I love Texas-style brisket, but I love the process of making my own and learning through the process. My process has evolved over the years, and my recipes are based on my tastes and point of view. I make a change each time that I make one, so I can continuously improve and also find my trademark outcome. I will always be tinkering. I will never have it all figured out. I am sharing my process with you so you have a head start to find out what you like. I also like to involve George. He likes to ask questions and ask for explanations. Plus, the time together has fire and smoke to heighten the experience.
Choose a Brisket
I used to buy my briskets at a mass-market store and hope for the best. This still works, but there are some fantastic Brazilian butcher shops all around me. I have learned that I am looking for a carne de peito. If you have a few options, be picky. Pick a brisket with purpose. I tend to look for how much fat there is, the overall shape, and how thin the flat side is. I am thinking about how much I am not going to be able to use. I tend to trim aggressively, so I don’t want to pay for what I am going to throw away. Get the brisket home safely and put it in the refrigerator. Keep it cold until you are ready to trim.
Make a Brisket Rub
While your brisket is getting cold, prepare a fresh brisket rub. This is where your personality and preferences can shine through. Don’t worry too much about being traditional or what others like; try out different rubs, spices, and flavors. Over time, you will figure out what you like and what others tend to like. To me, a brisket rub is basically salt and pepper. This is because I have had many briskets in Texas, and they tend to be heavy on the black pepper. The trick is to use coarse grinds on the spices that you want to use. You want the smoke to make it the meat; fine powders tend to block the smoke from getting in. If you want to experiment, try coarse-ground spices instead of powders. I recommend Penzeys Spices Tellicherry Black Pepper and grinding it when you need it.
My Secret Texas Brisket Rub Recipe
- 1/2 cup of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- 1/2 cup of kosher salt
- 1 cup of tellicherry black pepper (coarse ground)
Add all of the ingredients to a container, seal it, and shake it to mix thoroughly.
Trim the Brisket
YouTube is your friend here. If you have never trimmed a brisket, watch a few hours of video to see different techniques and to get comfortable with what you are trying to accomplish. I will list some of my tips, but trimming a brisket takes some practice. It is also nerve-wracking, as you don’t want to mess up a very expensive cut of beef. Trim right out of the refrigerator—the colder, the better. I recommend a cheap deboning knife to trim a brisket.
At the end of the trimming process, you want a piece of meat that will be easy to smoke and yield eatable pieces. “Don’t be a hero” is what I say to the people who I teach. I aggressively trim and cut away pieces that are just not going to cook well or be tasty. Save the trimmings to make tallow.
At the end of the process, you want a brisket with an aerodynamic shape. This means no sharp corners and a rounded, domed shape. Trim down the flat side so it is at least an inch thick; any thinner, you run the risk of burning it up and drying it out. Trim the fat cap to around a quarter of an inch. Remove the silver skin and fat pockets from the bottom side. Take your time.
Apply the Rub
Put the brisket on a large cutting board. Apply your brisket rub to the brisket by shaking the container of rub from about 12 inches away. I start with the bottom side, go around the edges, flip, and cover the top of the brisket. I only lightly press the rub down. I don’t use any binders, and I don’t rub them into the meat. And make sure to get all of the sides. I tend to miss the side facing away from me.
Smoke the Brisket to 170°F
I use vertical smokers and charcoal and wood chunks for smoking meat. You can do this with a pellet smoker or an offset smoker. Use what you know and what you are comfortable with. I smoke at 225°F, and I am looking for an internal temperature of 170°F and a defined bark. Before I move to the next step, I like to have good color and have the bark in place.
While your brisket is smoking, make some tallow. We are going to use the scraps from trimming and render them into tallow. I put some of my scraps in a pot and heated it up slowly for a couple of hours. I am not worried about getting all of the fat to render. I just want to make a cup for when I wrap the brisket and smoke it the rest of the way. I pour the rendered fat through a strainer and then a coffee filter. I am only trying to get a cup to use in the next step. You can also buy Wagyu Tallow, smoke it, and use it without all of the mess of making your own.
Wrap the Brisket
Take two large sheets of pink butcher paper and place them on top of a cooking sheet. Pour the tallow onto the paper, and put the bottom of the brisket down on the pool of beef tallow. Fold the paper around the sides, flip, and tuck. I like to make sure that there are no air pockets in the paper. It might take a few tries to wrap it, but I haven’t noticed too much of a difference in the output. Tallow helps with moisture, texture, and mouthfeel.
Smoke the Brisket to 203°F
Take your wrapped brisket in pink butcher paper and place it back on the smoker. I am looking for an internal temperature of 203°F and a certain feel of the temperature problem. I use an instant-read temperature probe with a pointy end. I want the probe to punch through the paper and have little resistance going into the brisket. It takes some experience to get the feel for this.
Rest the Brisket
Once the brisket is at the desired temperature and has the right texture, I let it cool down to around 180°F. I keep it wrapped the whole time. Then, I place it in a cooler until the brisket is ready to serve. I give it at least 4 hours and have gone as long as 8 hours. The resting part is really important for moisture. A good cooler will hold the internal temperature around 160°F. I used some extra butcher paper to fill up the space in the cooler. I am not sure if this helps, but it is something that I do every time.
Show Off the Brisket
I am a ham. I love to share my work. I usually gather everyone around for the big reveal. This step is optional.
Slice the Brisket
I use a sharp brisket knife while wearing gloves to slice to order. My first cut is around the middle to separate the flat from the point muscles. I pose for the moisture shot and then continue slicing. I have watched a lot of videos on slicing a brisket properly, and I learn something new every time I do it. My flat cuts are around a quarter of an inch, and my point cuts are a little wider. Over time, you will learn where the burnt ends are. I usually cube up four pieces from the flap on the point to make some really tasty burnt-end pieces.
I never sleep so well after a day or so of smoking and eating. It is exhausting to keep up with the fire, checking things, overthinking things, and striving for your best. Get some rest, reflect, and be ready for the next battle.
What tips do you have? Please share and help build up our community. I am always learning. And the more I share, the better I get. I love talking about BBQ, so connect with me here or on Instagram. Godspeed.