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Brisket

So, you want to go on a quest for the Holy Grail of barbecue, do you? Some nail it on their
first attempt, whilst others take a lifetime to master the technique and rise to the challenge.
Even then, sometimes just when you think everything has gone to plan and you’ve got
everything under control, it all goes wrong and turns into a disaster. This phenomenon
happens from time to time, even for seasoned veterans but in this section of the course, I
intend to demonstrate that in all its perceived difficulty, that brisket can be made simple
and that anyone can cook brisket like the legend, Aaron Franklin.

There’s been a massive evolution with brisket over the years and more recently a
resurgence from the barbecue belt and heartland in the southern regions of the United
States of America. That movement has spread wide and far and created a revolution in not
only other corners of the U.S. but the world and gratefully to Australia. It’s exciting times for
barbecue world-wide and I look forward to seeing how barbecue grows and evolves and
what creations people invent on their journey in sharing the love of barbecue.

So, what makes brisket the Holy Grail of barbecue? In essence brisket is the pinnacle of
barbecue because it demonstrates a true understanding of how to turn a cheap and
otherwise tough and often neglected cut of meat, into magic by cooking it low and slow for
many hours until it becomes moist, tender and melt in your mouth goodness. Much of the
reason for it potentially being so troublesome to cook, is that it comes from the chest or
pectoral section of the animal which stretches down from the sternum, across the ribs and
down to the navel and considering that the beast is standing much of the day, this muscle is
always working and rarely gets any rest, which means it is generally very lean and also
notably full of connective tissue to maintain and harness strength.

Much of this method of brisket has its roots stem from the period of slavery, where
plantation owners kept the prized, primal cuts for themselves but also has origins from
meat providores that were unable to sell the secondary cuts to the public, unless it was
procured in the way that we have come to know and love. Since the days of old, brisket has
evolved in many ways and it’s now as prized, if not more so than the previously more
favoured primal cuts. This rise in popularity has resulted in brisket prices soaring and along
with the current value of beef in general, its image is changing along with other so called
“secondary” cuts.

Much of the newer age evolution has been evident in Central Austin, Texas where the likes
of Aaron Franklin hail from and I now believe that the Holy Grail is a new and improved one.
Brisket in any one of the many barbecue joints in Central Austin now utilise a higher grade
of brisket which is signified by not only a higher level of marbling but a richer flavour from
the increase in fats and to you the diner, the experience and the Holy Grail is accentuated,
from not only having the brisket bearing the signature sensation of the moist, tender and
melt in your mouth textures but a prominent beefiness, that melds with punch of flavour
from the crusty, crunchy bark.

There are many, many techniques to achieve the Holy Grail status but it’s important to
understand that different grade briskets will affect which league of the Holy Grail you

achieve and that there’s often a compromise between maintaining a moist interior with a
crusty, off the Richter Scale bark but also one of flavour. In this course, I intend to
demonstrate a few different methods which will allow you to customise your technique and
to recognise that what is most important, is utilising a technique that’s appropriate for the
brisket you have purchased and to do that, you need to effectively gauge the brisket that
you have just purchased or even better are about to purchase.

Not so long ago, it was near on impossible to find a brisket, let alone a decent brisket but in
recent times this has changed massively with regular stocking of brisket at select butchers.
Much of the reason for the scarcity of good brisket was previously due to factors like the
size and age of the beast that the brisket came from and that much of the brisket was
processed into mince, burgers and sausages. It’s important to compare apples with apples
when referencing what people get in the U.S.A. and that often the briskets are much
chunkier due to the size and age of the beast slaughtered but also due breed and to the
regime of feeding employed, such as grain.

The anatomy of a brisket is that it is composed of 3 muscles and to avoid using technical
terms that many butchers won’t even understand, the brisket it made up of the point, flat,
navel and deckle. For our intended purpose, we are interested in the point and flat muscles
primarily both with and without the deckle and what is known as “point end brisket” or
sometimes referred to as a “packer” cut brisket in so many of the U.S. pitmaster shows and
literature. Point end brisket is cut from near the sternum passing down to a point slightly
above the elbow, separated away from the shank that follows the natural contour of the
bone and then down to between the fifth and sixth rib. Some butchers may know this by
name and others may know it by numbers: 120 which is beef brisket boneless, point end,
deckle left on and 120a which is beef brisket boneless, point end, deckle removed too.

Here’s a link to what part of the beast you want and also a link to the Australasian Barbecue
Alliance where it’s discussed a little more. I highly recommend becoming a member to keep
your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in barbecue in Australia but also because I can
link you to some valuable conversations in the group.

http://bravoproducts.ca/category/beef/brisket/

I have glanced over what I look for in a brisket above but to be precise, what I am looking
for first and foremost is a decent level of marbling, prior to considering other factors
because the extra fat will accommodate any complications that you may have over the
course of the duration of your cook. Marbling though isn’t the be all and end all and
unfortunately due to the likelihood that greater marbling comes from beasts that have been
raised and fed for longer and more often in a costlier manner to the farmer, which means
that these costs are invariably passed on to you and that obviously makes for a more
expensive brisket at the point of sale.

In a perfect world, we’d have a brisket that ticked all the boxes but as mentioned, that may
not always be possible from a supplier nor cost effective to say the least, so to
accommodate those who either can’t justify the extra cost, don’t want the extra fat, don’t

care for bark or those that desire more of a challenge, it would be fortuitous for you to
choose a brisket that met certain dimensional criteria.

The brisket doesn’t have to be a whopper but you will generally find that a larger brisket will
perform better in the moisture stakes because it’s come from a bigger, more well-fed or
more well-bred beast and with this, will not only come the likelihood of more ideal
dimensions but also the probability that it’ll have more marbling too. I personally prefer
briskets around the 6 to 7 kilo mark but have had awesome examples in the 3 to 4 kilo range
too. Often there are limitations to an average family consuming that much meat, especially
if you are just learning how to barbecue and don’t want to have to call Domino’s for all your
guests because your brisket is dry and inedible or running behind time for dinner. You can
always purchase a smaller brisket around the one kilo mark to practice on but a smaller
brisket can behave very differently than one that is much larger and what may seem strange
to some, is that it may still take 5 plus hours in cooking time, for something so small.


In looking at the dimensions of a brisket, I always look for something that looks chunky,
rather than being stretched out and that the point and the flat to be as close to the same
size as possible and without any thinning out through the flat or conversely when there’s a
big hump in the point. The reason I look for evenness is because the brisket will be more
inclined to cook evenly, just as you could imagine a steak of differing thicknesses, having
different levels of doneness and even worse dryness between sections that are either
thicker or thinner. If you can’t get one that meets the criteria, that’s perfectly fine and there
are ways to manage a brisket that hopefully by the end of this course, you’ll understand.

The best ways to measure the amount of marbling in a brisket, is to inspect the seams of fat
from the underside of the flat. The reason I look for marbling in the flat and not the point
because it'll ensure moisture retention in the section of brisket that has the tendency to be
dry. Whereas the point is incredibly easy to get right and near on impossible to make
mistake with, so it's not worth focusing on what marbling the point has at all.

I quite often see that people have a tough choice between a smaller brisket or less with less
marbling and bigger brisket with more marbling. For me the choice is simple because
despite the extra cost, if you go the larger, more marbled brisket, you’ve got a near on 100%
chance of success but if you go the smaller, less marbled brisket, you are introducing more
of a risk of failure. So, if you ruin the flat in the smaller less marbled brisket, any savings may
be wasted or be lost due to dry brisket, not to mention the benefits many get from not only
superior moisture but flavour and texture. This may be a question of other influencing
variables but if you are going to spend 6 hours or often 12 to 14 plus hours cooking a
brisket, a little bit more spent at the butcher, will go a long way to adding an extra layer of
insurance to nailing that Holy Grail brisket and not only the saving of wasting a brisket but
also the saving of wasting all that time. Again, in the process of cooking I will demonstrate
methods to minimise failure and maximise the resultant brisket, no matter what you take
home.

Lastly, I'm a big fan of Wagyu for its flavour and the way it performs because Wagyu has a
natural smoky and buttery flavor and is generally well-marbled but in saying that a good

grain fed will do the job admirably too and I have found a good grain fed brisket will
perform more consistently than most grass fed in my travels but each cut is different and
you should adapt to each cut, rather than barbecue each and every brisket the same. What
preference you have for taste, health and ethical reasons is another discussion altogether.
There is no argument when it comes to taste with anything and what you like, is what you
like, period but there is much hype about grass fed particularly in regards to ethical raising
and the jury is out when it comes to health, so I’d recommend choosing what tastes best for
you, with consideration of what feeding regime also performs the best for your
methodology and cooking style.





In summary, you ideally want something that is marbled but for whatever reason, this is not
your preference, find something that’s even in shape and dimensions and that’s on the
chunky side. Also, make sure that when you speak to your butcher, that you ask for point
end brisket that consists of point and flat and not the navel and that you also tell him that
you intend to smoke or cook it low and slow, as in American style barbecue. Remember to
communicate with your butcher and get to know them because building a relationship with
your local butcher will pay massive dividends to you achieving that barbecue nirvana.

Pro Tip: You can make absolutely any brisket awesome moisture wise if you cook it gently
enough, wrap it early enough and cook it until it’s tender but going to the next level will
either take skill from you as a pitmaster and/or selecting the right cut of meat
advantageously.

After you have chosen your brisket, when it comes to cooking your brisket, you have to
gauge what you have just purchased from your friendly butcher. As mentioned, if you have
a well-marbled brisket, your job will be much easier in getting that Holy Grail moisture with
impressive bark but if you don’t fancy going down that road, there are things you can do to
minimise moisture loss.

As far as trimming goes, I trim minimal fat from my briskets, if at all but if you are going to
trim, I would trim until the fat coverage is about 5-6mm or ¼ of an inch thickness. If you
despise fat, you can trim all the fat off but I’d suggest trying a different cut than brisket
because even lean brisket can have a fatty taste at times. The reason I don’t trim the fat is
not only because of flavour but also that it helps keep the meat moist and although it’s
common to do so, as seen on all the BBQ Pitmaster shows and the like, that you see on
television, the brisket that they use is generally well-marbled or the pitmaster employs
techniques like wrapping, injecting with all sorts of concoctions and cooking more gently or
conversely hot and fast to be able to reduce moisture loss. So, take into account the
characteristics of the brisket before embarking on trimming all of the fat off.

When it comes to rubs and seasonings, I like to keep brisket fairly simple with a salt and
pepper only rub. The ratio I use varies anywhere between 1 part salt to 1 part pepper to 1
part salt and 3 parts pepper. The best way to measure both parts by volume, like cups or

tablespoons because the grain size can vary greatly and not match up when weighed. The
grain size is extremely important in the result, so for me I like a fine to medium grain sized
pepper but definitely not ground because that can detract from the texture.

You also have to watch for how potent the pepper is because it can ruin the experience for
those that don’t like pepper. The pepperiness will mellow with extended cooking and is
dependent upon how fresh the pepper is and what grain size the pepper is too. I generally
purchase off the shelf pepper that is around a 16-gauge grain size because it’s just easier
but much can be said for the flavour you get from it being freshly ground. The salt grain size
is much the same for me as it is the size of pepper but when seasoning the brisket, usually
you will need to season it more than what you might think because you have to take into
account how thick the piece of meat is.

Many people either want more in a way of flavour from there brisket or get a little bored
and tiresome of the same old, same old and that’s cool too, so it’s not uncommon for
people to play around with garlic and/or onion powder or store bought rubs. Just watch for
salt in store bought rubs because if you go too hard with the rub, you may find whatever
you’ve spent 12 hours cooking, too salty and inedible. The same goes for sugar but for a
different reason in that it could possibly burn. It’s not often the case with lower cooking
temperatures but more so any sugar that drips onto your pit, can burn and cause some
undesirable flavours.

Pro Tip: Don’t bother rubbing meat overnight. You’re not saving any time because your pit
still has to come up to temperature and unless it’s salt or sugar, the majority of the
components of the rub are too big in particle size to penetrate into the meat. Rubbing your
meat an hour before, is more than enough time and I personally don’t bother with mustard
to make the rub stick because the flavour of the mustard diminishes and is unnoticeable and
a splash of water is just as good at helping the seasonings stick or even soy sauce for an
umami kick.

If you have sections that are thinner than others, that part may have the tendency to be
drier than a thicker section and this will be more noticeable in the flat, than the point. As
time progresses on your path to being a pitmaster and barbecue guru, you will get a feeling
for this happening, a certain Spidey Sense by either smelling, touching or looking at the
meat, as it were, reading the meat as it’s cooking. When you’re first starting off though, it’s
best to plan ahead and eliminate as much risk as possible, to not only give you confidence to
progress and ensure success but so that you don’t waste a substantial amount of meat and
time.

There are a few ways to accommodate a thinner section of meat and the same techniques
apply to keeping moisture in cuts that aren’t as well-marbled. The choices you have is to
either wrap your meat in foil or butchers paper, to inject, to spritz or a combination of all of
the above.

Although it’s a good thing that you are trying to maintain moisture in your brisket, the
moment you wrap a piece of meat, you will compromise the bark. Now bark, like marbling
may not be the be all and end all for people but for me it definitely enhances the

experience. The time at which you wrap is of utmost importance for consideration of both
moisture and bark and as I keep mentioning, there may be a trade-off. Sometimes the effect
of wrapping can make the rub that you’ve put on all gluggy and you don’t want that at all.
So, you can either wrap your brisket later or put less rub on but just be mindful to take into
account what you have in front of you and that the brisket you purchased may not like
being wrapped at a later point and your decision will be easier or in gauging the meat, may
be made up for you. For lower marbled and many grass-fed briskets and especially for
people just learning the ropes with barbecue, I would recommend that you wrap your
brisket in foil to focus on maximising moisture levels and better insuring a more pleasurable
experience.



There are a couple of compromises that often work in these situations where people want
bark but don’t want to lose moisture. Usually I will wait for the bark to have “set” before I
consider wrapping in foil, on any reasonably marbled brisket but this can also be successful
in lower marbled brisket, with careful cooking. What I mean by the bark being set, is that
the bark is crusty in feel and to the touch. More often than not the bark will look on the
verge of being black with either a mahogany or brown tinge, if not totally black. Again, you’ll
have to bear in mind what brisket you bought and the risk you take in wrapping later
because of the moisture being lost prior to the stage that you wrapped.

There is also the technique called “boating” or the “boat technique, where you are
attempting to get the best of both worlds in terms of bark and moisture. This method
entails wrapping the bottom half of the brisket in heavy duty foil, layered a couple of times
or more. This allows the top section to “bark up” whilst preserving much of the moisture
that was lost through the bottom section of the brisket. This may compromise the bark on
the bottom of the brisket but for those that prefer to hedge their bets and play down the
middle, this is a good method for achieving greatness and has much less risk than not
wrapping at all. You still may compromise a little on moisture and bark but it’s a good way
to get a taste of what it’s like to have good bark, without the stress of the possibility of
whole brisket turning out dry.

Much of the reason that bark is compromised by any mean of wrapping, is that moisture
cannot escape and the meat then either steams or stews in the humidity. Which leads me
into the technique of wrapping with butcher’s paper. Butchers paper has effects similar to
boating and foiling but because butchers paper isn’t waxed and what I’d call a semi-
permeable membrane, the paper can breathe, which will allow some moisture to escape
but also lock some in. The result is a superior bark and flavour to an equivalent brisket that
has been foiled, whilst maintaining a good level of moisture. Again, you will need to tailor
your method to suit your specific brisket.

As far as spritzing goes, I rarely spritz my brisket but if thinner parts or the section that is
facing the fire is cooking a little faster or appears to be drying out, I will give it a squirt here
or there. Just remember that spritzing unnecessarily will not only prevent bark formation
but will slow down your cooking time due to the pit having to come back up to temperature,
to proceed from when you released all the heat and also the evaporation of the spritz,

cooling down the meat. In saying that, I try not to peek all that often and as the saying goes
in barbecue, “if you’re looking, you’re not cooking” but if you are going to have a look to
check to see how things are travelling, you may as well give it a spritz. Some pits and styles
of smokers will require more spritzing than others and quite often running a pan filled with
water, will do the same job in keeping the meat moist and the environment humid.

Fat side up or fat side down? This is only really an issue with leaner briskets or smokers that
due to design, will expose the brisket to direct heat. I usually smoke fat side up but have
occasionally started fat side down and flipped half way through. It’s a nonsense and myth
that the fat cap bastes and moistens the meat as it renders down and passes from the top
section of the brisket through to the bottom because the fat molecules are too large to
penetrate in such a manner and also like oil sits on top of water, the water being expressed
from the meat, will prevent this from occurring.

Lastly, there is injecting. I personally haven’t injected brisket since I started getting good
quality brisket because the quality of meat ensures that I maintain moisture and also that
the quality of beef, speaks for itself. There are instances like competitions where it’s seldom
that a team doesn’t inject for both moisture and flavour and also for the pitmaster at home
that wants to ensure that little bit against moisture loss with a lower grade or less marbled
brisket. Some have also collected the juice and drippings from brisket and reinjected the
broth, post cook. This is another way that many people have had success too.

So, you have fired up your pit, what do you do now? It’s important that you’ve got a “clean”
burning fire first and foremost as discussed earlier because any “dirty” fire or smoke will
flavour your meat with that smoke. Focus on getting that thin, pale blue smoke that smells
sweet first, prior to placing any meat in the chamber. Usually this happens around 200F but
can be at earlier or later pit temperatures. The moment that fire is running clean, it’s okay
to put the brisket on.

Another extremely important fundamental aspects of barbecue is, that to turn everything
into magic, you need indirect heat. Much is spoken about stable heat and although this is
ideal, it’s imperative that the heat is indirect. This is evident in that a range of temperatures
from low and slow at 200-275F is often as good a cooking temperature at hotter and faster
temperatures in the range of 275-350F plus. There are certain variables in the meat, that
may influence the result like lower, prolonged temperatures are more inclined to render the
fats better and break down the meat but I’ve had some awesome results with hot and fast
that would rival and if not better low and slow cooks. The theory behind stable
temperatures is if you could imagine a sponge that’s full of water and that raising or
lowering temperatures either squeezes or relaxes and that once the water has been
squeezed out, it won’t go back in unless it’s relaxed again and is immersed in liquid. So,
there is much validity to stable temperatures when it comes to meat that is less marbled but
as always, adjust your methodology to suit your meat and don’t be afraid to experiment
with cooking hot and fast, especially if your time frames don’t allow you to go lower and
slower.

So, what do I do if my brisket is getting too much direct heat? Sometimes it can be really
hard to tell at lower cooking, pit temperatures but any unusual burning or abnormal

crusting up, can be indicative of direct heat. Unfortunately, you often won’t know until you
slice into it and discover that it has overcooked and falling apart on the bottom but is
perfect elsewhere or worse that it’s undercooked on the top and perfect on the bottom.
That’s usually not the case and more often you’ll notice that the bark is super thick on the
bottom and that it may have dried out excessively.

So, how to I prevent this from happening? Some designs of smokers have more of an issue
than others and generally it’s rigs that have the meat residing closer to a heat source
because of minimal room like a Weber kettle but can also affect bullet, vertical and Kamado
style smokers, where the meat overhangs any heat deflector or water pan and is exposed to
a less gentle heat. The phenomenon can also occur in badly designed offsets that have a
baffle plate like in a reverse flow or a tuning plate in a standard flow, that is too close to
where the brisket will reside for the duration. I’ve seen this occur in both standard and
reverse flow designs and in some cases in reputable brands, so be vigilant that this can
happen in otherwise well-built and finished products.

The easiest way to overcome this happening is to keep your brisket moving by means of
flipping, rotating or both but also either trimming the brisket down so it doesn’t overhang
into more direct heat zones or by setting up foil barriers. This also links in with how you trim
your brisket and don’t be afraid to trim it down to fit because when you combine a thinner
section with it being in a zone that will experience direct heat, you may cop the double
whammy. Waste not, want not though and you can make use of the excess fat and/or meat
by repurposing them as burgers or sausages.

Pro Tip: It sounds weird but any trimmings that are taken off the brisket, are put in with the
brisket to smoke and make for an awesome snack mid-cook when it’s crisped up. Nothing
needs to go in the bin, if you’re that way inclined or will make your pet, one lip schmacking
one.

Reading between the lines, you can actually use the compression and rarefaction of water
to advantage too, in that if your brisket usually has the tendency to be dry, you can either
add water when you wrap your meat or know that when the meat rests and relaxes, that it
will absorb some of this back into the meat to reach an equilibrium. So much so that if you
leave dry, uneaten brisket to rest overnight in liquid, that it will regain some of the lost
moisture.

I personally like to cook my briskets at around 250-275F when it’s grain-fed or Wagyu but
will err on the side of caution with the majority of grass-fed briskets and shoot for 225-250F
because of how many of them behave. The fat is generally a lot harder and resilient to
rendering on the grass-fed beef that I’ve encountered, so to account for this but it’s also
more often less marbled and so I like to cook it slower and be more gentle with the meat. I
have successfully cooked brisket at 350F previously on many occasions but find at times the
fat isn’t as well rendered as something run at a lower pit temperature.

I have also cooked brisket at pit temperatures under 200F on a handful of occasions.
Although this is another awesome method for turning ordinary brisket into something
special, the ridiculously low temperatures make for an equally ridiculously long cook and

they are amongst some of my cooks that have exceeded 18 hours. If you are fortunate to
have a Kamado or a pit that has a BBQ controller, this won’t be a problem because you can
set and forget it and barely have to lift a finger but I’d encourage people to explore all other
avenues first, prior to attempting an Olympic 24 hour feat, that I’ve once endured before.

Usually temperatures above 250F will minimise what is called the “stall” too. The stall is
where the rise in internal temperature slows down, pauses or stops altogether due to the
evaporative cooling effect. Try to imagine sweat beading on your skin cooling you down on
a hot day and you’ll understand how the moisture leaving the surface of the meat, cools
down the surface but also slows the cooking process and at times brings it to a standstill. It’s
important not to lift the lid to peek during this period because it has taken a lot of time and
effort to build up the momentum of the internal temperature of the meat and lifting the lid
will add to the cooling effect, like walking out of a sauna and will suck the energy out of that
momentum, making it hard to recover back the loss momentum. It’s sort of like riding a bike
uphill and stopping halfway up that hill, in that it takes a long time to develop that speed
again and you may in fact slide back down the slippery slope. Generally higher heats can
prevent or minimise the effects of the stall but understanding what it is, makes it easier to
plan what you want to do because at this stage, with the moisture leaving the surface of the
meat, the moisture from the middle of the meat is being extracted in attempting to create
an equilibrium of pressures. This is drying out your meat and it’s great if your brisket can
afford to lose some moisture to gain some in the bark department but not so good, if you’re
struggling to keep moisture in already. In circumstances where you have a brisket that may
have a tendency to be dry because of less marbling, now is the time to wrap to reduce the
risk of it being ruined.

So how do I tell when my brisket is ready? Tuffy Stone a 4-time world champion in
competition barbecue, has been known to mention in his classes and on the BBQ Pitmasters
television show, that you should always “cook it ‘til it’s tender”. Cooking barbecue is not like
cooking a roast, in that all you have to know is the weight and what temperature you’re
cooking at and you can work out to the minute when it’ll be ready. Oh no! If barbecue was
really that simple, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as addictive as it is and half the fun is the
uncertainty of knowing if all the time and money you’ve invested, is a moment of success or
failure.

Cooking whatever you are cooking, until it’s tender is so important is because with all the
new gadgets and technology, people are being lead to believe that just like a steak, that you
can tell when a brisket is ready by measuring the internal temperature. This is only partially
true because a thermometer can only tell you the temperature, it can’t tell you if it’s tender
and that the touch and feel for the meat should be the final test for telling when it’s ready
or not. Sure, the thermometer is good feedback as to roughly where your cook is at but the
magical number for perfection changes from brisket to brisket and the thermometer won’t
be able to predict, nor tell you what that magical number is. As a guide, though, the general
range for “doneness” and therefore tenderness, is between 185F and 210F. The reason for
such a large range is because of factors such as the piece of meat itself, which again can be
broken down into not only breed, feed and processing but also the environment which you
provide for the brisket.

The critical point in a brisket being ready can be best thought of as in reference of the total
thermal mass inputs, which is a function of time and temperature inputted into the meat
and the characteristics of the meat itself. The thermal mass in these terms is how much
total heat has been transferred to the brisket for the muscle fibres to relax and the
connective tissue to break down and create that unctuous texture or what I call the magic!

So, if a thermometer can’t tell me when a brisket is ready, how am I supposed to know? The
answer to that is incredibly simple. What is it? Forget a $100 and then some gadget with
microchips and sensors! A simple skewer is the perfect way to tell if your brisket is ready to
take off the pit and to rest. You’ll hear many people say that their brisket “probed like
butter” and that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Imagine a hot knife gliding through soft
butter and you have the perfect brisket. Another way to tell if it’s perfect, is if you haven’t
wrapped your brisket or can quickly unwrap your brisket, you can give it a bit of a jiggle and
if it’s bang on, it’ll jiggle like jelly and wobble for a few seconds after.

Although I can’t tell you an exact time that your brisket will be ready, if you are trying to
establish a rough time, so you know when you’ll be able to line up all your ducks and to dish
up to guests, the best way to work out an approximate time is to do the maths backwards
from the time you intend to slice it all up. Commonly brisket is quoted to take 1 to 1.5 hours
per pound when cooked at 225F but if you were to do the sums of what the cook time
would be for a 6 kilo brisket, you’re looking at between 13-20 hours. The longest brisket
that I’ve cooked took 24 hours, so it’s entirely possible and much of the reason that I cook at
250-275F. Generally, if you want to serve by 6PM, I’ll usually take the resting time away,
which makes it 4PM and then subtract 12 hours cooking time, which makes it 4AM. I will
also usually give myself an hour for the pit to come up to temperature and preparation of
the brisket but also an hour or preferably two buffer for whatever variables might occur.
That makes for a 2AM start, if I’ve done my maths right and usually I’ve got a bit of time up
my sleeve but there have been occasions that I have served late because of time constraints
impacted by unknown variables like the elements or falling asleep, so my best advice is to
always give yourself 2 to 4 hours than what you think you may need because your meat will
be fine if it’s rested that bit longer and many times better for it but if you run out of time
and you’ve got hungry guests waiting, you can’t turn back time to have wished you’d
commenced cooking earlier.

Pro Tip: If you want to be all scientific about measuring temperature, as well as the breed,
feed, processing and also the environment that you create for your brisket impacting the
final temperature, the speed at which you cook can affect the moment that the brisket is
perfectly tender. If you are cooking hot and fast, the internal temperature for doneness will
be much higher than an equivalent cut that was cooked at a lower temperature. This is
because it still takes time to break down the muscle to make the magic and a good
advertisement as to why it’s better to test with a skewer for tenderness and leave the
thermometers for guiding you there and keeping an eye on the pit temperature. Many
people say that the magical temperature is 195F or 203F or some as low as 190F when
cooking slower but I’d never rely on any particular number giving you the desired result
more than another, even if the conditions that you provide are identical.

Once you have tested the brisket for tenderness, it’s crucial that you rest your meat for at
least two hours for the best results. The method in which you rest your fare, is dependent
upon how you’ve cooked your meat. If you have foiled your brisket, depending on whether
you think it’s a little overcooked or a little undercooked would determine on what method
would be best. If you feel that your brisket is underdone because you’ll run out of time to
serve guests without them gnawing off your dog’s leg, I’d recommend wrapping it in a
couple towels and then placing it in an insulated cooler, esky, oven or a microwave for the
brisket to have time to relax and the juices to redistribute. If by chance you’ve overcooked
it, I’d recommend letting some of the hot air out first, around 5-10 minutes is fine and close
it back up and only wrap it in one towel.

If you have wrapped in butcher’s paper, I’d recommend employing the same method as
above in regards to it being over or undercooked and placing the brisket into towels and
resting in whatever insulated option that you have available.

If you’ve utilised the boat technique, you can wrap it totally in foil and follow the steps
above too. The only time I wouldn’t wrap is if I’d gone go to whoa without wrapping and it
that case you can still wrap in butcher’s paper and not compromise the bark immensely but
you can also put the unwrapped brisket into a preheated oven and as soon as you place the
brisket in, switch the oven off, to let it cool down with the brisket, to get a super crunchy
and punchy bark. The perfect temperature to rest a brisket at is a terribly secretive thing
that many restaurants refuse to divulge. All I can say, is that if you’re using an oven, I’d
recommend playing around with temperatures below the safe service levels because the
meat has already gone well past the safe level to kill bacteria and only a problem if the meat
dips below those levels for a prolonged period of time. In saying that, the health standards
are there for a reason but as to what you do in a home cook situation, is up to your own
investigation and at your own risk.

When it comes to brisket it sounds really weird but to get to that magical stage, you have to
go well, well past, well done. So many rookies make the mistake of removing the brisket too
early in anticipation and what is even stranger is that an overcooked brisket is much better
than an undercooked brisket if you had to make the choice. The reason for this is that an
undercooked brisket will be tough but an overcooked one will fall apart. Always strive for
perfection but if you’re worried about the brisket being tender, it’s far better to spend that
little bit more time to get it right and if it’s a little bit overdone, that’s perfectly fine too and
some may prefer this texture because it’s more like the fall off the bone texture people
would associate with a slow cooker.

So, now you’ve spent some fair amount of your time cooking the brisket, you’ve waited,
somewhat patiently for it to rest and now it’s come time to slice, the pressure is on, you
have people anxious to taste your labours and there’s much apprehension in not knowing if
it’ll be any good at all. Unfortunately, this feeling won’t ever change and it’s almost like
you’ve placed a bet on the Melbourne Cup and it has been referred to the photo finish
adjudicator and the result won’t be known for some hours later. I’ve come this far, how do I
slice my brisket to advantage?

The best way to slice a brisket is against the grain. Interestingly if you have the brisket lined
up running from left to right in front of you, that the grain will be on an angle running
through the flat but change mid-way when the flat transitions to the point at roughly right
angles to the grain fibres in the flat. It is almost impossible to tell which angle the grain
travels after you’ve cooked it, so I take a tiny slice off the flat on the angle that I wish to
follow, post cook, as a guide for when it’s finally ready.

I slice against the grain slowly moving towards the middle of the brisket and as you reach
the middle, you will notice that you can see two distinct muscles that have formed,
separated by a seam of fat. At this point you have three choices, to continue slicing, to turn
the brisket 90 degrees and proceed to slice further or lastly to separate the point from the
flat and continue to slice the flat and then cube the point and make burnt ends. There’s
other methods to make burnt ends, that I’ll cover a little later.

How thick do I want to slice my brisket? Ideally the slices for the flat should be the thickness
of a pencil, no more and no less but it’s acceptable for the point to be cut a little thicker.
Basically, there’s no hard and fast rule as to how thick you want to cut it and it will more
likely revolve around if the brisket is perfect, overcooked or undercooked. If the brisket is
overcooked, it’ll want to fall apart, so the way to remedy this is to make slices thicker and
conversely, if you have undercooked your brisket, you will want to slice it thinner, to
accommodate it being tougher than ideal. There’s no shame in doing either because your
final job as a pitmaster, is to roll with the last punch and ensure that you are playing your
hand and serving your brisket to advantage.

So, how do I know if my brisket is perfect or not? If I don’t know, how can I improve or know
that I need to improve? It pays to be critical, so you can get that one step closer to
perfection but as long as you’re happy with your brisket, that’s all that matters but you need
to be both your best and worst critic and be honest with yourself if it hasn’t turned out to
plan or met expectations but most definitely pat yourself on the back if you know you’ve
nailed it. Even if you think it’s off the mark, nine times out of ten, your guests will think it’s
amazing, so don’t be too hard of yourself because again, if it was easy, then it wouldn’t be
anywhere near as fun or addictive.

Taste is so immensely individual and what I like might be totally foreign to your preferences.
I’ve already touched on what I look for in previous chapters but you don’t want your brisket
to be too smoky as far as taste goes and ideally it’s not too salty, peppery or anything else
and is balanced in every way, with that beautiful the kiss of smoke and a hint of the wood
that enhances the flavour of the beef and doesn’t mask or detract from it.

That’s things as far as tastes goes and it really is personal and impossible to please everyone
but texture is another matter altogether and there should be much less controversy over
what is perfect and what is not. The easiest way to tell if it’s reached its peak in terms of
texture is to pick it up with your fingers and play with it. Barbecue is great in that regard in
that with its humble background, it’s not frowned upon and even encouraged for you to
play with your food and was finger licking good, way before Colonel Sanders and KFC.

There are a few things you can do but the most common one is what has been coined as the

“Pull Test”. The pull test isn’t named after someone that shares the same surname but
basically what you do with the brisket. With one hand, use your thumb and index finger and
gently pick up a slice of the flat and lift it, so that it hangs vertically. The slice should feel as
if it almost wants to fall apart. The slice should hang by its own weight, without falling apart.
So far, so good! Then with the opposite hand take the same two fingers and take the
opposite end between your fingers. The slice should still have its structural integrity at this
time but with the slightest amount of pressure of pulling downwards on the slice, the slice
should fall into two and subsequent pulls on the remaining brisket should do the same. Now
for the pull test to be relevant the slice must be pencil thick or that test for texture won’t be
a true indication of how well it’s been cooked.

There are many other ways that will demonstrate how well the brisket has been cooked, like
draping the slice over your finger or folding the brisket over on itself. When draping a slice
over your finger, the same applies with pencil thick slices, as it would the pull test and the
brisket should literally hang off your finger, like it has turned back on itself 180 degrees,
whilst still maintaining its integrity. The fold test is just the same, in that it should easily
touch from one end to the opposing tip and still not fall apart.

Brisket may not be the easiest thing to cook but can be made simple and bulletproof
through many different techniques and strategies and once you can cook brisket
successfully, the rest of barbecue, will come easily. Just remember to read your brisket,
develop and use those Spidey Senses and roll with the punches.

All the best!

For some more info on what cut to look for and some pitfalls of cooking brisket, check out
this link to a discussion on the Australasian Barbecue Alliance.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/australasianbarbecuealliance/permalink/61875655831
2326/