Monday, March 4, 2013

How I smoke brisket

With my BBQ roots firmly entrenched in North Carolina, BBQ was all about pork.  I don't think I ever even tasted barbecued beef brisket until I was an adult, so I didn't know what I was missing.  Now I can't get enough of it.

It is heaven to pull the pencil thin slices, watching them stretch slightly before snapping, and then smearing it in velvety au jus.  That smoky, rich beef taste is unbeatable when made right.   I smoke my brisket backyard style, not competition style.  

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Preparing the Big Green Egg
  • Remove all used coal from the Egg and reserve..  Thoroughly clean out the ashes.  Make sure all fire grate and fire bowl air holes are free of ash and coal.
  • Wood:  I do NOT soak my wood chunks or chips.  For beef brisket, I like to use hardwoods.  This weekend I used strips of red oak and hickory chips (Thanks, Larry!).  I make sure they are interspersed throughout the lump coal so I get a steady supply of smoke.  
  • Open bottom vent and DFMT vent all the way.  I usually light the coal with a MAPpro torch in 3 places.  But my tank was empty so I used two veggie oil soaked paper towels.  I don't put the towel in the middle because then the fire just burns straight down.  By starting on the edge, the fire tends to burn inwards AND down.  When temp reaches 200f, I cut the bottom vent to about 1" open.  When it hits 220f, I shut the bottom vent to about 1/4" or less and close the DFMT vent but open the daisy wheel so the 6 holes are open.  
  • When the Egg reaches 250f, I place the plate setter in "legs up" and place my drip pan onto of that.  My drip pan is a large deep dish pie pan that I bought from a restaurant supply store.  I cover it with foil for easy clean up.
  • I let the Egg hold at 250f until the smoke turns from white to clear or "sweet blue" see picture below.   It takes 15 to 45 minutes for the heavy white smoke to change over.  It just depends.
Oak on the left, hickory on the right.  

I alternate layers like this until to the top of the fire bowl.

I need to get a new tank of MAPpro gas.  In the mean time this trick works.

Bottom vent was open this wide and held 250f on a cold, snowy, windy day.
See the difference between the bad heavy white smoke and the "thin blue"?

Prepping the Meat
  • I like cooking "packer" or whole brisket which has the point and the flat.  I like USDA choice or better.  This weekend all I had was a 4.93 lb brisket flat, but it was a nice looking flat so I bought it.
  • I trim the fat cap side down to 1/8" to 1/4".
  • Brine - I don't brine brisket.
  • Injection - I like to inject brisket.   One injection that I like is simply 1 cup beef broth and 1 Tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos.  Lately I have been using Butcher's BBQ Brisket Injection.  It seems that a lot of the competition cooks in the BBQ Central Radio Show chatroom like to use it so I bought a bag of the mix.  It enhances the beef flavor and helps keep the brisket moist, IMHO.  
  • Slather - I make a slather of 3 parts beef base and 1 part Worcestershire sauce (blatantly stole that idea from Chris Lilly).  
  • Rub - Like most folks, I keep my brisket rub basic.  I apply it just after the slather and just before it goes on the smoker.
    • 2 parts kosher salt
    • 2 parts black pepper
    • 1 part garlic powder
    • 1 part McCormick Mexican Chile Powder
    • 1 part oregano
Trimming the fat cap to 1/8" to 1/4"

Some places just use salt, pepper, and garlic for brisket.
Butcher's BBQ Beef Injection
I love that Moo glass.

seasoned brisket
Season heavily, it is a big hunk of meat.

  • Once the Egg is stabilized at 250f (dome temperature) and the smoke is either clear or thin blue, I put my brisket in fat cap up.  
  • I check the Egg and meat internal temps every hour just to make sure the Egg temp is still stable at 250f and the butt temps are progressing as expected (see chart below for an example).   I use a remote probe thermometer so I don't have to keep opening the Egg.
  • Temp Adjustments - The Egg is pretty stable.  I don't make any changes if it is within 10 degrees of my target temp.  If it gets more than that, I adjust gradually.  Guiding temps on an Egg is more like operating a boat instead of driving a car, you can't just start slamming on the brakes or stomping on the gas.  If the temps start to drop about 8 hours in, I check for smaller pieces of coal blocking fire grate holes and use a wiggle rod (metal skewer with the tip bent 90 degrees) to clear them.
  • Mopping - If I am smoking on a metal cooker like my Smoke Hollow offset smoker, I do mop with a beer/vinegar based mop sauce.  I find that I don't need to mop when smoking brisket on the Egg.
  • When the brisket hits an internal temp between 160f and 170f, I switch to braising.  I put the brisket fat cap down in a foil pan or ceramic stoneware, add 1 cup of water, and cover tightly with foil.  This weekend I tried an experiment using a stoneware roaster.  I think it has too much air volume-wise, next time I'd just foil the top.  
  • Once it hits 193f, I start checking with my Thermapen probe.  It is a matter of "feel", more so than temp.  The probe should slide right in like the brisket was made of butter.  This can be as low as the low 190's or as high as 200+.  When it has that feel, remove, keep foiled and rest it for at least an hour.
  • Burnt Ends - My flat had a little part of the point still attached to it so I sliced that off, cut it into 1" cubes, tossed it in bbq sauce and put that back onto the smoker for another hour.  These are a great treat for the cook.
Brisket starting to "self baste" in the Egg. 
Alexis made some bacon wrapped, almond stuffed dates while I had the smoker going.

This stoneware actually fit in a Large Egg.  It had too much volume for this brisket but I am going to try using this on a whole turkey, capping it with the top once the breast is golden.

The part sticking up on the top was a piece of the point.  That is what I cut off for...

Burnt ends!  A BBQ treat.

  • Au jus - Remove the brisket from the pan.  Strain the au jus and reserve.  I like George Ewart's technique for enhancing the au jus with honey and beef rub once it is done, but sometimes forget to do this weekend.  
  • Slicing - I use a 12" straight edge carving knife.  It really makes cutting these large cuts of meat easier. Slice across the grain.  The traditional size is about pencil thin but I like mine a little thinner than that usually because it is easier to eat the leftovers on sandwiches that way.
  • Serve hot off of the cutting board with a quick dip in the au jus.  I'm full by the time I finish slicing the brisket.
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Storing and reheating
  • To me, sliced brisket does not freeze and reheat very well when compared to pulled pork.  When I make brisket we plan on eating it in the next few days.  Here are two recipes for leftover brisket.

2013 National Beef Cook-Off
Speaking of beef, the 2013 National Beef Cook Off is underway and accepting entries between now and April 15th.  The categories this year are:
  • Belt-Tightening Beef Recipes
  • Semi-Homemade Beef Recipes
  • Real-Worldly
  • Real Simple Beef & Potato Recipes
  • Craveable Fresh Beef and Fresh California Avocado Recipes
Twenty-one finalists will be selected in June, from whom seven $1,500 regional winners will be announced in July, and one different $25,000 grand prize winner will be announced, from the 14 remaining finalists in November. 

You can enter your recipe and find out more about the contest AT THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE.  I am definitely going to enter, I'm just not sure which recipe I'll use yet or even which category.

The 2013 National Beef Cook-Off is sponsored by the Beef Checkoff Program, California Avocado Commission and United States Potato Board