How to Grill a Beef Brisket Low and Slow
Beef Brisket With Barbecue Sauce, Served on a White Roll
I've barbecued a lot of different things over the years, from a whole pig, and salmon, to pretty standard things like beef ribs and pork tenderloin, but nothing turns out as well as something barbecued low and slow with smoke. Up to this point, my low-and-slow pulled pork was my favorite, but now I have to say after this epic cook that beef brisket has been my crowning achievement of barbecuing.
I largely followed a recipe from the book How to Grill, by Steve Raichlent, but added a few of my own touches. It may look like there isn't enough rub, but this recipe will cover a seven-pound brisket.
Choose Your Brisket
Brisket comes from the cow's side, near the foreleg, and comes with a layer of fat. I started with nearly seven pounds of center-cut beef brisket, with the fat trimmed to about a quarter-inch layer. It's important for a low-and-slow cook to have at least a quarter inch of fat. The fat largely melts away, but flavors the meat and keeps it moist during the long cooking period.
Since a brisket is typically sold with the fat cut off, ask the butcher for an untrimmed brisket. You may save money by asking for a reduced price per pound since you are getting fatter than the typical customer. Right now, brisket is about $5 to $6 a pound, so it's easy to spend over $40 for a center-cut brisket.
When barbecuing a piece of meat with one fatty side, like a tri-tip, I usually recommend doing most of the cook fat-side down, because the fat protects the meat from high heat, and can be trimmed off at the end of the cook. However, with a beef brisket barbecued low and slow, cook it with the fat side up. As the fat renders during the cooking, it will naturally baste the meat and help keep it moist. This is really important since the biggest danger, when smoking a brisket for several hours, is drying it out.
Low and Slow Beef Brisket Recipe
Dry Rub for Brisket
I start my beef brisket with a rub. Before applying the rub, I wash the meat and dry it, and then I rub the spices into the meat with my hands.
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons garlic salt
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Then apply to both sides of the brisket and let it sit for up to two hours.
Mop Sauce for Brisket
I also prepare a mop sauce. As the meat smokes on my grill, I'll brush the mop sauce on about every hour or so.
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup medium-bodied beer
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (gives it a nice spice)
1 teaspoon black pepper
Smoking a Beef Brisket Low and Slow
After I apply the rub and start the fire on the grill, I let the meat sit out in a pan and get to room temperature. I cook the beef brisket fat side up, in an aluminum pan that I can recycle at the end of the cook, or, in a gas grill, I'll place a dripping pan below the meat while it's smoking.
I budget about one hour and 15 minutes for every pound of brisket, at an internal grill temperature around 250 degrees. Sometimes my Kamado will get closer to 300 degrees, so I have to watch it and shut down the airflow if it gets too hot.
I smoke my brisket low and slow in a Kamado, with one initial load of charcoal, but it can easily be done in a charcoal Weber or on a gas grill. If you are going to smoke your brisket over hardwood (in Texas they smoke it over oak), you must get the wood down to coals before putting the meat on the grill; otherwise the brisket will end up with a strong, overpowering smoke flavor. If you are using charcoal, you can use a few cups of wood chips; I like hickory though apple and oak are good too. But if it's your first time doing a brisket, I advise going easy on the wood smoke. Mesquite charcoal will give the meat plenty of smoke flavor.
Before I put the meat on the grill, I insert my meat thermometer in the exact center of the brisket. If it's off center, it will prematurely report that the meat is ready to be pulled off; it has to get to 190 degrees.
When Do We Eat?
Barbecuing a low-and-slow brisket is a full-day affair. It's grilling the meat indirectly over a long time period that makes beef brisket tender. You can't predict to the minute when it will be ready.
On this afternoon, we watched the meat temperature plateau for an hour at 160 degrees, then plateau again at 170, then rise to 173 and drop to 167, and then after 45 minutes start to rise again. It’s tempting to raise the temperature to finish the cook, but you have to be patient and keep the temperature low, with as little fluctuation as possible. It's worth it. You can't rush a great low-and-slow, and although I felt bad about folks being hungry, I advised them to drink more wine and wait for the meat to finish.
Once the brisket is at 190 degrees, I pull it and let it rest at least ten minutes. As a precaution, I'll double check the main thermometer reading with an instant read thermometer.
At this point, the brisket is ready to be served. If it's too early to eat, the brisket can be wrapped in tinfoil, and then wrapped in towels and placed in an ice chest. It will remain hot until you are ready to serve it.
Barbecue Sauce From Pan Drippings for Low-and-Slow Beef Brisket
It's simple to make a spicy barbecue sauce, using the rub, the mop sauce, and the fat in the pan. After I pull off the meat, I pour the fatty drippings into a saucepan, add catsup in equal parts, and heat it up while stirring it.
Slicing Beef Brisket
I slice brisket about 1/8 inch thick, in an old-fashioned deli meat slicer. It was my grandmother's, from the turn of the century, and still works great. However, if you don't have a meat slicer, use an electric knife or a very sharp butcher's knife. Slice the meat across the grain into nice wide slices. The thinner the slices, the easier it is to eat a sandwich.
What to Serve With Beef Brisket
When a beef brisket is finished it should be moist and tender. It makes an excellent steak sandwich since it's so easy to bite through. It’s good on a fresh roll, with the barbecue sauce, and served with peanut coleslaw.
Don't Dry It Out
The most difficult thing with beef brisket is getting it tender and keeping it moist. People new to grilling brisket tend to make the following mistakes:
- Choosing a brisket without enough fat
- Constantly changing the temperature of the grill
- Cooking it too long
- Not basting with a vinegar-based mop sauce
One other thing you can do to help with moisture is put a tin can filled with water in the grill. The steam will help keep the meat moist.