Brisket is notoriously difficult to cook. Many amateur barbecuers have turned a 4lb brisket into a 4lb hunk of beef jerky. You shouldn’t let these horror stories put you off though. There is no greater accomplishment than pulling a brisket off the BBQ after 10 hours tending to your fire.
Aaron Franklin of BBQ with Franklin fame breaks down exactly how to cook a brisket in this 3 part YouTube series.
Great brisket isn’t about fancy rubs, mops, marinades or BBQ sauce. In fact brisket is a great example of the skills required to master low and slow cooking. Aaron explains how to trim and prepare your brisket and how to manage the fire during the long cook. He finishes up by explaining how to properly slice the brisket.
While Aaron uses an offset smoker in these videos, the techniques he uses for preparing, smoking and slicing the brisket can still be used if you are using a charcoal smoker like the Smokey Mountain, converted Kettle or any other smoker.
There is a lot of great advice in this series whether your smoking your first brisket or you’ve done this many times before.
The brisket – how to properly trim and add a rub to your brisket
Trimming the brisket:
- The problem most people have with brisket is that it’s a tough cut of meat. This makes it perfect for low & slow cooking.
- When selecting your brisket look for marbling and a thick flat so the leaner part will cook at almost the same rate as the larger point.
- Use a good narrow curved boning knife for trimming the brisket (using a blunt knife is a good way to stab yourself).
- If you don’t trim any fat off the brisket it will taste too fatty, but trimming too much will make your brisket dry. Aim for around 1/4″ of fat.
- Brisket is much easier to trim when it’s still cold so trim it right after you take it out of the fridge.
- There is a thick membrane called the deckle that will not render out during cooking which you need to cut out.
- Trim off any bits which are significantly thinner than the rest as they will cook too fast and burn.
- Think about where the heat will be coming from and how the brisket will be placed on your cooking surface. Areas that run hotter can have a little more fat to help protect the meat.
- So long as you leave around 1/4″ of fat and get a good shape don’t worry too much about trimming. Practice makes perfect.
Using a rub:
- A lot of people use complicated rubs with chill powder, cumin and paprika on their brisket. This is Texas style so Aaron uses even parts salt & black pepper.
- The biggest mistake people make is putting on too much rub. You want to be conservative with the rub so that the meat flavor stands out.
- Let the brisket warm up to room temperature for an hour before putting it on the smoker for a more even cook.
The cook – how to manage the fire and treat the brisket while it’s cooking
Positioning your brisket on your smoker :
- Place the brisket on the smoker fat side up. Not mentioned in the video but depending on your smoker, if the heat is coming from below, consider smoking fat-side down to protect the muscle from drying out too much.
- Place the fattier point of the brisket closer to the fire. The extra fat will help insulate it.
- The flat end of the brisket should be closer to the smoke stack.
- Always use a water pan to help keep moisture in the cooking chamber and avoid burning.
Smoking your brisket:
- A good rule of thumb for working out how long it’s going to take to cook is 1 hour – 1 hour and 15 minutes per LB (0.45kg) of brisket at 250°F (120°C). Every brisket is different though.
- You need to keep a close watch on the fire and keep the temperature steady. Make sure your
- When the lid of the smoker is open you’re losing heat and smoke and it’s going to take awhile to recover the heat. “If you’re looking you ain’t cooking”.
- Check it as little as possible, and if it’s looking dry consider using a spray bottle with some apple juice or apple cider vinegar.
To ensure a steady temperature and avoid opening the lid too often, make sure you have a quality wireless thermometer setup with dual probes so you can measure the temperature of the smoker, as well as the internal meat temp.
Mastering fire management:
- Try and avoid choking off the oxygen too much which can cause a ‘dirty fire’. This can create creosote (a thick, oily substance left over by fire) which causes a bitter, oversmoked taste.
- Wood choice is important, so try and avoid green wood or overly cured wood. Not mentioned in this video but elsewhere Aaron recommends using a very dry wood like Post Oak that has been cured for 9-12 months.
- You want to see clean heat coming out of the smoker and not a low of smoke.
- Knowing your cooker and how to manage your fire only comes from a lot of experience so try and maintain an even temperature but don’t freak out if you don’t get it perfect on your first brisket.
Keeping your brisket moist:
- Keeping a water pan in the smoker is the best way to retain moisture.
- After the first 2-3 hours start spritzing your brisket with water, apple juice, hot sauce, apple cider vinegar every 30 minutes to an hour. This helps keep it moist and stops it from burning.
- Some people use a liquid mixture to mop the meat but this causes a bunch of mess and can interfere with the bark on the brisket.
Wrapping your brisket and dealing with the dreaded stall:
- Wrapping the brisket in foil (the Texas Crutch) or butcher paper is an optional step that can help you in some circumstances.
- It can help to retain moisture and cook faster. If the meat is too smokey wrapping can also help.
- Wrapping in foil can help accelerate the cook time if your guests are getting impatient.
- You can wrap the brisket after around 4-6 hours or you can cook for 11 or 12 hours and never need to wrap it. It all comes down to fire management and personal preference.
- When the internal temperature of your brisket hits around 160°F -170°F the temperature can stall as the brisket tightens up and squeezes out moisture. Patience is key.
The payoff – wrapping, resting and slicing your brisket
Finishing your brisket
- When your brisket has a nice bark formed and is still soft and pliable you might want to wrap it.
- In this video Aaron wraps the brisket with butcher paper. If you can’t find it in the shops you can get a roll of unwaxed butcher paper on Amazon.
- At this point you might want to start cooking your BBQ sauce and sides
- Once wrapped put the brisket back on at 250°F until done. Aaron uses appearance and feel of the brisket to measure when it’s done but he has smoked thousands of briskets. We recommend using one of the leave-in thermometer reviewed here, and taking it off when it’s at an internal temperature of 185-195°F
Slicing your brisket
- Once you’ve taken the brisket off the cooker and let it rest for about an hour you are ready to slice.
- Cut the against the grain on the flat side until you get to the point. And then turn the brisket 90 degrees and then cut against the grain.
- Try and avoid scraping off the bark.
- Use a 12″ serrated knife or check out our breakdown of the best brisket slicing knives for more in depth reviews.
- Cut each slice around the thickness of a big pencil on the fattier part and a small pencil on the leaner part.
- If you’re not going to use it right away leave the brisket whole and cut it just before serving so it doesn’t dry out. Make sure the finished brisket is wrapped in butcher paper, in foil and then a towel and hold in a cooler for a few hours.
- Brisket is a very uneven cut of meat. Some parts are fatty, some are lean some are thick and some are thin. That’s why it can take so long to master it.
One of the best things about BBQ is that there are so many different opinions. Everyone things they know what method works best. The videos above are a great introduction for beginners because Aaron explains everything in excruciating detail and his method works fantastic.
But don’t feel like you need to stick to the video. Some people get great results by sprinkling salt on it 2 hours before cooking it. Some cook fat side up, others cook fat side down. Some use a mop, some use a spritz. Want to add some bourbon to your water try? Give it a try! (And let me know how it goes in the comments below).