Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

February 10, 2011

Beef brisket takes patience

Dave Lobeck
CNHI News Service

— If you have a spare day and you want to immerse yourself in a great barbecue experience, consider giving beef brisket a try.

The main ingredient required for this cut of beef is time – up to 10 hours depending on the size of the brisket. “Low and slow” is a must, producing a smoky, beefy, tender cut of beef that can be served by itself or as a brisket sandwich.

Let's first discuss the cut. As you know from previous articles, it is a bonus to have a working relationship with a butcher in your town. An entire beef brisket can weigh up to 10 pounds. If you locate an entire brisket, the “fat cap,” which is a layer of fat across the top of the brisket is a definite plus, as it helps keep the meat moist during the long cooking process.

In most cases you will see only a portion of the brisket, known as the point, which is roughly four to six pounds. Choose the brisket with the most marbling of fat throughout the meat.

The brisket is located above the front legs of the steer and is a piece of muscle which gets worked hard and supports a lot of weight. A low and slow cooking method melts the connective tissues in the brisket, making it tender and delicious.

The cooking temperature needs to be near 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Any warmer and the brisket will cook too quickly making it tough and dry. If you are using a kettle grill, set it up for indirect heat with 10 to 12 pieces of charcoal. If you use a liquid smoker the moisture will soften the cooking temperature. Make sure you place hickory chips on the charcoal when the charcoal is 50 percent to 60 percent gray. Let the hickory flame out, then place the meat on the grill opposite the coals and place the lid on the grill or smoker. You will be adding charcoal to the kettle grill occasionally to keep the heat where it needs to be.

In terms of flavoring, any great beef rub works perfectly for this cut. If you have the time, rub the brisket down with your favorite beef rub the night before, wrap it in cellophane and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. The spices will permeate the meat.

While many cooks suggest you slit the meat to help with this process, I vehemently disagree. Slicing the meat only promotes the loss of juices during the cooking process.

Personally, I wrap the brisket in aluminum foil when it is 75 percent done, and then finish cooking it in the foil. By then the hickory flavor will have penetrated the meat and the foil helps keep the brisket moist.

The brisket is considered done at 185 degrees to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. If you cook it at a low temperature, achieving this will take a lot of time, which is what you want. “Low and slow” is the key with this cut.

When it is done, rest it for 30 minutes wrapped in the foil and placed in a styrofoam cooler to keep it warm, then carve the meat in thin slices against the grain.

Serve it by itself with your favorite barbecue sauce or as a brisket sandwich.  As a Kansas City Barbecue Society judge, I can tell you the brisket is the most challenging meat for the teams in any competition. Don't get frustrated if your first attempt doesn't turn out exactly the way you expect it. That's the fun of barbecue. It's a cooking art which requires practice.

If you are serving wine, consider a Shiraz, Chianti, Zinfandel or a Petit Verdot. These should stand up nicely to the smokiness and the sauce. If you are serving beer, consider a crisp pilsner to cut through the richness of the smoky beef and the sauce.

Dave Lobeck is a barbecue chef from Sellersburg, Ind., who writes a weekly column for CNHI News Service. Visit his website at