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


  1. Chris - this is amazing! Always appreciate your photos man... those burnt ends look soooo good. Thanks for sharing!

  2. The brisket looks just right and nice how-to Chris. I really need to try the chimichangas. Glad to see the wood put to good use and I nearly always have red oak when you need a few sticks.

  3. i've got a couple of new rubs I want to try out on brisket soon. Never done an injection on brisket tho.

    Really nice that you included 2 leftover recipes. We usually end up eating the same sandwiches for a few days.

    Next time will be a chance to try those recipes - especially the Munster.

  4. You are way out of my league when it comes to something like this. The only thing I know about smoking brisket is that you need very large cigarette papers.

  5. Great post, muchacho. Very detailed and descriptive, especially for those of us fellow Egg Heads. How are you going to bring the Egg down when it's time for our surf trip?

  6. oh, wow. Once again, I'm reminded how much I need a smoker. The brisket looks amazing and I really need a chance to try those burnt ends! thanks for the awesome tutorial.

  7. Oh man, everything looks amazing. And although I was looking forward to seeing some giant zig-zags when I read the post title...I'll gladly wake 'n bake with this instead ;P

  8. Can I just hire you to do this for me? :) My one and only attempted at smoking brisket was a failure.... could have been my impatiences, but whatever..... :) I guess I might need to try at least one more time before I give up!

  9. I love your process. I use the exact same process to much success. I tell people all the time if you aren't wrapping brisket, you're missing out.
    I'd love to hear if you do anything extra special with burnt ends. I'm still fine tuning that process.

  10. Similarly, I never ate vegetables until I was an's amazing how much the palate can change. :P

  11. My briskets in the past have been pretty unremarkable so I typically turn my briskets into pastrami. You have given me hope, thanks!

  12. What a simply fantastic "how-to" on smoking brisket. Another job well done.

  13. if i were to show my husband this post, he would most likely cry from the sheer beauty of it. smoked brisket is his all time favorite. someday i'll have to means to make it myself. delicious post!

  14. I had smoke brisket at a local place about a year ago and it was amazing! I would love to be brave enough to make it at home!The pictures are beautiful,Chris!

  15. I love burnt ends. Sometimes we will cook points only just for burnt ends. I loved the tutorial except there is only a slight problem. We need to get a green egg.

  16. You may not be from Texas, but you did that brisket proud! Just last night, I told Mrs. G that it has been forever since we've done a brisket. Might just do one this weekend.

  17. Boy oh boy! I love beef brisket but never smoke them on my own. I think I better get started cos this look finger-licking good! I'm drooling over your pictures!

  18. This is truly a beautiful post Chris. I too grew up on Pork but have been embracing Brisket lately. It is like an aphrodisiac for Scott, he can't get enough of it! Great photos as always!

  19. Wow, you deserve a medal or a badge or a crown...or at the very least a certificate that you can laminate and punch a hole in so you can string a ribbon through it and wear it around your neck, it would say, Expert in Brisket! I can't decide if I should continue to wish for an Egg or to have you as my neighbor...Decisions! Decisions!

  20. Chris, you've got a lot of good info here and I will be passing it on to the griller/smoker here. When we get rid of all this snow, this brisket recipe will be great to try. Thanks!

  21. You make it look so easy! The chimichanga and sandwich both have me drooling.

  22. it was so gorgeous Saturday that I smoked a brisket. It's been a long time since A.J. got excited about what I was cooking,er smoking...but it turned out great. the chimichangas are a great idea!

  23. Chris, Great recipe. How long did it take you to cook the 5lb brisket? Thank you!

  24. Do you put any liquid in your drip pan?

  25. When/where do you use the slather???


  26. Hi - Thank you for the thorough process. I am using a fair amount of wood in chunks (hickory and mesquite in this case because this what I have) integrated into with the charcoal. I am not getting a smoke ring like you depict in your photos. ANy thoughts?

    Also, do you have recipes on your site for baked beans and that potato salad I see in your main picture. It looks great!

    1. Are you using a kamado grill? As great as they are, because they are so efficient, I do find it's harder to get a good smoke ring in those although smoke ring doesn't affect smoke flavor, necessarily. The things that I find give me the best smoke rings are
      1) Moist air in the cooker - I try to have water in the drip pan for brisket. Moist air helps get the nitrogen compounds in the smoke, onto the meat where it can bind with the myoglobin in the meat making the ring pink.
      2) Cold meat. The longer the meat is in the cooker and below 140f internal temp, the better, so have your brisket nice and cold when it goes onto the cooker.
      3) Spritz the brisket. Again, the moist surface encourages nitrogen compounds to interact with the meat.

      Hope that helps!

    2. Thank you for the thoughts. Yes, I am using an XL BGE.

  27. Thank you, thank you! After reading so many Big Green Egg brisket recipes & "how to" on the web, you absolutely nailed it for me. So thorough and well explained. Every concern answered. Great pictures. Great descriptive writing. The brisket is on the Egg right now!

  28. Chris - Thank you again for this process. I followed it very closely this last weekend, cooking a 16 lb “Prime” grade brisket from Sam’s. I used a Big Green Egg at 215 grid temp. The brisket went into a foil pan, adding the liquid and covered as prescribed at about 169 degrees. I pulled it after it reached almost 200 degrees, and was very soft when probed with my thermapen. (like soft butter). The finished product tasted very good, was juicy and had a nice smokiness. However, most of it shredded when I sliced it. Do you have any idea why this happened and recommendations moving forward? Thank you,

    1. Hi Mike. I cook brisket much hotter now, about 290f. But your process sounds solid. That is kind of odd, because for me brisket doesn't start falling apart until 207f or so. Double check the calibration of your thermometer, maybe it was really hotter than just 200f? How did you rest it? If the resting container was too hot, it can have a lot of carry over cooking while resting.

    2. Thank you for the response. I used my DigiQ to monitor temp. Admittedly I have never calibrated that so will check to see if/how I can. Good suggestion and input. Also, my resting container was a simple makeshift “cambro” using a large cooler. The brisket was wrapped in foil then towels. I added more towels to the cooler also to fill space. It rested about 2 hours I think.

  29. Chris - How do you typically rest your brisket? Thank you.

    1. These days, I put it on a resting rack in a hotel pan in a pre-heated Cambro hot box (like caterers use). I wouldn't buy a Cambro just for resting BBQ meats but it sure is a nice benefit when you already have one.


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