NOTE: This entry is long. I'll try to make it entertaining so you'll read it, but brisket is complicated so it deserves time. Give it a read, give it a try, your efforts will be well rewarded!
I hear the question all the time, "If brisket is only $1.39/lb at the store, why do they want $15 for a quarter pound brisket sandwich at the BBQ restaurant??" The answer is, "Time." Brisket is a tough, fatty, chewy, downright "difficult" hunk of meat to deal with. To turn it into a tender, flavorful, "beefy," delicious BBQ delicacy takes time. Figure on at least two hours per pound of time, actually, once you count the time to prep, rest, cook, and slice it. My rule of thumb? If you want Smoked Brisket for dinner on Friday night, you better have one thawed out and ready to prep when you're done with dinner on Thursday.
First, you need to buy a brisket to put on your smoker. Typically, you will find three different cuts or preparations for brisket when you go to the store:
- Whole, Untrimmed Brisket. A whole brisket is tough to find in your average grocery store. Ask the meat cutter and he should be able to tell you where to find one. Locally, I find them at Super-Walmart (go figure), Sam's Club, and a few other places. A whole brisket is composed of a flat piece they call "The Flat," a rather fatty piece they call "The Point" and a lovely topper called "The Fat Cap." The best "Smoked BBQ Beef Brisket" starts with this; the whole cut, all 14-22lbs of it.
- The Flat. If you're looking at a piece of meat labeled "Brisket" and it weighs in at 3-5lbs, you're looking at the flat portion of a whole brisket. This popular cut of beef is trimmed from a whole brisket and it's a great deal leaner than the rest. Being smaller, it's easier to deal with and it doesn't bleed all over your counter when you take it out of the package. People typically boil or crock or brine this poor hunk of meat and that makes me sad.
- Corned Beef. If you take the flat and pickle it in a salty brine, then boil it for a few hours, you get corned beef. Corned beef has it's place in the world, but if you see this in the store, and you're thinking about smoking it, you'll wind up with Pastrami. Pastrami is good, but it's a completely different process, since you're dealing with all of that salt and brine. If you're dying for a Reuben sandwich, or if it's St. Patty's day, buy it. Otherwise, leave it alone.
fresh chili powder. Whichever rub you choose, make sure it has a good brown sugar base to it because the sugar will melt down and help form a good "bark" or crust on the finished brisket. Lay your brisket onto a bed of plastic wrap and liberally rub the stuff onto both sides of the brisket and into all the nooks and crannies.
3am to start the smoker?? You're starting to realize why BBQ restaurants price this stuff higher than gold now, aren't you?
It is important to know that throughout the day, your friends and neighbors will drop by to inquire what that "wonderful smell" is. It is equally important for you to be near your smoker, with your feet up and a beer in your hand, ready to say, "Oh, just something I'm cookin' up for the evening meal. It ain't no big thing."
A 16lb brisket should serve about 20 people. I'm usually lucky if it feeds 12 or 13.
This article is long, I get it. Trust me, the more briskets you do, the less complicated they will be and the more you will think, "I can't believe people pay $15.99/lb for this at Country Bob's BBQ!?!" If you have any questions about my process, please leave a comment and I'll be happy to answer!