Ask my husband what he'd like to grill for any given event and, barring Thanksgiving and Christmas when he smokes a whole turkey, there is only one answer.
His birthday? Brisket. Friends gathering for barbecue? Brisket. Anniversary dinner? Brisket. Our son's birthday (assuming we can get him to agree…)? Brisket.
Six hours in the smoker, many more to go.
There's something about that giant piece of meat that calls his name, that sings a siren song of smoke and meat and juicy perfection like no other. He's grilled and smoked dozens of them over the years, and they've all been deliciously satisfying. Smoke rings, that little red line just inside the surface of the slices that signals smoke-infused perfection? He's had them.
At 170°, ready to wrap.
But recently he read a recipe by Julia Moskin in the New York Times that piqued his brisket-loving soul. It called for a very simple crusting with peppercorns and salt, smoking the brisket for several hours—and here's the part that got him salivating—then it said to wrap the meat in unwaxed butcher paper and return it to the grill for another several hours.
Further research revealed that this method, called the "Texas crutch" by purists, allows the meat to cook in its own juices and better break down the collagen so that it melts into the meat. The brisket is then wrapped in foil and deposited in a closed ice chest to rest.
Wrapped, tied and going back in the smoker.
We happened to have friends coming for a Labor Day barbecue, so I called our new favorite meat source (and advertiser on this blog), Ben Meyer of Old Salt Marketplace, requesting a full brisket from Bill Hoyt's Hawley Ranch grass-fed cattle. A full brisket includes the flat, the meatier end of the cut, and the point or deckle, which has more fat. It also includes a thick cap of fat, which adds moisture when smoking or grilling for long periods.
The result? Smoky perfection, a big hunk of heaven that was meltingly tender yet still intact enough to slice and serve. And one that was crowned "Best Ever" by a very discerning group of carnivores.
Here's Dave's adaptation with his own step-by-step instructions.
Dave's Perfect Brisket
Loosely adapted from Julia Moskin's recipe in the New York Times.
I used an 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, for which these instructions apply. The Times article tells how to do it on a kettle grill.
1 whole beef brisket, 10-12 pounds
1/2 c. black peppercorns
1/3 c. coarse kosher salt
Several chunks of oak wood
The night before smoking:
- Grind the peppercorns very coarsely. Sift through a fine sieve to remove the fine pepper dust. Use only the coarse peppers. Mix the salt and pepper. Trim the brisket fat to 1/4 inch if necessary. Rub the salt and pepper mix on the brisket. Wrap in plastic and place in a baking sheet in refrigerator overnight.
- Put a half dozen small chunks of oak in a pan of water to soak overnight.
- Cover outside of smoker’s water pan with aluminum foil to make cleanup easier.
- Clean cooking grates.
- Fill the charcoal ring to an inch or so from the top with charcoal.
On smoking day, flip the charcoal chimney upside down. Put 20-15 briquets in the upended chimney. Place paper in the chimney below the charcoal and light it. When the coals are flaming and are covered with ash, spread the lit charcoal over the charcoal in the ring. Open the bottom vents all the way.
Assemble the rest of the smoker. Fill the water pan 2/3 full with hot tap water. Oil the top cooking grate. Remove the brisket from the refrigerator and place on the top cooking grate. I had to place it very carefully so that it would fit.
Place top dome on smoker. Open the top vent all the way. Close bottom vents to about 25 percent open. Put three chunks of the wet oak on the charcoal.
In a half hour check the temperature and adjust the bottom vents as necessary to keep the smoker temperature to 225-240. Add the remaining wet oak to the charcoal.
I checked the temperature about every hour or more frequently if necessary. The charcoal should smolder for hours without needing a refill.
I put the brisket on the smoker at 6 am.
At about 11 am the internal temperature was 175-180. I then wrapped the brisket in butcher paper, tying it with string, and put it back on the smoker.
After an hour I began poking it with my finger, testing to see if it was becoming more soft and jiggly as the fat, meat and collagen softened. At 3:30, 3 1/2 hours after wrapping the brisket and 9 1/2 hours after putting the brisket in the smoker, I pulled it from the smoker and wrapped it, paper and all, in aluminum foil. I then placed it into a cooler to await dinnertime. At 6 pm it was still hot.