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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Barbecued Brisket Basics

One of my favorite barbecue gurus, television show host and cookbook writer Steve Raichlen, describes brisket as "the Mount Everest of barbecue." He is not wrong.

Brisket is a cut of meat that comes from just below the neck on a cow. Due to it's toughness and high fat content, it absolutely must be cooked thoroughly. This is not a cut of beef you want rare. Undercooked brisket will be completely tough and chewy and almost inedible.

Because of this fact, it's also quite easy to overcook brisket, as you may constantly think to yourself "I better let it cook more" until you've gone too far. This will result in dry, leathery meat.

Properly cooked brisket, however, is delicious and juicy and flavorful. You got it right when it's so tender you can practically carve it with a butterknife.


Purchase as thick a cut of brisket as possible. The flat cut briskets often available at supermarkets are easy to dry out. Of course, thick briskets are usually giant, so make sure you have plenty of friends coming.

First off, a brisket is best prepared with a dry rub. You've seen Sizzle Grove discuss coffee rubs in previous blog posts, which makes for an excellent brisket rub. Try mixing together coffee, black pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and a bit of cumin. If you like some sweetness, bulk it up with brown sugar too. Be liberal with the coffee. If you don't want to try all of these things, try going as minimal as possible. Salt and pepper. Bam. Done.

Apply plenty of rub to the meat. Some barbecuers say this should be done right before cooking, as to ensure a nice crust. We at Sizzle Grove, however, like to put our rubs on hours (or even a day) beforehand in order to create rub marinade... a "rubbinade," let's call it. Sounds dirty.

You will probably need to light a few batches of coals to cook your brisket through. Start with a large batch of coals, then after a couple hours, light a half batch, rinse, and repeat. Be sure to stock your smoker with your favorite hard wood chunks each time you light coals to infuse the meat with flavorful smoke.

Cooking your brisket at around 220 degrees for about an hour per pound will do the trick. Wrapping the brisket in foil at the halfway point is also quite helpful for getting that perfect, tender texture.  Once the bark toughens, it isn't likely to absorb much more smoke flavor anyway.  And, if you run out of coals and finish it in the oven, I promise I won't tell.

Another helpful hint for keeping your brisket moist is the use of baste. Each time you light new coals, baste the meat. A simple baste, or "mop sauce," consists simply of half vinegar, half water. However, if you want to be creative, add some hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce or dry spices to your baste. If you want to go with our beloved coffee theme, add a shot of espresso to your baste!

As always, let us know if you have a favorite brisket recipe, or let us know the results if you try any of our ideas. Don't forget to send pictures! Any submissions may be sent to with the subject line "sizzlegrove."

(Brisket photo licensed by Creative Commons)

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