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Last night I smoked my first brisket. I used a charcoal smoker which was given to me. I followed the advice given to me by the previous owner coupled with some quick reading from the manual and internet. While my brisket was full of flavor it was a bit chewy, though not dried out. I'm wondering if it is the way I prepared the meat. Here's an outline of the process I used:

  • About 5 lbs. of brisket
  • No marinade on brisket
  • 1 gallon of Apple juice in pan
  • Started smoking when about 1/3 of coals were white with ash
  • Added soaked alder chips wrapped in tin foil
  • Placed brisket on top rack of smoker
  • Kept temperature to the left of ideal (advice from previous owner)
  • Added more soaked alder chips and charcoal 2 1/2 hrs in
  • Cooked for a little over 4 hrs
  • Smoker was in sun for first hour

Photo to illustrate what I mean by left of ideal: temperature gauge reading to the left of ideal

Which leads me to my questions:

  1. Is brisket generally chewy when smoked?
  2. Would a good marinade prevent chewiness?
  3. Is there something else wrong in my preparation (cook time, temperature, etc.)?
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Chewy means undercooked. Most of your standard "barbecue cuts" of meat contain a lot of connective tissue. This must be rendered to achieve tenderness. This goes for brisket, pork butt, and ribs, to name a few. If you are using the words "chewy" or "tough" to describe the texture of your meat, in nearly all cases it has not been cooked enough. Your time/temperature pretty much confirms it.

The best thing you can do is deemphasize time and temperature as your measure of "done." Rather, use a skewer to probe your meat when you think you are getting close. It should slide in and out of the brisket with VERY little resistance. Some people like to wrap in foil a few hours in. This will finish the brisket faster, as you will mitigate the evaporative cooling effect that causes your cooking process to stall. Plus, you can add some liquids and spices to the foil, which adds to the flavor profile of your meat. This is better known as the "Texas Crutch," and there is no shame in using it. Plenty of competitions have been won employing these tactics.

Brisket is a little intimidating because of the small window between "too chewy" and "dry and falling apart." But you should probably err more on the side of the latter, as that can be more easily compensated. The real takeaway here is have patience, and look to the meat itself for clues as to whether or not it is done, rather than using a timer and thermometer.

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Here is a good basic technique for smoking brisket. The important points are to smoke it until it reaches an internal temperature of about 160 F, then wrap in foil. The meat won't absorb any more smoke flavor at that point anyway, and the foil will protect it from drying out during the rest of the cooking process. You can add a little bit of liquid inside the foil, though I've never bothered.

After foiling the brisket, continue cooking until it reaches 195-200 or so. Remove it from heat and allow it to rest for a while. Some people will store it in an insulated cooler.

Properly cooking brisket can take 12 hours or more. If you can't manage that kind of time, think about smoking chuck roasts ("chuckies") or making pulled pork.

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