Of all the things I cook, the most requested recipe is brisket. As a Texan, it should be required in order to graduate high school to know how to properly cook a brisket. It doesn’t have to be smoked, but right before they hand you a diploma, if you can’t answer “slow and long” to the question of how a brisket should be cooked, they should send you back to class.
My brisket is a world-stopper. You’ve never had BBQ quite like this, and the key is yellow mustard. Not fancy brown or Dijon mustard, but plain ol’ French’s mustard. Here’s my secret, though: This isn’t my recipe. It’s my dad’s. When he first told me how he was doing his brisket, I just about squeezed my eyeballs out of my head squinting at him. Sure enough, though, he was right. He’s right about a lot of things that I challenge him on, but none moreso than mustard brisket. Here’s to you, dad.
I’ve never officially gone thru this procedure before because of one major component, and we might as well tackle it head-on right out of the chute. To properly cook a brisket, you’ve got to dedicate an entire day to doing it. Not a “day” as in “when the sun is up”, rather a full 24 hours. An entire rotation of the friggin Earth. If you aren’t willing to put in the time, sacrifice some sleep, and do this right then don’t bother with it. Go get yourself a nice margarita and rent Brokeback Mountain. When you get started on this, take notes of time and do it right. Don’t come bitching to me if you pull this thing after the sun goes down and it tastes like shit. Not my problem. You’ve been warned.
Your timeline is:
Day 1: Brine for 4-6 hours, up to overnight
Day 2: Marinate overnight
Day 3: Smoking
4-6 hours unwrapped
12-14 hours wrapped
4-7 hours in the cooler
1) Put the brisket on at noon unwrapped
2) Wrap it at 6pm
3) Put it in the cooler at 7am
4) Serve at noon.
Good so far? Good.
Now that we have the unpleasantness of the requirements out of the way, let’s get to the basics of Texas BBQ beef. The brisket was just a trash piece of meat until just a few decades ago because no one knew how to cook it right. For reference, picture a delicious bovine:
The brisket is the cut just above the front legs. Think of it as your chest if you were to get down on all fours. Because of where it is, more than half of the entire body weight of the animal sits on this piece of meat. Therefore, it has to be strong, long meat fibers that are filled with fat and connective tissue. In addition, there are three different muscles that come in, and therefore three different meat fiber directions. This makes things really difficult to manage, especially when it comes to cutting the finished roast.
Ranchers would just toss this thing because it was so hard to cook. There’s an entire cap of fat on one side, and all three muscles are separated by layers of fat and membranes that are really deep and hard to get to before it’s cooked. Even then, you can easily mess up the presentation by cutting it wrong. The direction of the cut is almost as important as how it’s cooked. About 50 years ago, though, ranchers started noticing that their Mexican hands were taking the briskets and making incredible dishes with them. They figured out that what they were doing was cooking it over low heat for a long time in a braise. They took the braised meat and cooked it over dry heat, and the modern Texas BBQ was born.
Now that I’ve officially scared hell out of you for cooking this thing, let’s get things prepped. We’ll need:
-an untrimmed brisket. UNTRIMMED by the butcher, that is. Don’t get a trimmed brisket.
-Bottle of Allegro marinade
-French’s yellow mustard (generic will do; I’m using French’s here so you see it’s not anything special)
-An oven bag
-Your favorite BBQ rub
That’s it. Not a whole bunch to this thing. Your brisket needs to be untrimmed. Competition BBQueers will try to tell you to trim a brisket, but that’s just because they are trying to skip on time. Keep it untrimmed…we are going to need as much fat as we can get. What size? Hell, I don’t know. About this big will do:
Doesn’t really matter. When you go to pick it out, what you are going to be looking for is a solid cap of fat on the backside of the brisket (they always put the label on the opposite side because it’s prettier). I had someone tell me one time that they went to Central Market and bought a “prime” brisket. I’m not sure that it even exists. This is meant for trashy cuts of beef, so the sinewy-est, fatty, marbled up slab of brisket you can find is perfect. If you spend more than $2.50/lbs for your brisket, you got taken. Look for it on sale, and buy it when it’s around $1/lbs and freeze it.
Take your brisket out of the plastic and rinse it under water to get off all the extra blood. Let’s examine:
You see the long meat fibers here? They lie just under that membrane on top of the meat. Don’t peel it off…I just want to point out how the meat runs for later. We are going to cut AGAINST the grain when we serve.
I pulled back that membrane a little bit to get a good shot. See how the direction of the fibers curves away? When we start cutting, we’ll need to look for that, and stop when we get to the point where we aren’t cutting against those grains.
The fat cap:
One of my favorite tools is the Reynolds turkey bag. They are just plastic bags that you can marinate/brine your meat in. Take one out, and put your brisket in, with the fat cap side DOWN.
I like to put it into a pan in case there’s a leak in the bag, and there’s always a leak in the bag.
Now, take that Allegro marinade and pour in enough so that it comes up about halfway up the brisket.
Make sure that it’s the fat cap side that’s down, and not the meat fibers. What we are trying to do is use that salt and acid that’s in the Allegro to break down the fat and the muscle fibers around the fat. If you brine this with the meat side down, you are going to turn the meat into mush, and we don’t want that. Seal up the back and put into the fridge for 4-6 hours, up to overnight.
When you are finished, pull it out and lay it into a pan big enough to hold the whole thing. This is key…you are going to be flipping it in just a bit. Start with the fat cap side DOWN.
Get your yellow mustard out and squeeze LIBERALLY all over this thing, and then smear it with your hands so that it’s thick all the way around. Go ahead and rub it in kinda hard into the cracks and crevices where you can get your fingers. I always start mine out right:
When you get a good thick layer on it, grab your favorite bbq rub and sprinkle it LIBERALLY all over. You don’t have to use the Arcadian Rub, but you want to make sure you use one with some brown sugar, salt, and spicy cayenne. You know what? Just use the damn Arcadian Rub.
Flip it over and get the other side as well (fat cap back down). DON’T RUB IT. Just sprinkle on top of the mustard. If you’ve disturbed the mustard coating, make sure it’s even and then re-sprinkle to cover.
Now, we need to put this back into the fridge overnight. Don’t skimp. Needs to be overnight. If you put it in unwrapped, though, your fridge is going to smell like this for weeks, so grab a new trashbag (unscented) and put the whole thing in, pan and all. Seal it up and let it sit in the cold.
After a night in the fridge, poke that bad boy’s head out and take a look. The rub has gotten wet with the mustard and has made an incredible coat around the meat. That will be important for the next few hours as we slow smoke this
When you take it to your smoker, make sure you’ve let your smoker go enough so you are regulated to about 225deg constantly. Don’t try to singe this or sear it at first. It’s totally unnecessary, despite what you may hear from BBQ “experts” on tv. Just make sure you have a hard rolling smoke going, and your temp is around 225deg. 250deg at the highest.
I’m using mesquite. Not pecan and especially not oak, which is good for firewood and that’s about it. Use mesquite wood on your beef. I could almost accept someone mixing in some pecan, but it’s not needed. Just use mesquite. Stop asking questions. Use mesquite.
Put it into the grill with the fat cap UP. UP.
There are differing opinions on whether or not you should smoke fat side down or up. The folks who say “down” say that it helps keep the meat from charring. However, it you run your smoker right, it should never char since we aren’t getting above 250deg. Also, if the cap of fat is up, then it will melt down inthru the meat fibers, coating them with the delicious fat and Allegro brine. Does it matter? In the long run, probably not. However, this is how I do it and I know it works. Try it this way and see if it’s not good. If not, do it however you want to do it. This is America, baby.
After 4 hours:
After six hours (with a couple of sweet potatoes thrown on to smoke for dinner):
You notice how black it is? That’s GOOD. We call that “bark” in the BBQ world. It’s the blackened layer right around the outside that has all the seasoning flavor from the mustard mixed with our rub. After six hours, we need to wrap this. You can go a little longer if you like, but I think six hours is plenty.
Get your handy prep table out, and lay two layers of heavy duty foil (the long package). Lift your brisket right out of the grill and onto the foil.
Fold the first layer of foil around the briskets. Fold it TIGHT and do it so that all corners are covered. I start at the bottom, fold across like you are putting a diaper on a baby (old style diaper on a baby, that is).
Do both ends, tucking in each loose piece, pinching them together, and making sure they are sealed up TIGHT.
When you get it all sealed up, a nice fold or pinch will keep it together. Just like a good marriage.
You might have some spots left exposed after the first wrap. No worries..we’ve got three more layers to go. Second layer from the bottom:
After both bottom layers go on, take another large piece of foil and wrap all the way around the top, covering that hole at the top, tuck under, but make sure you fold corners so that it fits like it should. Do that twice. You should have used four sheets of foil so far.
Then you’ve got your tight wrapped brisket, ready to go on for the long burn. Again, make sure you are watching your fire constantly and keeping it between 225-250deg.
Back on it goes. Let’s add up the time so far:
-Allegro brine (4-6 hours, potentially overnight)
-Mustard and rub down (overnight)
-4-6 hours on the smoker at 225-250deg.
Up next, this needs to go for 12-14 hours wrapped at the same temps. Crazy, right? Yeah, just trust me on this.
After the smoker has done it’s work, the pretty foil will go from a nice golden yellow to a dark brown.
After 12-14 hours, take the entire brisket and place it in to your BBQ Cooler and let it rest for up to seven hours.
Do NOT open the cooler or disturb the foil until you are ready to cut. That’s important. Let it rest, and the rest is just as important as the other steps. Don’t skip on this…let it rest. Up to 7 hours max, no less than 4 hours.
When you are ready to carve, here’s a little trick. You’ve got the fat side up still, so reach into the cooler and either rip the foil with your fingers or take a knife and cut the foil open. You should be able to pick it up from underneath and flip it out onto your carving board. However, get a pan so you can collect the drippings before you flip it out. I use the same pan that I used to marinate the brisket. Just tip it so the drippings run out, flip your brisket out onto your board, and then collect as much of the drippings as possible. If you have some drippings that come out onto the board, go ahead and try to rake those into your pan also. It will make the carving so much less messy.
Big ol’ slab of beef.
From the bird’s eye view:
When you start to cut, keep in mind how the meat fibers run. Again, we are going to cut against the grain. There’s a little secret to make sure you do this correctly.
a) start at the “skinny” end of the brisket
b) start on one corner, where you think you need to start
c) cut off the top of the corner on a bias (or on an angle) to make sure you are starting right. If you chose the wrong corner, you can easily go to the other corner w/o too much of a do-over.
How do you know if you’ve cut it against the grain? The part you cut should fall apart, with the meat fibers being really short.
I like to use an electric knife. Honed steel is good, but don’t foresake the precision of an electric knife here. Start making about 1/4″-1/2″ slices along that same line that you started on just a bit of a bias.
Excuse the blurriness, but you get the idea.
This is what I’m talking about being “against the grain”. See the short meat fibers now that seem to fall apart? That’s what you want. This will be so tender that the meat will literally fall apart when you try to pick it up.
Here’s your brisket slice, about as whole as you can get it. It’s ok if it falls apart. It’s going to be so good and tender, it doesn’t matter if it stays in long slices.
Continue on until you get to the point where the meat fibers begin to turn. You’ll know you are there when you get to the big thick part of the brisket, and your slices look like they are slanted. Then, turn the brisket 90degrees and start cutting right across the top, which will now be against the grain. You’ve got two different muscles in here, but they’ll both be going the same way.
A close-up of the muscle, with a thin membrane separating.
Here are the long meat fibers. Cut against then so your knife is perpendicular to the muscles.
Close-up, of the slices.
When it’s all sliced up, you have should be able to peel some of the extra fat off and keep it in a pile up at the top. Plus, you have tons of extras left over.
There’s all the brisket cut up.
That fat still has tons of potential to it. Let’s not throw it away.
If you take your fat trimmings and put them into a skillet, you can start to render some of the extra fat off. Brown on both sides for a bit…
Then add a little beef broth or some of the drippings back to the pan and let it suck as much of the fat out as possible.
Then take that hot grease and drippings and pour it right back over the sliced brisket. Cover it with foil, put it into the oven at 170deg for a few minutes just to keep warm until it’s time to serve.
Presentation on the plate:
In the pan, you’ll have this deliciousness:
I’m not opposed to putting sauce on this, but if you are going to use sauce, let’s use the WGD brisket sauce and not just some sugary sweet crap off the shelf.
That’s it. My dad’s mustard brisket, cooked for a full 24 hours and about as perfect as Texas BBQ can be.