Fall is definitely in the air now. The mornings are crisp, sometimes laden with a little coastal fog that creeps in from Half Moon Bay through a small passageway in the mountains to the west. It burns off in the afternoon to give way to a clear shocking blue sky. Saturday was one of those perfect days. Fortunately I had some plans that involved a long outdoor smoking session on the PBC (www.pitbarrelcooker.com). I’ve wrestled with brisket in the past and never got it to where I thought I would want to serve it to anyone.
A full brisket (also known as a packer brisket) is a huge tough cut that weighs in at around 11 – 14 pounds untrimmed. It is made up of 2 main parts, the Point (or Deckle) and the Flat. It takes a long slow cooking process and patience to get it to break down into a meltingly tender, perfect piece of meat. This makes it a perfect target for traditional slow smoking in the style of Texas. It is also a formidable task to get it done right – some of the larger cuts going for as many as 18 hours.
Brisket has lots of hard fat pockets in it and a fat cap on one side that can be about 3/4 to an inch thick. These fat pockets don’t render during the cooking time and need to be trimmed. So armed with about a dozen videos of how to trim a brisket for competition (there are plenty on YouTube) I decided to take it on. I purchased an 11 pound packer from my local Smart and Final. Up early Saturday morning I let my wife sleep in and went downstairs to begin trimming my prize. It takes a sharp knife and a retentive nature to get this done properly. I felt around the brisket for the hard pockets of fat and carefully cut them out. It was actually somewhat therapeutic, a mechanical motion. When all was complete I had a fairly good looking brisket with enough fat for flavor.
I prefer to slather ribs and large cuts of meat with a mustard slather prior to adding my rub – in the style of Paul Kirk, the “Baron of BBQ”. Here’s how I made my slather (there are several I use, this one works particularly well for Brisket).
The Quincho Project Mustard Slather for Brisket
- 1/2 Cup Ball Park Mustard (I use French’s)
- 1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 TBS Jack Daniels
- 2 TBS Brown Sugar
Mix well until everything is dissolved. Using a pastry brush, coat your brisket evenly. It doesn’t impart a mustard flavor whatsoever, but it does aid in basting the meat and giving the rub something to stick to.
The Rub – Here’s how I put it together. This makes a lot, but that’s ok since it’s good on just about anything (including popcorn).
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/3 Cup Seasoned Salt
- 1/3 Cup Garlic Salt
- 1/4 Cup Celery Salt
- 1/4 Cup Onion Salt
- 1/2 Cup Paprika
- 3 TBS Chili Powder (not a blend, I use New Mexico)
- 2 TBS Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 TBS Lemon Pepper
- 2 Tsp Ground Sage
- 1 Tsp Mustard Powder
- 1 Tsp Wasabi Powder
- 1/2 Tsp Thyme
Whisk Ingredients together and store in a ziplock bag. Apply liberally to the slathered brisket. Place the brisket on a sheet pan, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Go to bed and dream of your time alongside your pit. Tomorrow your baby will be ready.
Prior to the day of the smoke, I researched timings on smoking the brisket in a pit barrel cooker. I knew it would be faster than a WSM or an offset firebox style but I wasn’t sure how much faster. What I did know was this: Take the brisket to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Wrap it in foil with a cup of Beef Stock. Put it back on the pit until it hits 195.
So armed with my data, I added Oak, Hickory and Apple chunks to my PBC, I hung the meat in the cooker and closed the lid. Using a digital probe, I don’t have to open the lid to check the meat. I use a Maverick by Redi Check. It works pretty good. 3 hours in, I noticed we were at a healthy steady 160 degrees. I removed the meat and carefully wrapped it in heavy duty aluminum foil along with a cup of beef bullion. The probe reinserted, I now could watch and wait. To my surprise, it went to 195 within an hour and a half. At this point I laid a towel down in my empty ice chest, placed the foiled brisket carefully on it and covered it with another towel. I closed the ice chest and waited for 3 hours – when it was closer to dinner. I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
When I unwrapped it I made sure to save all the broth (and drippings as well from the brisket) into a bowl. I added 2 TBS of ketchup to the liquid and whisked it together to use as a sauce. This stuff smelled amazing, and ranks amongst the best sauces I’ve ever used. Cutting perpendicular to the grain, I thinly sliced the flat into even slices and poured some of the sauce over the slices. There was a light, but visible smoke ring around the edges of the slices. Picking up a slice, I gently tugged at it and it fell apart. I popped one half into my mouth. It was incredible. It had the unctuous consistency of well cooked ribs. I had finally nailed it! I was so proud of myself. I ran a slice over to my wife who indicated how glad she was that she married me. I wanted everyone to taste it. I was even ready to give the dog a piece, but thought better of it (much to the chagrin of the dog).
I made some quick mac and cheese to go alongside my creation and all was right with the world again. I finally conquered the high king of BBQ, the pinacle of pitmasters – the brisket. All because I refused to give up.