Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Beef Brisket Experimentation

Bill Shakespeare was an avid barbecue guy, did you know that?  Why else would he sneak the phrase "Ay, there's the rub" into Hamlet's "to be or not to be" bit?

Ok, before you run screaming from that poor excuse of a joke, here's how I prepared that brisket last weekend.  I made up an injection, used a new wood product, and used a new beef rub - all of it something I have not tried before.  So it was a "brisk-speriment" of sorts. 

This doesn't follow my usual recipe format and it's not a "how to guide" for brisket by any means.  It's just a rambling of how things went.

Long story short, the brisket was tender, good flavor, and it had a good smoke flavor to it.  Alexis said it was the best brisket I've done.   The one downside was the anemic smoke ring, but more about that later.

The Brisket
I couldn't get a whole "packer" brisket so I settled for a USDA choice brisket flat.  It was 6 and a half pounds and I overpaid for it dearly.  That's what happens when you don't plan ahead and decide "I must have [fill in the blank] now and I don't feel like shopping around".  

The Injection
I used a very simple injection of 1 1/2 cups beef broth, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 tsp Tiger Seasoning.  I injected from the top and bottom about every 2 inches or so.

The Rub
I used a good coating of black pepper and Draper's new Moo'd Enhancer beef rub.  I have used Moo'd Enhancer on steaks and burgers with good results but they don't really need more than salt and pepper.  Where Draper's Moo'd Enhancer really shines is on beef brisket and beef ribs. I started with a wet base (1.5 Tbsp beef baste, 1 tsp worcestershire sauce, and a splash of oil to thin it out) and slathered it all over the brisket.  Then I seasoned heavily with black pepper and the Moo'd Enhancer. You also don't want to be shy, layer it on a good bit.  

The Wood
I used Mojobricks Baby Cubes (formerly known as Mojocubes). Mojobricks are compressed blocks of 100% pure wood.  They stick together using the lignin in wood, no binders or glues.  They are more dense than wood since they are compressed.   I did a blend of 2 cherry and 2 hickory cubes.  

The Cook
My target cooking temp (blue line) for the Big Green Egg was 250f at the dome (~225f at the grate).  As you can see the actual cooking temp (red line) had a spike at the beginning.  The plan was to foil it when it hit an internal temp of 160f but I let it hang at that temp until 4 hours.  Then I wrapped it in double foil with a cup of water (you can see where that got it out of the 160f stall) and finished it until the probe inserted easily.  I started checking that around 195f but it took until 203f to "feel right".   I left it in foil for 2 hours before slicing and it was still 153f then.
There was no sauce applied yet at this point.  This is all the wet rub and smoke working together.

The Results
I sliced it and served it with Bush's Grillin' Beans Smokehouse Tradition flavor, coleslaw, and Texas Toast.  Everyone loved it and had seconds - some thirds.  Like I said, Alexis touted it as the best brisket I've cooked and one of the top 3 she has had.  

Here's a confession:  I have the beans in a bowl just for this picture but I prefer them right on the plate, all messy.  One thing I love about Bush's Grillin' Beans is that sweet and smoky sauce, it's perfect for "sopping" the meat while you eat.  Then I finish it up with the bread.  Yeah, I'm a sloppy eater, so sue me. 

The one downside for me was the smoke ring.  It was there, just very shallow.  And the meat still had a great smoky flavor - is that a contradiction?  No.  So what gives?  

The Smoke Ring is not a function of Smoke Flavor
The pink smoke ring is not indicative of how much smoke "gets into the meat".  The smoke ring is an issue of myoglobin.  (Myo-what?  Quit taking myoglobin and get your own!)

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains that myoglobin is a RED protein in beef (and other meats to varying extents).  
  • Normally when myoglobin is heated quickly, it denatures, exchanges an oxygen molecule for a water molecule and turns BROWN.  
  • But when myoglobin is slowly heated in a smoke environment something different happens.  Nitrogen dioxide in the smoke, condenses onto the meat and is converted to nitric oxide (NO) inside the meat. At temps up to 140f, that NO reacts with the myoglobin and forms a stabilized PINK globin molecule which forms the smoke ring.  

Why explain all that?  Go back to my temp chart.  Because of the temp spike at the BEGINNING of the cook, my brisket had less time in that period when myoglobin can react with NO to form a stable pink molecule.  So my brisket could still take on smoke flavor after that point, it won't convert anymore meat to that pink smoke ring.  

Lessons Learned (or more likely, reinforced)
  • When smoking, keep the meat as cold as possible before putting it on the smoker to maximize the length of time in the "NO zone".  (As opposed to grilling, where you want to leave the meat out at room temp for a while first.)
  • Keep those temps low, especially during the first part of the cook.  The longer you keep your meat in the smoke at an internal temp of less than 140f, the better - in terms of smoke ring development.
  • Smoke ring does NOT = great smoked meat.  But it does look great, just like grill marks.  Case in point - this brisket.  The smoke ring was thin but the smoke flavor was bold.
[Standard Disclaimer] - I have a business relationship with Bush Beans but this is NOT a sponsored post and we bought these beans at the store.  I received a sample of Moo'd Enhancer from Draper's BBQ but I also buy their products and we are huge fans of their AP Rub.  I paid full price for the Mojobricks.


  1. Love brisket... Absolutely love it. I have done an oven brisket for years but have been considering the grill for the last few weeks. Thanks for leading the way and the tips.

  2. Love, love, love it! Your passion for smoking and grilling clearly shines through.

    Awesome brisket.


  3. If Alexis said it was the best she's eaten, she should know!

  4. I simply don't know how to do a brisket. ::::sigh. Will there ever be a day that I'm discussing my own myogloin? With all that said, now you've got me craving it and a slice of Texas toast. It's been forever since I've had either. I've never seen those wood cubes. Sounds like a great idea.

  5. The one and only time I smoked brisket it was a failure - but I think that was because I was impatient. This makes me want to try it again!

  6. Great post and I have to admit that brisket is by far my weakest piece of meat.

    I am wondering a couple of things... Cup of water in the foil wrap stage... Why??? this is the first time I have ever heard of that.

    And second, I have heard that adding more salt to your rub will make a larger smoke ring... much like the name brand seasoned salt that competitive smokers add to "force" a smoke ring (again, from what I hear)

    finally, my technique is to cook at 215-225 for the first 4 hours which would fit in with your " The longer you keep your meat in the smoke at an internal temp of less than 140f, the better - in terms of smoke ring development." theory.

    SIgh... Some days I want to hear best i have ever made when they have best ones prior. Terrific post, lots of details


  8. @Dave
    The H20 is a trick I learned from Chris Lilly. It combines with the beef baste originally put on the brisket and creates a tasty au jus as well as braising during the foiled portion.

    Yes, any rub that has nitrates will facilitate smoke ring development. Morton Tenderquick will do that as well. My guess on the salt is that for the NO2 in the smoke to penetrate the meat, it has to condense on moisture on the meat then convert to NO to penetrate. Salt will help bring moisture to the meat surface and also help draw it in (just like a salted steak). Seems to make sense to me.

    I think the biggest thing is the time at low temps, which I blew this time, lol.

  9. In the Jewish world, where brisket is a point of pride, "low and slow" is the way to cook it. Now, of course, it's done in the oven rather than on a grill! But same respect for the final product; and this final product looks amazing!

  10. At least one of us is doing successful experiments. Too bad I can't channel your prowess into my lab experiments working.

  11. I use 6 mojo cubes 4 cherry and 4 fredoak in my large size big green egg which I find produces a bigger smoke ringer with sweeter smoke taste. Trying out the new apple cubes with Pork butt tonight

  12. Ok I feel like I am back in college and I just sat through a delicious lecture. GREG

  13. Chris, your brisket looks absolutely perfect. I'm trying to decide in I'm ambitious enough to give this a go on my my Weber. Have a great Father's Day!

  14. My gosh, you are such a PRO! I love reading these posts. I'm just in awe.

  15. Comment via email - Eric makes some good points:

    Love the blog and am now subscribed. I wanted to add data if you will in the smoke ring theory. I am in no way arguing your point but just trying to figure out/perfect (yeah right) my BBQ experience. I have been obsessed with smoking for about 3 years now, always looking for ideas, tips techniques to improve. I recently did a brisket using a modified version of this . Modified because I shot for temps of 300 degrees at the lid in the first stage, my thinking was to keep it in the smoke longer then once foiled around 160 I would then jack up the heat to follow the HH method. I had a great smoke ring as you can see, the bottom did not get one, I did not trim and smoked it fat cap down. One thing I did do was keep it in the fridge so when I tossed the brisket on IT was 40 degrees. Anyway there must be other factors, I often do ribs at HH and get a nice ring as well. Like I said not arguing just throwing my experience in and trying to learn as much as I can.

  16. Looks good from here Chris. I'm finding whole packers ever harder to find, but Ingles usually has them.

  17. This is an art form. And you are the master. If I had to go by looks I would say that's the best looking brisket I ever laid eyes on! Best looking brisket = best tasting brisket.

  18. Look how moist, tender, and juicy it is. Perfection my friend!

  19. There is this man named Chris. He amazes me. The end.


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