Want to Make Barbecue Brisket at Home? Here's What You Need to Know
There's nothing quite like succulent, smoky barbecue brisket. Ribs, pulled pork, grilled chicken, and sausages are all delicious, but for many—especially Texans—brisket reigns supreme. A large piece of meat, brisket can be expensive to buy and daunting to cook at home, so we reached out to the experts to get their best barbecue brisket tips.
What is a brisket? "Phil the Grill" Johnson, owner of Trapp Haus BBQ in downtown Phoenix and professional barbecue competition award winner, explains, "Brisket is made up of two different muscles—the flat, which is leaner, and the point, which is fattier and more marbled. You can get choice or prime or wagyu." In addition, he points out that Certified Angus is often found at warehouse retailers. Chef Michael Mina, founder of the MINA Group which includes International Smoke, a wood-fired restaurant concept collaboration with Ayesha Curry, recommends prime grade brisket. He also suggests avoiding just the flat and says it's worth seeking out a point end brisket if possible; if not, go for the whole piece. Johnson agrees, saying, "Don't pick a small brisket. If you get the flat, it's cheaper grade and it's the hardest part to cook because it's lean. The marbling (in the point) will help you cook it." He recommends getting a 10-12 pound brisket since the meat will shrink in size after cooking and the final yield will only be five to six pounds, serving three to four people with leftovers.
Since cooking "low and slow" yields the best results, both Johnson and Mina suggest you start the brisket early in the day—doing so ensure you give it enough time. The seasoning for brisket is very simple. Johnson says, "You want to highlight it; you don't want to detract from the beefy flavor. You don't need much seasoning. Most steakhouses use salt, pepper, and a little garlic. I use equal parts of kosher salt, black pepper, and granulated garlic after oiling the brisket. The brisket should be room [temperature] but it will still be cold on the inside, so you will get the smoke ring."
Mina agrees: "The best seasoning mix is a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and coarse black pepper by volume. Trim any excess fat off the top of the brisket to about a quarter-inch thick and also remove any sinew that may be visible. Do not be shy with the seasoning—heavily and evenly season all around the brisket."
When it's time to cook it, Johnson recommends adjusting the heat. He says, "I start my smoker at around 300 degrees. I like to sanitize my grill by cranking it off and getting the build-up off of it. You can crank a pellet smoker to 400 degrees for 10 minutes and it builds up the smoke. I put it fat side down in a pellet smoker or grill." Mina recommends putting a small tray on a shelf underneath the brisket to catch any drippings which helps with clean up later.
Once the meat reaches 175 degrees and develops the distinctive crust or bark, Johnson adds broth and seasonings and wraps it tight, and puts it back on the grill, fat side up. He explains at that this stage you're really braising it, so you want the fat cap to render, so it goes back into the meat to keep it moist.
Is It Done?
Knowing when to take the brisket off the grill is crucial. You don't want to undercook or overcook the brisket. The secret to perfectly-cooked meat, according to Mina? Give it time! Most briskets take an average of 10-12 hours to cook, plus an hour or so of resting time at the end. As a general guideline, Johnson recommends pulling the brisket out when it reaches between 195 and 198 degrees. He likes brisket cooked to between 202 and 205 degrees, but the temperature will rise due to carryover heat. Of course, every piece of meat can be a little bit different. Says Johnson, "Not every brisket feels good at 198 degrees—it needs to feel like melted butter." After removing it, he wraps it in a bath towel and puts it a cooler and lets it rest for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. At this point, the temperature of the meat may still increase up to 212 to 215 degrees.
Both Johnson and Mina emphasize the importance of slicing the brisket across the grain. Says Johnson, "Since it's two different muscles the grain runs different ways so you have to be aware of that when slicing it." To keep it juicy, he recommends only slicing as much as you need and leaving the rest wrapped up for later. Got leftovers? Guests are sure to appreciate a doggy bag of brisket they can use for sandwiches, chili, on nachos, or fries the next day.