BBQ Tip #21: Basic Brisket 101

Grail Note: There isn't a better resource for BBQ knowledge than The BBQ Brethren Forum.  It's full of wonderful people willing to share their vast knowledge of BBQ and Grilling.  One of the more popular threads is a basic brisket post by Chris Baker (Bigabyte.)  It outlines in great detail the process for cooking a proper low & slow brisket.  I have taken that post, with permission, and tweaked it a little to share with the readers of The BBQ Grail.  If you like this post, hop on over the The BBQ Brethren and join the fun.  When you finish the post please feel free to leave a comment about how you cook your brisket.  Got any important additional suggestions or thoughts?  Leave those too. Or leave a question and I'll try and get it answered for you.  Keep in mind there is not one right way to cook a brisket, so please don't play the "he's wrong card." I have seen a couple of requests recently about brisket tutorials from people who were thinking about smoking a brisket for the first time. There are a few brisket tutorials out there, but I thought a basic tutorial showing how to smoke a simple, first time brisket would be nice to have. So here is how I do mine. This "basic brisket" I am talking about is a no-frills, just plain good and tasty brisket without all the fuss with unnecessary techniques and preparations. I just leave it real basic here. The instructions will give you a great brisket every time with basically no chance of messing up, and absolutely no hard to understand directions that may cause lots of hard to answer questions to the first-time brisket smoker. If this is your first ever brisket, and you simply want to know how to make a good brisket now, this could very well be for you. The first time someone sets out to smoke a brisket they have a ton of questions. What is a packer, what is the difference between the flat and point, do I foil, fat cap up or down, what woods do I use, what temp do I cook it at, etc. I won't answer all of the questions, but I will shed light on some of them and answer a couple. The first question I am going to answer is, "What is a packer brisket?" Above is a picture of a packer brisket still in the cryovac wrapper. This particular packer brisket is USDA Choice as indicated by the stamp on the packaging. Choice briskets are a good choice if you want a good brisket. I always look for the best looking briskets meat-quality-wise first, and then the one that is the most flexible.


This is the packer brisket after removing from cryovac. This one has a big pocket of blood in the fat as you can see in the photo (that big dark spot).


Make sure you rinse your briskets to remove any blood or anything that may have gotten on the brisket during processing, and then blot dry. This photo is the same brisket after rinsing and blotting dry. Notice the layer of fat that is all along the top of this brisket. This is the “Fat Cap”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two pictures above are the same brisket from each side with the Fat Cap up to give you an idea of what it looks like. On some briskets the fat cap may not cover the entire brisket like this one. That is because the butcher cut down too far in the brisket and exposed some of the meat. Even so, one side will have a large covering of fat and that is the Fat Cap side.


In this next picture I flip the meat over so that the fat cap is down, allowing us to see the meat.


In this picture, I have outlined the flat and the point to show which part is which…

The flat is a thin piece of muscle that covers most of the brisket. The point is a thicker piece that is attached to the flat with a layer of fat in between them. Between the two pictures above you get a clear view of the flat, point and the fat layer separating them. The flat is a leaner piece of meat that is great for slicing and is what most people think of when they think of sliced brisket. The point is a fattier piece of meat, and is better suited for chopping. Later on I will show you how to separate these pieces of meat, and how to make burnt ends out of the point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above are more pictures of this same piece of meat from all sides with the fat cap down. The third pic is the same as the 2nd pic except I have outlined the flat and the point again.


This picture shows the grain of the meat in the flat. The grain for the point runs in a different direction and is the reason most people separate the point and flat before slicing.

OK, now that you have seen a packer brisket, and now know the Flat, the Point, and the differences between them, lets start fixing up a simple yet delicious brisket.


Here are the seasonings I am going to use. I have non-iodized Salt, Granulated Garlic (Garlic Powder will work too), Durkee Six-Pepper Blend, Black Pepper and Canadian Steak Seasoning. The Six-Pepper blend and Canadian Steak Seasoning are optional. If you do not have them you can use just the Salt, Garlic Powder and Black Pepper and still have a delicious brisket. Note I am not mixing up a rub. I thought it would be nice to show you that you do not need a pre-mixed recipe but can simply season it like you season most other things you cook, and make a great product.


First sprinkle on a layer of salt. Do not cake it on, but get a good layer over all the meat. It will soak in rather quickly.


Next sprinkle on some Garlic Powder. Again, we are not piling it on, but getting good even coverage over the brisket.


Then I rub on some Durkee Six-Pepper Blend


Then rub on some Canadian Steak Seasoning


And finally rub on some black pepper. This may look like a lot, but the black pepper mellows out a lot during cooking, so trust me this is not overkill.


Then flip the meat back over. You can season the fat side or not. A lot of people do. I do not season the fat as heavily because I trim the fat off after cooking, but the flavors from the seasoning work down into the fat, and then as the fat renders it will baste the meat with that flavor so some seasoning is a good idea. Here is the fat cap before seasoning…


…and after seasoning…

That’s it! Your brisket is now ready to smoke. I am cooking mine in a WSM (Weber Smokey Mountain) at 250 degrees. I am using Kingsford briquettes with 2 chunks each of cherry and pecan.

Now you might be wondering, do I put the brisket on the cooker with the fat cap up or down? This is a question that there is possibly no right answer for. However, I like to use the fat as a heat shield, so since the heat in my WSM comes from below I am putting it fat cap down.


Now, this particular packer was pretty big. I did not know how big it was until putting it on my WSM. It was far too big to lay down on my WSM. So I put the thin flat end of the packer with the fat cap down first, and then folded the point over on top of it so that the whole thing fit. You can see this in the pic below. It is not necessary to roll your brisket up like I did, or even to leave it flat. Just get it so it fits in there and is arranged with the fat cap pointing the way you like it.

Leave this in the cooker until it’s done. You may be wondering how long it will take, or what temp it should cook to. I’m here to tell you there is no great answer for this. A brisket is done when it is done. It is not always done at the same internal temp, nor is it done at the same time.

I will say this, because I’m cooking at 250, I expect it to be done in about 10-12 hours, give or take a few hours. If I was cooking it hotter, it would be done sooner. If I was cooking it lower, then longer.

I am not even going to look at this brisket again for 10 hours. I am not going to monitor the internal temp at all because the internal temp will not tell me when it is done. I could monitor it to find out when I am starting to get close to the temps where a brisket might begin to start getting done, but for your first time lets just not worry about all that and worry about what is important, how tender it is.

The brisket will be done when your probe can be inserted and removed easily from the point and the flat. It should be like butter. Now the probe you use may or may not have a dial on the end saying what temp the meat is. Ignore the dial. The only way you should know from this tutorial when the meat is done is by probing it for texture.


So I left this alone for 10 hours and this is what it looked like.

It was not done yet. The point was very tender, the probe slid right in and out like butter. The flat was not tender however, I had to stick the probe in and it had some decent resistance. So I put the lid back on and checked it again in an hour. It still wasn’t quite ready so I waited another hour, then it was done and tender in both the flat and the point. So this packer took 12 hours at 250 to get done. I don’t even know what internal temp the brisket was, and I frankly don’t even care. I know it is done and that is that. You will know too after doing this. Just don’t panic and take it off too early. Wait until the meat gives up and is tender.

I let it rest for half an hour. The fat cap was down while it rested because that is how I transferred it from the cooker to the tray I was resting it in.


This is a picture after resting with the fat cap down. How did I know which side had the fat cap? One way to know was by how it felt on each side, the other was because I knew I put the meat on the cooker fat side down.


I flipped it over so that the fat cap was up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now to separate the point from the flat. Recall that there is a layer of fat between the flat and point. You want to slide your knife through this layer to separate these pieces. Start by placing your knife along the thinner flat end of the brisket with the fat cap up and start shaving back through the fat cap. Check every so often to see if you are cutting into the point meat or the flat meat and adjust as necessary. You will eventually cut all the way back and be able to lift the point off of the flat.


In the picture above, you can see a small piece of point that was left behind attached to the flat. I am pointing to it with my knife. Just cut it off and place that meat with the rest of the point meat.


Then shave off the excess fat from the sides (if any) and along the top of the flat if you wish, like so…


You should now be able to see the grain of the flat as demonstrated in this picture…

Take note of the direction of the grain. You want your slices to go against the grain.


I like to flip the flat back over so that the bark side is up for slicing, like so.


These slices are about pencil-width thick. Since you cooked the brisket until it was tender, these piece should easily fold over when you pick them up, and snap in half with just a little resistance when you pull on them.

Now that you have finished with the flat, let’s look at the point. Note the piece to the side which I trimmed off of the flat earlier after we separated the point and flat.


The point is a much fattier piece of meat. It will have large chunks of fat on the sides and on the fat cap.


Here is a cross-section of the point through the thickest part to show you what it looks like. It is basically all meat with a thick layer of fat from the fat cap.


I like to trim off all the fat I can from the point. Here are the pieces of point after trimming.

The point can be sliced thick, but I think it is really good chopped personally. Here I have chopped it up…
…and then seasoned to put back in the smoker at 250 to make burnt ends. This time I seasoned with a beef rub, but you could just as easily use the same seasonings as we used on the brisket.


I like to let the burnt ends cook for 2 hours, then toss and coat with more rub. Then I cook them for another hours, toss and coat with more rub and a little sauce. I cook them for at least one more hour until they are crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and absolutely delicious!

9 Comments on BBQ Tip #21: Basic Brisket 101

  1. Great tutorial! I prefer to remove a lil of that fat prior to cooking so you end up with more of that fabulous bark!

  2. While the brisket looks very good, I think you should make mention of capturing the juices. A new brisket cook especially is most likely going to need all of that that he/she can get.

    • Tim,
      A very good idea. If you’d like to add a comment with your commendations it would be appreciated.

  3. Excellent step by step basic brisket instructions! I’ve only cooked the flats, so I appreciated seeing what packers look like, and your illustration of the point and flat was very helpful.

    I’ve had great success using the “high temp” method – which following your steps almost exactly, except for cooking at 350º finishing up in almost half the time.

  4. Cooked my first brisket ever using this thread, my main mistake was made when I chose a flat over the packer. Turned out good but the mistakes made were due to operator error, not method. Below is what I do now:
    Start with a full packer. Trim very little fat, pretty much just the hard fat that is a bit gray in color. Next I season with Meadowcreek Brisket Rub, or a layer of salt and a layer of pepper. Next I inject it liberally with beef broth and a little bit of the same rub I use on the outside. I smoke it hot and fast (275 to 325) on my Meadowcreek backyard offset (SQ36) using red oak, apple, or cherry wood. Wood only. I throw it on fat cap down. About 5 hours in when the internal temp is around 165 I pan the brisket in a foil pan with 2 cups beef broth. Smoke until flat and point are tender, remove, separate, foil flat and chop point. Flat goes in a cooler wrapped in towels while chopped point goes back into the au jus uncovered for about two more hours. One more thing, when I pan it whole I cover with foil. About an hour before I separate flat from point I uncover to firm up the bark. Slice flat an chop point. Serve from crock pot that has the au jus in the bottom. Nailed it after 7th try, be patient padawan…

  5. It is harder to cook a brisket flat than a packer, IMO, and I think the flat is what most beginners start with. Most supermarkets around here only carry the flat as a “whole brisket”. Great post Larry and Bigabyte!

    • @Chris – would that be because the point adds additional fat juices, and bastes the flat?

      As you said, grocery stores around here also only carry the flat, which is the main reason I’ve never tried the packer. The nearest Sam’s / Costco stores are an hour away, and we don’t shop at them often.

      All of my brisket flats have turned out awesome, save one that turned out really dry.

      I think Larry’s done a great job laying out the Lesson 101 style post for first-timers or newbies.

  6. This is an awesome lesson on brisket, which I have yet to cook! I love all the pictures and quick and easy explanations as I am a very visual learner and get distracted and lose interest very quickly.

    I also love that this took me all the way through making burnt ends. When I go to check brisket off my bucket list, I’ll be revisiting this again. Thanks Chris and Larry!

    • @BBQPairadise – Go for it! It’s remarkably easy to cook. Unless you overcook the meat (dry), it will turn out great. And let us know how it turns out. Screw the bucket list. This is beef. You can do it!

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