“Low and slow” is still the mantra. Patience is still a virtue. And the really good news is that your don’t have figure out if you want the flat or point. Barbecuers use the whole brisket, which is called a Packer cut. Lots of fat, which melts into the meat.
From Ardie Davis, Kansas City barbecue legend and co-author of The Kansas City Barbecue Society Cookbook.
“To barbecue a perfect brisket, you need time and patience. Brisket, a working muscle, is—as you know—naturally tough with lots of connective tissue. Its long, flat shape makes it even more unforgiving to the cook. Look for the biggest, fattest, ugliest brisket you can find. I get the cheapest available unless the fat is yellow, indicating older meat. Untrimmed is important. You need the fat for a tender brisket. Some cooks age the brisket in Cryovac packaging on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for a week or more, saying it improves the flavor. I don’t.
“If I can, I get an 18-pound brisket. From 30 years of looking for meat like that, though, I know you have to go to a restaurant supply place or special-order it from a butcher or get lucky and find one at a wholesale club like BJ’s. Whatever size brisket you use, you’re going to lose at least 40 percent during the cooking process, so figure on 6 to 8 ounces of raw meat per person. A 10-pound raw brisket, which will serve about 12 hungry guests, will take at least 15 hours at a grill temperature of about 225°F. The rule of thumb is 1 1/2 to 2 hours per pound. Patience with the process, waiting until the right moment to take the brisket out of the cooker, will be rewarded.
“After removing the meat from the packaging, trim the fat to about 1/4-inch thickness. When it comes to seasoning the meat, I prefer a simple light dusting of pepper and salt, either overnight or right before the brisket goes in the grill; this really lets the flavor of the meat shine through. Some people also like to use some kind of fat, like butter or olive oil, and/or sugar, which is fine. Using a more complex rub and/or baste is optional. I suggest that you try the basic way before experimenting with rubs or bastes because it is important to know how ‘plain’ barbecue brisket tastes. Then you’ll be able to judge for yourself whether or not a rub or baste enhances the flavor.
“For barbecuing the brisket, I like to use a 22 1/2-inch Weber kettle grill, which is versatile enough for large briskets, turkey, pork butt, and anything shy of a piglet or whole hog. No modifications are needed to barbecue in a standard grill or smoker as opposed to commercial equipment. For the fire, I use Kingsford charcoal briquettes. Have 18 pounds at hand, although you likely won’t need it all, and light them in a chimney starter. Putting 3 to 4 cups of water-soaked wood chips on top of the briquettes creates the smoke that flavors the meat. I usually use pecan and apple chips; other options are hickory, oak, cherry, alder, mesquite, or sweet maple. It’s your choice, based on what you like. Just be sure to first soak the chips in water for at least 40 minutes, preferably overnight. (Chips work best in a kettle grill; wood chunks or small logs, which don’t need to be soaked, work best in a large grill with an offset fire box. Regardless of what type and form of wood you choose, don’t use trimmings from a lumberyard unless you’re positive the wood hasn’t been treated with chemicals.)
“After you’ve soaked your chips, lit your charcoal in the chimney starter, and trimmed and seasoned your brisket, remove the cooking grate from the grill and set it aside (if it isn’t already clean, clean it with a wire brush before removing it). To monitor the temperature inside the grill, stick the bulb end of a candy thermometer in the top lid vent. Wrap enough Scotch tape around the bottom of the thermometer to prevent it from falling into the grill. When the charcoal is gray, dump it on the coal grate to one side of the grill and close the lid. (If you’re not using a chimney starter, start the briquettes directly on the coal grate on one side of the grill.)
“When the temperature inside the grill reaches 225°F to 250°F, dump the drained wood chips directly over the coals. (The higher end of the temperature range is advisable for the first 30 to 45 minutes or so of cooking; it gives the meat “bark.”) Return the cooking grate to the grill, spray the grate area opposite the coals with cooking oil, then place the brisket, fat side up, opposite the coals. (You don’t want to grill a brisket. It will be tough as a shoe. You need to cook it with indirect heat.) Lid the grill immediately.
“Regularly monitor the temperature while the brisket cooks. Control air to the coals using the bottom vents; more air will increase the temperature inside the grill. My Weber will go a minimum of 4 hours before needing more hot coals. More often than not, new coals won’t be needed for 6 to 8 hours. However, each grill—even the same brand and model—is different, so get to know your grill. When I see that the grill temperature is getting low, I sometimes add new briquettes atop the old ones when the old ones are still alive enough to ignite the new coals. Most times, though, I fire up at least half a chimney starter–ful and add them when they’re gray and hot to the almost-spent old briquettes. (Do not add new wood chips when you add new coals; excessive smoke will impart a bitter flavor to the meat.)
“Some cooks wrap the brisket in aluminum foil (The Texas Crutch) after 6 to 8 hours and cook it that way for the duration. Others say this method yields ‘pot roast.’ The debate is never-ending. I used to use foil, but am now weaned from it. If you do opt for foil, before you seal up the meat, try coating it with a little honey and a non-salty beef stock for added flavor and moisture.
“Although I can tell when the brisket is done by how tender it is when I touch it, unless you’re experienced at this, I suggest using a good instant-read meat thermometer. Check the brisket occasionally, starting about an hour or so before its estimated done time, by sticking the thermometer horizontally into the thickest part of the meat; when the temperature reads between 180 and 200°F, it’s ready. (For slices, go for the lower temperature; it’s fall-apart tender at 200°F.) If you want to learn how to determine doneness by using the touch method, prod the finished brisket with your forefinger a few times in different areas. Remember how the meat feels and test yourself the next time you barbecue brisket by using both the touch method and an instant-read thermometer. With practice, you’ll know exactly what a properly cooked brisket feels like.
“Remove the brisket from the grill to a cutting board with a meat fork, cover loosely with foil, and allow it to rest for 40 to 50 minutes. Trim any excess fat before slicing the meat, and be sure to cut the meat against the grain. Texans like thick slices. Kansas Citians like it thinner. Take a bite. If your brisket is tender (not mushy) and flavorful, congratulations. You have mastered one of the most difficult cuts of meat to barbecue.”
8. A tight seal on your cooking pot is essential. Many (slightly neurotic cooks like me) use an extra seal of Reynolds Wrap around the brisket.