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:
- A complete brisket is a massive thing, I had only seen brisket "flats" in the past and this isn't really the whole deal
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
Best Smoked Meat Sunday Ever!
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.
And there was much rejoicing!