Settle In and Let’s Talk About BBQ
Every region has its own specialty, and all of it’s good. The Carolina’s have their whole hog. Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee have pork ribs. Alabama is famous for its BBQ chicken, and even California has its tri-tip.
In Texas, the focus is on brisket, beef ribs, and cabrito (al pastor). This recipe is, in my opinion, the best place to start for brisket (beef ribs and cabrito I will save for another day). For the seasoning rub, I use a ratio of 1/2 kosher salt and 1/2 16 mesh grind black pepper (yes, that’s a thing). That’s it! Technique and meat quality are paramount.
Keeping it Simple
The first step to great BBQ brisket is to master the trim, seasoning, and smoke before adding sauces or mops. I am a purist when eating brisket (though I make my own jalapeño BBQ sauce for parties) and prefer my slices unadulterated or with a small pinch of Maldon sea salt. Smoking a brisket means taking the time or the better part of the day.
I have tried to shorten the time, but the physics of beef brisket demands at least 12-14 hours to get these results. This is a labor of love and requires patience. The result will be the best brisket you have ever tasted outside of Central Texas. You’ll get to see your guests eat slowly, eyes closed, no conversation…heaven.
What You’ll Learn
Read through this whole recipe before you begin.
This post shows you how to properly trim the brisket, leaving enough fat to transform into an ethereal, delicious, crusty bark, which means the final product won’t need much trimming. A small hunk of fat is left inside for structural integrity, but the rest will render and melt away while protecting the meat through the smoking process.
You’ll learn how to season and slow smoke the brisket, starting at 250 F. Then, every few hours, ramp up the temperature by 10 degrees until you’ve reached the final temperature of 290 F. After the meat has reached an internal temperature of 205 F, it must rest long enough for the juices to reabsorb back into the brisket-this is key.
For your start time, count back 12-14 hours (depending on the size of the brisket) from when you want to serve. In this recipe, I’ll use a large 18-20lb packer-style cut brisket of prime grade black Angus beef sourced from Creekstone Farms in Arkansas City, Kansas. This beef is USDA Certified, hand-selected Prime Black Angus. And the cows are humanely treated and fed high quality, with state-of-the-art processing. There are plenty of good sources for beef all over the country. Of course, you don’t need to get what I do, but I know my friends who read this blog want to know.
Choosing the Wood
Think of wood as a seasoning. It reacts with meats in various ways. Use milder woods such as Texas Post Oak, Alder, Cherry, Peach, or Apple for brisket since the smoking time is so long. True Central Texas BBQ uses only Texas Post Oak.
There are no rules here. Mix the woods to come up with your own special smokey taste. On the BBQ circuit, cooks are playing around with the portions and mixes of woods to come up with unique flavors. The technique for the brisket outlined here is the same, but the end product varies.
Master the basic setup for smoking brisket before adding additional rubs, injections, and other types of enhancers. Since I’ve been doing this for decades on a commercial level, I’ve found that starting at 250 degrees works best. Then, when I ramp up the heat in stages (10 degrees), the heat slowly penetrates to the center of the brisket without damaging the outside from too much initial heat.
A Word on Smokers
Smokers are expensive, and there are many types out there. Do your research. It is possible to get great results on a common Weber grill with a tight-fitting lid. Traditional Texas BBQ is done on an offset or New Braunfels BBQ rig (otherwise known as Stick Burners), which can get pretty big depending on your needs. Most are mounted on wheeled axle trailers so you can move them from place to place, though smaller ones built for home use are available. Using an offset BBQ is the purest form of Texas-style BBQ; however, stick burners are susceptible to the weather and their conditions. Because they are not insulated, cooking in the rain, wind, or cold winter takes extra skill.
I’m using a charcoal smoker, which I start with premium hardwood charcoal for optimum flavor. Once I have a good bed of coals going, I will feed my smoker premium cured Texas post oak throughout my brisket cook. My particular smoker is heavily insulated to keep the heat in and provide for a very efficient cook, regardless of the outside conditions. Living in the cold, windy mountains of Utah, an insulated smoker makes cooking much easier. My rig is a Fatboy II, Backwoods Smoker. Other similar smokers in this group are Big Green Egg and Kamado Japanese smokers.
If you can, supplement your smoker with a BBQ Guru computer control w/adapter. Smoking is much less tedious with this device, and I can hold a perfect temperature throughout the entire cook. Wild temperature fluctuations can hurt the overall results with something that takes this long to cook. The good news is that they make a computer-controlled device for almost any commercial smoker sold on the market, so check them out.
Electric Pellet or Box Smokers:
While easy to set up, these smokers are not insulated well. They usually have a built-in thermostat that tells the wood pellet hopper to add more pellets to the firebox to maintain a constant temperature. This type of smoker can be great for a first-time BBQ’er, but the more features, the more expensive they are. Traegers and Smoke Shack are the apex of this type of smoker. On the downside, you are limited to the type of wood pellets available in your area, and you can’t use any other type of fuel.
Vertical smokers include Barrel, Weber, and Masterbuilt and are usually sold at hardware stores. These can be fired by propane or electric and use shaved wood chips on an iron plate; since you can control the temperature with propane or electricity, these offer another good option for entry-level smoking. They are far more affordable than the smokers mentioned above, but only some have a water pan essential to keep the interior moist during smoking. Likewise, they typically aren’t insulated.
Central Texas Style Slow Smoked BBQ Brisket
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Sharp Knife
- Butcher Paper
- Mixing Bowl for seasoning
- 18-20 lbs brisket, full cap or packer cut packer-cut, trimmed of all but a thin, 1/4" layer of fat
- 1/3 cup kosher salt salt
- 1/3 cup ground black pepper, preferably 16 mesh grind or coarse grind
- 1 Spritzer Bottle ½ apple cider vinegar ½ water solution
- 2 tbsp. mustard, yellow (optional)
Trim the Brisket
- Follow the step-by-step instructions under the images on this post. First, trim to a ¼ inch thick layer of pillowy fat all over the top of the brisket. See detailed instructions above. Trimming the brisket is best done the day before you do the smoking since this recipe is lengthy.
Season the Brisket
- Add equal amounts of salt and black pepper. Stir to mix thoroughly. A large empty spice shaker with large holes works even better to mix.
- Starting on the underside of the brisket, slather with mustard or hot sauce. Sprinkle with a generous amount of the salt and pepper mixture.
- Flip the brisket over to the fatty side and repeat the process with the mustard/hot sauce and salt and pepper. Cover with loose plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature while you build a fire.
Start the fire
- Light the smoker according to the directions. Using raw wood to smoke, begin making a bed of coals out of wood or wood charcoal. (I use FOGO premium charcoal, it burns clean and longer than briquets)
- Fill the smoker pan or jacket full of clean water. Then, close the smoker up and bring the temperature up to a steady 250°F/121°C.
- If there are multiple shelves in your smoker, place the brisket on the lowest rung. If not, make sure the grate is clean and ready.
- Add the brisket to the smoker, placing the large end closest to the source of the smoke. Close the smoker up and maintain a steady 250°F/121°C for 3 hours. Add enough wood chunks to last several hours.
- Ramp up the smoker to 260°F/127°C and smoke for 3 hours. (Check to see that your water pan stays topped off!) Add more wood chunks if necessary.
- Now that the brisket has been in the smoker for 6 hours, start spritzing it all over the surface to keep it moist. (No need to turn it over.) Do this every hour for the next 3-5 hours. Next, ramp up the temperature to (270°F or 132°C) and smoke for 3 more hours. Add more wood chunks and water to the water pan if necessary.
- At this stage, start evaluating the bark. Every piece of meat is different. The outside should be very dark by now, but not dry. The brisket has been in the smoker for 9 hours. If it is moist from the spritzing and can take additional smoker time, let it go another hour to 10 hours of total smoking time. If the brisket is starting to get a little dry in spots, remove it from the smoker and wrap it in butcher paper (as detailed in the images above). When you are ready, turn the smoker up to 290°F/143°C before wrapping the brisket. (No need to add more wood chunks after wrapping.)
- Once the brisket is tightly wrapped, add back to the smoker with the seam side down. The smoker temp should be 290°F/143°C. Cook for another 1-2 hours or until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 200°-205°F/94-96°C.
- Remove the brisket from the smoker and allow it to rest inside the butcher paper at room temperature until cooled. Don't cut into the brisket until the internal temperature has reached 150°F/65-66°C.
- Cut the brisket as shown in the images above. Then, enjoy a taste of HEAVEN!