“The Quest for the Perfect Brisket”
In the 10+ years I have been seriously cooking on my BGE, I have always been intimidated by the thought of cooking a brisket. As a KCBS-certified competition judge, I have sampled some very good brisket and also some really terrible brisket! That being said, I did my first brisket flat almost a year ago and was pleased with the results. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take my try at a full packer on my BGE. After watching a few Aaron Franklin’s videos (Brisket prep / 3 ways to cook brisket) and consulting with some experienced brisket-cooking friends I came up with a game plan.
Of course since most plans can be thrown a curve ball, my plan to wrap with butcher paper fell apart as I could find no store (or butcher) with actual butcher paper! Thus Plan B became a “naked” cook – no wrap at all – just hours and hours over a low temp fire.
Preparation of the Egg:
Before any low and slow cook, I first remove and save the used lump from the fire box (a plastic shoebox works great for this).
It had been a while since I cleaned out behind my fire box, so I removed the fire ring and fire box and as one can see, a considerable about of ash and lump pieces needed to be cleaned out. The second picture is with everything cleaned out, reassembled and ready to build the fire.
Building a fire for a long cook:
Whether it be for a Boston butt or a brisket cook, one of the important factors in maintaining a steady fire is good airflow throughout the entire cook. One can just dump in lots of lump and usually ‘get away’ with it, but I learned years ago to carefully build a fire starting with large pieces of lump and stacking with gradually smaller pieces. I also intersperse large chunks of dry wood throughout the entire ‘column’ of lump. For this cook I used a mixture of hickory and pecan chunks. I also used a dense lump (Wicked Good’s Weekend Warrior blend) with is difficult to find locally. It burns very slowly, but being difficult to light, I add the easier-lighting used Royal Oak lump on top. Pictures show the progression of building the fire.
(Since I planned to use a pizza stone as my indirect piece, located slightly above the fire ring, I wasn’t concerned with the platesetter being too close to my lump).
I used many components acquired from the Ceramic Grill Store to construct my grid setup. I started with the Adjustable Rig (AR), added a slider to the bottom level and placed an oval ceramic stone on the slider rack. I positioned 4 spacers (1/2″ copper pipe angles) on the stone, then a foil-lined rectangular drip pan. The original BGE grid sits on top of the AR.
I lit a small fire in the center, in the used lump with the bottom vent wide open and nothing on the top of the dome. I placed the adjustable rig and all components (as above) in and allowed it all to heat up. As the temperature approached 200*, I added my BBQ Guru DigiQ II power controller, placed a pit temperature probe at the grid level and set the desired temperature to 230*.
I trimmed the brisket of a large amount of the fat (I probably was a little aggressive for my first time and will likely leave a on little more fat next time). Aaron Franklin’s recipe calls for a 50/50 mixture of Kosher salt and freshly coarse-ground black pepper as the only seasonings. It works best to put this mixture in a jar as it constantly needs stirring around to keep the salt from settling to the bottom. An even distribution on all surfaces is all that’s needed.
The seasoned meat rested on the counter for 45-60 minutes while I let the BGE, all the components, and the ceramics stabilize. Getting everything uniformly heated helps keep the Egg temperature from dropping too much when a large mass of cold meat is added. In the picture, one can see meat and pit probes from both the DigiQ as well as a Maverick E-732 wireless remote, which has alarms set to alert me during the night if anything gets outside the parameters I set.
Around midnight (6 hr into the cook), the meat was at 154*. I woke to my clock alarm at 3 am, checked the Maverick remote at the bedside – 175*. The clock alarmed again at 6am (I’m just a little worried with overnight cooks) and it was at 192*. The DigiQ kept the grid temp at a solid 230* for the entire cook! At 6 am, the brisket wasn’t tender to probing, so I continued until it registered 201*. I wasn’t completely happy with the “probe test” as it didn’t feel like it was passing through butter, but decided it was done enough, especially since it was going to be 6 hours until lunch.
I wrapped the brisket with 2 layers of foil, placed in dish and then into a pre-heated cooler with thick towels under and over it. I left it like this until time to slice and serve (6+ hours).
I sliced the flat against the grain. The “judge’s” take: tenderness (draped over a knife and ‘pull test’) was excellent; the flavor was great. My only criticism was that it was a little dry, even for brisket. I got several “best brisket I’ve ever had” comments, so I think it was a winner.
Final note: Below is a picture taken shortly after the brisket was removed from my large Egg – note how much lump remained after an over 14 hour burn!
PS – Brisket #2 is already in the planning stages…….I think I will wrap with butcher paper on the next one……..
1 packer (whole) brisket (Choice or Select grade – Prime, if one can find & afford it)
1/2 cup Kosher salt
1/2 cup coarsely ground black pepper
(1) Prep the smoker for a long (12-18 hr) cook with wood chunks (fruit wood plus some hickory, if desired). A drip pan is needed as lots of fat is rendered. Water is not necessary in a ceramic smoker, but is a good idea in other types of smokers.
(2) Trim most of the fat from the brisket, then season liberally with the salt & pepper mixture (keep shaking the container to keep the S&P mixed well).
(3) Smoke until internal temperature reaches about 195*, then check for tenderness by probing the flat with an icepick, a toothpick or a temperature probe. Desired doneness will be when the probe passes in and out of the flat like soft butter. Continue cooking and checking until the desired tenderness is reached.
(4) Wrap in 2 layers of aluminum foil, place in a pan or dish (in case of leaks), then wrap with towels and keep in a pre-heated insulated cooler for at least an hour or up to 5-6 hours before serving.
(5) Slice immediately before serving (it drys very quickly) and drizzle each piece with any juices.