Guest Blog With My Grill Master – Wood Smoked Beef Brisket

What a great week in Chicago, working!   Between long hours of working, I managed to squeeze in a lovely dinner with dear friends.  Plus I may have made a few trips to a few local pizza joints to enjoy some AMAZING Chicago style pizza!

First, I want to say thank you to the lovely Maureen at Orgasmic Chef, her guest post has me wanting to race home and make some delicious Sticky Date Pudding!  The seats at Cafe Terra have stayed full for sure while I have been away with this gorgeous recipe!

To continue to keep the seats warm just a little bit longer, my sweet Grill Master is stopping by to share some more BBQ fun!  If you are thinking about getting a wood smoker, or maybe making brisket for the first time, this post will help answer many questions you may have.

As my wise, and amazing niece would say, “Only one more wake-up until I get to go home!”  Boy to I miss my sweet Grill Master, and these beautiful little faces!  Take it away Grill Master…..

What’s the difference between grilling and barbecue?

That’s the first thing I learned when I started getting into smoking. Throwing a burger on the grill is not barbecue.

Barbecue involves smoke, and spices and sauces and mops and basting and injections and time and love and a lot of creativity.

I think that’s my favorite thing about it so far, the creativity involved in it- which actually was something I hadn’t anticipated.

I knew that to see what I brought to the table when it came to barbecue, I needed to do a brisket. We had done pork, ribs (both beef and pork) and chicken- but brisket would be the test- both to see if I had the stamina to get it done, and to see if I could take a giant hunk of really nice meat… and turn it into something magical.

Here’s the thing about brisket- it’s a two-day process. It starts the day before you even light your pit.

Once you have chosen your brisket, and it’s kind of like buying a car- you want just the right one- there’s some knife work to do.

There’s a layer of fat, called the “fat cap” that needs to be thinned, and a layer of membrane that needs to be peeled off. This is tricky, and it takes some fancy knife work (at least for me) to get that thing off.

For this brisket, I wanted to inject it with apple juice. You want something that’s going to bring some flavor, help break down the meat a bit overnight, and keep the brisket moist during the marathon that is smoking a brisket.

Some pitmasters will use beef broth as the injection liquid… I kind of think that’s cheating. I don’t want to embolden the flavor of the meat, I want to add to it- another layer in what they call the “flavor profile.”

So, a liberal injection of apple juice the night before… and then the rub.

And here’s where you can get really creative. I wanted to stay fairly traditional with this rub, so we went with cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and brown sugar. The amounts are really up to you, depending on what you might want in your flavor profile, just make sure you have enough to liberally cover the entire brisket.

Once you have trimmed, injected, and rubbed the brisket, wrap it in foil or leave it in a covered baking pan and stick it in the refrigerator overnight and get some rest. You’re going to need it.

Now I’m not sure how to tell you this, but there’s some math involved. Depending on the size of your brisket, it’s going to take some time to do this right. I hope you don’t have any plans. Generally, one hour per pound in the pit, plus some.

When you’re ready to start, take your brisket out of the refrigerator and let it sit, ideally to return to room temperature. This will prevent your pit from having to work too hard to get the brisket up to temp.

Set up your pit for a two zone fire (one area of the pit with charcoal, the other section for indirect heat. Place a disposable aluminum pan underneath where the brisket will be in the “indirect” zone for dripping. You can also put some water (or even better, more apple juice) in this pan to help keep your brisket moist over the marathon to come.

Get your pit up to somewhere between 250-300 degrees, this is your sweet spot for this project- I aimed for 275 and worked all day to keep it there. Remember wood burns hotter than the lump charcoal- so adding wood will spike the heat a little bit.

For this brisket, I chose Mesquite wood for the smoke, but I understand Hickory provides a nice flavor as well. Next time we’ll do Hickory. I prefer the chunks over the chips, they’re just easier to work with.

Don’t add the wood until the temperature of the pit is where you want it.

Get your smoke started, then bring your brisket to the pit. I placed the meat in another disposable aluminum pan for the first part of the cook- mostly because I was scared to death I would burn the outside of the brisket.

Now, it’s in the pits’ hands. I’ve said this before, but you HAVE to babysit your cook. The temperature will drift on you, your wood will burn off… you just have to pay attention. It’s not the same as sticking the brisket in the oven. You can’t walk too far away.

Monitor your smoke, keep track of your pit temperature, feed either the charcoal or your wood whenever you need to.

Your initial goal is to get your brisket to an internal temperature of 165 F. For me this time around, with about a nine pound brisket, it took about six hours.

Once you reach 165, pull the brisket off the pit and wrap it in aluminum foil. You can baste it at this point if you want, either with apple juice or the drippings you collected in the pan- I did not baste this time.

Put the wrapped brisket back on the pit, and keep feeding that fire. You can back off on the smoke now, since the meat is wrapped.

Now your goal is to get the brisket to an internal temperature of 195 F. This will take another several hours, so just keep at it.

Once you reach 195, take the brisket off the pit, and let it rest- a minimum of 30 minutes. The meat will continue to cook, and the temperature will rise as it sits. Resist to urge to cut into the meat the minute it comes off the pit. It will smell fantastic… but try to control yourself. The wait will be worth it.

Now, because I started the brisket in a pan, and wrapped it for the home stretch, this brisket was lacking the “bark” that you’re ideally trying to achieve. The rub ended up a little smooshy (technical term) but it had all the flavor I ever could have hoped for. What I will do next time, is maybe with about an hour or so left on the cook… unwrap the brisket and finish it directly on the rack- or forego the pan in the initial cook… I’m going to have to experiment with this a bit.

Anyway,nine hours later… now you’re ready to cut into this gorgeous hunk of brisket. Cut it width-wise, into strips. It will be smoky, and moist, and honestly- I may have shed a tear or two.

I’m not going to lie, brisket is a LOT of work- but if you do it right, the rewards are tremendous.

Pay attention to it, love it, stick with it and monitor your temperature like an expectant father. Make it your full-time job for that day. I even got rained on not once but twice during this cook… and when it was over I smelled like a housefire… but it was completely worth it.

And as much work as it was, I can’t wait to do it again.

We may not have very many pictures to share…..BUT that is only because we devoured it too fast!!  Wood smoked brisket is melt-in-your-mouth AMAZING!!!!  I asked for more the next weekend, and he said he needed a break! LOL!  I look forward to more for sure.  With a few pieces of the leftovers, we made a delicious quesadilla, AND HOLY CATS it was fantastic!

Thank you to my sweet Grill Master for stopping by Cafe Terra while I am away!  I promise I will be back next week to share some delicious treats with you!

Have you made wood smoked beef brisket before?

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  • Oh Grillmaster if only you could speak to my husband.  :)  or all Aussies, to be honest.  After I moved to Australia I  would say, "can you light the grill?"  Only to hear, "it's not a grill it's a bbq."  If I asked one of our staff or the housekeeper - I got the same thing.  It's not a grill.  A griller is the broiler bit in the oven.  After about 5 years I gave up and I now call it the bbq.  But...   when I tell people I'm making pulled pork bbq the roll-eye I get is immense.  bbq?  bbq isn't a food it's a cooker!  They need to see your brisket.  :)  It looks devine!
  • Kim Bee
    I love the kitties. We have 3 as well. All ragdoll kitties and they leave hair everywhere. But I love them anyway. I also love this brisket. I use grill, maybe it's a Canuck thing.
  • Excellent job explaining how to BBQ a brisket, Grill Master..I actually feel like I can do this!  Your brisket looks incredible and I've watched a lot of those BBQ competitions ;D!  Love your fur kiddies!
  • Yes I tried it once but it overcooked so i throw it in dustbin. But your cooked beef brisket looks very delicious.
    •  It is definitely hard to make, and very time consuming, but so worth it!  I hope you try again, and if you have any questions let me know, we would love to help you:-) Thank you for stopping by, Take care, Terra
  • oooh Never knew how complicated it would be to make beef briskets! I've never actually made one myself but I guess it's time I should! That's right! A lot of work but definitely well worth it!! :)
  • Nancy Buchanan
    Great explanation of BBQ. Just  question though - why cook to an internal temperature of 195 degrees?? 
    • Nancy- the way it was explained to me is that 165 is normally good for beef, but it is still too cool for brisket. Apparently, brisket can be a tough cut of meat, and the higher temperature allows the large amounts of collagen to break down into gelatin. Gosh, when you put it like that it doesn't sound very appetizing. I have seen others advice to pull it off the heat at 175 and wrap tightly with foil.  All I know right now, is that 195 worked wonderfully for us.-- Brian
  • You know that grunt that 'Tim the Toolman Taylor' used to make (tell me you're old enough to remember, pls!!) on Home Improvement? Well I think it just came from my mouth. I know I'm something of an enigma but I love to grill and smoke and grill some more. I even tried a pineapple upside down cake in a cast iron skillet a couple of weeks ago. Of course I ran out of gas...grrrr. I've only used brisket to cure and smoke corned beef; I'm gonna have to try this Grill Master (feels a bit like referring to Obi Wan Kenobi).
    •  Oh I promise you, I believe my grill master thinks he is Obi Wan Kenobi sometimes, bwhahahah!!!!  I promise I am not that young, I used to watch Home Improvement, LOL! Thank you so much, Hugs, Terra
  • kitchenriffs
    Great post!  If you don't already know it, there's a website called the Virtual Weber (I think - I haven't been there for awhile) with a great discussion forum.  Anyway, I've never tried either a whole brisket or a pork butt, both of which make the best BBQ IMO.  I've always wanted to do both, and I'm sure I will someday.  I do know enough about it that your recipe is right-on.  Really good stuff here - thank you.
  • How fun to have your own drillmaster and what a fine one at that! This brisket sounds fabulous, I'm almost tasting that delicious smokey flavor. It's something I haven't had the confidence or know-how to make but I'm ready now! Thanks!
  • How fun to have your own drillmaster and what a fine one at that! This brisket sounds fabulous, I'm almost tasting that delicious smokey flavor. It's something I haven't had the confidence or know-how to make but I'm ready now! Thanks!
  • Malou Perez-Nievera
    im glad your trip to Chicago turned out to be a fun trip.  I still have to visit Chicago esp now that I now live in STL. Grillmaster, this is really fab.  You got me on the first sentence: What is the difference between grilling and barbacue? you definitely sounded like the master, guru of grilling and this dish is a proof.  Thank you!malou
  • Good to know you had a fun trip! The brisket looks amazing! Thanks for sharing all this info. :) 
  • Susan Lester
    Wow, Terra, this looks fantastic!  I just discovered your blog and I love it.
    •  I am so glad you enjoyed the delicious beef brisket post!  Thank you so much for stopping by:-) Hugs, Terra