Brisket+Salt+Pepper+Smoke+Time= East Texas Barbecue Beef Brisket, perhaps one of the greatest American dishes. If you get it right, you get true alchemy. A very humble piece of cow turns into a rich, luscious and flavorful meat you can eat just with your hands and really doesn’t need sauce. A little piece of heaven. And it seems so simple…
…but it isn’t. Barbecued brisket, at least really good barbecue brisket, is hard. Really hard. Even pros regularly turn out dry, over-seasoned, poorly smoked failures. And while we aren’t pros, we take pride in our ‘cue. But where we succeed with barbecued pork shoulder or ribs, we often fail with brisket. And it is even more frustrating that we can make a great Jewish-style brisket in a dutch oven or slow cooker. Aargh. And after many failures, we were about to throw in the towel.
But just as we had given up, we heard about Aaron Franklin and his YouTube barbecue series. Aaron Franklin, it turns out, is considered one of the best (really, the best) pitmaster in Austin Texas. People we trust (friends and pros) sing his praises, and his brisket is the standard by which others are measured. We haven’t been to Franklin’s (yet) but he was kind enough to provide a step-by-step video series on how to make his brisket. So we decided to try just one more time…
And it worked. The steps are simple, but detailed. You need to customize for your gear / setup, but if you get the spirit of it, you will have some very tasty brisket. We
heavily recommend suggest you watch the series, but here are the basics: get a good piece of brisket (whole brisket, Creekstone or Certified Angus, don’t worry about the cost, this dish feeds an army and is affordable), trim it well, season it evenly with salt and pepper, smoke it over oak for about 12 hours (depending on the brisket), keep water pans in the smoker, wrap the brisket in butcher paper (or foil, the “Texas crutch”) about halfway through cooking, when done let it rest and then slice pencil thick and serve. And if you just have to have sauce, Franklin gives you a good recipe.
Now, we will cop to making some changes to deal with our Big Green Egg smoker. We use charcoal and wood chunks, and not just wood. And we use local red oak, rather than Texas post oak (and just a touch of local apple wood as well). And since we smoke on a Green Egg over somewhat direct heat, which can dry out barbecue in long cooking, so we decided to wrap in foil and finish the last few hours on the oven. Many will consider this sacrilege, but we know our Green Egg, and finishing in the oven works better (sorry purists, it does). But if you have a an offset smoker, you should be able to wrap the brisket and finish it on the smoker.
What do you get? More flavor than you would ever expect. And the juiciest, tenderest meat you can imagine. The magic of smoke never ceases to amaze. The bark has the complexity of good wine, the meat is sweet and the fat like butter (but way better). It may have taken 12-14 hours, but it will be time well spent. Now just slice and serve with some slaw, maybe some white bread, and sauce if you like. Then serve the large group assembled around you…and take a nap….you deserve it.
(Adapted from Aaron Franklin video series)
Notes Before You Start:
- You need a “full packer” brisket that includes the “point” and “flat” sections of the brisket. It should be at least 10-12 pounds, if possible (and they go much bigger). Franklin uses Creekstone Farms beef (you can order online) and we do as well. This is the good stuff and worth the money.
- If you trust your butcher to trim the brisket to your specs, have him (or her) do it. Otherwise, follow the steps in the video.
- While you can use any wood for smoking, this style really works best with oak. Maybe a touch of fruitwood. But heavily flavors like hickory or mesquite will dominate the basic salt and pepper rub.
- Always use a water pan (or two) while smoking to keep humidity in the smoker.
What You Get: A true American classic.
What You Need: A real smoker of some form. A Webber won’t really work here. An offset smoker would be the best choice.
How Long? Expect about 14 hours for a 12 pound brisket. But it could be more, or a little less. Get started very early in the morning and have beer ready for an all-day event.
- 1, 10-12 pound “full packer” brisket
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup fresh ground pepper, finely ground
- Oak wood, chunks or chips, for smoking.
- Trim the fat layer on the “flat” section of the brisket to 1/4 inch. Trim all the thick, hard fat around the “point” section. Trim any super-thin sections of the meat that will burn during long-cooking.
- Mix the salt and pepper in a bowl and lightly cover all the brisket with salt and pepper. Keep mixing the salt and pepper as you go, to keep even distribution. Avoid clumps or spots of extra rub. You do not need to use all the rub. Set brisket aside.
- Set up your smoker to smoke at 225 to 250 F degrees (Franklin runs closer to 250 F). Add your wood and then add the brisket. Add water pans. Cook for 6 hours, adding wood as needed. Check the brisket (internal temp will prolly be 130-150 F). Wrap the brisket in butcher paper or foil and cook another 5-7 hours (finish in the oven, if you like). Look for an internal temperature of about 195 F. Or see if all (both “flat” and “point”) of the meat is soft and “jiggles” to the touch. Remove from the heat and rest, in the paper or foil, 45-60 minutes.
- To serve, slice the “flat” section of the brisket, across the grain, in pencil-thin slices. The grain for the “point” section runs in the other direction. So rotate the “point” 90 degrees, cut it in half, and then serve in pencil-thin slices. Look for, and find, the grain before you slice.
- Serve with slaw, white bread and some sauce, if you
- The BBQ Chronicles: East Texas BBQ from Houston to the Piney Woods (okramagazine.org)
- Recipe of the Week (ROTW): Smoked (BBQ) Beef Brisket (ashcreekfarms.wordpress.com)
- From the Brisket Stack to the Hail Mary, it’s a new season of food at Arrowhead (kansascity.com)
- Smalls’ Barbecue Ambition is Anything But (chicago.seriouseats.com)
- Grass-Fed/Grass-Finished E-Z Oven BBQ Beef Brisket (pamstacticalkitchen.com)