You’re here reading this, so I reckon you love brisket at least as much as I do. I also reckon I don’t need to convince you that there’s nothing quite like sinking your teeth into a juicy, tender cut of beef that falls apart at the touch of your fork, is there?
But getting your brisket to fall apart can be a real challenge, especially if you’re new to smoking meat. Well now, don’t you fret, my fellow carnivore! With a few tips and tricks up your sleeve — and you’re about to find out about all of them — you’ll be well on your way to cooking up some mighty-fine brisket. The kind that’ll have the folks at your cookout salivating for seconds and begging for that recipe.
Sound like what you came here? Then grab yourself a cold one, sit back, and let’s dive into the secrets of getting that brisket to fall apart like that of a bona-fide pitmaster.
Choose the Right Cut
When it comes to choosing the best brisket, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
First and foremost, the grade of beef is of the essence. While USDA Prime beef is undoubtedly top-notch, it can cost a whole lotta money, and may not be accessible for everyone. USDA Choice beef, while leaner and drier than Prime, can offer excellent value for your money when it comes to smoking a brisket. USDA Select is a little too lean and dry for my taste, and it may very well be for yours, too.
But regardless of the grade you choose, be sure to look for a brisket with rich marbling. While the real tenderness of the brisket comes from melting the connective tissue inside it, having plenty of intramuscular fat that’ll melt during the cook will only help to create that delectable, fall-apart texture we all crave.
If you know this or that about smoking meat, you may want to go for a whole packer, that is, the brisket that includes both the point cut and the flat cut. But if you’re new to the game, I recommend sticking with the flat cut. The flat cut is easier to cook evenly, which, trust me, can be a real boon if you haven’t quite gotten the hang of heat control.
Prepare the Brisket Properly
Preparing your brisket just right is as essential as picking the right cut.
If you’re looking to get that fall-apart tender brisket that’ll make your mouth water, then you need to pay attention to how you season and rest your meat before smoking it.
One of the most crucial steps in this process is applying the rub to the brisket. For best results, you’ll want to do this the night before you plan to smoke your meat, and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. There’s just something about what the salt does to the meat as it gets absorbed by the flesh that salting just before slapping it on the smoker doesn’t quite achieve.
In addition to applying the rub, you’ll also want to make sure your brisket is properly rested before smoking. This means taking it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you plan to smoke it, allowing it to come to room temperature. This step is crucial because it ensures that the meat will cook evenly, rather than being cold in the center and taking a hell of a lot longer to heat up.
Smoke That Brisket Well
Smoking a brisket ain’t just about seasoning and resting the meat, y’all. It is also about cooking it just right.
To achieve that fall-apart texture we all love, you’ll wanna smoke your brisket at a steady temperature of 250°F, give or take ten degrees. This temperature is ideal because it’s hot enough to break down the connective tissue inside the meat nice and good, but not so hot that it’ll dry it out.
One trick for keeping the temperature in the cooking chamber steady is to add a water pan at the beginning of the cook. This will help regulate the temp and keep it from fluctuating too much. As the water evaporates, it’ll create a humid environment inside the smoker, which will help to keep the meat moist and prevent it from drying out.
However, as the cook goes on, you’ll want to let that water pan evaporate completely and avoid topping it up. Why, you might ask? Well, at some point, you want that heat to turn dry so that you can achieve that beautiful bark we all crave. If the water pan stays full, you’ll end up with a wet and soggy bark, which, let me tell you, is nobody’s idea of good eating.
The Internal Temp Matters
But don’t worry, it’s not all babysitting the smoker.
Once you’ve got your temperature dialed in and your brisket on the pit, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the delicious aroma wafting through the air. Just be sure to keep an eye on your wood or charcoal levels and top up as needed.
When it comes to that internal temperature, aim for 200 to 210°F. That’s the sweet spot where the connective tissue bas broken down, and the meat is tender enough to practically melt in your mouth. Whatever you do, don’t pull that brisket off the pit too early! A little extra time in the smoke is always better than not enough.
N.B. To learn why brisket is the way it is and why we cook it the way we do, take a gander at “What Part of the Cow Is Brisket From?”
And So Does the Resting Time
Now, here’s a thing many a meat smoker will overlook: the resting time. Once you’ve smoked that brisket to tenderness, you might be tempted to dig right in. But hold your horses, partner! Resting your brisket is just as important as smoking it.
Here’s why: when you smoke meat, the juices inside it get all stirred up and start moving towards the surface. This is called evaporative cooling. If you cut into your brisket right after taking it off the pit, those juices are going to spill out all over your cutting board instead of staying inside the meat where they belong.
To avoid this sad fate, let your brisket rest for at least an hour after taking it off the pit. This gives the juices a chance to settle back down into the meat — so when you cut into it, they stay put. If it’s cold outside, wrap your brisket in some aluminum foil or butcher paper and place it in a turned-off cooler to keep it warm while it rests.
And there you have it, fellers! Cooking a brisket that falls apart at the mere touch of your fork is no easy feat, but with a few simple tips and tricks, you can become a brisket master in no time.
Remember, choose the right cut of beef with rich marbling, apply your dry rub the night before and let it rest in the refrigerator, smoke it low and slow with a steady temperature and let it rest before slicing into it. And never forget, practice makes perfect.
So fire up that smoker and get ready to impress your guests with some of the best darn brisket they’ve ever tasted. May your smoke be thin, your bark be crispy, and your brisket be fall-apart tender. Godspeed!