"I think that beef brisket belongs to Texas like peanuts to Georgia and pulled pork to North Carolina. Did you know that until about forty years ago, brisket was considered a worthless cut of meat? Most folks would just grind it into hamburger meat. Then about 1950, two German brothers, who had a meat market, begin cooking barbecue in their market to use up leftover meat. So one of them got the idea to smoke a brisket as he was smoking sausage one weekend. So he left the brisket all weekend in his smokehouse. Then on Monday, as they were serving their barbeque--pork, sausage and chicken--he cut a slice off the brisket and put some on each lunch plate. Everyone began telling him how good and tender it was. So with that they began to cook beef brisket for barbecue. So Texas owes the two German meat market brothers from the hills of Texas for our Beef Brisket Barbecue." -- Bill Maynard
From the most humble of origins come our best contributions to world cuisine. Pessimists often talk about how McDonalds© is the culinary face we present to the world; but serious culinary scholars give due credit to the Texas beef brisket. When done right, it is the most tender and flavorful barbecue there is.
And I'm gonna tell y'all how to make it!! It's really easy, actually. It just takes all damn day.
Buy an untrimmed beef brisket from a meat market. An excellent price is $1.50/lb; Too expensive is $2.79/lb. Tell them you want it in the "cryo-pak", which means they don't process it at all and you should be able to get a cheaper rate. Some places will give you grief about a discount, but you should always be able to knock .20/.30 off the price because (a) you're paying for fat, and (b) you're not paying for labor.
You really ought to buy the brisket a week or so ahead of time, but if you can't, not a big deal. The night before, coat it with a powder rub made of equal parts salt, pepper, sugar, good Hungarian paprika (I use "Pride of Szeged" which they have at the local market) and chili powder. Work it into the nooks and crannies of the meat, but don't spend too much time working it into the fat. Leave overnight.
Early the next morning you start the smoker. This involves:
- getting a charcoal chimney full of charcoal, and lighting a sawdust starter under it
- Cleaning and filling the water pan. It goes right in the hole between the firebox and the meatbox.
- Cleaning the ash out of the firebox, and putting a log on either side of the grate.
- Dump the charcoal in between the logs, and put a third log on top.
You want to leave it not wide open, but pretty well open.. the principle being that you need to bring up the heat inside the smoker. After about a half hour it should be 250 or so in the meatbox. Put the brisket on fat side up, and choke the air intake down to practically nothing. (Always leave the chimney wide open to avoid sooty food.) The temperature will waver between 225 and 275, and you'll keep putting wood and charcoal on to maintain it. Some people will mop the bottom of the brisket every couple hours to keep it from draining out. I count on the water in the pan to provide the moisture, and prefer to leave the meat alone.
So now you simply tend the fire for twelve hours. In reality this means 5 minutes out of every hour. You can also load the firebox and escape for as much as two and a half hours if you need to. When the internal temperature of the brisket is 190, the tough connective tissues are breaking down, making it tender. When it's tender, it's done. Sometimes you can do it in ten hours, sometimes it takes twelve.
And of course, since you have to go through all this work to run the smoker, you'll want to put some other stuff on it too. I do bratwurst for lunch, and often some chicken. I've also started doing the veggies there: smoked corn on the cob, asparagus, and potato skins are all great.
As with ribs, it is important to have friends around helping you with the brisket; you can see how much work it takes. And all this work is thirsty work, so you should bring plenty of beer for all your fellow laborers. And be sure that whoever's eating this barbecue brings you more beer.