Very Very Slow Smoked Brisket
If you would like to read Pachanga’s original posts click on Texas Brisket Bows to Bradley and Thanks to the Board, and We Need Brisket Recipes.
First of all, I am no expert but I am a cook and after smoking on the Bradley digital 6 rack for about three years, I think I am qualified to relate my experiences. Following is one man’s opinion and interpretation of brisket. I record recipes that I have created or modified that are family and friend’s favorites. The following recipe is one of these. And yes, I use a lot of ingredients. Salt and pepper would work just fine but I need the therapy
I decided to dedicate myself to this little machine and try it on brisket. Being from West Texas and transplanted to Dallas/Fort Worth, all I had smoked on before were massive offset smokers using large hunks of mesquite gathered by the trailer full, and barbecuing large packer cut briskets. So I started off by measuring the rack size and searching for small briskets between the size of ten to twelve pounds. Short thick and compact briskets to fit on the racks are sometimes hard to find (measuring briskets at the store may have looked goofy, but nobody asked).
- A Packer Cut or Packer’s cut brisket is a whole untrimmed brisket. It contains two muscles (the thin flat and the thick deckle or point) separated by a fatty ribbon and one side is generously “capped” by at least a quarter inch of fat. A worker at a meat packing plant quickly slices one eight to eighteen pound piece of meat from each side (two briskets to a cow) of the front chest of a skinned cow and it is lightly trimmed. It is not further processed.
Today’s briskets normally are vacuum packaged in thick clear plastic (cryovaced) and refrigerated where they will keep for weeks. Do not confuse this with a trimmed brisket which is further processed at the retail store. A retail butcher removes the packer cut brisket from the cryovac, separates it into two muscles and most or the entire fat cap is removed. What is left is a very lean trimmed flat that is normally not smoked because it will dry out through the required long smoking time. Throughout this recipe, the word brisket refers to a whole Packer Cut brisket. Now I just buy the best looking piece of meat that is available, and that is still at a decent price. Many experts advocate picking a brisket that is not stiff and bends easily when picked up in the middle. This is supposed to indicate a more tender brisket. Experts also look for a white fat cap as opposed to a more yellow fat. If either of these are available and fit my other specifications, I put them in the shopping cart but I don’t worry over it. If a brisket is too long, I just wrinkle it a bit or bend it a little in the middle. I use the sides of the rack to help hold the brisket in a slight inverted “U” (n). When the brisket shrinks it will relax and flatten out.
Sometimes the brisket is still too long to fit, even after bending it. One reason I find that a brisket is too long is usually the brisket is very thin toward the end of the flat. Measure the brisket against your Bradley rack. Cut the thinnest part off and lay it fat side down under the thinnest part of the main brisket which is fat side up. If you match the taper of both pieces of meat by matching thick to thin, you will end up with a uniform thickness that smokes evenly and retains moisture well. No one will know the difference when serving.
On the subject of trimming, I do my trimming at the store and pick out briskets that are not overly fat capped. I wet age for a while and then trim any brown meat off (see more on Wet Aging Beef). Trim overly thick fat off the deckle (thick) end where the two main muscles join, but only cut of some off the thick surface fat. The fat should still cover the deckle by 1/4 inch, and the fat cap should be around 1/4 inch thick. If I have a thin flat, I use this trimmed fat to protect the lean side a little more. I do not trim into the meat between the muscles any deeper than one inch and usually less.
I do not get fanatic about trimming. Just trim a little on the deckle, probably little to no trimming on the flat and just walk away. I figure my guests can trim on the plate and fat always means flavour. As slow as this brisket is smoked, the fat renders down to a thin coating anyway. I’ve never had any complaints and usually, plates come back empty, fat and lean both gone.
Every barbequer has a rub that is “the Best”. It may be a prepackaged store bought product or one of his own making. The main ingredient should be the brisket itself. A rub or a mop should not overpower the meat. It is merely a complement. The following is a rub that is part of a lot of other rubs and works well for me.
This recipe will season 4 small briskets (eight pounders) but for a heavy rub or larger briskets this will be enough seasoning for 2.
- 5 Tbsp dark brown sugar
- 4 tsp dry mustard
- 4 tsp onion powder
- 4 tsp granulated garlic powder
- 3 tsp dried sweet basil
- 2 tsp ground bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 1/2 tsp ground savory
- 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 2 Tbsp sea salt or Tender Quick (“smoke ring”)
- 2 Tbsp beef flavoured granules
- 2 Tbsp New Mexico ground Chile or chili powder
- 2 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp celery seed
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp powdered dry ginger
- Yellow or Dijon mustard
- First place a sheet of aluminum foil under an inverted or cross-ways Bradley rack and place another rack on to of this rack in the sink (if your sink is not large enough you can use your counter). This keeps the brisket from coming into contact with any smooth surface that would remove any seasonings or slather.
- Next I apply the rub first and pat it into the meat well. The brisket is wet enough that most of the seasoning sticks. I really press the seasoning in to the lean side first. I personally think this direct contact with the meat seasons the meat deeper.
- After seasoning the lean side, ends and sides, I gently slather with a thin film of French’s yellow mustard or Dijon Mustard (you should still mostly see the meat through this opaque slather). Leave all the spices in contact with the meat (some rub will mix with the mustard but most will still be in direct contact with the meat). Then I flip the brisket onto the rack, placing it so that it will not be moved and that the slather is not disturbed. I wash my hands to remove any mustard, then I season the fat side well, again really pressing the rub in hard, and then slather it.
- Since I am doing several briskets, I let all the droppings accumulate on the foil and use them on the last brisket. Then I throw the foil away, wash out the sink and/or work area and cleanup is complete. I always check to see which way my next rack will sit in the oven and reverse the racks in the sink as necessary to keep the brisket off the foil and usually invert the holding rack (first rack on the foil) and use it for the last brisket.
- Depending on your mood, cover with clear wrap in the fridge for 24 hours because of the low salt content of the rub (do not use this step with high salt content rubs unless you like your jerky in large size), or put the brisket in the Bradley after letting the meat come to close to 40°F or 50°F.
Smoking Method for Three Briskets in a Six Rack Bradley
- The following step is important in order to get even heat in the Bradley and maintain water for this long smoke. Prior to preheating the smoker I cover the back half of the V shaped deflector loosely with heavy duty foil which forces more heat to the front and middle. The water pan is replaced with a large foil turkey pan that just fits in the bottom (bend the back lip down a little). Fill pan with boiling water just before putting the briskets in.I have not used an Original Bradley Smoker but I suspect that three briskets will fit into it easily and smoke just fine. I can easily place a fourth brisket in my six rack digital. You may want to take some measurements before you try to smoke three briskets in your smoker. Note; you will need at least one inch clearance between the brisket and the rack above it. Also remember if you have to bend the brisket to fit on the rack that will increase the height.
- Load the smoker with the largest brisket at the bottom and the smallest at the top, flipping the racks so that there is about an inch or two in between each brisket. If a brisket doesn’t fit on the rack, I wrinkle it a little (it’s going to shrink to fit anyway) or if the flat is skinny, I cut the last of the flat off and lay it under the thinnest part of the still intact flat. I lay this small piece fat side down. This creates an even thickness throughout the flat.Put the bottom rack in the Bradley in the basket position on the lowest position. Observe height of the brisket against the next possible rack position, keeping in mind that the rack in basket position will hang down lower that the rack support. The next rack will need to be inverted or moved up to another support to achieve about one inch between the top of one brisket and the bottom of the next. Place the next largest brisket on the rack. If the brisket will not bend and stay in place on an inverted rack, cut off the thin part as stated in the directions or place in the basket position and move up one rack support. This creates a little more room but then again, this isn’t rocket science. As I place each brisket, I generally reverse the ends so that the deckle of one is dripping on the next lower flat.
- I start the smoking process between 6:30 pm and 9:00 pm. I insert a probe into the bottom two briskets and place a chamber probe on front of the lower rack. I set the temperature at about 280°F when the briskets are placed in for overnight smoking (for the original smoker, position the temperature adjustment all the way to the right). The vent is about 5/8 open (definitely no smoke out of the generator).I have tried 225°F, but my Digital Bradley seems to click off and never achieve heat at this setting.
- I fully load the generator with apple, hickory and some mesquite. In the morning, I reload the generator with 3 to 4 hours worth of bisquettes and open the door to see if anything crazy is happening, submerge any used pucks that are stacked in the water pan and refill with boiling water as necessary. At this time I also baste or spritz. The oven temperature still hasn’t arrived at 225°F.I use a Maverick dual probe temperature monitor and mount the chamber probe on the lowest rack toward the front and side. When the bottom brisket hits 168°F internal temperature, I monitor the smoker temperature and try to keep it about 225°F which is 250°F to 260°F on my oven setting.For the original model, you will need to regulate the heat by adjusting the temperature control to the left.
- I want a slow rise to 190°F or 195°F internal temp. At 185°F, I will test the bottom brisket for fork tender on the end of the flat and continue to test every five degrees. The 195°F internal is as hot as I have ever gotten to. Fork tender to me means inserting a long two tined fork into the end of the flat and twisting. If the meat easily breaks apart, it is fork tender. I repeat on the deckle end but I rely on the flat. When the bottom brisket is done, I foil wrap it and place it in a cooler lined with newspaper and towels (after I have generously taste tested what we call the burnt end of the deckle or point)..
- No more rotating racks, basting, or watching. My briskets come out with a very dark to black bark, are moist throughout and I am told “taste better than any BBQ shack or joint in Texas.” People tell me putting sauce on this Q “is a waste.” I recently took some briskets to a church dinner and put out two types of sauce. Very little sauce was used.
- Next I move each brisket down one level and repeat the process until all are finished. The last brisket usually comes out at about 18 to 20 hours, but let the brisket tell you if it wants to stay longer; 22 hours is not uncommon. I stack each one on top of the other in the cooler for two to four hours. Take them out of the cooler, pour a little apple juice over each brisket and wrap in two or three layers of heavy duty foil. When they have cooled (those that you haven’t already eaten), freeze for reheating later.I was used to brisket being smoked 8 to 12 hours max and thought that this long smoking time would dry the meat but the high water content and progressive downward drippings make the difference.This is moist, fork tender, fall apart brisket. In fact, I accidentally dropped a finished brisket one time and it blew apart. I must admit that it is still a little embarrassing when people ask to see my pit, but the proof is in the pudding or in this case, the brisket.
- Before slicing, move a little of the fat aside on the flat (the skinny end) and determine which way the grain runs. Use a non serrated sharp knife and cut the brisket across the grain. As you get further into the brisket there are two distinct muscles separated by a fatty layer. The grain will run in a different direction through this second muscle. Separate the two layers with your knife and turn them so the grain runs the same to slice the second piece all the way through the first piece.
- We usually end up eating around the deckle and end up with a hunk of brisket that has a lot of bark missing. Trim the fat off of this, reserving any bark off the fat cap. Throw one inch chunks into a food processor and pulse a few times. Pan toast a buttered hamburger bun until brown, coat with a little BBQ Sauce on one side, whole grain mustard on the other, add onions and hot sweet pickles and you are next to heaven.
As far as smoke goes, being from West Texas, Qing with anything other than mesquite is sacrilege. However, I find long smoking with the Bradley mesquite pucks leaves a bitter taste. I prefer mostly apple with about one fourth hickory, some oak and just several pucks of mesquite in between. I have thought often that I should just smoke for a few hours using mesquite and shut the smoke generator off, but I like the layers of smoke that build up over 12 hours of smoke and steam wafting over and around the brisket and through the 5/8 open flu. This is opposed to closing the damper down and forcing condensed, wet smoke to settle on the brisket. I generally let the smoke generator rest in the middle of the smoke and restart it again toward the end, finishing with apple.
Leftovers If Any
I generally slice and serve as needed, starting from the lean end. Then freeze the remainder leaner portions in vac bags in unsliced portions which I speculate will be needed. The well marbled is frozen separately and pulsed in a food processor a few times (just before serving) to be made into chopped sandwiches.
I would advise smoking the brisket whole and then dividing and preserving using your favorite method. A larger question is how to divide, since there is a lean end (the wife’s preferred), a perfect middle (the pit master’s plate) and then a generously marbled deckle. Do not slice prior to freezing. Reheating slice brisket makes it dry
Occasionally, I have a frozen undivided brisket and need just a third or so. I very lightly thaw, cut a third off and refreeze the rest.
Wrap brisket with additional heavy duty foil sheet around brisket and place on a foil lined cookie sheet for easy cleanup.
If you have some apple juice, open the packet and moisten the brisket with three or four tablespoons. Rewrap tightly.
If left over brisket is frozen, it is better to thaw the brisket before reheating. To thaw, place on the counter at room temperature for several hours.
Preheat oven to 225°F and heat brisket for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. You may have to increase temperature to 250°F after 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the brisket. Heat until the internal temperature reaches 170°F to 180°F. If you do not have an internal temperature gauge, listen for a sizzle.
The preferred way is to reheat the brisket when thawed. However you can reheat while it is frozen. If frozen, reheat at 250°F for about 2 1/2 to three hours.
Slow smoking is an art and a science. Science tells us that meat temperature should never get above boiling. This would steam the meat and large amounts of moisture would quickly evaporate. Science also tells us that connective tissue starts to break down somewhere around the 140 degree mark, really gets active around 160 degrees and can continue into the 190’s. Holding the meat at these temperatures creates a tender product.
This can be done in the pit but it is also why the foil wrap – cooler technique works so well. I am however not an advocate of foil wrapping and then continuing to heat in the smoker. This is known as the Texas Crutch and is used to stop smoke and reduce moisture leakage while continuing to raise the temperature. It is certainly not needed in the Bradley where smoke can be stopped at any time and moisture is not a problem.
Experience tells us that letting the smoke move freely through the pit and out the vent will create a sweet smoke flavour. Trapping the smoke and forcing it to collect on the meat causes unwanted characteristics of smoke to collect on the meat and become acrid. The meat should be the star of the show.
I pack a heavy rub on my brisket because it is such a thick piece of meat. This doesn’t mean that the brisket is going to taste like the rub. Science tells us that the rub is not going to penetrate too far into the meat, especially though the fat cap. The rub and resulting bark merely acts as a condiment to the meat, like ketchup to fries. The meat still has its separate flavour but eating a little bark with the meat enhances the experience.
A smoke ring is a visual element and does not create flavour. The smoke ring is caused by nitric acid collecting on the surface of meat. This is then absorbed into the meat. This nitric acid is formed when nitrogen dioxide from wood combustion mixes with liquids in the meat. It is a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat. I rarely get much of a smoke ring in the Bradley. I don’t fret about it too much.
I quit basting my briskets in the Bradley (and I like to baste). The stacked briskets self baste and the smoke is so moist that it is not really necessary. But mainly, heat recovery is just too long to open the door very often. If I do baste, it is during my morning check or when I add water. I do not open the door over four times during a smoke until I start taking briskets out.
Good luck and slow smoking!
“By the way, Pachanga is Spanish slang for ‘wild rowdy fiesta or party’.”