Friday, May 7, 2021

Brisket Cook on the Deep South Smokers Gravity-Fed BBQ Pit

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This isn't a recipe post, just notes and thoughts about the brisket cook I did last weekend.

Sliced smoked brisket flat with a beautiful smoke ring
Here is the sliced flat from the smaller of the two briskets.

About 10 days ago, I got a text from my friend, Kim, letting me know she was at a store that had whole brisket for sale about $3 less per pound than the local going rate. By the time I got there, there was only a single brisket left and it weighed in at 12.3 pounds. It wasn't exactly what I wanted but I wasn't going to say no to a USDA Choice whole brisket for just $24.

What I Look For When Buying a Brisket

So if this wasn't exactly what I wanted, what do I normally look for when buying a brisket? It is a blend of things that I have personally found to make for a more consistent product.

What to look for when buying a whole beef brisket
  • Grade - I prefer a USDA prime or at minimum, USDA choice. Wagyu is fantastic and I'll get one for time to time, especially competitions. But I'll be honest, I can't afford to drop $200 for briskets all the time. Those are for special occasions for me.
  • Brand - Certified Angus Beef® Brand has been consistently excellent for me. I'd use them all the time if I could but they aren't the easiest thing to find around here.
  • Marbling - Sometimes, this is difficult to judge in the vac-sealed packaging, but I try to look for one that has moderate to abundant marbling.
  • Size - I prefer a 17-20 pound brisket.  The exception is if I'm using one of my large Big Green Eggs and smoking whole brisket, then I'll drop down to something 18" or less in length so it will fit. That generally turns out to be about 12-13 pounds.
  • Shape - I like the flat's end to be mostly even in thickness and for the brisket to be "rectangular-ish" except for the point.I like a big point section, however, I am suspicious of extremely bulbously shaped points because some packers like to leave flaps of side meat attached, which really aren't part of the brisket and don't cook the same way.
  • Color - I like a medium-red color, not too purplish and dark but also not pale and pink.
  • Flexible flat - All things else being equal, I opt for the brisket with a more flexible flat end. 

Strategy and Schedule

I offered to smoke Kim's brisket (16.93 lbs) while I smoked mine since she was the one who tipped me off about the sale. I used my usual competition brisket timelines but modified it a few ways.
  • I time-shifted the whole thing to shoot for a 3-4pm finish time.
  • Kim's brisket was 4-plus pounds heavier, so I put it on an hour earlier than anything else.
  • I lowered the cooking temperature by 15 degrees (from 290 to 275f) to allow for a longer smoking period.

Brisket Prep - Friday 7pm

Ideally, I would have done this about 12 hours before smoking (about 2pm), but life happens and you roll with it. Kim wanted burnt ends (who wouldn't?), so I planned to split the briskets like I do in competitions.
  • Trimming - For each brisket, I separated the point from the flat. I trimmed the exterior fat from the points. I trimmed the exterior fat on the flats down to about 1/8 to 1/4". It's not just the thickness, it's the shape. I try to trim the fat so that the shape is smooth and aerodynamic. That's so the smoke will flow smoothly over the brisket, maximizing contact between the smoke and meat. I use a large butcher's knife for separation and coarse trimming, then I clean up behind that with a semi-flexible boning knife.
    • No Point - The point on my brisket was the thinnest I have ever experienced. So much so, that for the first time ever, I decided not to smoke it for burnt ends and threw it in the grind pile instead.
  • Injection -I used 1/4 cup of Kosmos Q Reserve Blend Brisket Injection with 3 cups of beef stock (this is a watered-down, errr "stocked-down", version from what we would do in competitions) and used that to inject both briskets every inch or so.
  • Dry rub - I used Moo'd Enhancer, the highly popular beef seasoning from Flavor Anonymous. I wiped the briskets dry from any leaking injection and spritzed them with peanut oil Then I seasoned all surface areas rather heavily with the rub.  
  • Dry brine - I had the briskets on rack/tray combos and loosely covered them with food bags to keep the surface moisture from drying out in the refrigerator. I left them in there until it was time to go on the smoker, so they are cold and damp when they go into the smoke because smoke sticks better to cold, wet surfaces. The briskets got to brine for about 6 hours.
  • Pork Butts - We also were doing 2 pork butts. I injected those with apple juice and dry brined them using my NMT Southern Sweet rub.

A pack of spare ribs, two briskets and two pork butts with the Deep South Smokers GC36 in the back ground
From Left to right, 4lb spare ribs, 17lb brisket, 12.3lb brisket, and 2 8lb pork butts.

Briskets and pork butts prepped for the smoker
Trick question, which brisket flat/point was the 17lb one, top or bottom? It was the top! It looks smaller in this pic but it was 1 1/2 times as thick as the 12lb one on the bottom.

After prepping everything, we cover each tray in large 18 x 24 food-safe bags. We buy them by the roll and they come in so handy around the house. They fit perfectly over a brisket on a tray or pork butt in a half steam pan. They are ideal for storing baked bread and bulk items. 

Smoker Set up Friday 9pm

The Deep South Smoker is a gravity-fed pit, meaning that there is a vertical chute of coal that slowly drops down into the firebox as it burns through the coal. It has insulated cooking and firebox chambers, making it extremely efficient. I like the concept because it lets me load the chute with charcoal and then add wood chunks or cubes to the firebox for smoke as desired. So it lets you apply smoke in doses. 
  • Lump Charcoal - Usually, I like to use Kamado Joe Big Block, BGE Brazilian, or something like those for this cooker. 
    • The last time I used the Deep South, I used a sub-par bag of charcoal that had a lot of small pieces. It ended up causes air-flow issues which results in temperature control issues. 
    • This time, I went through 2 bags of regular Big Green Egg charcoal (Ace didn't have BGE Brazilian in stock) and handpicked out the medium and larger pieces to use. 
  • Controller - I hooked up a Flame Boss 300 to run the smoker. It constantly assesses the temperature inside to cooker and runs a variable speed fan as needed to stoke the fire. A pit like this can be run manually with natural airflow but it is sure a lot easier with a controller.

Deep South Smokers GC36 ready for action
Whether I'm going to smoke on this Deep South Smokers or a Big Green Egg, I like to set the cooker up in advance so all I have to do in the early morning hours is light it.

Smoke - Saturday 12am - 7:30am

  • Preheat - I fire the pit an hour before cooking, to give it time to preheat thoroughly. I lit the cooker and turned on the Flame Boss at midnight.
  • 1am - I put the larger brisket flat on the smoker an hour early because it was so much bigger. I spritzed it with quality apple juice and put it on the second rack. I added a 
  • 2am - I put the other flat and two pork butts on after refreshing their rub and spritzing them with AJ. 
  • From 2 to 7:30am - I spritzed the meats and added a MojoBricks hickory Bar-B-Qube in the firebox about every hour. Mojobricks have been around for years and the owner, Fred Grosse, was on our team at Memphis in May several years ago. If you haven't heard of them, check out their web page, many top competition teams use them.
    • Normally, I only use the Mojobricks at critical smoke times, like the first 2 hours and the last hour. I'll use chunks of wood between those times because that's a lot cheaper. But for this cook I was out of wood chunks.

I used Mojobricks exclusively for this particular cook. They are compressed blocks of various hardwoods, fruitwoods, and exotic woods made food-safe for use as smoking wood. On the left is a mini-qube and the right is a bar-b-qube. I use the minis on my Big Green Egg and the bar-b-qube on my bigger smokers. I especially like using these with the Deep South Smokers since I get to time my dosing of wood by adding a bar-b-qube to the firebox about every 45 minutes to an hour.

Braise - Saturday 7:30am - 10:30am

I'm not ashamed to admit that I use the "Texas-crutch" more often than not when I'm smoking briskets. When the briskets were over 160°f  I wrapped them in foil, with a small amount of beef stock (about 1/3rd cup) and some dried onion (maybe 1 tablespoon). 
  • I put them back in the smoker and let them braise until the briskets hit 200°f. 
  • Once they hit 200°f, I check them for tenderness about every 30 minutes by sticking them with a thermometer probe to see how tight or loose the meat is. 
  • I pulled the point when it was tender about 10am.
  • I pulled the larger brisket at 10:30am when it was an internal temperature of 206°f.
  • I pulled the second flat (and pork butts) at 11:30am when it was an internal temperature of 208°f.

The smaller brisket flat ready to get wrapped and go back in the smoker.

I used my Thermoworks Smoke to monitor my pork butts and my Thermaque to monitor the briskets.
Whenever I'm smoking two butts or two briskets, I play this game in my head that they are racing, and I watch the difference in internal temperature as they cook. It is interesting to watch how it diverges and converges. These two butts were only 1/10th of a degree apart after about 6 hours; it was a nail-biter, haha. I used Thermoworks Smoke (affiliate link) for the butts and my ThermaQ (affiliate link) to monitor my briskets. One day, I'll get a Signals (affiliate link) or a FlameBoss WiFi Thermometer, either of which could have monitored all 4 meats on one device.

Rest 10:30am (for up to 4 hours)

As each item finished, I put them in a hotbox (I like Cambro UPC 300) that I preheated by pouring a pot of boiling water in a hotel pan on the bottom rack. This keeps big meats warm for hours. 

I used to do the "FauxCambro" or FTC (foil-towel-cooler) method where you use a dry, warm cooler as a hot holding box.  You put the foil-wrapped meat in a cooler, cover with a few beach towels and keep the cooler closed until ready to remove the meat.

Two Cambro UPC 300 Hot Boxes on a set of wheels
My two Cambro UPC-300 hotboxes on a wheelset. Each one will hold 8 half-sized steam pans and keep food hot or cold for hours. I used to use coolers for this but after we were catering a dinner at Memphis in May and lost 3 steam pans of food when they collapsed inside a cooler, I spent the money and upgraded to these. Some of the best money I ever spent.

Burnt End Power Braise Saturday 11:30am - 12:45pm

I learned this technique from a competition BBQ class from a KCBS Team of the Year winner. I slice the rested point into 1" cubes and put them into a half-sized steam pan. I pour in enough beef stock to cover them about 1/2 to 2/3rds the way up the sides. Then cover tightly with foil and put them back into a hot spot of the cooker for 75-90 minutes. 

Finish Saturday 1pm

  • Au jus -  The wrapped flats and braised burnt end packages will have a good bet of stock and rendered fat. I pour this into a fat separator and then strain it into 2 cups of warm beef stock. This gives me a ton of smoky, delicious au jus. I used this to store the slices and keep the rest for later use. 
  • Burnt ends - Strained out the au jus as noted above, seasoned with a little more Moo'd Enhancer and lightly brushed with sauce. My sauce was 1 1/2 cups Blues Hog Original, 1/2 cup Blues Hot Smokey Mountain Sauce and 1/2 cup apple juice. Put a fresh Barb-B-Qube in the firebox and about 5 minutes later, I put the burnt ends back in the smoker for 10 minutes, just to set the sauce.
  • Brisket flat - I poured the au jus from the pack into the fat separator and put the whole flat back into the smoker with the burnt ends just long enough to reset the bark, about 10-15 minutes. Slice and place into a half-sized steam pan. Add about 1 cup of the warm au-jus. 

Burnt ends after their final glaze and smoke. You don't want them dripping in sauce. Coat them lightly so there is just enough to cook onto the meat.

Another gratuitous shot of burnt ends because they are that good.

The larger of the two briskets about to go back in the smoker to give it one last kiss of smoke and to reset the crust which gets soft during the braising and rest portions of the cook. It only takes 10-15 minutes.

The larger of the two brisket flats, smoked, sliced and ready to pack up.

Sliced beef brisket in a steam pan
For each brisket cook where I split the point and flat prior to the cook, I will get 1 half-sized steam pan full of burnt ends and 1 half-sized steam pan of sliced brisket. I put the sliced flat in the pan, sprinkle with a little more brisket rub and then pour about 1 cup of the beef jus into the steam pan. Then we'll either serve it this way or wrap it tightly and keep it warm for service.

Ramsay eagerly provides "security" while we process the briskets and pork butts. We "pay him under the table", don't tell the Feds.

Sliced beef brisket
The smaller of the two briskets, sliced.

Nice and flexible but the slice doesn't fall apart from its own weight, just about perfectly cooked for me.

Tip for Leftover Beef Jus

When I do multiple briskets, I usually end up with leftover jus from the wrapped foil. I had an idea this time that I came up with from a similar process that I do with pesto. I froze the jus in silicone ice trays (dedicated for this purpose so you don't get brisket tasting ice cubes) and then saved the jus cubes in a zip bag. Now whenever I want to fortify a soup, make a gravy, or just want some beef jus, I just thaw them out. Clever, eh? 

Trick for saving leftover beef jus

Want more inspiration, ideas, and recipes? Please check out my two books from Ulysses Press: 
The Kamado Smoker and Grill Cookbook and 
The Offset Smoker Cookbook.