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Brisket (5th cook) and most difficult
Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest. The brisket is one of the eight beef primal cuts (sounds fancy). The brisket muscles include the superficial and deep pectorals. As cattle do not have collar bones, these muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing/moving cattle. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize the connective tissue. In other words, brisket was made to be cooked low and slow! Don't even get us started which is better a right or a left one...
A whole brisket (know as a packer brisket) is not typically stocked at your neighborhood grocery store. Packers are large hunks of meat that the average hot-dog grill master will never cook in their entire lives. We are not average here. We only use Snake River Farms Wagyu Brisket when we compete. We have won big money and had many "walks" using SRF briskets.
For your practice cooks (and so you know how good highly marbles SRF brisket really is), look in big box membership stores (Costco, Sams Clubs, BJs and the like). Don't be fooled if you see the word brisket on a piece of meat. Some stores sell only the flat portion of the packer brisket. This is a brisket cut in half and it is missing the point, literally.
Flat + Point = Packer Brisket
If the big box stores are no help, do a Google search for wholesale meats or butchers in your local area. Call ahead and ask for price per pound and the grade of the brisket. You are looking for a Choice or higher grade in a perfect world. But BBQ aficionados will always argue that a good cook can make a select peice of meat into a flavorful masterpiece.
Grades of Beef: while there are more than just 3 USDA beef grades, we will give you the Patio Pitmasters versions that will make you sound like a pro when talking to the butcher.
Highest in quality and intramuscular fat, limited supply. Currently, about 3% of meat is graded as Prime.
High quality, widely available in foodservice industry and retail markets. Choice meats are 55% of the fed cattle total. The difference between Choice and Prime is largely due to the fat content in the beef. Prime typically has a higher fat content (more and well distributed intramuscular "marbling") than Choice.
Lowest grade commonly sold at retail, means low quality, less juicy and tender due to leanness.
Just remember PCS and you will always know your beef grades.
Preparing a Brisket
There are those who believe that all you need to do is remove the packer from the cryovac, rinse it, dry it off a little, and rub it down. That is all fine and dandy. And it’ll work in a pinch. But we prefer to put a little more TLC into our beloved beef! By this, we mean taking the time to trim off excess fat, including the silver skin. It makes no sense to leave all the fat on your packer. Smoke and rub can't penetrate it, you will use more fuel to cook it through, and at the end of the day you're not going to eat the fat anyway. So, why leave it on?
There are three areas you will want to concentrate on while trimming:
1) The fat cap located on the flat
2) The top side silver skin
3) The vein separating the point from the flat
The first area to trim is the fat cap. This is the underside portion that is covered with a thick sheet of fat. You will need to cut some of the thickest areas off of the flat itself. You will want to trim it to 1/8" to 1/4" of thickness. This will leave enough fat to keep the brisket moist during cooking. Be careful not to cut down to the meat. If you do, just back out of the cut and do your best to move on with just trimming the fat. As you move down the flat away from the point, the fat becomes less hard and more spongy, making it more difficult to cut. This is where a sharp boning knife is key.
Next, you want to trim up the top side. This is the side that has the red meat showing. You need to feel your meat up for any hard spots and cut them out. Also, this is where you will find the silver skin. You will have to carefully cut this away too. Be careful not to cut to deep. You will need a good knife to undertake this task. Try out the Boning Knife that we recommend and use. Don't try this with a small paring knife or any knife that is dull. You won't get very far.
Finally, you will get to the vein portion. The point and the flat are separated by a large vein of fat. You will want to do your best to cut all the fat out of this area while not separating the point from the flat. This will take time. Be patient. You will definitely hone in your trimming skills with this task. The last step is to cut off a very small portion of the corner of the flat perpendicular to the grain. This will serve as a slicing guide after the brisket is cooked. More on this later.
At this point, you can either trim the vein of fat out between the flat an the point-or not! This is another one of those steps that some pitmasters choose to do based on personal preference. The choice is yours. The idea for trimming the vein is that you can expose more meat surface to put your rub on. The idea against trimming the vein is that some of the fat will render out and help in a self-basting process. We have tried both various times and the difference is not notable. If you choose to trim out the vein, be careful not to trim too much of the fat out. Don't separate the flat from the point during the trimming process.
Injecting a Brisket
Once you get the brisket trimmed to your liking, it is time to inject. Inject the brisket in the same direction of the grain. Inject from the side and not the top. As you inject the flat, you will see the fluid flowing into the meat. Start at one side of the flat and work all the way around to the other side. You will want to inject about an ounce each time. When you get to injecting the point, inject it in the same direction of the grain as well. Fill the point with at least 5-7 ounces of fluid. When you are done injecting, place the brisket in a 2 gallon zip lock bag and pour any leftover solution over the meat. This will serve to marinate the meat. Place in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours.
A note on injectors: We use the Cajun Injector to inject our meat. The Cajun Injector is an inexpensive unit that is very efficient. We have tried the more expensive $30 models. Don't buy those for this type of task! They all do the same thing. They inject. However, the outcome is sometimes worse. The larger commercial models have heavier duty needles which are capable of injecting more fluid in one spot. If you inject too much fluid in one spot of your brisket, you risk having stains in your meat when you slice it. The taste is fine. However, we are concerned with the appearance of the final product. Bottom line, buy the cheaper model!
Rubbing a Brisket
After 4-8 hours of resting in the injection marinade, it is time to rub it down. Pull the brisket out of the zip lock bag and lightly pat it dry. Lightly coat the brisket with your choice of rub. Do not coat the brisket to heavy with your rub. If you can't see the meat, neither can the smoke. And if the smoke doesn't penetrate the meat, your smoke ring will not develop properly. The smoke ring doesn't help or hinder the flavor of your meat. However, a nice smoke ring aids in the appearance of the final product when it is served. Smoke ring = Sexy!
BBQing a brisket
Once you have the rub on, it is ready to go on the Q. Some people insist on letting the rub sit for a period of time. This is simply a matter of preference. I rub it and throw it on the smoker straight from the refrigerator (This will also aid in creating a stellar smoke ring). At this point, start your smoker up and get it to 250 degrees. Throw in some pecan wood chunks (No chips please). Don't bother soaking your wood either. It extinguishes your heat source.
So now it is time to start your smoke. The first dilemma is placing the brisket fat side up or fat side down? Theory states that if you place if fat side up, the fat renders and marinates the beef while cooking. I have done both various times, and quite frankly, it doesn't matter either way. Try it both ways for yourself and see what your preference is.
Once the meat is down, place the temp probe in the thick part of the flat with the direction of the grain. Yes, you need a temperature probe. Try a Maverick Remote Smoker Dual Probe Wireless Thermometer ET-73. This unit has a low cost of entry and is tried and true. Smoke until the brisket reaches 140 degrees. At this temperature, the meat has taken all the smoke it can take. Do not add any more smoke. If you started fat side up, flip the meat over. Sprinkle another light layer of rub onto the brisket. Let the meat sit this way until it reaches 170 degrees.
At this temp, it is time to foil as long as your bark is set. Your bark is set when you take a knife or other blunt object (fingernail?) and you are able to scrape the meat without much of any residue coming off the meat. If this isn't the case, your bark isn't set. Come back in 15-20 minutes and check again. If you are foiling, then you want to take a minute to make a marinade to put in the foil. This will help in keeping the meat moist. Further, you will get a very tasty Au Jus out of it at the end of the cook.
Simple BBQ Beef Marinade
1 beef boullion cube
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce
Mix all BBQ marinade items together in a sauce pan, simmer until boullion cubes disoloved. Hold for later use for up to a week.
Back to foiling... Don't use the standard width foil. Get the wide roll. Tear off a large portion of foil. Place the foil down and put the brisket onto it. Start to form your boat around the brisket. Pour 1 cup of your BBQ marinade over the brisket. Don't pour cold liquid over your hot brisket. Make sure to heat it up if it is cold. If you don't heat it up, the cold will cause the meat to tighten back up. We do not want that! Put your probe back into the meat if you removed it. Close up the foil up and crimp the edges. Make sure to squeeze as much air out of the foil as possible. Extra air = Extra steam. We don't want to steam it.
Throw your brisket back onto the smoker for the duration of the cook. Cook it until the meat is 198-206 degrees and fork tender. You want to feel the fork slide in like it was a baked potato. If there is more resistance than that, it needs more time on the cooker. Give it another 20-30 minutes and check again.
Once the brisket reaches temp, pull it off and let it rest. Open up the foil and let the steam release. You want to see a 5-10 degree drop. Pour out all the liquid from the bottom of the foil and reserve it. Run it through a fat strainer if you have one. Once the meat has rested and the temp is down, pour about a cup of the reserved liquid back into the foil. Then rewrap the brisket. If you aren't serving it immediately, wrap it in towels and place it in a dry ice chest or UPC400. The meat will keep temperature for 2-3 hours.
Serving a Brisket
You are now ready to slice up your brisket. Take the back side of a large slicer or chef's knife. Insert it between the point and the flat (where you removed the big vein of fat while trimming) and separate the two. You don't need to slice them apart. Just use the back side of a knife and a little pressure. It will naturally separate if you have cooked it properly.
Serving the point:
Cut the point into 1" x 1" squares. Put a little more rub on them for flavor. If you want, they can go back on the smoker and cook for up to another hour in a tin pan. This will render more fat out of the point squares and make them oh so yummy! These are what we call burnt ends. This is the recommended way. You have gone to all this effort. Don't skimp here.
Serving the flat:
Remember the edge that you cut off perpendicular to the grain while trimming? After you have injected, rubbed, smoked, mopped etc... those grain lines become less transparent. This pre-cut edge is your guide to ensure that you are slicing perpendicular to the grain. At this point, carve the flat into pencil-thin slices.
Plate the flat slices and the burnt ends on a large plate and serve yourself some brisket. Hopefully, your labor of love has paid off!