Double the Brisket, Double the Stress (err.. I mean Fun)

So here's the setup.  It's the weekend of Miscon (that's like Comicon, but much smaller and located only in Missoula, MT) and it also happens to be the weekend that we were celebrating my lovely wife's birthday.  As usual, we invited wayyy to many people.  But, I still wanted to smoke some brisket so I knew that I was going to need more than one brisket to feed them all.  Now, in the past, with my ECB water smoker, brisket was a 22 hour operation.  That's what I was preparing myself for, but I still wanted to hit up the convention a little bit.

I managed to pop into the con in time to get George Martin to sign my copy of Tuf Voyaging and then I got frustrated by my apparent inability to find anyone playing Dominion or any other board game that I'd be into.

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So, full of nerd failure, I headed back home to get the coals started for the brisket.  Oh, wait, I guess I should talk about the rubs that I put on the brisket?  Here's a picture of them both.

brisket rubs

Brisket rubs

I should have taken better notes but I'm fairly certain that one of these rubs was sort of off-the-cuff and the other one was the following recipe:

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin

I actually made the rubs and rubbed the brisket the day before my nerd failure and I actually had more success at the convention.  Here, check out my foxy wife on the Iron Throne!

Foxy wife on the Iron Throne

Foxy wife on the Iron Throne

Here's two other sexy pictures..... of meat. 😉

Rubbed brisket #1

Rubbed brisket #1

Rubbed brisket #2

Rubbed brisket #2

Now, I believe we told folks that the party started at 3pm.  So, my plan was to get the meat in the smoker 24 hours in advance.  This turned out to be folly, however.  Brisket cooks much, much quicker in the UDS.  Also, since I had to do two at once, I had to create a lower second grill in my drum to hold another grill.  Turns out that the brisket on this lower grill was close enough to the basket that it got a little bit burned on one side.

I didn't realize this until I woke up in a panic at 3am and I looked over at my remote temperature receiver to see that the bottom brisket was already at 200F?!?!  Crap!  So, I pulled that brisket out of the smoker and wrapped it up in aluminum foil.  Then I put it in the oven at 195F and crossed my fingers.  The other brisket was only at 170F so I left it in there.

Well, at 7am, this second brisket was already at 190F.  So, the party was in 7 hours and the brisket was already done.  Yikes!  In case you find yourself in a similar scenario, don't worry, you have options.  Especially with brisket.

What you need to do is pull the brisket out of the smoker and wrap it tightly in heavy duty aluminum foil (shiny side facing the brisket to reflect heat back at it).  Then line the bottom of a cooler with a big fat towel.  Now wrap the brisket with another big towel and lay it in the cooler.  Fill any empty space with more towels and seal up the cooler.  DO NOT open it until you are ready to serve the brisket.  It sounds crazy, but it will stay up to temp for 6-7 hours like this.

When I pulled the brisket out of the cooler when the first guests arrived, the brisket was still at 142F which is safe even if the health department is your dinner guest.

Here's some  pictures of the tastiness and success!

UDS Smoked Brisket

UDS Smoked Brisket

You might be asking yourself what all that goodness is on top of the brisket?  That's all the onions from the brisket mop I used.  Here's that recipe:

  • Bottle of beer
  • 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of Frank's hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

Here's a picture of me carving up that bad boy.

carving up the brisket

Carving up the brisket

I was pretty nervous that I had ruined at least one of these briskets, but around midnight it was obvious that the masses were satisfied.  You see, it was at that time that I witnessed several party guests picking over the big bowl of fat looking for tasty brisket morsels.  That's all that was left of 39lbs of brisket.  Huzzah!

Smoked Brisket (Round 2) – Modified ECB

This was my second attempt at brisket.  The first attempt, My First Brisket Attempt – Unmodified ECB Smoker, was decent enough but it was more like a roast than anything else.  I wanted the meat to be falling apart.  So, I gave it another go.

First though, I forgot to mention this, but somewhere before I did this brisket I did try to smoke a pork butt.  It didn't go so well.  I didn't realize how long it actually takes to smoke a big fatty piece of meat like a pork butt.  Basically, things go smoothly until your internal temperature hits somewhere around 160F.  Then as the fat starts to render, the temperature plateaus and you can sit at the 160F mark for hours.  This particular pork butt was started at 8am and it only broke out of the plateau around midnight.  But, at that point I was ready for bed and I didn't want to change the coals again.  So, we put it in the crockpot and the end result wasn't awesome.

What does that have to do with brisket, you might ask?  Well, you see, this was my first major setback with smoking meat and I was a little gunshy of doing big pieces of meat.  But, on a whim I headed into our local butcher to see if they had any brisket.  Not only did they have some, but I was amazed for two reasons:

  1. A complete brisket is a massive thing, I had only seen brisket "flats" in the past and this isn't really the whole deal
  2. Brisket is pretty freaking cheap.  I think mine as like $2.79/lb. and it was something like 20 pounds.

I got the brisket home and then realized that I was going to have a hard time fitting the whole thing in my little ECB smoker.  I mean, look at this beast.

Rubbed Brisket

The bottle of BBQ sauce in the background gives you a sense of scale.

As I said previously, often when you get Brisket at the grocery store or Costco or whathaveyou, you just get the "flat".  In the above picture.  The flat is the part of the brisket on the right hand side.  The "point" is the big hunk of meat on the left hand side.  So, how was I going to do this?  I did some reading and it seemed like I didn't want to cut the brisket before I smoked it.  Sure, it'll smoke faster, but I think you risk it drying out.  Although, I think one day I might separate the point from the flat and brine the flat for corned beef and smoke just the point.  I say that because the point is much fattier than the flat and I think it would fall apart really nicely in a smoker.

But, I didn't want to leave anything to chance and I didn't want to ruin a $45 piece of meat.  So, I just applied a dry rub the the whole brisket and then went to look at my smoker to see if I could figure out how I was going to do this.

I should mention that for this brisket I used all store-bought rubs and sauces.  In fact it was all Stubbs.  I was feeling a little lazy and overwhelmed and I also didn't want to make any mistakes with homemade sauces and whatnot.  I think that the next time I do a brisket, though, I'm making my own marinade and rub and sauce at least.

So, once I was outside with my McGuyver hat on, I figured out a way to get the whole brisket in my smoker.  Basically, my plan was to angle the second grill vertically into the bottom grill.  That is hard to explain with words but I'm hoping this picture gives you a better idea of what I'm trying to say.

Angled Grills in the ECB

Not fitting the brisket in the smoker was not an option.

In a previous post, I described the Minion Method that some folks use with water smokers.  Here are pictures of the process.  Basically, fill up the charcoal pan and leave a little room in the center.

Charcoal Pan in the ECB for Minion Method

You want as many coals as possible in there, with just room enough for the hot coals to come.

Now you can add your red hot coals to the top.  I get these going in a chimney starter and I use about 15-20 coals is all.  If you have a vent on the bottom of your charcoal pan, you want it wide open.

Hot coals in the middle

Woo hoo. It's like magic!

Now I was ready to place my meat on my tilted grill arrangement.  I think I made an error here, but it didn't hurt me too much.  When I do this again, I'm definitely going to have the "point" of the brisket be on the sloped part of the grill.  But, I didn't do that.  I think this will help for a few reasons:

  1. It's hotter up at the top and the point is the biggest section of the brisket.  It also has the most fat to render down.
  2. All of that melting fat is going to roll downhill and I think that will help to keep my brisket flat nice and moist during the smoke
  3. The brisket flat will be closer to water and this should keep it juicier and keep it from getting too hot and drying out during the smoke
  4. The weight of the point should keep the brisket compressing during the smoke.  I kept reading about people saying to push the brisket together as you smoke it.  You just don't want it to stretch out because then it will get dry.

But, as you can see in the picture, I had the point resting on the bottom grill.  Don't worry, it was still freaking amazing.

Brisket on the Angled ECB Grill

It's like The Flintstones, right?

Oh yeah, I should mention that I had the fat cap of the brisket facing down.  I just read to do it that way, although I'd like to try it both ways and see how much of a difference it makes.

Anyway, I think I got the smoker all buttoned up around 8pm on Saturday night.  From this point forward it was just making sure to keep the temp as close to 225F as possible.  Also I had bowl full of the Stubbs Marinade and I was brushing it on every few hours.  As you can imagine, what followed was the worst night of "sleep" I ever had.  It was all airport sleep.  You know, when you know you have to get up at 5am to catch a plane?  Ugh.  I also had to change coals in the middle of the night and, since my deck was covered with ice and snow, I nearly slipped and dumped hot coals all over myself.  Thankfully, I lived.

So, I wanted to get the brisket to 175F internal and then my plan was to pull the brisket and wrap it up in some heavy duty foil, then a thick towel and then close it up in a cooler in my kitchen.  I read that this is a good way to get it up to 185F without drying it out.  I never did take the temperature again after I unwrapped it (and hour later) but I was happy with the results.  Here, check out the pictures.

Smoked Brisket in an ECB

Brisket sandwich anyone?

I know what you are thinking.  "Hay, how come these pictures are so amazing?"  Yeah, my wife took these and she has an actual camera, instead of a phone and she knows what she's doing.  Don't worry, I'm going to see if she won't take all the pictures from now on.

More Brisket Pr0n Pictures

Best Smoked Meat Sunday Ever!

Last picture of the BBQ Brisket

I was ready to propose to the brisket at this point.

It's funny.  We actually took these pictures before anyone had even tasted the brisket.  I was terrified of any possible result of the tasting and here is why.  If the brisket was dry and tasted terrible then I just wasted 20 hours of my life.  If the brisket was amazing then I knew what it took to get it there again and it meant many sleepless nights in my future.  They need to invent a magical pill or potion that lets you sleep like a baby for exactly 4 hours.  Then I could check the brisket regularly but still be a somewhat functioning human the next day.  Oh well, if that's the price you gotta pay, I'll gladly pay it.

After everyone ate their full of brisket, this is how much we had left.

Smoked Brisket Leftovers

And there was much rejoicing!

 

Smoked Steak and Roast – Modified ECB Smoker

Ok.  I know what you are thinking.  Smoked steak?!  Why would you do that?  Well, hear me out.  You like the flavor of smoked meat, right?  Sure you do.  But, you want your steak to have grill makes and a nicely seared exterior, right?  Hay, can't you have both?

The answer is a triumphant YES!  Here's what you do.  When you put your steaks on the smoker, start up your grill and get it nice and hot.  Then when your steaks hit 110F, pull them out of the smoker and pop them onto the grill.  All you are doing here is just putting marks on the steaks, so don't leave them for more than a minute.  The end result is amazing awesomeness in your mouth.

On this particular day, we also smoked a Beef Roast.  I forget what the exact cut was, but we basically did the same thing we did for the steaks.  That is to say, we smoked the roast until it hit 110F internally and then popped it into an already hot oven (like 475F) and then roast it until you hit the desired temp.  I think I did these to 145F because that's where I like my red meat.  Here's some pictures of the finished results.

Smoked Steak

Delicious smokey taste plus grill marks!

Smoked Beef Roast (finished in the oven)

Inside it's smokey goodness, outside it's roasted texture.

Beef Roast and Rack of Ribs – Unmodified ECB Smoker

So, flush with perceived victory from the brisket flat and bratwurst that I smoked on my birthday, I established a new tradition in our family.  And so began Smoked Meat Sunday!  And there was much rejoicing!

You see, both of my brothers (and their wives and children) all live in town.  In fact, my youngest brother lives about 3 blocks away.  So, it isn't unusual for us all to meet up on Sunday anyway (while we are playing hookey from church).  Why not add smoked meat to the mix, eh?  So, on Saturday I stopped by the grocery story and got a full rack of ribs and some sort of beef roast.  I'm not sure what cut of beef it was, it just said something like "Ideal for slow cooking" on the package.

From what I've learned so far on my journey to smoked meat enlightenment, you have at least two options with beef.  If the cut has a fair amount of fat on it (and, hopefully, marbled throughout) then you might try and smoke it until it starts to fall apart.  However, on leaner cuts you should probably just smoke it until it's medium.  Maybe 145F or so?

Actually, more recently, when I'm doing roasts, I will smoke until the meat hits 110F internal and then I'll pop it in the oven at 450F or 475F for 10 or 15 minutes just to get some nice color and texture on the outside.  That usually gets me somewhere around 145F internal but you get the benefit of the crispy and sexy-looking exterior.

For this first attempt, though, here's what I did.  Somewhere around 8-9am I loaded up the ECB with coals and topped it off with a full chimney-full of red hot coals.  I dropped the full water pan in place and set the roast on the bottom grill and the ribs on the top grill.  I don't believe I had a digital thermometer yet, so I probably just checked the roast every few hours and hoped that it hit somewhere close to 140F.  I'm not sure what I was thinking with the ribs.  I know now that they'll never get to the desired 180F (where the meat is falling off of the bone) in that time frame.  They were still good, it was just "toothsome".  Heh.

Again, in this case, I was working with an unmodified ECB, which isn't a good place to be in.  After about 4-5 hours, the ash builds up in the charcoal pan and the coals start to go out.  You can add more coals, but it's a total nightmare to add them a brick at a time through that tiny door.  Also, as I mentioned before, the built-in thermostat on the ECB isn't super helpful.  Do yourself a favor and get one of these.

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NOTE: If you do buy this particular unit, make sure to take care to keep the braided wire relatively dry.  I know, I know, that's almost impossible inside of a water smoker, but at least don't soak the probe and braided cable in water.  You WILL short it out.  Then, what will happen is your temps will randomly spike up by 100 degrees or more.  It's a nightmare.  You might want to buy yourself another probe right away, just to cover your bases.  I managed to mess mine up, but I was still within the warranty period and they sent me a new one.  But, because of this known defect, they are almost always back-ordered.  If you know of a better unit, please tell me because looking at Amazon reviews, I still think this is the best bang for the buck.

Anyway, the whole family ended up at the house around 5pm or so and I think I pulled the ribs and the roast at the same time but I ended up putting the ribs back in because they weren't really tender.  They never really got there, but they got close enough for us to make a mess of eating them.  The roast vanished pretty much instantly.

Oh yeah, if you do smoke a roast (a leaner roast that you can't take to 180 or 190F) then when you cut it, you want to cut it as thin as possible.  Otherwise it will probably be too tough.

I think that's it.  Here's pictures of the fruits of the first Smoked Meat Sunday.

Smoked Beef Roast - Unmodified ECB

Not falling apart, but cut thin and it was delicious.

Smoked Ribs - Unmodified ECB

Well, at least they looked pretty

My First Brisket Attempt – Unmodified ECB Smoker

I decided that I should probably post articles in the order that I cooked them.  That is proving to be difficult for me because a) I want to talk about the stuff I've been doing recently and b) I didn't document it all as well as I should have.

Ah well, at least I can try to tell you what might have gone wrong on these attempts.

This was actually the first thing I cooked in my smoker so I guess I should talk about what kind of smoker I have.  Officially, it's called a Brinkmann Smoke-N-Grill, and it looks like this:

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But, people who are into BBQ call it an ECB.  That stands for El Cheapo Brinkmann.  I know what you are thinking.  "El Cheapo Brinkmann, that makes it sound like this thing is a hunk of junk."  Well, it turns out that you get quite a bit more than your $45 worth.  You can often find these on sale (heck, even at Ace Hardware in my town) near the end of the season.

Anyway, to really make decent BBQ on an ECB, you need to do some modifications.  But, we will get to that later because, when I attempted my first brisket, I didn't know anything about mods.  So, I was having to deal with the following shortcomings of the ECB.

  1. It's insanely hard to manage your temperature because this baby has no vents
  2. It's insanely hard to manage your temperature because the thermostat sucks eggs
  3. If you need to smoke something for more than 4-5 hours, you are in trouble.  Adding charcoal through the tiny door is a mess

But, I didn't know what to expect so I started my brisket around 9am or so and crossed my fingers.

You know, we should probably talk about brisket at this point.  The briskets (yes, plural) that I was attempting to smoke were actually partial briskets.  We got them at Costco and they were just the flat.  On a complete brisket, there is a flat and a point  I've come to learn that you really want to do the whole thing together.

Anyway, people were coming over to the party around 6pm so I was hoping to be done by then. NOTE: If you are wanting to smoke a complete brisket in an ECB, I would start smoking about 24 hours before you want to serve.  Yup.  A full freaking day.  About an hour before folks arrived I put some bratwurst on the top rack of my ECB and those turned out really great.  Smoked bratwurst sounded a little weird to me, but the end result is a nice snap on the casing and tons of juicy meat on the inside.  I think I smoked them until 180F internal temp.

The brisket, however, was nowhere near done.  To really do a brisket correctly (so that it's falling apart) you want it to hit 180F or 190F internal.  I was starting to realize that I was never going to be able to get to that temp with my ECB (mainly because I was going to have to start fresh with charcoal and getting to that charcoal bowl once you have the smoker loaded is a nightmare (that's actually addressed in one of the mods).

So, we smoked the briskets until they got to about 140-145F and then we just sliced them very thin, like you would a roast.  Think smoky tasting slices of beef about the size and thickness of bacon and you aren't far off.  We ate it all that night and, even though it didn't go exactly according to plan, it is still fondly remembered.  Sadly, no pictures were taken (at least, I don't think so).  So, you'll have to use your imagination.

Now, if you want to see some pictures of brisket done right (or, at least, better) then check out my follow-up post Smoked Brisket (Round 2) – Modified ECB.