For me, BBQ has traditionally been pork. Ribs, pulled pork, pork steaks, etc.; it was always pork. I had always heard and read about the elusive brisket and based on the horror stories on the interwebs, I never even tried to cook one until I bought my Big Green Egg. Since then, I've had a decent amount of success cooking briskets for my friends, family, and co-workers. So I thought I'd share what I've learned since I first tackled what is arguably the hardest piece of meat to cook well.
- Packers, flats, & points: You'll typically find brisket sold in one of 2 ways; flats or packers. A packer cut brisket is packaged in a cryovac package and usually runs 10+ lbs. It's actually 2 cuts of beef, the brisket flat & point. The bottom side of the package will reveal a thick, hard, white fat covering. This gnarly looking piece of meat covered in fat always intimidated the heck out of me. You'll also find a brisket flat, which is the leaner of the 2 parts of a brisket. It will have the same covering of fat, will cost a little more per pound, and typically goes 6-8lbs. (note: we won't talk about "corned beef" briskets that you can find in the grocery stores)
- Trim the Brisket: I often cook brisket flats for my family, but the packers are awesome and what most folks cook for BBQ competitions. Either way, trim that brisket. I hate to get a brisket sandwhich in a BBQ joint and find a huge ribbon of fat along one side of the meat. Additionally, any seasoning that you do to a brisket won't penetrate that fat layer. If you're cooking a packer, don't try to seperate the 2 cuts. They'll come apart much easier after they come off the cooker.
- Rub &/or inject: After the brisket is well trimmed, apply your rub &/or injection. I don't typically inject, but I do apply a generous rub to the brisket. I like a combination of fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt, but there are lots of good brisket rubs on the market. Note: some folks like to slather their butts &/or brisket with yellow mustard. I used to, but frankly I've abandonded the practice and find that I don't miss it at all.
- Indirect Cooking: Set your cooker up for indirect cooking. On the Big Green Egg, that means platesetter installed feet up and temperatures steady at 250 degrees. I like to put a disposable aluminum pan between the platesetter feet and the cooking grate to catch as much of the extra drippings as possible.
- The Stall: Like a pork butt, a brisket will reach approximately 160-170 degrees internal temperature and go into a stall. During this time, the connective tissues in the brisket are breaking down and the magic is happening. Once the process is complete, the temp will begin to climb again. When it hits ~195 degrees and a temperature probe slides in easily with little reisisance, the brisket is done. Frankly, this thing is going to look like a meteorite when it's done but don't let that fool you.
- Burnt Ends: At this point, if you've cooked a packer cut brisket it's time to seperate the flat and the point. You should be able to take a long knive and easily cut through the vein of fat that seperates the flat from the point. The point is fattier and once removed, cube it, sauce it, and return it to the cooker. The extra fat will continue to render from the pieces and the sauce will carmelize. The sugar in the sauce will darken until the pieces look "burnt", but trust me they aren't and they are good eatin'!
- Rest, slice, & serve: I find that a brisket benefits even more from a little rest period than a pork butt. I like to let it rest for at least a half hour. During this time, the juices redistribute throughout the meat. I typically slice with an electric knife and serve.
It's true that it's harder to get a perfect brisket than a perfect pork butt, but even the briskets that miss the mark are awesome. So don't be afraid or intimiated by that hunk of fat covered meat in your butcher's meat case. Take it home and give it a shot, it's totally worth it.