifully, looks absolutely stunning, and your grandkids will be fighting over it long after you're dead.  I have an unreasonable love for this big, beautiful hunk of metal.


So that's my smoker...  Here's a handful of accessories that I use every time I cook:

  • Drip pan.  The most important piece of your kamado is almost always sold separately.  You absoultely must have a drip pan, to catch grease and maintain humidity inside the smoker.  This is how you'll ensure your briskets are always moist, delicious, and never dry.  I use this 15"x3" cake pan, and it's great.  It fits my Blaze kamado perfectly.
  • Heat deflector plate.  I use a heavy duty steel heat deflector, under the drip pan.  It's a good investment, as it protects your drip pan and prolongs its life pretty much indefinitely.  It also doubles as an awesome pizza-cooking surface.
  • Meater meat thermometer.  I've gone through a bunch of meat thermometers over the years, but my favorite, by far is the Meater.  Bluetooth, with a really clean, intuitive user interface, this thermometer satisfies my inner data nerd while I'm cooking.
  • Grate lifter hooks.  I use two of these for lifting and lowering the grates into place.
  • Ash tool poker.  I use this tool for adjusting the coals before cooking, and cleaning up after.
  • Grill scraper and brush.  I use this brush for keeping my grate clean between cooks.
  • Extra long tongs.  For way too long, I messed around with kitchen tongs.  Don't make that mistake.  Get a set of big, long, heavy-duty tongs.  Useful for moving around coals, or carefully lifting the meat.
  • Chimney starter.  I use a chimney starter to kick start the fire.
  • Fire starter bundles.  Never, ever, ever use lighter fluid.  Kickstart the fire with these bundles.  Or even just a little butcher paper, coated in oil.
  • Lighter.  I'm a dork, so I like this little USB-rechargeable, electric firestarter.  It has a Star Wars feel to it, and it makes me happy every time I use it :-)
  • USB Fan.  I use a little USB fan for starting the fire, and in the rare cases that I need to raise the temperature in the smoker.
  • Lump charcoal.  I use oak lump charcoal.  You might prefer mesquite or hickory or cherry wood or apple wood or pecan.
  • Butcher block.  I do the vast majority of my prep, and even some of the intra-cooking steps (wrapping, flipping) on a 24"x36" butcher block.
  • Stainless Steel Prep Table.  That butcher block sits on top of this prep table.
  • Caster wheels.  And I modified that prep table to have caster wheels, so that I can roll it around easily.
  • Butcher paper and dispenser.  Mounted on that butcher block, I have a butcher paper dispenser and roll of paper.
  • Welding gloves.  I use super heavy duty welding gloves, for any of the hot stuff that I need to touch.  Don't burn your hands!
  • Bread knife.  We'll get to the slicing part later, but get yourself an awesome bread knife.  I'm a big fan of the Miyabi series, but if that's too pricey ($300), here's a great knife for $30.



I can't stress this enough...  Get the best quality meat your local butcher has to offer.  USDA beef is usually graded in three different categories: Prime is generally best, followed by Choice, and then Select.  In fact, some beef has no rating whatsoever.  If you're unsure, you can't go wrong wtih Prime.  I generally avoid Choice and Select, when there are other options.  Once you know what you're doing, or you know what you're looking for (or you have a great butcher who's willing to offer you some help), you can also find some outstanding beef that's ungraded (that doesn't necessarily mean that it's less than Select, just that it's not graded).

You can also get grass fed, or corn fed beef.  I very much prefer the flavors of grass fed, free range cattle.  It's a subtle difference in tastes that you may or may not be able to detect.  But I always find the grass fed beef to be a little earthier, with more umami and richness.  Free range is important to me, as I do want the animals I eat to be treated with respect, and to only ever have one bad day in their entire life.


You can usually buy a whole brisket, or a half brisket.  A whole brisket is two different muscles, called "the flat" and "the point".  The point is the juicy, fattier, more moist piece, and the flat is the leaner, thinner muscle.  I almost always cook a whole brisket.  If I'm going to put 12+ hours into cooking, I want both.  I suppose you could do one or the other, if you're just cooking for yourself or a very small group, but I usually want leftovers, for myself and to give away.

The brisket is underside of the front shoulders of the cow.  Some people are super opinionated about the right or left brisket being better than the other.  I seriously can't tell the difference, so you'll get no opinion here from me.


I generally look for about an 11-12 lbs brisket.  There are certainly bigger, and smaller cuts, but this size seems to hit the right sweet spot for me.  It fits nicely within my 20" kamado, provides 10-15 servings, and has a ton of flavor.  Speaking of servings, you can roughly expect one cooked serving out of every pound of raw brisket.


Trimming a brisket is one my most enjoyable, relaxing, artistic activities in the whole process.  But, I have to warn you...  It can take a long time.  It can be difficult to get right.  You'll probably end up with 2-3 lbs of beef fat rotting in your garbage can (unless you melt it down and make tallow, which is awesome by the way).  Honestly, my advice if you're just getting started, is to skip the trimming step and get a "trimmed" brisket from the butcher.  If your butcher is any good, they'll do a much better job than you (at least at first).

If you are going to trim it yourself, start with a good knife.  A boning knife works pretty well.  I personally use this Miyabi prep knife.  I trim a lot off.  Probably more than one should.  I feel around all of the white fat, and carve off anything that looks unsightly or feels funny.  I want about 3/4" of fat at the thickest parts across the bottom, and splotchy bits around the top and sides (but not big solid chunks).


Nowadays, my seasoning is super simple, and inspired 100% by Aaron Franklin's book and masterclass.  Previously, I used all sorts of salts and peppers and sugars and herbs.

Then, one day, Mr. Franklin taught me the magic of coarse kosher salt and 16-mesh black pepper, in a 50/50 (by volume) mix.  The results are unmistakably amazing.

I start by coating the entire brisket with a little bit of simple olive oil (doesn't have to be expensive or fancy, just organic).  The smoke point of olive oil is low, but we won't be cooking it very hot, so it's great.  Pour a couple of tablespoons on each sides and rub it in with your hands.  You just want a nice, wet, sticky surface.

Then, I combine the kosher salt and 16-mesh pepper in a shaker and absolutely coat every square inch of the brisket liberally.  I haven't been able to overdo it.  Cake it on there.  The magic of the big pepper and salt chunks, is in the surface area.  All of those granules increase the surface area and capture more smoke and flavor.

Do this, and you're going to have a fantastic crust.

Wood & Charcoal

I have the good fortune of living on a couple of acres just in the hills over Austin, Texas, and I have a ton of red oak.  I keep a fire wood rack of red oak slowly aging, seasoning, drying out a little bit.

When I'm able to use an offset smoker, I cook exclusively with wood (no charcoal).  But for this article, let's talk about the kamado...

There's one huge challenge with kamado cooking...  There's really no way to add wood or charcoal during the cook.  You basically have to start with all of the fuel that you're going to use for the whole cook, and it has to last for the whole cook.  I used to really fret about this.  But as it turns out, it's actually pretty straight forward.

So I start with 2 of the little fire starter bundles, at the bottom, and then my chimney smoker loaded with lump charcoal.  Around the outside of the chimney, I usually put 2 or 3 pieces of well seasoned red oak.  Then I light the bales and turn on the USB fan.  It takes about 15 minutes, but as soon as the flames reach the top of the chimney, I dump the coals on the red oak.

And then I basically fill the bottom chamber of the kamado all the way up to the middle rack, with fresh, unlit lump charcoal, and I turn off the USB fan (and put it away).  I find that about 5" of depth of lump charcols, plus 2-3 pieces of oak, will last at least 12 hours, and that generally works for me.  If I ever need to raise the heat, I'll use the fan and blow some extra air through the bottom intake, but this is pretty rare.

Once the coal bed is fully fueled and in good shape, add the second grate, the heat deflector plate, and the drip pan.  I've tried all sorts of things in the drip pan (beer, wine, vinegar, fruits, spices, etc.).  None of it makes any noticeable difference, as far as I can tell.  So I'm back to just plain water and it works great.  The 15"x3" pan that I use holds almost 2 gallons of water, and that lasts about 8 hours in my experience.  I almost always have to top it up once, during the cook, usually at the point that I wrap (175F internal temperature).

Above the drip pan, I put the third grate (the cooking one), and the brisket on that.  I like to start with the fat cap down.  I find this lets the fat cap absorb the earliest heat, and smoke, and provide a little insulation to the rest of the meat for the earliest part of the cook.


I usually aim for a smoker temperature between 220F and 270F.  I'm actually okay with up to 300F (just knowing that it's going to cook a little faster, and will almost certainly need some extra water in the drip pan, because it's boiling off much quicker).

I track the temperature on my phone through the Meater thermometer, and let it get through "the stall", which is a point that every brisket goes through, around 160-170F.  This is a scary point, where you might think your brisket has "stalled" cooking.  Actually, what's happening is that the meat itself is "sweating" water, which is cooling it down, internally, almost as fast as it's cooking.  Resist the urge to mess with it, and let it get through the stall, and once it hits 170F, it'll start climbing again.


At 175F internal, I pull the brisket off and wrap it tightly in butcher paper.  I prefer butcher paper to foil in that butcher paper lets some smoke continue permeating through, whereas foil basically seals off the meat from the smoke.

I wrap it as tightly as I possibly can -- this is always a game to me, trying to beat my previous attempts.  When I put it back on the grill, I place it with the fat cap up.  I find in the last part of the cook (probably the next 2-4 hours), the fat itself melts (ie, renders), and I want all of that beautiful fat to work its way down through the meat.  This is subtle, but I've found this to help me cook some of the visually appealing and delicious briskets I've ever made.


In the unfortunate event that you run out of fuel (heat) before the brisket is cooked, it's really not the end of the world.  You almost certainly got a good 4-6 hours of smoke, at which point, just wrap the brisket in foil, and put it on your gas grill (or even in your oven), at a target cooking temperature of 220F-270F, and cook until done (203F internal temperature).  You won't be able to put a drip pan under it (you shouldn't need one, with it wrapped in foil).  But you should put some sort of a container full of water, to keep it nice and humid in your grill or oven.

It probably won't be your best brisket, but it's certainly not going to be inedible!


Sometimes this is the hardest part, but I like to let the brisket rest, while still wrapped, for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour.  I usually bring it inside, as all of those aromas can attract flies.  If you have to set it aside for longer than that (maybe it's done, but your company won't arrive for another few hours), then I would wrap the whole brisket (butcher paper and all) with foil, and put it in your oven at the lowest temperature (mine goes down to 175F).


I don't remember...I might have said somewhere else in this post that something else was my favorite part.  Ignore that.  Slicing the brisket is my favorite part.  You can search YouTube for plenty of simple videos on how to slice a brisket.  Maybe I should create my own...

In any case, here's a couple of simple tips.  Start with a good knife.  A 9" bread knife is ideal  I suppose you can use a chef's knife.  And I've seen people use an electric knife (definitely not me...seriously?).  But honestly, please just get a bread knife.  It'll slice a good brisket like butter. You won't be sorry.

I like to slice it with the fat cap down.  (You might need to keep track of this, when you take it off the grill).  There will be a taller, thicker part (the point), and a thinner, smaller part (the flat).  Set the brisket long ways, with the flat farthest away from your body.  Start slicing it at the flat, cutting across the grain (extremely important!), and slowly work your way to the point.

Your first few cuts will be small, less fatty, but each cut will get bigger, and juicier, until you get to the middle of the brisket.  Here, you'll see a marked difference in the meat.  Each slice will include pieces of both muscles, with a thin layer of fat in between.  These are the best slices, in my opinion.

Some people slice the brisket itself in half, laterally, and then carve the point and the flat separate.  I really don't like this.  I love the slices that include some of the point and some of the flat, both.

By the time you get to the very back of the point (the part closest to you), it'll be really moist, and fatty, and just fall apart.  I like to chop this part (the last pound or two, maybe the last 10% of the meat).  These bits make the best chopped brisket sandwiches, and frankly, I think make the best leftovers.


So my other, other favorite part of course is serving.  I love slicing it right off of the butcher block and putting it on someone's plate.  So rewarding, as a pitmaster, to see someone's reaction to your work.  It's just not the same, if I carve the whole thing, and leave it on the counter for my friends and guests to pick their way through.

Okay, so I think that's about it...  I hope this helps someone out there!

See ya!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please do not use blog comments for support requests! Blog comments do not scale well to this effect.

Instead, please use Launchpad for Bugs and StackExchange for Questions.