|Equipment:||Plate Setter, Thermal Probe|
|Set Up:||Indirect w/ Water Pan|
|Dome Temp:||225 – 250F|
|Cook Time:||190 – 205F Internal Temperature, checking done-ness with the poke test|
Timing a brisket cook is difficult, and in this case a thermal probe like a Polder is your best friend. I couldn’t imagine cooking a brisket without a temperature probe. My brisket cooks take anywhere from 12-15 hours for a 10 lb piece of meat. There’s no real way to tell when it’s done other than internal temperature and the poke test. So if you don’t have a thermal probe I highly recommend making the investment. You can read my review of the Polder here if you’d like.
Even though the timing can be tricky, my method is actually very simple. I rely on the Egg to maintain rock-steady temperatures throughout the cooking process and don’t open the lid until the Polder tells me to. I don’t really do much of anything else. Lots of BBQ cooks out there will tell you that you need to spritz, mop, foil and lots of other techniques to enhance the flavor of your brisket. Even though I have never cooked on the BBQ circuit, I like the taste of my brisket just fine.
Here are the basic steps to smoking a Big Green Egg brisket:
The preparation for a brisket cook is critical! These are probably the most important steps, actually, and can really influence the quality of your finished product. The first, and most critical, thing is the quality of brisket. Purchasing USDA Choice grade brisket or better will set you up for success. After removing your brisket from the packaging, be sure to rinse it and blot it dry. Then, trim the fat layer on the brisket to get rid of any large fat deposits. Leave about a 1/8″ – 1/4″ layer of fat on the brisket. As the fat renders it will keep the brisket moist, so be sure to leave a small layer of fat on there. When you are trimming your brisket, try not to leave any bald spots nor any sharp edges. Trimming a brisket is really an art, and there are entire seminars devoted to the subject! I don’t claim to know everything, but these few simple rules have served me very well.
Season to taste with your BBQ rub of choice (purists will say salt and pepper only). You can wrap it in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight if you want, or you can trim and season right before smoking. I have done both and prefer to let the seasoning sit on the brisket as long as possible, then re-season right before I put it on the Egg. As always, it’s all a matter of preference.
Smoking brisket takes a long time (my cooks are 10-15+ hours), so having a solid fire is critical. Larger chunks of lump charcoal go on the bottom, and build your way up using progressively smaller pieces. Clean the ash out, and the entire Egg if you feel the need. Read more about cleaning your Egg here. If you do this step properly, you won’t need to worry about adding more charcoal during the cook. There really is nothing worse than ruining a nice brisket because your fire died (which happened to me once, and I still hear about it).
Grill Set Up:
Set up your Big Green Egg for Indirect cooking with the Plate Setter and water pan. I always make to use a water Pan when smoking briskets. I put the pan on the Plate Setter, just under the grate, and fill it with WATER! Filling a water pan with beef stock, beer, red wine, or whatever is just a waste. It doesn’t impact the flavor what-so-ever, so just use water. Using a water pan does 3 things for you. First, the water acts as a heat-sink and keeps the temperature from spiking on you. This is awesome for long cooks. Secondly, it adds humidity to the cooking environment. This means a more tender final product and allows more smoke to adhere to the brisket. Lastly the water pan will catch the drippings, preventing nasty flare-ups and which can be used later for burnt ends.
Get a good amount of your favorite wood chunks (or chips) and put ’em dead smack in the middle of the charcoal heap as you are lighting your fire. Don’t put the brisket on until the temp has stabilized and you see “sweet blue” coming out the top of your Egg. I usually use something mild like hickory wood for my briskets, but mesquite is also a nice flavor. When you cut into the final product, a nice smoke ring will greet you and prove to your friends you know your BBQ.
Once your Egg stabilizes at 250F, put the brisket on fat side down (the fat layer will act as an extra heat shield for the meat), shut the lid of your Egg, and wait. The internal temperature will slowly rise, then plateau around 150-160F for a few hours, that’s normal. This is the famous “stall,” and people think all sorts of crazy things are happening to the meat at this point. Most people (including myself, until recently) thought the stall was connective tissue and fat rendering, but that is not the case. While the fat does render and the connective tissue does break down, that’s not the reason for the stall. The explanation is much simpler than that. The actual answer is “evaporative cooling,” which means the meat is “sweating” and is getting cooled just like when we sweat. Here is a very interesting article that goes into much more detail. Either way, the stall will last a few hours, assuming you don’t open your Egg, and then the temperature will start to climb again. Just be patient!
If you want, you can “power through” the stall by wrapping your brisket in foil when it reaches the stall. This method is called the “texas crutch.” I personally never foiled my briskets, but I have heard great things about it. If you decide to foil, make sure to put some braising liquid in the foil (apple cider, beef broth, etc). Once you are past the stall, take the brisket out of the foil for the remainder of the cook so that a good bark can form! For me, this is too much hassle. I prefer to keep my brisket “naked” and just wait out the stall.
Testing for Done-ness:
If you have been patient enough to wait out the stall, the internal temperature will continue to rise. I start checking my briskets for doneness when the Polder reads 190F. To check, just do the “poke test.” Stick the probe into the thickest part of both the flat and point, if it slides in easily it’s done. If not, keep cooking and check every hour or so. Remember, every piece of meat is different so it’s hard to say at what internal temp the brisket will finish at. While not a hard-and-fast rule, you can expect somewhere in the 190-205F range. After a few brisket cooks, you’ll get a better idea of about how long the cooks last.
Wrap it Up:
Since cooking times can vary by hours, it’s hard to have your brisket ready at the perfect time for your backyard BBQ. That’s okay! You can time your cook so that the brisket is done a few hours early, then wrap it foil and keep it in a cooler for about 3-4 hours. Any longer than this and you risk bacteria growing. I usually keep it in a cooler for at least an hour after taking it off the grill for the juices to redistribute. By timing your cook to finish earlier than you need, you have a built-in buffer in case the cook takes longer than anticipated. Brisket can always be reheated, but there’s nothing worse than hungry guests staring at your Egg….”is it done yet?”
Slice and Serve:
Once the brisket is cool enough to handle, separate the point from the flat. The flat is what I usually slice, and I usually chop the point for burnt ends. Be sure to cut the flat against the grain in about 1/4″ slices. If you are unsure about this, mark the brisket before you cook it. Serve with barbecue sauce if you wish, but too much can hide the flavor of the brisket. One thing I like to do is dip the brisket slices in the drippings right before serving. This makes them extra-moist and gives them a little more flavor.
If you have any questions or comments about my method, please let me know. I would also love to hear about your Big Green Egg brisket successes (and failures, we’re here to learn!), or any special recipes you have! Good luck with your briskets!