Low and Slow Smoked Pork Brisket
If you’ve never heard of pork brisket, you’re not alone. I hadn’t either until the good folks at Porter Road asked if they could send us some to try out.
We’ll walk you through the rise of pork brisket, where it comes from on the pig and how to cook it for a simple but savory meal.
What is Pork Brisket?
Pork brisket is a new cut that has come out of the practice of whole-animal butchery.
The brisket on a pig corresponds to the same anatomical area on a cow.
Calling it pork brisket gives consumers familiarity and, hopefully, willingness to buy.
After the picnic ham and pork shoulder are processed and packaged, you’re left with a large portion of boned out picnic ham, where the shoulder and pectoral muscles of the pig come together.
Porter Road has some other interesting cuts, like pork wings, which we used for our smoked pig wings recipe.
What is whole-animal butchery?
Whole-animal butchery is becoming increasingly popular with eco-conscious processors and consumers, and resulting from that movement are cuts such as the pork brisket.
When butchers process an animal carcass, after the popular cuts are removed there are pieces of meat leftover that aren’t popular or don’t fit consumer needs.
More often than not, these “leftover” cuts get processed into sausage, but depending on how well a butcher can merchandise and market the meat, they may be able to sell it whole instead. This is exactly the case with pork brisket.
A tale of two muscles
The brisket from a pig is made up of two muscles coming together just like beef brisket, but the fat ratio of the muscles is switched.
When comparing a beef brisket to the pork version, the corresponding “flat” end of a pork brisket comes from the belly side and is actually quite fatty, while the fatty “point” of a beef brisket is relatively lean on a pig.
So the makeup of the muscles is actually swapped when comparing the two animals.
The chest portion of a pork brisket is part of the lean pork picnic cut. Pork picnics are the less popular cut of the whole shoulder, whereas the Boston butt portion of the shoulder gets all the recognition.
How to cook pork brisket?
Pork brisket is best cooked like its beef counterpart: low and slow.
Like it’s beefy cousin, pork brisket is rich with connective tissue that renders beautifully when cooked low and slow.
Pork briskets are not as large as the beef version, so the cooking time will not be as long.
Remember that we’re still cooking to internal temperature and not a specific one-size-fits-all timeframe.
1. Preparing the pork brisket for smoking
Bring your brisket out of the refrigerator and trim off any silver skin you find.
Excess silver skin on the surface of the meat inhibits smoke, marinade, and rub penetration. If you have a substantial fat cap on your pork brisket, trim it down to no more than a quarter inch.
Our pork was sourced from Porter Road online butchery. Porter Road is based in Nashville, TN and offers high quality, humane and pasture-raised meat from local farms. They were kind enough to send us a pork brisket for free to try out. Check out our review of their meat and service here.
Porter Road hand cuts their meat, and this pork brisket was expertly trimmed out of the box. It was clean of visible silver skin and surface fat.
Our brisket was on the smaller side at 1.5lbs and the skin was removed.
If yours comes with skin on, be sure to cut it off before smoking. There wasn’t a fat cap like on a beef brisket, but if yours has the skin on, there will be a fat cap under it. Trim this down to a quarter inch in thickness.
There is no layer of point fat like a beef brisket, so you will have to pay close attention to bark and internal temperature so as not to overcook.
Once your pork brisket is trimmed, evenly dust the whole exterior with rub. I used our Barbecue Pork Rub Recipe.
Be liberal with your rub of choice, and be sure to pat it into the meat with the palm of your hand.
Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size and weight.
2. Smoking the pork brisket
While the meat is resting at room temperature, set up your smoker to 250°F.
You want the temperature to be as steady as possible, but a little variance is ok.
With our pork brisket on the smaller size, I didn’t want my temperature to be over 250°F. Otherwise, the exterior would start to dry out before the inside got to our target temperature.
Once your smoker is maintaining a steady temperature, it’s time to put on your cooking wood.
Depending on the style of smoker you use, this may come earlier. I’m using the Backwoods Chubby 3400 with Royal Oak all-natural lump charcoal and five chunks of local Carolina hickory wood for smoke.
If you’re using a charcoal smoker, now is the time to add your wood chunks to the burning charcoal. The minion or snake methods work great here.
If you’re cooking on an offset smoker using wood as your primary heat source, you won’t need to add any further wood here. Keep your fire steady and the smoke will do the rest.
With your smoke rolling and your temperature steady, add the meat directly on the grates and close the door.
Don’t touch the meat or open the smoker door for at least two hours depending on the size of your pork brisket. The larger your pork brisket, the longer you can let it go before opening and checking on it.
3. To wrap or not to wrap
Check on the pork brisket after two hours to see if a bark has started to form. You want a dark red bark to form on the exterior of the meat while the intramuscular fat renders on the inside.
At this point, check the internal temperature as well. We’re going to take the pork brisket to 195°F internal temperature. Use an instant read thermometer to check in the thickest part of the meat.
Our pork brisket was sitting at 170°F, but the bark had not set as much as I’d like at this point, so I let it roll unwrapped for another hour.
The pork brisket was now 190°F and good bark had formed on the meat. Since I’m pulling the meat off at 195°F, I choose not to wrap it. It takes another forty minutes to reach my target temperature, then I pull it off and tent with foil.
A larger pork brisket may need wrapping to help facilitate cooking through the stall.
Just pay attention to your meat temperature and make sure the bark doesn’t start to burn. Wrap in foil to shorten cooking time, or wrap in butcher paper to maintain a sturdier bark. The choice is yours.
Serving the pork brisket
Let the pork rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour to let the juices redistribute throughout the meat.
If you’ve followed along, your pork brisket’s temperature should rise to 200°F or so while resting, and the intramuscular fat and collagen will have rendered into a juicy flavor bomb.
The muscles that come together in a pork brisket are a little more difficult to discern than in a beef brisket, so do your best to slice against the grain.
With a sharp knife, slice against the grain as best you can into half-inch slices. Rotate the brisket to maintain against-the-grain slicing as needed.
Serve the pork brisket warm.
I had no idea what to expect when with my first mouthful.
Luckily the pork brisket was moist and robust in flavor. The leaner shoulder meat was very reminiscent of pork loin or chops while the belly end of the brisket had a pulled pork flavor and juiciness to it.
To be honest, I prefer the taste and texture of pulled pork from a Boston Butt. While I don’t think pork brisket is likely to become a huge hit at BBQ counters, it’s definitely a fun new cut to try out.
Smoked BBQ Source Pork Brisket
- 1.5 lb Pork brisket if you use a larger cut the cook will take longer
- 1 cup Smoked BBQ Source Pork Rub how much rub you need will depend on the size of your brisket
- Remove skin from the pork brisket if present.
- Check the pork brisket for any silver skin and trim off.
- Trim any fat cap to one quarter inch in thickness.
- Rub evenly and generously with BBQ rub. Pat the rub in with the palm of your hand.
- Let rest at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes depending on the size of your piece.
- Preheat smoker to 250°F and add hardwood chunks of choice.
- Place pork brisket on smoker grates and smoke until internal temperature reaches 170°F.
- If you have a good bark, wrap your brisket with foil or butcher paper. If bark has yet to form, leave meat unwrapped.
- Remove meat from the smoker when internal temperature reaches 195°F.
- Tent with foil and let rest for 30 to 60 minutes depending on size and weight.
- Slice in half inch pieces against the grain and serve warm.