Is there any cut of meat more perfect for smoking than beef brisket? Its beautiful meaty flavor and generous fat layers combine perfectly with BBQ smoking’s aromas to give you the ultimate BBQ meat.
The way to a beautifully cooked brisket is different to any other cut of meat, and this can put a lot of BBQ fans off trying it. This, as well, as its cost and sheer size, can intimate even the most adventurous of grilling die-hard.
Thankfully electric smokers provide an easier way to smoke brisket without compromising on that great BBQ taste. They’re far easier to control and use, and can create a great entry point to smoking.
In my guide today I’m going to show you how to use your electric smoker to create BBQ’s finest cut of meat: Beef brisket.
If you don’t have one yet, then be sure to check out my guide to the best electric smokers.
How to prepare beef brisket
The key thing to look out for when choosing your beef brisket is to make sure it has a thick layer of fat on it. A good, heavy layer of fat will slowly melt over the meat while it cooks, imparting it not just with moisture but also an incredible flavor.
Also important is to familiarize yourself with the composition of your cut. Brisket is generally comprised of two main muscles. One is the ‘flat’, which is a long and slender muscle that runs down the length of the meat, and usually has a thick layer of fat on top of it. The other is the ‘point’, which sits at one end of the cut, with a layer of fat between it and the flat.
Photo credit: Serious Eats
The flat is often the most sought-after piece of the meat, and will account for most of the meat from a full brisket. However, the joint does have a lot of intramuscular fat, which some people prefer. The choice of which you want to use is completely down to you… Although, you can even just cook the whole thing.
If you do decide to use the whole thing, then pay attention to where I say how to cut your brisket after cooking later in this guide.
Ideally a lot of your preparation will be done the day prior to smoking, as brisket will have its best possible flavor when left overnight. However if this isn’t possible then try to do it at least 2-4 hours before.
On to the preparation!
Trim your meat
Trimming is a crucial stage of brisket preparation and one you should do before you do any seasoning or marinading. The amount of fat that you leave on it will determine how well your meat will cook, and even how it will it taste.
If you leave too much fat on it then it will be difficult for your smoke to infuse the meat with flavor. Likewise if you trim off too much fat, there won’t be enough fat content left to moisten the meat and give it that beautifully juicy BBQ taste.
At the heart of any good meat prep is a good, reliable knife. For our purposes, you’re going to need a knife that’s about seven or eight inches in length. It can’t be understated how large and tough brisket is in its raw form, so a knife that’s both sharp and long enough is key.
Trimming meat is not an easy task and in truth it needs its own post. Luckily for you, Susie over at Hey Grill Hey has written the perfect guide to trimming brisket here. Go give it a read (and take notes!).
Get a good brisket rub
Never forget to apply a good rub to your brisket. A good rub will complement the smoky flavors from the cooking without overpowering it.
The important thing for seasoning is to keep it basic. Some people like to overthink this stage, but try not to go overboard. We want the flavors of the meat to come through without a inch-layer of seasoning blocking its way. One of brisket’s best attributes is that even when matched with just a bit of black pepper and sea salt it can still taste beautiful.
Luckily, a lot of seasonings and rubs are available pre-made, but I strongly recommend making your own. You can tailor it to your own tastes, and also it’s just more satisfying putting it together yourself.
Keep in mind that the purpose of the rub is to enhance the meat, so cover your brisket with the rub generously. Cover it but rub it in gently. Try using garlic powder, red pepper flakes or paprika.
If you have prepared a marinade then using this window of time to inject it into the meat. This isn’t an essential step, but if you would like to apply a marinade then check out this recipe here.
Preheat Your Smoker
Choose a smoking wood that will match well with your meat. I recommend going for either oak, mesquite, or hickory. Make sure that whatever wood you go for, that it’s a dry wood. Going dry will ensure that your smoke is clean. Black smoke isn’t just unpleasant to be around, but it can also impart meat with a really bitter taste.
Once you have loaded your chosen wood into your smoker, preheat the smoker and wait for the temperature to settle at 225°F/110°C. It’s important to wait for the temperature to settle for a good period of time as this will help cook the meat more evenly without creating any hot spots or uncooked areas.
Photo credit: Another Pint Please
How to cook beef brisket
As mentioned earlier, ensure that the brisket has been out of the refrigerator for at least an hour prior to cooking. This will help bring it to room temperature, creating a better cook.
When ready, put your meat on the rack in your smoker. Make sure you place it with its fat side up. This ensures that when the fat starts to melt away, it does so over the meat, infusing it with our moist, fatty flavor.
However, if the main heat source of your smoker comes from lower down in the smoker, move the rack lower down in the smoker to ensure that the heat isn’t facing towards the underneath of your meat, effectively drying it out.
Place the point end of the brisket towards the heat source of your smoker. This has more fat so won’t be at risk of drying out.
Set up a wireless digital thermometer, with one probe in the meat and one in the smoker chamber. If you don’t have one already, then read my digital thermometer for smokers guide.
Make sure your drip pan is in place to help capture run-off, and reduce flare-ups.
Finally, place your water pan filled with water in the smoker. This will help keep moisture in your smoker’s chamber, reducing the dry-out that fire can cause and keeping a healthy amount of smoke in the smoker.
Close the smoker lid or door firmly. Leave it and don’t open it until the next step. Smoke and heat can escape very quickly, which will disturb your meat. Your thermometer will help you keep a watch over your brisket’s progress without having to open your smoker prematurely.
The time needed for your brisket to cook will vary depending on the amount of meat on your cut. However you can safely leave it for the first three hours while your smoker does its magic. Once this time has passed, open your smoker and use a loaded spray bottle with water or beef stock on it. Spray generously.
Spraying it will help keep the meat moist, but it’ll also help develop a beautiful crust on the meat. Do this every 30 minutes while you wait for the meat to reach 190°F/90°C. Once it has reached this temperature then your brisket is cooked and is ready to be removed.
Once you remove it from the smoker, it’s crucial to leave it to rest. As tempting as it might be to start serving it up immediately, it’s important to let its juices to settle through the meat. Leave it for around 10 minutes.
How long does brisket take to be smoked?
You will always want to live by 190°F/90°C, but a good rule of thumb is an hour per pound. This means for a 5lb brisket, you’ll need about 5 hours. However, this can vary so always be mindful of measuring internal temperature.
What internal temperature is best for smoking brisket?
190°F/90°C is the ideal temperature, however there are a few things you need to be aware of.
Be careful of ‘the stall’. This is a period that can occur where the heat in the smoker has started to evaporate moisture from the flesh of the meat, which can significantly reduce, or even halt, the increase of your brisket’s temperature.
To help combat this, I recommend using aluminum foil to wrap the meat when you get to 165°F/75°C. This will lock in the heat and help your meat get over the line to hitting that 190-degree mark.
As a safety measure, it’s also important to test the meat with a fork to check how tender it is. If you can use the fork to twist in the meat then your brisket is ready.
How to cut smoked brisket
Use a serrated knife that’s long enough to run along the width of your meat.
Remember that your brisket is comprised of two main parts: The flat and the point. These two parts are comprised differently, so needed to be approached differently.
Start by cutting against the grain of the flat. Aim for quarter-inch thickness. When you get to the point, turn the brisket around and cut against the grain of the point. Be careful not to cut off any of the bark.