I've always wanted to smoke a brisket on my Weber "bullet" smoker. I knew that it was somewhat labor intensive and tremendously time consuming even before I bought my first brisket. But with Cindy in Europe and a lot of time on my hands, I decided to tackle making one over the weekend.
I bought a 12.5 lb. brisket from The Olde Smokehouse here in Davenport a couple days prior to smoking it up. Actually, the brisket was the smallest one they had. I thought, "Wow! This is a severe piece of meat! I'll be eating on this for days!"
Before I got started, I contacted Rick Knight in suburban St. Louis, an old friend and colleague who grew up in Texas, and who has made a number of briskets over the years. He gave me his family rub recipe for the brisket:
1/4 cup Chili powder
1 tbs Paprika
1 tbs Salt
2 tbs Cracked Black Pepper
1 tbs Oregano
1 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
Mix together in a bowl, then sprinkle and pat the mixture all over the brisket - more on the non-fat side. Wrap the brisket up in aluminum foil and let it sit overnight in the fridge.
Then he told me, "The secret is actually the spray concoction. Some barbecue guys will say never to open the lid when you're smoking. But whenever I add coals or wood chips to the fire, I'll always open the top and spray this stuff on the brisket to help keep it moist."
The spray is pretty simple:
1 cup Cider Vinegar
1/2 cup Bourbon (Rick said the original family recipe called for beer. "I like the taste Bourbon adds, but use what you wish." I went with the bourbon. Jack Daniel's, at that.)
1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbs Olive Oil
Mix together in a measuring cup and pour into a triggered spray bottle.
The problem with cooking a brisket that size is the time it takes to cook. Rick said that at 180 to 200 degrees (F), figure around 1 1/2 hours per pound for cooking time. Cooking it at too high of a heat will really dry it out, even if you have a water pan in the smoker and you're spraying the meat periodically. Geez, at 12.5 pounds and 200 degrees, that's 17 to 19 hours of cooking! I gotta sleep sometime!
I put the brisket on at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Once again, I used a combination of hardwood charcoal and Kingsford charcoal along with soaked mesquite wood chips. After the fire got up to about 250, I put the brisket on the grill, still in the aluminum foil, fat side up. I pulled off the aluminum foil on top and let it go. And, once again, I had trouble regulating the heat. I was able to get it down to about 200 degrees at about 2:00 a.m. and decided I'd go to bed, setting my alarm for 4:30 a.m. to come back out and check it.
I actually woke up about 4:00 a.m. and went outside. The temperature had risen to 250 degrees again. I thought, "Geez, at this rate, it will be done by 9:30 in the morning!"
I shut down all the bottom vents, sprayed the meat with the bourbon/cider mixture, added more water to the water bowl, added more mesquite, and went back to bed - this time setting my alarm for 7:00 a.m.
7:00 a.m. came and I went out to check it. By this time it had gotten down to 170 degrees. I added more hardwood charcoal, added more mesquite, added more water, sprayed the brisket, opened the bottom vents a little bit, and went back to bed for a couple of hours.
By the time 9:30 rolled around, it was cooking along at about 200 degrees. Oh, it would fluctuate plus or minus 10 degrees from that point for awhile, but it was averaging about 190 for the rest of the day.
I checked the temperature of the meat at 12:30 p.m. and it registered 140 degrees. Rick said that he usually pulls it off at 160 to 180 degrees. But for the last couple of hours, he covers it with aluminum foil and allows it to cook like that. Here's what it looked like after cooking for 12 hours. I quit adding mesquite to the fire at this point.
The rest of the afternoon was spent regulating the heat while simultaneously dodging large rain drops from pop-up thundershowers in the area. I had some friends coming over to help me eat the thing that evening and everyone started to show up around 3:30. I had just put the aluminum foil over the brisket when everyone began to arrive, spraying it down and adding one last bit of hardwood charcoal to keep the heat going down the stretch.
In the meantime, I made a great appetizer consisting of sausage and cheese-stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon on one of my Weber grilles. They turned out great. I'll share that recipe with you in the coming days.
Along about 5:15, nearly 17 hours after I first put the brisket on, I took its temperature and it was between 165 and 170 degrees. So, I pulled the brisket off the grill. I took it inside and let it set for about 15 minutes before cutting into it.
When I began to cut into it, the thinner end of the meat just began to fall apart. It was so moist and tender. The fatter end, under the remaining layer of fat (that I cut off before I carved the meat) was not quite as tender, but I could carve slices out of that end with no trouble. So about half of it ended up as shredded brisket and the other half sliced brisket. The perfect combination.
I served it with a big bowl of my famous Cold Fusion Baked Beans infused with some chopped smoked pork I made up a few days before on the smoker, some Texas Toast and a variety of barbecue sauces. There were six of us and we dug in.
Oh, man! Was it great. Great brisket, great baked beans, ice cold beer. The rain had gone away and it was a beautiful evening, so we sat on the deck. We were in man heaven.
Before we all got our food, I thought, "Man, I'm going to have a lot of meat and beans left over." Turned out I didn't have to worry. After second helpings, we were down to a few slices of brisket left, of which I promptly threw into the refrigerator; and just a small pint container-sized portion of the beans. It went over extremely well.
Next time I do a brisket, it will be for afternoon and not evening consumption. That will allow me to put the brisket on at 7 or 8 p.m. the night before. Then I can regulate the heat for overnight cooking - getting more than 2 hours of sleep at a time, I hope. I was pretty tired - and extremely full - when I went to bed last night.
But, boy, for my first brisket ever, it was outstanding!