Cooking a whole brisket is normally a 10 to 12 hour process for me, not including prep time, cooling time, nor the time it takes to cut it (brisket has to be cut properly, or it doesn’t turn out well). End to end, that works out to 14 to 15 hours.
I worked out a process for cooking a smoked, whole brisket in 4 hours (cook time), making the end-to-end time about 5.5 to 6 hours.
You might think that I sacrificed flavor or texture, but I didn’t!
Click to keep reading!
1. Normal Timeline
Here is a normal timeline:
- Prep time, 1 hour
Make sure the smoker grids and inside are clean, build a fire, heat to 300F
- Phase 1, Sear, 1 hour
Starting at 300F, sear the outside of the brisket
- Phase 2, Smoke, 4 hours
Lower temperatures generally means more smoke. After the coals burn down a bit, I usually add 1 log at a time, laying flat, which allows them to smoke rather than burn.
- Phase 3, Cook, 2 hours
Stacking logs allows the fire to build back up to about 225F
- Phase 4, Wrap, 4 hours
Wrapping the brisket in foil, or placing in a foil-topped baking pan is the final phase. I usually keep the temperature at around 250F. When the brisket has an internal temperature of 190F, it’s done!
- Cool, 1 hour
Too hot to touch!
- Cut, 30 minutes
When the brisket is cool enough to handle, it has to be properly separated, and cut against the grain. Cutting with the grain results in tough, stringy brisket.
End to end, that’s about 13.5 hours – when cooking, the time can vary based on ambient temperature, as well as other factors.
2. Compressed Timeline
- Prep time, 1 hour
No way around it. Bring the smoker up to an initial temperature of 350.
- Phase 1, Sear and Smoke, 1 hour
Searing, while allowing the smoker to cool from 350F to 300F, I had a separate log whose job was to lay flat against the burned coals, and produce more smoke.
- Phase 2, Smoke, 1 hour
180F – two smoke logs at a time.
- Phase 3, Wrap and Cook, 2 hours
350F until the brisket reaches 190F internal.
- Cool 1 hour
With good BBQ gloves, this time could be reduced to 30 minutes.
- Cut, 30 minutes
I’ve seen people who work at a BBQ restaurant cut a brisket in 5 minutes. It takes me about 15.
End to end, that’s about 6.5 hours – nearly half the time!
Rather than start at midnight or 2 AM like everyone else, you can start at 8 AM and be eating brisket for late lunch.
3. Additional Tips
- Most professionals trim the fat. I do not. The reason for trimming the fat is to make sure the meat gets seasoning on both sides. The problem is that brisket is not very moist, and can dry out quickly in the smoker. By leaving the fat on, and cooking the brisket fat-side-up, the meat is kept as moist as possible by its own fat.
- Apply a liberal amount of seasoning to the “lean” side, that will be cooked facing down. Use balsamic vinegar or soy sauce as a base for the dry rub, which should be 1/3 salt, plus 2/3 other ingredients.
- Apply a marinade to the “fat side” that will be cooked facing up. Soy sauce or balsamic vinegar both make an excellent base for a marinade.
- DO NOT use sugar. Sugar just burns.
- When you wrap the brisket, top it with onion slices. Onion and beef go very well together, and the onions will add a ton of flavor to your brisket. Splash with some additional balsamic or soy sauce, for extra flavor.
- Cook to 190F or 200F internal temperature. At this point, the fat literally falls off, and the two parts of the brisket (the point, or upper part, and the flat, or lower part) can be easily separated by hand, or with a few knife strokes.
- Cut each piece across the grain. Cut extra-long pieces in half (or thirds) first, then cut across the grain. Slices should be about the thickness of a pencil, but you may have to cut slightly thicker if the slices are falling apart.
- The point makes the best chopped beef, along with the very end of the flat.
- By coupling the sear and smoke time, and doubling the amount of smoke by having multiple, slow-burning logs, there was no discernible difference in taste.
- Cooking at the higher temperature (350F vs 225F) for a shorter time, improved internal moisture.
- Double-seasoning the bottom of the “flat” side resulted in excellent flavor, and traditional “bark” – the slightly-burned edges of a well-cooked brisket.
- Topping with onion when wrapping results in a much more rich, beefy flavor, as onion compliments beef very well.