Before I had ever tasted smoked beef brisket – made by following true Texas BBQ brisket recipes – I had my doubts about whether or not it would even be worth it. After years of tender, moist pork, chicken and ribs, I just couldn’t picture smoked beef being any good.
Would it be dry?
Every time I would think about it, visions of a dry, chewy texture would come to mind. However… I knew how much Texans rave about it, and how they swear by their process. That meant there must be smoked brisket recipes or techniques out there that produce great results, so I kept an open mind.
During a planned business trip to Austin, which was my first time in Texas, I seized the opportunity to finally try several barbecue restaurants in the area, just to see how their smoked brisket recipes would compare. Surprisingly, they were much more different than I ever expected. Here’s what I found.
Smoked Brisket Recipes
Smitty’s Market (www.SmittysMarket.com) seemed to be near the top of everyone’s list, and Lockhart wasn’t too far south, so that was a must-try. I made note of some other places in the Austin area, then visited Smitty’s on my first night. Finally, I was going to discover what these Texas BBQ brisket recipes were all about.
Smitty’s was definitely good. It just didn’t give me the expected “wow” moment, even though I had the moist (or fat) cut. I couldn’t help but wonder whether my expectations were too high, or maybe I just happened to get less-than-premium slices? Either way, I made a mental note of my impression, and vowed to try some other smoked brisket recipes during the short time I was in the area.
On another evening, I slipped into Ruby’s BBQ on 29th street in Austin, and tried their All Natural Brisket sandwich. Notice this is Ruby’s with a B, not one of the Rudy’s with a D. While very moist and tasty, overall, and completely different than what I had at Smitty’s, there was (again) no “wow” moment. I just couldn’t get good smoke flavor out of it. A worker confirmed that it was all smoked on-site, gave me a quick tour of their large smokers out back, and even briefly described how to smoke beef brisket. Why all of their smoke didn’t make it into my sandwich is still a mystery.
Was it me ? Was I expecting too much? Had all of the great barbecue I had in the past actually been as good as it gets? I had no answers, but knew that two small meals wasn’t nearly enough to draw any conclusions. I needed more data! So my quest for perfect smoked brisket recipes continued…
Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
It was late, and I was stuffed, but with this being my last day in town, I decided to try one more place. There’s always room for a little more, right? This time it was Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q out on Highway 360 (www.RudysBBQ.com). This is the Rudy’s (with a D) that has multiple locations. To my surprise, this one was a gas station with a restaurant attached, and the large parking lot was almost full. While not what I’m used to seeing, I was certainly willing to give it a shot.
I went in to find a bustling room full of barbecue lovers, a long line to place orders, and a video display showing the view from directly above their cutting table in the kitchen – very creative.
Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q is much more commercialized in appearance than Smitty’s or Ruby’s. On the menu, smoked beef brisket was offered as either extra moist or lean. No contest. Extra moist was the only way to go.
Even though I was already full, I ordered the ½ lb. portion of meat only, thinking I would just try it and save the rest overnight. I opened the white butcher paper and savored the aroma. The slices were dripping wet with juices, perfectly colored, and looked oh, so tender. They were as close as you can get to falling apart on their own. The words “cooked to perfection” instantly came to mind.
From the first bite to the last, I enjoyed “wow” moments like I never imagined. I called my wife partway through with a “you wouldn’t believe this smoked brisket” story. I told her how full I was, but that I couldn’t stop eating it. She found me amusing.
At long last, I discovered someone who knew how to make smoked beef brisket that exceeded my expectations in every way. This was a new high in my enjoyment of true southern smoked barbecue, and I was hooked.
How to Smoke Beef Brisket
So how do you smoke brisket AND have it come out as tender and delicious as I found that night at Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q in Austin, Texas – a perfect brisket, in my opinion?
It all started with research. Lots of research. I scoured the internet for smoked brisket recipes, read more than I care to remember, and made sure to take a few notes along the way.
Then I combined the best ideas and came up with what I think is one of the best smoked brisket recipes you’ll find. When I made my own at home, it perfectly matched the flavor I remembered from Rudy’s, and wowed me all over again.
Texas BBQ brisket recipes are everywhere, but I truly believe this one will show you how to make smoked beef brisket that is tender, moist and delicious. It’s definitely a keeper. I hope it is for you, as well.(This recipe is for informational purposes only, to share my methods for how to make smoked beef brisket. Keep in mind that your personal health and safety are your responsibility at all times. Be sure to practice proper food handling procedures.)
Timing is everything.
Plan for a stress-free smoking process.
Delivering perfectly smoked beef brisket to the table in a moist and flavorful state, and at a perfect temperature, is possible with the right planning, so this timetable was created to help you estimate key events during the process. The few minutes it takes to write out your timetable will be well worth it.
Allow 90 minutes (1.5 hours) of estimated cooking time per pound (weight after trimming). This means a large brisket may need to cook up to 18 hours.
_________ lbs. total weight after trimming
x 1.5 hours estimated cooking time per pound
= ____:____ hours estimated cooking time at 225°F
Smoking beef brisket, or any other meat, for that matter, is never exact. Sometimes it takes a little longer than you expect, while other times it happens quicker. This timetable will increase your chances of being ready with a perfectly-cooked brisket when carving time rolls around.
Start with your planned dinner time – the time you would like to serve your masterpiece – and work your way down the list (backwards in time):
I want to Serve My Masterpiece
on ______/______/______ at ____:_____ am/pm
subtract 15 minutes carving time
=____:_____ am/pm – Begin Carving (and enjoy the aroma)
subtract 2 hours hold time (explained below)
=____:_____ am/pm – Remove from Smoker or Oven
subtract _____ hours est. cooking time (from above)
=____:_____ am/pm – Put Brisket in 225° Smoker
subtract 1 hour of prep time (or the amount of time you need)
=____:_____ am/pm – Begin Smoker & Brisket Prep
Plan to apply your dry rub, then wrap and chill your brisket at least 24 hours prior to the time you plan to start the smoking process (some people apply their rub 2-3 days prior):
Rub & Wrap on ______/______/______ at ____:_____ am/pm
That’s all there is to it. When you’re ready, just start at the bottom and work your way back up through your timetable. You may even want to print this page and enter your times under each step in the process, below.
The built-in 2-hour hold time means you’re more likely to be ready with perfect brisket when carving time arrives, regardless of small, unplanned changes in your prep time, cooking time, or even dinner time. This is because the hold time can be shortened down to almost nothing, or stretched to 3 hours or more, as needed. Now that’s what I call a stress-reliever.
Remember… “It’s done when it’s done.”Differences in brisket size, quantity of fat, consistency of smoker temperature, outside temperature, weather conditions, etc. all have an effect on this process, so use internal meat temperature to determine when your brisket is done, not cooking time, alone. Your personal observations and adjustments will be required throughout the cooking process in order to keep things on schedule.
Smoking Beef Brisket – The Process
Step 1 ____:____ am/pm – Prep and dry rub for great flavor.
Rinse brisket and dry with paper towels
Trim excess fat, leaving about ¼” wherever possible
Dry brisket with paper towels
Place brisket in a large bowl
Make & Apply Dry Rub
This is enough for one whole brisket
3 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Optional: 2 teaspoons chili or ancho powder
Optional: 1 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne powder
(I did not use the optional ingredients)
Apply dry rub liberally to all parts of brisket
Wrap & Chill Brisket
Wrap brisket in plastic wrap, or seal it in large plastic bag. The idea is to remove all air, or as much as possible.
Ideally, you should refrigerate the brisket for at least 24 hours, or up to a couple of days, if you like. It’s all going to depend on the age of your brisket and your refrigerator temp. Be careful to avoid spoilage.
If you don’t have room in your refrigerator (whole briskets are large), a good cooler with plenty of ice will work.
Step 2 ____:____ am/pm – Prep Smoker & Brisket
Begin heating up your smoker to an initial temperature at or above 225°F (I used my Brinkmann Smoke ‘N Pit offset smoker for this). Some experts advise getting it closer to 300°F prior to adding your brisket, because the meat is such a large mass and can bring the smoker temperature down, initially. Those same experts also warn against going much over 300°F because it can burn sugars in your rub, so keep it under 300°F, just to be safe.
Remove brisket from refrigerator or cooler, so it can begin warming up a bit. Not too much, though. Follow food safety guidelines.
Install meat thermometer in thickest portion of brisket.
Step 3 ____:____ am/pm – Let’s Smoke a Masterpiece
When the smoker has reached your desired temp, add brisket, fat side up, and do whatever is necessary to maintain a constant temperature of 225°F.
Partway through the process, you’ll have two options available:
Leave brisket in smoker during the entire cooking process.
Double-wrap it in foil at the time of your choosing (leaving meat thermometer in place, and readable), or when the internal temp reaches about 150°F.Optional: Add a liquid of your choice to the wrapped brisket before sealing it, such as apple juice, beer, etc.
After several hours in the smoker (your choice; 3, 4, 5, 6hrs, etc.), move brisket to a 225°F oven for the remainder of the cooking process. Leave meat thermometer in place, and readable.
Place brisket in a pan with at least 2″ tall sides, and tent it with foil. Install foil so it dips down below the side of the pan before rising back up and over the pan’s outside edge. This will direct the dripping condensation to the bottom of the pan, rather than directing it over the outside edge (very messy in the oven).
Some smoker experts and purists may scoff at this method, but in my own personal experience, beef brisket is just as smoky and delicious when cooked using either method. After several hours in a smoker, it’s definitely full of smoke flavor, and the oven is a luxury of consistently-controlled temperature. Plus, if your cooking time extends overnight, it also lets you get some decent sleep.
The last beef brisket I smoked was in the smoker for six hours before moving it to an oven, and it had a nice, rich, smoky flavor.Note: Just because it’s in the oven doesn’t mean you can overlook your responsibility to monitor internal meat temperature, so see below.
Step 4 – When 190° – Remove from Heat
Regardless of your cooking method (Smoker-Only, or Smoker-to_Oven), or the amount of time its been cooking, your beef brisket is done when the internal temperature reaches 190°F. Remove it from the smoker or oven immediately.
Step 5 – Hold and Relax
Your timetable includes a built-in hold of 2 hours. It is your option whether or not to use it.
For example, if it took longer than planned to smoke your beef brisket (reach an internal temp of 190°F), and you have already reached your serving time, then skip the hold time completely.
If your serving time is later, however, then follow these steps to “hold” your masterpiece until needed:
Prep for Holding
If you used the Smoker-to-Oven method, remove your brisket from the pan and wrap it tightly in foil (leave meat thermometer in place, and readable). A double-layer is recommended. If you used the Smoker-Only method, your brisket is already wrapped in foil.
Wrap the wrapped brisket in a large towel, again leaving the meat thermometer readable, then place it between two other large towels (folded) on kitchen counter.
The internal temperature should remain above 145°F for 1-3 hours in this state. Monitor it closely, and do not let it fall below 145°F.
Wrap the wrapped brisket in a large towel, again leaving the meat thermometer readable, then place it between two other large towels in a large cooler. Close cooler.
The internal temperature should remain above 145°F for 3 hours or more in this state. Monitor it closely, and do not let it fall below 145°F.
Place wrapped brisket in a clean pan, in oven set to 190°F.
Monitor internal temperature of brisket. It should not rise, and, while almost impossible with this method, make sure it doesn’t fall below 145°F.
Step 6 ____:____ am/pm – Slice
Because beef can dry out quickly after slicing, plan on slicing your brisket at the last minute, and only as needed, if possible. Also, place the fat-containing side up, so the liquid fat will baste each slice as you cut down through it.
Whole beef brisket contains two distinct parts: The flat, which is the larger base piece, and the point, which is a smaller piece that resides on top of the flat. They are separated by a layer of fat.
The grain runs in different directions within each piece, so in order to carve across the grain and make each bite as tender as possible, you will need to separate the flat from the point and slice them individually.
At the restaurants I visited in Texas, they offered their brisket slices the following two ways. You may like to offer your family or guests the same options:
Lean, which meant it was sliced from the flat.
Moist / Extra Moist / Fat (depending on the restaurant), which meant it was sliced from the point.
Either way, everyone will enjoy it more when you slice across the grain, and make each piece thick enough to avoid falling apart.
Carving TipAn electric knife works real well for me, as it sinks effortlessly down through the meat without destroying the slices. This is due to the blades sliding in opposite directions at all times, and therefore never pulling the meat in just one direction.
Enjoy the Compliments
Prepare yourself… You’re going to get lots of complements by discovering how to smoke beef brisket.
Even I was caught off-guard when tasting the brisket I first prepared using this recipe – it was that good. The flavor, the moistness, the aroma, how it was perfectly cooked right up to the point before it falls apart. I couldn’t think of a single thing to change, so that’s what I’m passing along to you. Soon, I know you’ll be smoking beef brisket like a pro.
Enjoy every sweet, smoky bite.
How do you smoke brisket? Share your tips by adding a comment below.
P.S. Remember, I’m not an expert. I’m an average guy smoking beef brisket at home, just like you are. Competition barbecue, however, is in a whole different category.
If you want to take your brisket to a level you didn’t even know existed, use Bill Anderson’s competition-winning smoked beef brisket recipe. It’s in Competition BBQ Secrets, starting on page 43.
Click here for details.