Last week I smoked an awesome brisket. Why disappointing though? Because while I started the process thinking I would photograph it and make a big food post a la Bingley, I forgot to take pictures of the cooking and the final product. So, what we have here is the prep.
We held our annual office Christmas party last Friday. We had a summer pool party and I brought some pulled pork. That went over quite well, so this time I decided to step it up a bit and bring a brisket.
I put off my brisket buying until the Tuesday before the event. Rather than shop the big chains, I went to my local meat shop. We have several in the greater Memphis area, but there’s one just down the street from the Navy base and just a few miles from my home. The only brisket they had in stock was a 14 pounder! I initially balked, but I wound up going ahead and picking it up. Turns out that was good idea.
The thing I was most pleased with is that my butcher carried the entire packer’s cut. That way the “flat” and the “point” of the brisket were intact.
Is $2.19 a pound good? I didn’t do any price comparisons. I like supporting my local meat guys and I do know that I get a good deal on most of their other products. They’ve got great deals on steaks.
I decided to marinade the beast rather than rub. I do both and, honestly, it’s all about the same as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to roasts, rubs impart little in the way of flavor beyond the outside crust and marinades don’t penetrate very far into the meat. So, unless you’re injecting or using a vacuum marinade system, your real flavor comes from the smoke.
So, I did a marinade. As you can see, that’s quite a group o’ stuff I got going on there. That’s quite atypical of most of my cooking the past few years. I’ve been on a simpler is better kick, but I messed around with a bunch of stuff a couple of weeks ago for some steaks and they came out so kick ass that I attempted to repeat the marinade for the brisket. I can’t give you a recipe because it’s all “Well, that looks about right” as far as adding stuff and amounts go. I start with a base of vegetable oil, add some red-wine and balsamic vinegars. I add a bunch of Worcestershire sauce, a little soy, some garlic powder (that Kirkland stuff from Costco is awesome), some chopped, dried onions, some Chachere’s, a good bit of cumin and whatever other Southwestern seasoning I can find. Somehow the flavors combine to create a unique but not overpowering blend. After getting the base ingredients together, I fill up the rest of a gallon pitcher with warm water and let it sit.
In the end, I think I should have used a rub instead.
I then got out the brisket to trim the fat.
You can see there’s a monster fat cap on this sucker. There are a couple of schools of thought on fat caps and briskets. Some people think you should just leave it all on. Others believe you should trim it down to about 1/4-inch all around. I did a lot of surfing to get some different opinions and most of the guys who cook competitively trim. I read one guy who said: “All that extra fat just makes it harder for the smoke to penetrate.” That comment alone sold me.
However, you don’t want to trim off too much fat. That fat is one of the greatest things about the brisket. For a “low and slow” style cook, that fat serves to baste the meat.
I easily trimmed two pounds of fat off this bastard, and yet there’s plenty of fat still left to baste and flavor.
Unless you have a huge fridge, getting a monster piece of meat like this into a container and then in the fridge is a nigh-impossible task. So, I took a page from Alton Brown and used a disposable cooler. He did an episode about brining a pork shoulder for BBQ. I didn’t want to brine, just marinade, but the principle is the same. I put the roast in the foam cooler.
Poured in the marinade.
Then covered with enough ice and cool water to completely cover the meat. I let this set for about 24 hours. The cooler sat in my cool garage. When I went to take it out the following evening, hardly any of the ice had melted. This experience and one we had with brining a turkey for Thanksgiving in the same manner has given me a lot of faith in this method.
What you’re not getting to see; the rest of the story:
I have a long grill similar to a barrel style or a large gas grill (This, but in all black). Ideally, it’d have a separate fire box on the side, but it doesn't. So I have to build a fire off to one side and put the meat across the grill. This indirect method of cooking produces very good results, but it’s hard to control the temperature. However, the night I cooked, it was in the mid-to-low 20s and the grill never got above 300 degrees. That was awesome, but still too high to cook a brisket for long periods of time.
I cooked the meat on the grill for about four-and-a-half hours. I used apple and hickory chips for smoke with fantastic results! It was first time using apple and it has earned a place on my permanent barbecue items shelf.
After cooking on the grill, I pulled the brisket and wrapped it in tin foil. I placed it in a large basting pan and finished cooking it in the oven at 230 for about another 14 hours. Figuring 1.5 hours for every pound of meat, accounting for the fat I trimmed, this was just about right. After the cooking time, I pulled it from the oven, drained juices, re-wrapped the meat and put it in a towel-lined cooler to rest for about an hour.
The towel-lined cooler is another trick I picked up from the internets. It’s a wonderful, amazing thing. I kept pork roasts warm and tender for over three hours at Thanksgiving. Some cookers have claimed to keep their meat warm for over five hours using this method. It’s truly a great technique for letting meat rest for extended periods without losing much temperature.
The results were quite good. I received nothing but compliments for it, but I feel the meat was overcooked. It was fall-apart tender and some of the smoke flavor had cooked out. Brisket should be fork-tender – you should be able to slice it easily and it should not fall apart. But mine did. I think if I’d cooked it at 210 or 215 in the oven and reduced the cooking time about two hours, it would have come out better. I could have put it in the towel-lined cooler where it would have kept warm for quite some time.
The last thing I did was to make a sauce out of the brisket juice. This was entirely a swag. I took about 1/2 cup of the juice (which was basically just rendered fat) and a cup of beef broth (cheater-type, I used a bullion cube), a mess load of ketchup (two cups? Three?), some brown sugar and some other spices. I can’t even remember what all I put in there, but my main goal was to cut a good balance between sweet and savory. The juices and broth made quite a savory base and the sugar added plenty of sweet. I did add a bit of soy sauce, a bit of Worcestershire … I can’t remember what else. The result was similar to a barbecue sauce. Very good.
J-mom really wants me to do another. We recently bought a bunch of meat from an acquaintance who had one of their own cattle butchered. I didn’t get a brisket out of the deal, but I have a few shoulder roasts. I think I could get similar results to the brisket. We’ll see. I’ll remember to take more pictures next time and try to use an actual camera and not my phone.