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Harlan vs. Food Round Two: Smoked Brisket

| Posted by Harlan

Smoked brisket is an amazing thing. There is an incredible amount of joy that comes from finding a place that has a perfectly smoked, thick-cut brisket with a great sauce. Yvette and I have enjoyed many briskets in many states across the U.S., but I have yet to dare to attempt making one myself. Something about it always intimidated me.

That said, I’ve been on the cooking and man-stuff kick lately, and I refused to be intimidated by this cut of beef anymore. So I went to the grocery and picked one up. After choosing between a 2-lb. and a 12-lb. brisket, to which there was no middle ground, I decided on the 12 and cut it into 3 sections of about 4-lbs each.

I began with a rub, a walk on the wild side (meaning no measurements) mixture of sea salt, black pepper, ground red pepper, sugar (surprised me), and paprika (there’s a use for this other than deviled eggs?!). I covered as much of the exterior of the beef with the rub, wrapped it in foil and placed it in the refrigerator to get good and infused.

The next day, I brought the brisket out and began the similar journey from a few days prior (see the Thanksgiving turkey adventure) of collecting my wood chunks and chips, this time a more powerful mesquite.

The grill was once again preheated on one side to 225 degrees, and a pan was placed underneath the beef side with an inch of water. This time the water was less about collecting juices, though that was a goal as well, and more about keeping a consistent amount of moisture around the beef to keep it from drying out.

I started out by placing the cut directly on the grill, sans foil, to give the outside a chance to sear, locking the juices inside the meat. This particular smoke was to take significantly more time than the turkey, about 10-12 hours as opposed to the 3.5-4 for the bird. After about 4.5 hours, in which I turned the beef once or twice, I wrapped the brisket in foil to continue the smoking process.

After a few more hours, I was getting anxious of drying out the brisket, not to mention getting really hungry after thinking about it all day. The mesquite had smoked up much better than the Applewood from a few days prior, so I was hopeful that there would be a good brisket in there ready to go.

I had read in a number of places that the proper temperature to take a brisket out of the smoker is about 203 degrees internal temp. Despite the fact I found that to be strangely specific (but what do I know), I began to check the meat to see how I was doing. The cut initially tested at about 150, after about 8 hours on the grill. I decided to let it sit for another hour or two to get up to temp.

At a little less than 10 hours, I had about all I could take, and again was getting nervous that I was drying out the brisket. I had been struggling with the temperature all day, trying to keep it down around 225 degrees, but watching it creep up, even at my lowest setting, to 300 at times. I decided to go ahead and pull it off.

At first glance, the brisket appeared to be cooked really well. There was a decent amount of char on the edges (though I’d have wanted more) and the surface appeared moist without being wet or losing the rub.

Cutting into the brisket was relatively painless as well, it seemed to cut through smoothly, despite not having quite the buttery consistency I had read about and hoped for. The color was similar to briskets I’d had at chain BBQ joints, a good brown around the edge with a slightly pink center. Similar to a medium-well steak.

The flavor of the brisket was quite good, yet absent of some of that flavor-packed char that I’d wanted. The only complaint is that the brisket was in fact a bit tough. Not jerky tough, and in fairness, I’m my hardest critic. Overall, it gets a chain restaurant grade overall…not a total failure for being my first try.

The tough thing is figuring out exactly what didn’t go quite as I’d hoped. The smoke was pretty good, and the look of the brisket pretty good as well. Just a little tough, and needed some sauce to help with the flavor.

The good news, I have two more 4lb cuts to test it out.

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