Beef brisket deserves a pedestal of fame in barbecue history. It paved the way for the commercialization of barbecue in the early 20th century and when smoked to perfection, beef brisket is the gold standard.
Brisket has a reputation for being the greatest challenge to beginner pitmasters. This tough bovine breast muscle is in two sections connected by a layer of fat. Mastering brisket is easy, and it’s so darned good.
Brisket used to be cheap. Drought and other factors have driven prices up. Today it is especially important to master basic barbecue brisket with your first try. Avoid expensive trial and error.
Chow Town Davis Rule No. 4: Smoke it whole.
Don’t mess with trimmed portions of brisket flats or points unless you’re doing pot roast in the oven. For barbecue, get whole, untrimmed packer-cut briskets in vacuum packs. For your first time, don’t trim the fat. Pros like to trim it to 1 inch or as thin as an eighth of an inch. Try that another time when you’ve mastered basic brisket. And, like pork butts, foiled briskets don’t bark.
(For Chow Town Davis Rule No. 1, see “Mastering backyard or contest barbecuing starts with chicken.” For Chow Town Davis Rule No. 2, see “Easy, basic recipe for barbecue pork spareribs.” For Chow Town Davis Rule No. 3, see “Easy, basic recipe for barbecue Boston butt.” )
Easy Basic Barbecue Brisket
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 10- to 12- pound whole beef brisket, untrimmed
3 cups pecan wood chips, soaked and drained
2 chimneys full of charcoal briquets; use sequentially and add more as needed
Plan ahead. If dinner is scheduled for 6 p.m., plan to arise with the birds and start smoking your brisket at 5:30 a.m.
While the briquets fire up, lightly sprinkle all surfaces of the meat with pepper and salt, applying twice as much pepper as salt.
When the first batch of coals is ready, dump them on a half side of the fire grate, leaving half of the grate free of coals for indirect heat. Dump the drained pecan chips atop the hot coals, install the grill grate and place the brisket, fat side up, opposite the hot coals.
Lid the grill and maintain a steady temperature of 225 to 270 degrees for 10 to 12 hours until the meat is tender.
Each time you add more coals, use tongs to turn the brisket 180 degrees; maintain fat side up. When the brisket is fork tender, remove it to a cutting board. Drape it with butcher paper and let it rest for 30-45 minutes.
Separate the two portions with a knife, trim the fat, slice against the grain and serve.
This time of year, serve fire-roasted Hatch peppers on the side for guests to make brisket/pepper sliders. Texas-style pinto beans or KC-style barbecue beans, slaw, and fresh local garden veggies make good sides as well. For an authentic central Texas accent, serve raw sliced yellow onions, dill pickle chips and saltine crackers.
Ice water, iced tea, Merlot, or a frosty beer completes the scene.
For a fun read with delicious recipes, anecdotes, brisket knowledge, people profiles and humor, get Stephanie Pierson’s The Brisket Book — A Love Story with Recipes.
Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’ Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books. His most recent release is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”