Little adjustments can take your brisket from terrific to transcendent. Here are some tips for helping you achieve sublimity, drawn from my own experience plus inside skinny passed along in lectures, panel discussions, interviews and hallway discussions at Camp Brisket.
Don’t inject. Neither Aaron Franklin nor fellow Texas pitmaster Wayne Mueller does. Look, a quadrillion Texans know what Lyndon B. Johnson’s pitmaster, Walter Jetton, knew: A brisket is “self-basting.”
Among the worst epithets a brisket can be called is “roast-beefy.” Injecting makes briskets roast-beefy. Concerned about it being succulent enough? Wrap your brisket in foil after about four hours. Even better: butcher paper, because, unlike foil, it breathes.
Keep it simple. “You don’t have to brine it,” says Mueller. “You don’t have to have this super-complex rub.” Brown sugar mates well with pork butt; cayenne is a nice touch on pork ribs. But the best pitmasters in central Texas use nothing more than kosher salt and cracked black pepper. The point is to not mask flavor, but to enhance it.
Coat the meat liberally to create a rough, thickish texture. Use equal parts salt and pepper for balance, or 60 percent of one or the other if you prefer a peppery or a saltier crust.
Know how to position it. Set the brisket on the cooking grate fat side up. You want the fat to melt through the meat to moisten and provide richness.
If cooking in an offset smoker, face the point toward the fire to achieve a better crust and avoid overcooking the flat.
Hold steady. Don’t go nuts trying to maintain a specific temperature. The primary goal is to avoid drastic fluctuations, so try to keep the temperature between 225 and 275 degrees throughout the cooking time.
If using a kettle grill, keep the bottom vents open about halfway and use the lid vents to help maintain temperature. If using an offset smoker, learn the hot and cold spots of your cooking chamber and move the brisket if needed. Mainly, though, keep the top on and resist the temptation to peek.
Keep an eye on it. “Don’t walk off and think the fire will take care of itself,” says pitmaster Franklin. “If you’re going to buy this expensive cut of meat, buy firewood, sit there for 10, 12, 15 hours, let it rest, invite people over, do all this stuff — I mean, that’s a serious commitment. Don’t you want to do a good job?”
Be patient. “It will be done when it’s ready,” says Franklin.
Give it a rest. You know how everybody tells you to rest a steak before cutting into it? Same thing with a brisket. Wrap it in foil after taking it off the grill and let it rest for at least an hour.
Contrary to popular belief, the pros don’t pull off their briskets and slice them when hot. They pull them off and place them in warmers set at 140 degrees for up to three hours. For you to achieve the same result, wrap in foil and cover with towels in a room-temperature cooler and hold for between two and three hours.