Rye whiskey: in northern New Jersey
tommy:eats: googled some more

Brisket: BBQ experiment

My 2 attempts at smoked brisket have ranged from pretty good (the first time), to dry and not done enough (the second time).  Since I was messing around supermarket brisket, I decided that instead of continuing with this Micky Mouse shit, I'd go for the real thing:  a whole brisket, also known as a "packer cut".  It includes not only that overly-trimmed, lean piece of meat you usually see posing as "brisket" (the "flat", as it's called), but also the more fatty piece that is on top (the "point").

Brisket first attempt

The first time.  Pretty good.

I called The Market Basket in Franklin Lakes, NJ, and they had one in Cryovac.  Just what I wanted.  While I expecting something at about 10 pounds, what I got when I picked it up was a 19 pound brisket.  Holy enormous cow, Batman.

Brisket 19 pounds

8 inch knife, for reference purposes

I trimmed off about 3 pounds of fat, which put this thing at 16 pounds.  According to everything I've read, that's about 16 hours worth of smoking.  There's simply no choice but to do this overnight, so away I went to my gas grill.  Purists, you might as well stop reading here, if you haven't already.

Brisket trimmed fat

3 pounds of beef fat, and 20 pounds of cat fat

The only other prep on the meat was a good, healthy rub of fresh cracked pepper and salt.  A whole bunch of pepper, and only slightly less salt.  A lot of this is going to come off during the cooking process, and even if it doesn't, we're still talking about 16 pounds of meat.  Not 16 ounces, which is a nice sized steak.  But 16 pounds.  Pounds baby, pounds.

Brisket with pepper

stretch-tite is awesome, and might very well be the only plastic wrap on the planet that actually works

The size of this brisket is only part of the challenge.

A gas grill isn't ideal for smoking, but it's certainly possible.  As for the smoke source, that's just wood chips and chunks, soaked in water for a few hours, double wrapped in heavy duty tin foil, and placed under the grates.  The wood chips get going, and in turn get the chunks going.  Once the packet of wood is spent, just pull it out and put in another.  It's a pretty effective method of smoking on a gas grill.  Pure and authentic?  No.  Adds smoke to food?  It sure do.

I have a 36" well-vented gas grill.  While the high BTUs and venting are great for high-heat cooking, they're not ideal for smoking.  My meat gets lost in the big grill cavity, and the smoke drafts right out the thing, barely touching the meat.  In order to work around this, I put together a rig which included tin foil, and two tin chaffing dishes.  Essentially, I made a smaller chamber using the chaffing tins, which spanned from the source of the smoke (the left-most burner), to the other side of the grill, where I cut out a hole for venting.  The assumption here is that the smoke will be pulled across the meat and then out the vent in the tin.  And for the most part, this actually seems to work.

Brisket hood1

Wood chips/chunks under left side, hole over there on the right side

This worked really well with just one tin, but since this brisket was so large, I had to put two together, which obviously introduced more places for smoke to escape.  However, I still saw smoke coming out of my cut-out vent, so I'm thinking it's doing its job.

Brisket hood smoke1

Hole.  Smoke.

Since this was a spur-of-the-moment decision, I didn't have time to take the brisket out of the fridge to get the chill off.  So it started out way colder than I wanted it to be.

Brisket wood chips smoke

6 pm:  Brisket on.  Internal temp: 41

7 pm:  Replaced wood pouch.  Internal temp: 48

8 pm:  Internal temp:  85.  Only 115 more to go!

I find that some bourbon helps the process along.

Bourbon manhattan

  • 4 parts bourbon
  • 1 part sweet vermouth (Punt e Mes is my standard red vermouth)
  • and when I say "parts" I could quite possibly mean "ounces".  That's a healthy-sized, if not somewhat inappropriately-sized, cocktail. 
  • a couple of dashes of Peychaud's bitters to taste
  • Stir well (do not shake)
  • Strain into cocktail glass, perhaps with a twist
  • Continue...

8.45 pm:  All hell breaks loose.  Apparently those high BTUs I mentioned earlier add enough heat to the wood chunks to set them ablaze, which in turn begin to melt a hole in my awesome tin trays.  Tin trays can, obviously, melt.  I remove the tin trays and continue, hopefully with a brisket that doesn't have poisonous aluminum bits all over it.  Eh, it'll be fine, right?

9.30 pm:  Gas tank ran out.  Replaced with a full one.  Meat at 125.  This is progressing a lot more quickly than I had expected.  I guess it has something to do with the fire that I had going in there.  However, I'm fully expecting a major "stall" at about 160/170.  Basically the temp will stall at this point, and it can take hours, many hours, for it to continue to rise.  This has something to do with the meat starting to sweat, which in turn keeps cooling it. Only time will tell...

10.30 pm:  Meat at 132. This could take a while.  I'm guessing that I'm going to put this thing in the oven overnight, where there's a more controlled temp.  That's pretty lame I know.

11 pm:  Decided to take this off the grill and put it in a 250 degree oven.  Foil wrapped, ta boot.

7.30 am:  Meat at 205 in several places.  The probe is going in like it's going into warm butter.  The cookie sheet that the meat is on is filled with liquid and fat.  The house smells like beefy smoky goodness.  It would seem that we'll be having this for lunch, rather than for dinner.

Brisket point and flat

The point separated from the flat

Final update:

  • I learned a few things.  
  • I should have trimmed off more fat, or, let the brisket cook for a longer time at a lower temperature.  Maybe 225 in the oven over night would have been better.
  • The bark definitely softens when the brisket is cooked wrapped in tin foil.  This is not preferable, but likely unavoidable.
  • 19 pounds of brisket is a lot of brisket even after cooking.
  • The point piece is definitely more tender than the flat, and it's well worth it to cook this part of the brisket.

Brisket point2

A piece from the point

The brisket had some decent smoke flavor, even though it was only smoking for 5 or so hours.  I would like to get a proper smoker and give this another try.  Next time I'm asking for a smaller, more manageable size.

Brisket sandwich

Not BBQ sauce.  Hot sauce.

What I do know is that it's often said that smoking a brisket is so difficult that it is the true test of a pitmaster's mad skillz.  Given this, I'm not too terribly upset that this wasn't a huge success.