Friday, April 19, 2013

Revisited: How to Make Smoked BBQ Brisket

By Dru Chai

You can say that I've learned a lot since the first time I tried smoking a brisket. It was overcooked, dry, and bland. But it wasn't just about my BBQ technique -- it was also about all the little things. I bought the brisket flat one time at Costco and tried smoking that. The brisket flat has no fat cap, so of course it dried out after several hours in the smoker. There was also the quality of the meats that I purchased. It was all good to buy USDA Choice in the beginning, but you could definitely taste the quality of the meat just wasn't up to par.

Fast forward a couple of years later, and I feel much more confident about my brisket. Good BBQ isn't rocket science, but you pick up little tricks of the trade along with each experience. Competition BBQ teams will closely guard their tricks with their life, but for backyard BBQ purposes it's all good to share.  For me, I try to keep things as simple as possible. 

The first step to good brisket was upgrading the meat. After months of buying USDA Choice brisket at Costco, I was ready to move a step up. KCBS membership comes with a day pass at Restaurant Depot, and it's one of the most convenient places for me to get a Certified Angus Beef brisket. Not only are these much cheaper by the pound compared to Costco, but they are much better quality meat. These suckers are at least 12 pounds and up, but well worth every penny in my opinion.

Competition BBQ teams will tell you that they have all these tricks and things to look for when they're selecting their brisket -- like how thick the fat cap is, or how flexible and limber the meat is when they hold it up, etc etc. For backyard BBQ purposes, I just pick the least expensive one and head on out as fast as possible because the fridge section at Restaurant Depot is freeeeezing!

Back home, I usually concoct my own BBQ rub, but I decided to do a little experiment. I went ahead and liberally applied some of Slap Yo' Daddy's BBQ chicken rub. Yes, you read that right -- chicken. Why not? The way I see it, this brisket will be smoking low and slow for a good 10-12 hours so any distinct flavor from any rub you put on it will dissipate anyway. What I want is a nice, smoky, dark bark to form on my brisket. I believe the rub will help achieve good bark.

If you don't have any store bought rubs, don't fret. Just make your own. You can start off with a simple salt and black pepper rub, and depending on how you feel -- add some brown sugar and other spices like paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, etc. The possibilities are endless.

After about 5-6 hours in the WSM smoker, you can see that the bark on the brisket is beginning to form nicely. The high sugar content from the Slap Yo' Daddy rub helps in caramelizing the outside crust, which is exactly what I want. Another several hours, and I want to see the crust look almost black -- like a dark meteorite. So how did the brisket come out?

Well, I just about devoured half of a 12 pound brisket as I was slicing it up in portions. There's nothing better than tasting a freshly smoked brisket (after about a half hour rest to let the juices redistribute, of course). I could taste the subtle tart flavors from the rub, and it actually gave the brisket an added dimension versus if it was just something simple like salt and pepper. I think the cumin was a nice element that nicely complimented the smokiness of the meat.

The brisket slices from the flat (or lean brisket for all you Texans) were perfectly tender, but I find myself more in love with burnt ends. I thought that the burnt ends came out great. I just love chopping them up in cubes, seasoning some more rub, and throwing them back in the smoker for even more flavor. I don't understand why Texas BBQ places don't do this, as they simply slice up this "fatty brisket" along the grain. I suppose that is why they nicknamed it Kansas City burnt ends. But I'll save that for another post. Until then, I'm already drooling for my next plate of burnt ends.