The Big Kahuna Barbecued Packer Brisket
Admit it: Here’s why you bought this book—to learn how to barbecue a real deal Texas-style brisket. Well, here’s the big kahuna: fourteen pounds of pure proteinaceous awesomeness. The brisket that makes reputations—and fortunes. I speak, of course, of a full packer brisket (so named because that’s how it’s shipped from the packing house), seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper and maybe some hot red pepper flakes, then slow-smoked Texas Hill Country-style for the better part of a day or night. The sort of glorious slab of meat—all smoke, spice, and rich, fatty beef—you line up for at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, or at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas.
But can you really cook a Hill Country brisket at home? I’m pleased to say you can, and it’s not even all that difficult. It does require the right cut of meat—a full brisket with both point and flat—and a smoker, cooker, or grill capable of maintaining a low, even cooking temperature for a 10- to 14-hour stretch. Above all, it requires patience.
You will have worked long and hard to prepare the perfect brisket—I suggest serving it unadorned so you can appreciate the complex interplay of salt, spice, smoke, meat, and fat. Texas tradition calls for a loaf of spongy factory-made white bread. A lot of ink has been spilled about which sauce—if any—you should serve with brisket. Personally, I’m a no-sauce guy—I like to let meat and smoke speak for themselves.
Serves 12 to 14 (with leftovers)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: Could be as short as 10 hours or as long as 14 hours, depending on the size of your brisket, the efficiency of your smoker, and even the weather. Plus 1 to 2 hours for resting.
Heat Source: Smoker or charcoal grill
You’ll Also Need: A rimmed sheet pan; a perforated, foil-wrapped cardboard smoking platform (optional); wood logs, chunks, or soaked, drained hardwood chips; a metal bowl or aluminum foil pan; pink butcher paper (unlined); insulated gloves; a digital instant-read thermometer (preferably remote); an insulated cooler; a welled cutting board
What Else: Tradition calls for a stick burner (an offset barrel smoker—the home version of the monster pits used by Texas pros). But you can cook a respectable brisket in a water smoker, barrel smoker, ceramic cooker, charcoal grill, pellet grill, or an electric smoker. Sorry, gas grillers: You’ll need to buy a smoker or charcoal grill for this one. If by some misalignment of the fates your brisket has come out tough, slice it paper-thin so you shorten the meat fibers.
- 1 large packer brisket (12 to 14 pounds)
- Coarse sea salt
- Cracked black peppercorns or freshly ground black peppercorns
- Hot red pepper flakes (optional)
- Sliced white bread, for serving (optional)
Using a sharp knife, trim the brisket, leaving a layer of fat at least 1/4 inch thick. Be careful not to over-trim. It’s better to err on the side of too much fat than too little.
Place the brisket on a rimmed sheet pan and generously season the top, bottom, and sides with salt, black pepper, and, if you like your brisket spicy, hot red pepper flakes. Some people combine these ingredients ahead in a rub.
If using a cardboard platform (see You’ll Also Need), arrange the brisket fat side up on top of it. The platform is optional, but it keeps the bottom of the brisket from drying out and burning.
Fire up your smoker, cooker, or grill following the manufacturer’s instructions and heat to 250 degrees F. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer. Place a metal bowl or aluminum foil pan with 1 quart of warm water in the smoker—this creates a humid environment that will help the smoke adhere to the meat and keep your brisket moist.
Transfer the brisket (on its cardboard platform, if using) to the smoker. If using an offset smoker, position the thicker end of the brisket toward the firebox. Cook the brisket until the outside is darkly browned and the internal temperature registers around 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 8 hours. If the end of the flat starts to dry out or burn, cover it with an aluminum foil cap. Refuel your cooker as needed, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Remove the brisket from the smoker and tightly wrap it in butcher paper. Return it to the cooker.
Continue cooking the brisket until the internal temperature reaches 205 degrees F and the meat is very tender when tested, another 2 to 4 hours, or as needed.
Place the wrapped brisket in an insulated cooler and let it rest for 1 to 2 hours. (This allows the meat to relax and the juices to redistribute.)
Unwrap the brisket and transfer it to a welled cutting board. Pour any juices that accumulated in the butcher paper into a bowl.
Trim off any large lumps of fat. Cut the brisket in half widthwise (long side to long side) to obtain a flat section and a point section; set the point section aside. Make a diagonal cut to remove the thinnest corner of the flat, which will likely be tougher and drier than the rest of the brisket. (Dice it and serve as burnt ends.) Slice the brisket across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices or as desired.
Transfer the sliced brisket to a platter. Add any juices from the cutting board to the reserved juices in the bowl, spoon them over the sliced brisket. Serve the brisket by itself or with bread and sauce on the side. (You know where I stand on the matter.)
Excerpted from “The Brisket Chronicles” by Steven Raichlen, photographs by Matthew Benson. Workman Publishing copyright 2019.