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It's Worth It
Barbecue is serious. It takes time, effort, and some money to cook barbecue in any sort of regular fashion. It can mean a 12-hour cook-time starting before dawn and the meat still not turn out the way you want!
I've been dabbling with cooking with smoke for a few years now and have finally found my groove. I've have my fair share of food that was just disappointing. But after doing my research online and reading tips from professional chefs, my journey to being a pitmaster is well on its way. Here are some tips and tricks that I wish I knew when I first started dabbling in the dark arts of cooking with smoke.
There are so many different options on cookers or smokers. There's the tried-and-true offset smoker, where the meat goes in one portion and the fire goes in a box on the side. There's an electric smoker, which is where I started, and they affordable and relatively hands-off. There are barrel cookers, pellet smokers that use propane, or ceramic kettles that can grill and smoke. This equipment is an investment so I would recommend to the novice to start small and see if you enjoy cooking in this fashion.
One piece of equipment that I recommend to literally anyone who will listen is called a smoke tube. The smoke tube uses wood pellets to put off an incredible amount of smoky flavor. Once filled and heated, the pellets burn similar to a cigarette, starting at one end and putting off smoke until it burns out. The brisket shown throughout this article was smoked in my gas grill using that piece of smoking equipment. It also makes a great and relatively inexpensive gift for folks who love to cook outdoors.
Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
This is great advice for not only cooking barbecue, but also for eating and enjoying barbecue. Start small with less expensive ingredients. I started with chicken breasts and they were so dry it was like I took a bite out of a piece of chalk. No two cookers are alike and it takes trial and error to get the perfect cook. A big piece of meat that is very forgiving is the pork shoulder, also known as pork butt. Once you hit 205 degrees it's done and after a rest it can be pulled, chopped, or eaten right there if that is your choice.
In Texas, traditionally we use just salt and pepper for our rubs, but there are no rules when it comes to barbecue. You are the pitmaster. You are the one babying that food for 12 hours. You want a spicy, sticky, saucy marinade? Then go for it! Do you like sweet and sour? Well good for you there's a wide assortment of rubs and sauces to accommodate you. Or you can make your own!
Trimming and Cleaning the Brisket
The first step in your adventure begins here. After opening the package, you will be met a huge slab of red beef. There are a few things to look out for:
- Thick, inedible fat
- Dry, weird, dirty looking edges
- The potential for a beefy mess
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Part of what makes meat taste good is fat. Fat melts, or renders, while cooking and adds flavor and moisture to your barbecue. There are literal pounds of fat on and in a brisket. So much so that some it will not render and alter the flavor of your meat in a negative way. This fat is called tallow and eating it would be like biting into a candle. You'll know exactly what I'm describing when you see it. Trim away as much of it as you can. Remember, it doesn't have to look pretty because all that matters is the flavor! So when it comes to brisket, I would suggest that you leave some fat on it. A quarter of an inch is more than plenty for some great tasting, moist brisket.
When you're ready to start cleaning up your brisket, be sure to use some kind of food safety. Use a clean knife, cutting board, and clean hands, preferably in some sterile gloves. You're about to spend a long time with this meat and it will be well worth your time to be mindful of food safety.
But again, you are the pitmaster. Do you want to just open it up and throw it on the smoker? Well, that's not the best idea. Please don't do that.
The Waiting Game
So you've trimmed the brisket the night before. You got the cooker ready at a good temperature and beautiful smoke is rolling out. Your brisket is seasoned exactly to your standards and it has now begun its journey. From huge slab of beef into an incredible dinner, you have started a cook that will eat your entire day.
With my cooker set at 230 degrees Fahrenheit and the smoke tube is doing its job, my brisket started its smoke journey at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday. And then I waited. Every other hour I check the temperature, both the meat and the grill. I check the tube to see if it needs to be refilled with my hickory smoke pellets. I have a pan underneath the brisket to catch any excess drippings. And then I waited some more.
After the brisket's internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, I chose to wrap my brisket in some butcher paper. Doing this aids in the brisket cooking evenly and decreases the cook time by at least one hour. I then brought my brisket inside, set the oven to 235 and finished the beef in the comfort of my kitchen. Once it hits 195-200 degrees, get that brisket out of the oven and then...you wait some more. Please let that meat rest for at least thirty minutes. Letting meat rest, not just in barbecue, assists in retaining moisture.
And Now You Feast!
After you showed true will power, you let your brisket rest. Now is the time for tasting and eating and rejoicing. You can slice it, chop it, or shred it; however you enjoy your brisket, do so with pride in your heart. I put my brisket on or in everything. Nachos, chili, soups, sandwiches, and brisket tacos to name a few of my favorites.
Barbecuing requires time, patience, and experience. With every cook we gain more knowledge about our equipment and ourselves. And what I have learned during this last cook was that with some good information and preparation, there's not much that I can't accomplish, at least when it comes to barbecue.
- Trim the brisket of the undesirable fat and rough bits.
- Prepare the cooker. Low and slow cooking is recommended for brisket, so anything from 225 degrees to 250 degrees.
- Season your meat. I coat mine with avocado oil first, then apply my salt and pepper rub.
- Set the meat in the cooker. If you have a thermometer probe, insert it into the brisket at its thickest part.
- While cooking, pay attention to the cooker temperatures and smoke levels.
- At 150-160 degrees, wrap the brisket in aluminum foil or butcher paper. Either place back in the cooker or in the oven.
- At 195-200 degrees, remove the brisket from the cooker/oven and let the brisket rest for at least 30 minutes.