Brisket Hints and Tips
©2004, The Naked Whiz

Well, we'd be lying if we told you we were experts at brisket. However, here are some guidelines that should help you get started.

Brisket is a bit harder to do than, say, a pork butt or picnic. But remember, it's only meat and the meat only costs some money. If it doesn't turn out, learn from your cooks and you'll get better. "Better to have smoked and lost than to never have smoked at all...."

We'll assume that you know about the anatomy of a brisket, how a whole brisket consists of two muscles, the flat and the point. We'll assume that you know which on is which. That said, you might ask if you should get a flat or a whole brisket. Our experience has been that the best brisket that we ever did was a whole brisket. We think that if you can find them, cook them rather than just a flat.

Next, you need to be familiar with the temperature plateau that meats like brisket and butts hit while cooking. When you cook a brisket, at first the heat absorbed by the meat is going to be used to raise the temperature of the meat. So far, no brainer, right? Well, tough pieces of muscle like brisket contain a lot of connective tissue called collagen. At around 150 to 170 degrees internal temperature, the collagen in the meat is going to be slowly converted from collagen to gelatin. While this occurs, all the heat absorbed by the meat will be used to perform this melting of collagen. During this time frame, the internal temperature of the meat will stop rising and will stay steady for a very long time. In fact, it might even drop a few degrees. Once the conversion is complete, the heat absorbed by the meat will once again be used to raised the internal temperature of the meat. This conversion process is critical in converting a tough chewy dry piece of meat into a tender and moist piece of meat.

So, it will help you greatly if you have a remote thermometer like a Polder so you can watch the internal temperature of the meat. It is critical that you do not try to raise the temperature of the cooker in order to force the meat's temperature up. This plateau is normal and to be expected. In fact, you want the plateau to last as long as you can in order to ensure that the conversion from collagen to gelatin is complete. So, while you monitor your meat's temp, don't freak when you see it hit the plateau. Don't freak when you see it stay in the plateau for many hours. Don't freak if the internal temperature of the meat actually goes down a degree or two. As long as your fire is burning like you want it to, this is all normal, so just let nature take its course. And remember, if you do it right, your brisket is going to take a long time to cook, perhaps 2 or more hours per pound.

Put your favorite rub (mine is Dizzy Pig found at www.dizzypigbbq.com) on the meat and let it sit overnight. Add some turbinado sugar before you put the meat on the fire. Cook indirect over a drip pan sitting on an inverted plate setter, or a drip pan sitting on some fire bricks. If you do use a plate setter, place it legs up over the fire (inverted). Make sure that one of the legs is in the back of the cooker. This helps to cut down on the hot spot that develops at the back of your cooker. Place your drip pan on the plate setter and your grid on the plate setter legs. Cook the brisket fat side DOWN to protect the meat further from the heat of the fire and prevent drying. (The fat on the brisket doesn't melt into the meat and keep it moist. It renders and runs down the outside of the meat.) Try to keep the meat in the plateau as long as you can. The meat will be done when it reaches anywhere from 185 to 205. You should start checking soon after the meat exits the plateau. You can try the fork test (stick with a fork and you should be able to twist it) or use the probe of your thermometer as a guage. You should be able to push it in and out without too much effort.

When the meat is done, what you do next depends on whether or not you cooked a whole brisket or just a flat. If you cooked a whole brisket, we'd recommend that you separate the point from the flat. Set the point aside for a second. If you cooked a whole brisket or just a flat, take the flat and wrap it in heavy duty foil. Place it fat side UP in a cooler with some towels to insulate and let the meat sit for 1-3 hours.

When ready to serve the flat, remove it from the foil and cut across the grain in slices about the thickness of a pencil, say 1/4 inch. Good luck! (If the meat does turn out too dry or tough, chop it, mix with BBQ sauce and serve on sandwiches. Another good use is to chop coarsely and mix into BBQ beans.)

Now, what about the point that you separated from the flat? We recommend that you make "burnt ends" from it. Put the point back in the cooker for another 3-4 hours to add more smoke and cook it even further. Then you can take it from the cooker, chop it, place it in a pan, add some sauce, and return it to the cooker for about another 30 minutes to add even more smoke. You can then use burnt ends to make sandwiches on cheap hamburger buns.

Credits: The information on this webpage came primarily from two sources: the reknowned DrBBQ, (a.k.a. Ray Lampe) and some posts on The BBQ Forum about making burnt ends. Thanks!


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