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I smoked my first brisket last weekend and even though it wasn't terrible it was a little dryer and rougher than I would have liked.

Here is the smoker I used: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B7W8NHW/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Here are the steps I followed (along with some notes on things I may have done wrong):

  1. I bought a four pound fresh brisket from a butcher. It was 9.99/lb (next time I'm going to hit up Sam's club and try and get a 10-12 lb packer cut of USDA Choice)
  2. I used Stubb's store bought dry rub. I rubbed it on and then seared the meat on the grill. I did not sear the fat cap. (Should I have let the dry rub sit longer? Also, next time I'm thinking about doing equal parts salt, pepper, and paprika. Should I have seared at all? A lot of people seem to throw the meat right in the smoker after giving the dry rub some time to set in).
  3. I had turned the smoker on and set it to 200 degrees before searing, so when I put the brisket in it was at 200 degrees and was already smoking. I used dry wood chips and filled the water pan to the mark specified in the pan.
  4. The smoker stopped producing smoke about 30 min in. I wet some wood chips and put them in, but the smoke never came back. (How often should I be adding wood chips? Should they be wet? How long should the smoker be spitting out smoke?)
  5. I let it sit for six hours. I didn't have a meat thermometer at the time. (What internal temp should I go for next time?)
  6. I pulled the meat out, didn't wrap it in foil, and cut it after 20 min. The bark looked nice but the meat was brown like a pot roast. I know when I get good restraunt BBQ that the meat tends to be a little red/pink. The meat still tasted ok although it was a little tough.

Other questions. Should I have wrapped the brisket in foil at some point? When should I do this and what are instructions for after? Some people seem to advocate doing so once the meat hits ~150 degrees F which will drastically decrease the cooking time. Others seem to advocate taking the brisket out when it hits about 180, wrapping it in foil, then putting it in an empty cooler until it rises to ~200.

I know that this is really a bunch of questions rolled into one but I feel like this is a typical experience for a smoking newbie like myself. I don't expect answers for every item but please try and point out the things I've done which are just empirically wrong.

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I think there might be too many questions here to be a useful resource. You should really check out www.amazingribs.com - it's the best source of BBQ information bar none. –  ElendilTheTall Jul 2 at 20:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

From what I can tell you're generally on the right track here. From what you've said, there are probably just a few issues.

  • tough/dry/rough. Believe it or not not cooking long enough could be the problem here. You want your brisket to get in that 190-200 range, this will cause the connective tissue to break down and make it very nice. The other possibility here (and you didn't say so we don't know), is that brisket can be very tough if it's not cut properly. You need to cut the flat across the grain for it to be tender as it's a very long muscle.

  • Lack of a smoke ring. This is what we call the pink ring around the outer bit of the meat. You don't want the inside to be pink, you want the outside to have a pink ring around it. This can be unpredictable in formation and depends on a lot of things. If you liked how much smoke flavor your meat had, I wouldn't change anything, but if you wanted more smoke, try to either put in more wood chips at the start, or put them in dry (careful though, you don't want them to burn, but wetting them really just slows the burn time). From what I've read, the smoke ring forms early, so the first hour or so is the important part here.

  • Foil. This is hotly debated in the BBQ world. I only foil if I need to hold my meat for a period of time (if I mistime and finish early I'll wrap it up, drop it in a foam cooler with towls), but a lot of people swear by it for producing juicier meat. Totally up to you, experiment here.

Lastly, a few bits of advice (I've done a couple of briskets now, all on charcoal though). Don't bother to sear the meat, let your smoker take care of the whole cook. Do that, make sure you get your meat up to temp (brisket is hard to tell without a thermometer as it doesn't have a bone you can check, so go get an instant read one, they aren't too expensive). As far as the dry rub goes, that's a matter of taste, a lot of folks put it on the night before, but the meat gets plenty of flavor just applying it right before you put it on.

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I did a second cook over the weekend and I think you're spot on by not cooking long enough. I bought a remote thermometer and the brisket didn't come up past 150 for a long time. I still didn't time it right and had to pull it out at 165 because it was lunch time and I couldn't wait any longer. I'm going to do another cook this week and I'm not going to sear. I'm also going to crunch after two/three hours and then I'm not going to touch it until the thermometer breaks 190. –  Dave Jul 7 at 15:48
    
Also, the second time around the smoker was producing smoke consistently. Not sure what I did wrong the first time. –  Dave Jul 7 at 15:48
    
@Dave yeah, that's not uncommon to have it "stall out" though that is a bit of a low temp for a stall. Keep an eye on your smoker temp (don't trust the therm on your smoker unless you've tested it, put an oven therm on the rack). Good call on not touching it. The more you open the door/lift the lid, the more tune it's going to take. –  wax eagle Jul 7 at 16:04
    
ya, the thermometer I bought has both a meat probe and a probe you mount to the rack and they were reporting different temperatures. I believe the rack probe was more accurate because I read that the wood chips produce smoke around 185 degrees and this was more in line with what the rack probe was producing than what the digital display was. –  Dave Jul 7 at 16:08
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@Dave probably, but test both probes. Boil some water, and when it boils, they should read 212. –  wax eagle Jul 7 at 16:22

I apologize in advance if I miss any of your key points, but I will do my best to address them.

First, on the color of the meat -- brisket will be brown, but may have a red and/or pink smoke ring around the edges. It can be difficult, sometimes impossible, to achieve with a gas or electric smoker. Regardless, the smoke ring is strictly a cosmetic quality, and is no indicator of flavor.

The rub you used is just fine. Stubb's makes some good products. As to your smoke question, it is difficult to know what your situation was. There should be a dry pan that sits atop the heating element, which is where the wood chips would go. It's not really necessary to soak them in water. Some people do, but it doesn't really do anything for you. And just because you don't see any visible smoke doesn't mean it's not flavoring the meat. Ideally, you want a barely-visible thin blue line of smoke coming out of your cooker. Keep adding chips as they are exhausted throughout the cook if you want a heavier smoke flavor. Just do one round of chips and don't replenish if you want a lighter smoke flavor. It's all a matter of personal preference.

Now to the meat of your question (yeah, pun intended). Your observation is that the meat was both dry and tough. Typically, tough means undercooked, and dry means overcooked. Undercooked brisket will often seem dry, because it requires a lot of chew to get through. The muscles that make up brisket contain a lot of connective tissue, and long, slow cooking is what breaks down that tissue, making for a tender product. So you definitely are on the right track, cooking the brisket for a long period of time. The piece of brisket you had was the flat. Brisket is hard to get right in barbecue, and the flat is the more difficult piece on top of that. I would make a few suggestions, and bear in mind that this will require a bit of trial and error to find the right mix.

  1. Don't sear the meat ahead of time. It really serves no purpose. You want to retain as much moisture in the brisket as possible, so you're working against your best interests by applying intense heat to the surface.
  2. Use tactile cues to determine doneness, rather than cooking to a target internal meat temperature. You will know your brisket is done when you can slide a probe in and out of the meat with absolute ease.
  3. Bump up the cooking temperature. Generally, with a cut of meat that size, cooking time should be around 1-1.25 hours per pound. My gut says that 6 hours was a bit too long, and a good deal of moisture was lost from the meat. You can go up to 250f for a low-temperature cook, and some people swear by high heat brisket cooks, at 325f or higher (I don't know what the capabilities of your smoker are, so bear that in mind).
  4. Make use of the "Texas crutch." This is the term applied to wrapping the brisket in foil or wrapping paper. You should do it about halfway-2/3 into your projected cooking time, so about 2-3 hours in the case you presented. This will speed cooking time, and reduce evaporation of moisture from the meat.
  5. When you think the brisket is done, wrap it in more foil, then wrap it in towels, and finally put it in a cooler to rest for at least an hour.
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Great advice, thanks! I did a second cook and the smoke was a lot better. I'll play around with your tips. The second time was a lot better and I'm pretty sure the third time I should get it right. –  Dave Jul 7 at 15:50

The fact that the meat was brown just says that it went too long. Invest in a meat thermometer, take it out when it hits 160 and rest. (Pull the meat out take the temp, don't do it in the oven or the smoker) I think you did everything else right.

Wood chips that aren't on fire will not create smoke, it's really steam they release and when the water content is gone, it stops. So in a traditional BBQ house smoker, that wood is on a low burning flame. Otherwise they are just dampening the wood to create wood flavored steam.

I'm kind of laughing at what people say about letting it get to 200 degrees, that's crazy talk. That is some really overdone meat right there.

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It's not crazy talk at all. Everyone I've seen whom I would consider an authority on BBQ goes for temps in the 185-203 range, including amazingribs.com, which I consider the utmost authority on all things BBQ. –  Carey Gregory Jul 2 at 23:27
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Brisket has a lot of connective tissue. One smoked to 160F and then rested would probably be pretty rubbery. –  Kenster Jul 3 at 11:06
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Please do not take the advice found in this answer. There is literally nothing that is correct in those three paragraphs. –  Sean Hart Jul 3 at 13:22

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