The Complete Guide to Smoking a Brisket

American Wagyu brisket is the perfect choice for a backyard barbecue. Use this complete guide to smoking a brisket to prepare it in a way that brings out the delicious, hearty flavors.

Benefits of Smoking for Brisket

Is smoking the best way to prepare a brisket? Many people would say that it is. The nature of a brisket, which comes from the lower chest of the cattle, makes it well-suited to low and slow cooking methods like smoking. Brisket is one of the larger cuts of meat, often weighing in at 10 to 14 pounds. It also has a lot of connective tissue, which can give brisket a tough texture. Smoking the brisket slowly, breaks that tissue down to produce an incredibly tender texture instead.

Another benefit to smoking brisket is that it helps to keep it tender instead of drying it out. That ultra, tender and juicy brisket is so much more flavorful because the long smoking session provides plenty of time for the meat to absorb all the seasonings. The smoke also helps flavor the brisket, and different types of wood can even be used to create a custom flavor profile for the brisket.

Smoking also creates a beautiful, crispy crust on the exterior of the brisket. This is commonly referred to as the "bark," and it's one of the most prized parts of a smoked brisket. Adding a rub before cooking helps to achieve this rough, charred exterior.

The one drawback to smoking a brisket is that it's easiest to accomplish with a specialized piece of equipment: a smoker. Those who don't have a smoker can use a grill or an oven, though an actual smoker will produce the best results. Another alternative to consider is making roasted brisket instead, which is another great low-and-slow method for preparing this cut of meat.

Tips for Smoking a Brisket

When smoking a brisket, it's important to plan. Here are a few important details to keep in mind before you begin:

Timing: It can take 8 to 12 hours to smoke a whole brisket in addition to the time you'll need to prep and season it. Be sure to start early enough that the brisket will be ready by the time you plan to eat. You don't want to rush this process; the long, slow cooking method makes brisket so deliciously tender and juicy.

Temperature: Use a meat thermometer frequently throughout the cooking process to check the level of doneness. The internal temperature should ideally be around 200°F when you remove it from the smoker. This is hot enough to break down the connective tissue without overcooking the beef. While the meat may be safe to eat at a lower temperature, it will be chewy and tough if the internal tissue isn't broken down.

Wrapping: Many pitmasters recommend wrapping the brisket for the second half of the cooking process. Although it's not required for a successful cook, this step helps to keep the meat tender by locking in moisture. In addition, the brisket sometimes experiences a "stall" in temperature at a certain point (usually around 165°F), and wrapping it pushes the internal temperature higher so that the cooking process doesn't take as long. Aluminum foiled and unlined parchment paper are the two most common options for wrapping brisket.

Woods: There is a wide variety of smoker wood chips, pellets, chunks and splits (logs) to choose from, and the one you select will impact the brisket's flavor. Generally, larger wood pieces like chunks and splits are better for brisket due to the long cooking time. As for the wood type, hardwoods are more popular for hearty meats like beef and pork since they burn slower, longer and hotter than softwoods. Some examples of hardwoods to use in a smoker include hickory, maple, oak, pecan and mesquite.

Smoked Brisket Recipe

Ready to start smoking? Use the following guide to get a beautifully tender and moist brisket full of incredible flavor.

1. Trim the brisket. Place the brisket on a large cutting board with the fat cap facing up. Pat the brisket dry with a paper towel. Then, trim the fat cap. You don't want to remove all of the cap, however. Instead, you just want to trim it until there's an even layer of fat along the cap about ¼" thick. Then, flip the brisket over and remove any shiny skin and large fatty pieces. This step is easiest to accomplish when the brisket is cold since it keeps the fat cap firm as you cut.

2. Add seasoning. Apply your brisket rub by applying the seasoning mixture all over the surface. The rub seasonings can be customized to your preferred flavor profile. Salt, pepper and garlic make a simple and classic rub. Other popular seasonings for brisket rubs include brown sugar, espresso, ancho chilis, paprika, onion powder, oregano, cumin and coriander. Once you're done applying the rub to the brisket, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for another 12 to 24 hours before you start the smoking process.

3. Start smoking. Get your smoker up to about 225°F to 250°F. Place the seasoned brisket in the smoker with the fat cap down. Plan on approximately one hour of smoke time per pound of brisket.

4. Wrap the brisket. When the internal temperature of the brisket reaches about 165°F, take it out of the smoker and wrap it with aluminum foil or butcher paper. Place the brisket back inside the smoke, with the fat cap side facing up.

5. Rest it. Once the internal temperature of the brisket reaches around 200°F, remove it from the smoker. Keep the wrap on the brisket and allow it to rest for about one to three hours. During this time, the meat will become even more tender and moist as the juices are redistributed throughout the brisket.

6. Slice it. To slice your brisket correctly, make sure you cut against the grain. Pay close attention during this step since different parts of the brisket will have the grain running in different directions. Try to achieve thin slices that are just under a half-inch thick.