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How To Smoke a Brisket – Texas BBQ Brisket

This past Memorial Day, we decided to have a proper Fooding. The main course was decided to be my BBQ smoked brisket. I decided to chronicle the process and provide a How To guide for BBQ smoked brisket. This smoked BBQ brisket recipe has provided me with consistently tasty and repeatable results. Below I have detailed a step by step process for using your own offset smoker to create a BBQ brisket that will rival that of any local BBQ joint. I’ve also included lots of photos for your reference.

Brisket Recipe – What you will need to smoke a brisket:

  • 1 brisket
  • At least 8 ounces of spice rub. Mine is a chunky steak rub purchased from the grocery store.
  • 1 roll of plastic cling wrap
  • 1 roll of extra large heavy duty foil
  • 1 foil roasting pan
  • Water
  • Charcoal (10 lbs)
  • Hardwood of some variety. I primarily use oak. Mesquite and Hickory are good choices as well.
  • a smoker
  • 8 hours of time

Step 1 – Preparation (12-24 hours before smoking):

  1. To prepare the brisket, first rinse it well (it’s been sitting in a Cryovac bag for a couple of days. You’d want a bath too). Pat it dry and place it on a cutting board.
  2. I like to maximize the surface area of the meat that is exposed to the smoke, so the next step is to cut the brisket into 3 pieces. Then, liberally massage the rub over all three pieces. Once you have all three pieces of the brisket spiced, you’ll need to tightly wrap each one cling wrap. Place them in your refrigerator overnight to allow time for the rub to penetrate into the meat so every bite has seasoning.
  3. A Note on creating your rub:
    There are lots of people out there who will swear by their secret rub recipe. I don’t believe a word of it. I’ve done a side by side comparison, flavoring each of the 3 pieces of a brisket a different rub. One was piece was seasoned with rub from a local BBQ joint, one with plain salt and pepper, and one was not seasoned at all. All three were equally excellent. The bottom line is that you should use whatever you have.

Step 2 – Fire:

  1. The smoker I am using is a typical offset firebox type.  There are many other types of smokers/grills but, I have only ever smoked brisket in my smoker. Check out BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America for more information on different smoking methods.
  2. Your smoker should have a good external thermometer. The highest you will ever want to see this go is about 275 degrees (slow and low – as the saying goes).
  3. Because too much smoke dries out the meat and turns it bitter, I typically only use chunks of oak for the first 2-3 hours of smoke time.l I then switch to charcoal to maintain the temperature. I have experimented with various smoke times and found that 2-3 hours provides the perfect amount of flavor. The time variance is dependent on the size of your brisket. The larger it is, the more time it will need.
  4. Light your fire in the fire box. I primarily use oak. I like mesquite, but you have to be careful not to over smoke your brisket using it. Too much mesquite smoke will turn the meat bitter, and then all you will be able to taste is smoke.
  5. After you have the fire going, you’ll need to prep your smoke chamber. Humidity is key when smoking a brisket. You want moist smoke filling the chamber. I accomplish this by filling up a foil roasting pan with water, removing the grates of the smoker, and placing the pan in the bottom of the smoke chamber. You’ll need to check on the water level every so often, as you don’t want this to dry out completely. The pan also contains most of the drippings so it keeps your smoker somewhat clean.
  6. Put the grates back in place and make sure they are clean.
  7. Once the fire is going, close the lid to the fire box. This will direct the smoke into the main chamber.
  8. Place your brisket fat side up directly over the water filled pan, with your largest cut closest to the fire box. Close the lid to the smoke chamber and close your damper (the cover on the smoker’s exhaust pipe) so there is only about an inch left open.

Step 3 – Smoke Management:

  1. Managing your fire/smoke is the critical to making a well smoked brisket. You will want to maintain the temperature in your smoke chamber at around 250 degrees. To maintain this temperature, add 1 piece of oak about a foot long and about 3 inches thick to the smoke box every 30 minutes.
  2. Ideally, you will want to see a steady stream of white/clear smoke coming from your exhaust pipe while smoking. If you see black sooty smoke, open the lid to your smoke chamber until the smoke turns white. You don’t want soot on your brisket. Continue adding wood for the entire 3 hour primary smoking period.

Step 4 – Foil packs:

  1. After about 3 hours or so, your brisket should resemble a dark lump of charred meat. This is exactly what you are looking for. The outside of the meat will be completely caramelized.
  2. Open the chamber and fire box lids for the switch to charcoal. Add about 2 lbs of charcoal to the fire box and stoke the coals to get flames going. Leave the firebox lid open as this will give the charcoal the air it needs to properly ignite.
  3. Remove the brisket (2 sets of tongs works great) and carefully wrap it in heavy duty foil. Make a large T shape with 2 pieces of foil, place 1 piece of the brisket in the middle, and carefully fold and tuck in each part of the T. Once all three pieces are wrapped, return them to the smoke chamber. The foil acts as a barrier to prevent the meat from taking on more smoke and drying it out.
  4. Once again, maintain the temperature in the smoke chamber at around 250 degrees. Approximately every 30 minutes, you’ll want to add a little more charcoal in order to maintain a constant temperature for 3-4 more hours.
  5. At this point, you can also cheat a little by using the stove inside of your kitchen instead of your smoker – True BBQ aficionados may scoff at this, but I don’t care.
    Alternative Stove cooking Instructions:
    After you have wrapped your brisket in foil, place them on a large cookie sheet and place it in your oven. Set the temperature at 250 and leave the brisket in for 3-4 hours. I have done this several times for two reasons:

    The probability of rain increases once I say “I am going to smoke a brisket”. I hate maintaining a fire in the rain.

    Making a 20+ pound brisket means I am having people over and I have other things to take care of.

Step 5 – Taste & Cutting:

  1. When the brisket has had a total cooking time of 7-8 hours, it is time for a taste test. Remove one of the foil packs from the pit (or oven) and carefully unwrap it.
  2. Take a fork and try to pull a corner off. If it comes off in a tender clump, your brisket is done. If there is any resistance on the fork, this means that the fatty muscles have not had enough time to break down. Put it back in your pit (or oven) for another hour. Keep testing until it is done.
  3. Slice the brisket in strips across the grain and remove.You will notice a pink ring surrounding the meat, this is what is referred to as the smoke ring. The deeper this is, the more the smoke has penetrated the meat. Serve and enjoy.
  4. One last thing, when you remove the meat from the foil, retain some of the juices. After you have sliced your brisket for serving, pour some of the drippings over the meat for some added flavor.

Happy Tasting! Enjoy smoking brisket at your own home!


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14 Responses

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  1. Lisa says

    Hey those hands look like they belong to my nephew Jonathon so it’s not a hoax. Ha, ha.
    I got hungry just looking at the step by step technique. I think I will throw one in the oven this weekend! Your dad will like that. Greetings to Sondra.

  2. Dan Chappelear says

    Hey, you’re making me hungry. I need to buy a smoker, so I can try that. I don’t think my gas grill would work very well for that.

  3. J9 says

    This was SOOO delicious and I’ve always been curious about the process start-to-finish. Great article!

  4. Bill Jowers says

    Add a cup or two of water to the inside of the foil wrapped brisket to allow steam to keep the entire brisket moist and more tasty. Save the water/drippings to make a tasty gravy. Usually, no additional salt is needed when making gravy. Bill

  5. art m says

    hi this is art from loxahatchee fl. that was a good explanation thank you i will try this weekend wish me luck.

  6. MT says

    This is the best brisket method I have ever used! I tried it today with an 11 pounder that I cut into 3 pieces. I used an electric smoker (no, that’s not cheating!), and smoked the meat for 4 hours unwrapped followed by 5 hours wrapped in foil.

    My search is over–this is the only recipe I’ll use.

  7. MT says

    One more point–with my electric smoker, I have precise temperature control. I kept the smoker set at 250 for the unwrapped period and dropped it to 225 for the wrapped time.

  8. Texas SEO says

    Thanks for the help. I’m smoking a big fat brisket tomorrow and wanted to brush up on some smoking tips. I’ve gotta mow the lawn tomorrow so the stove method sounds perfect for me.

  9. justin says

    Great, I can’t wait to smoke a brisket for my dad’s birthday!

  10. hotspringspark says

    Hi. I am smoking one today using your method. Thanks for the info.

  11. The Bundling says

    I know not everyone has a smoker… but calling that Tex BBQ Brisket is way off! Also, the brisket in the photo looks really dry. Everyone looking to smoke a brisket should stop reading after this person tells you to “cut the brisket into 3 pieces” to maximize smoke…… ummmm? thats why its dry im guessing….

  12. Billy Zane says

    This is not good brisket advice at all. No offense to the writer but they don’t seem to know much about brisket. Rub certainly makes a difference; for example, more salt in the rub and moisture will be drawn to the surface of the brisket which will determine 1) how long your cook will last, and 2) what kind of a smoke ring will be developed. Now the smoke ring isn’t anything but aesthetic but it is much better looking than the unappetizing dull grey color going on in the pictures for this blog. The rub will also determine the taste and crunchiness of the bark (the dark carmelized exterior the writer refers to). Without any rub at all, the brisket will NOT have bark, which will be of detriment to your brisket (you will not find a top ten brisket list that features a “bark-less” brisket). Furthermore, I find it hard to believe the writer found a “bark-less” brisket as good as the one which was salt and peppered. Also, cutting the brisket into three pieces is unheard of in BBQ. Full (or “packer”) briskets can be divided into two parts, the “point” (generally the fattier and juicier section) and the “flat” (the portion you typically get when you purchase corned beef). Arbitrarily slicing your brisket into three peices will leave you with an unevenly cooked brisket AT BEST!

    To the writer: The most important part of BBQ is that you have fun doing it while eating good food. However, your ignorance of even being technically proficient at BBQ could lead people to create horrible food (and leave them with a lesser BBQ experience), which is why I’m writing this response. It’s just severly obvious from your opinion of the rub (“use whatever you have”) to the butchering (“cut the brisket into 3 pieces”) that you shouldn’t be instructing people on how to prepare brisket.

    To the readers: Please find a reputable BBQ site, blog, or forum and find better information on brisket–or just plain ask for advice there. You’ll find a lot of differing information that includes finishing brisket in the oven, which types of meats to use, rubs, cook times, types of wood, etc. Contrary to these directions there are a lot of variables in BBQ that ABSOLUTELY matter, and if your finished product looks like these pictures, your brisket will not even be near it’s full potential. BBQ is not difficult, but it is somewhat of an art. Good BBQ requires patience and a recognition of the science behind food and cooking. For example, using “whatever you have” for your rub is a horrible piece of advice because what you use will determine a number of factors, not least of which is TASTE! If you came here new to BBQ and are seeking instructions on cooking brisket, please disregard the instructions here.

  13. Jake Nelson Dallas TX says

    I have to agree with Billy…nothing about this made sense to me. Hopefully in the 4 years since this was published the author has gained some knowledge. Even the smoking time was way off. I’ve never made a good brisket with less than 12 hours of smoke time, and it doesn’t dry out whatsoever. The rub most definitely makes a difference. I use a lot of brown sugar in mine since it makes a more syrupy texture when the moisture hits and it seals in more of the juice in my opinion.

  14. Brian Moore says

    No one is calling out the foil or water? Not to pile on but this is the most Yankee approach to brisket I’ve ever seen. I appreciate the writer’s enthusiasm and don’t want to dissuade him from learning how to cook a brisket but this is not the advice you will hear from someone who has successfully smoked many briskets. At least not someone from Texas.

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