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. 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. 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 (cryovac) and refrigerated where they will keep it 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 remove most or the entire fat cap. They leave a very lean trimmed flat that is normally not smoked, because it will dry out through the required long smoking time.
Which One is the Best?
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 you pick it up in the middle. This should indicate a more tender brisket.
Experts also look for a white fat cap as opposed to a more yellow one. 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”. 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.
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 or less.
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.
Just mix together 5 Tbsp dark brown sugar, 4 tsp each dry mustard, onion powder and granulated garlic powder, 3 tsp dried sweet basil, 2 tsp ground bay leaves, 1 1/2 tsp each ground coriander, ground savory, dried thyme, freshly ground black pepper and white pepper. Then add 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 2 Tbsp each sea salt or Tender Quick (“smoke ring”), beef flavoured granules, New Mexico ground Chile or chili powder and cayenne. Complete with 1 tsp celery seed, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp powdered dry ginger and Yellow or Dijon mustard.
With a sheet of aluminum foil under an inverted or cross-ways Bradley rack, place another rack on this rack in the sink. This keeps the brisket from coming into contact with any smooth surface that would remove seasonings or slather. Apply the rub and pat it into the meat well. The brisket is wet enough that most of the seasoning sticks. Press the seasoning in to the lean side first. This direct contact with the meat seasons it deeper.
After seasoning the lean side, ends and sides, gently slather with a thin film of French’s yellow mustard or Dijon Mustard. Leave all the spices in contact with the meat. Then, flip the brisket onto the rack, placing it so that it will not move and disturb the slather.
Check the Details
Since I am doing several briskets, I let all the droppings accumulate on the foil and use them on the last one. Then I throw the foil away and check to see which way my next rack will sit in the oven, reversing the racks in the sink as necessary.
- 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. 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. You will need at least one inch clearance between the brisket and the rack above it.
- Load the smoker with the largest brisket at the bottom and the smallest at the top. If a brisket doesn’t fit on the rack, I wrinkle it a little (it’s going to shrink to fit anyway).Put the bottom rack in the Bradley in the basket position on the lowest position. As I place each brisket, I generally reverse the ends so that the deckle of one is dripping on the next lower flat.
Give Yourself Lots of Time
- I start the smoking process between 6:30 pm and 9:00 pm. Insert a probe into the bottom two briskets and place a chamber probe on front of the lower rack. Setting the temperature at about 280°F is important when you intend to smoke it overnight. 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.
- 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.
Temperature Control is Crucial
- 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 and continue to test every five degrees. The 195°F internal is as hot as I have ever gotten to.When the bottom brisket is done, I foil wrap it and place it in a cooler lined with newspaper and towels.
- No more rotating racks, basting, or watching. My briskets come out with a very dark to black bark, are moist throughout and people say “taste better than any BBQ shack or joint in Texas.” Putting sauce on this Q “is a waste.” I recently took some briskets to a church dinner and put out two types of sauce. They used very little of it.
20 Hours Later
- 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 cool, freeze for reheating later. I was used to smoking brisket 8 to 12 hours max, and thought that this long smoking time would dry the meat but it didn’t happen. This is moist, fork tender, fall apart brisket.
- Before slicing, move a little of the fat aside on the flat and determine which way the grain runs. Use a non serrated sharp knife and cut it across the grain.
- 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, 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 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. The well marbled is frozen separately and pulsed in a food processor a few times to make chopped sandwiches.
I would advise smoking the brisket whole and then dividing and preserving using your favorite method. Do not slice prior to freezing. Reheating slice brisket makes it dry
Wrap brisket with additional heavy duty foil sheet around and place on a foil lined cookie sheet for easy cleanup. If you have some apple juice, open the packet and moisten with three or four tablespoons. Re-wrap tightly. If left over brisket is frozen, it is better to thaw the brisket before reheating.
Preheat oven to 225°F and heat brisket for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Heat until the internal temperature reaches 170°F to 180°F. The preferred way is to reheat the brisket when thawed. However you can reheat while it is frozen. In this case, 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. 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.
You can do it 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. We call it Texas Crutch and use it to stop smoke and reduce moisture leakage while continuing to raise the temperature. It is certainly not needed in the Bradley where you can stop smoke at any time and moisture is not a problem.
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.
What About Smoke Rings
A smoke ring is a visual element and does not create flavour. It is just a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat. I rarely get much of a smoke ring in the Bradley and don’t fret about it too much.
I quit basting my briskets in the Bradley. 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.
Good luck and slow smoking!
“By the way, Pachanga is Spanish slang for ‘wild rowdy fiesta or party’.”