Brisket: Our favorite piece of meat to cook and also the most difficult. We will go into detail about how we turn this tough cut of meat into something truly amazing.
What is a brisket and why is it so tough? The brisket on a cow is the pectoral muscle that is responsible for supporting most of the weight on a cow. Because of this, a brisket has lots of connective tissue and collagen to support that weight which needs a low and slow temp for hours to help break down. Further complicating things would be that a brisket is made up of two muscles that lay on top of each other. The rectangular flat sits on the bottom and makes up most of the brisket and the point that is more triangular that sits on top. The flat is leaner and is easier to cook or overcook depending on how you look at it. The point has a lot more marbling and, in our opinion, has the most flavor. The point is our favorite part of the brisket.
Since this is the most complicated meat we cook we will break this down into steps to explain how we do our briskets at Saddleback BBQ.
- It all starts with the type of brisket that we use. Like I said before we only use Certified Angus Beef (CAB) for our briskets. These are the top 10% of select briskets (almost prime grade) and are from the Angus cow. These briskets have lots of supple fat that is easily rendered and provides that rich beef flavor that everyone loves so much. We could use Wagyu, Kobe (types of cattle) or we could use Prime grade and we have tried them all, but we feel that CAB briskets give us the best flavor, texture and tenderness for the price.
- Since our briskets will be in the smoker 12+ hours, the type of rub is important in getting that bark (crust) while also sealing in all of those juices generated by the breakdown of that connective tissue and collagen. We use regular brown sugar and since we are going so low in temp (225 degrees) we won’t worry about the sugar burning. This brown sugar will melt onto the outer surface and help create that bark. We will then use kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. These are larger particles and they help catch the smoke and give it that awesome flavor and give it that deep brown color as well. Next, we do add a few other spices to enhance the smoke and beef flavor, but we do have to keep a few secrets to ourselves.
- Trimming briskets is essential to making a great brisket. You want to trim off enough fat so that everything will render and also provide a nice barrier to insulate your brisket. We always trim any fat that is hard to the touch, no exceptions. Now on a commodity select brisket (a lower quality cut) you will notice lots of rock hard fat. That’s why we have selected CAB briskets, lots of supple flabby fat that will render down nicely over 12+ hours. Unfortunately, for space and time I have not gone into much detail about trimming, but if you do have questions email us at the restaurant or pose a question on Facebook. We will do our best to answer all questions as quickly as we can.
- We use a mixture of cherry and hickory wood for our briskets. We feel this gives us the best tasting smoke and provides a nice consistent fire for our long cooks.
- Since we have lots of experience with our smokers, we know the best place to put them in our pit. The best advice I can give you is to know where your hot spots are located and how best to manipulate them to achieve the best results. We do have a few hotter spots in our smokers and we use this to our advantage. SInce their are 2 muscles and they cook at different rates we position our meats so that the ones that take longer are facing the hot spots and the ones that are more delicate are facing away from the heat. On some of these nice big box pits, they have great heat retention and have a consistent temp all the way across. Consistent heat has some advantages, but sometimes parts are overcooked and others aren’t done as much as they need to be. If you used one you would have to make adjustments that do have ramifications.
- We don’t wrap our briskets, nor do we inject them, or any other modifications. We just use our rub, cherry/hickory wood, and lots of time and patience. Since we are able to manipulate things in our smoker we don’t need to wrap them in foil or butcher paper, commonly referred to as the Texas Crutch. This is where you wrap your briskets in either foil or butcher paper to get your brisket to cook more evenly without drying it out. So you can get the whole thing tender without overcooking. If you use foil your brisket could have a more pot roasty taste. If you use butcher paper you can affect the taste and the color of because it hasn’t been exposed to the smoke for the whole cook.
- Now we are in for the long haul. I won’t give you definitive times and temps for your brisket. We do cook at 225 degrees and it takes as long as it takes. We can’t rush them nor do I know how long it will take. The size of the brisket and the weather conditions (windy, cold, etc.) will have a big impact on how long it will take.
- Now we just wait till the brisket gets to 203 degrees, but we do look at 3 things when we check for doneness. First, what does it look like. After a while you can look at things and have an idea if it’s cooked or not. Color has a lot to do with this one. Second, what does it feel like? Does it jiggle when we pick it up? Does the thermometer slide in easily when we temp it? Thirdly, and most important, what’s the temp. When all things are created equal, this is usually the determining factor
- We don’t use any injection, nitrates, or any other additive to our briskets. For a competition we may do things slightly different, but at the restaurant we try to be mindful of food allergies. Injections and nitrates usually have MSG or other things that people with allergies have to be mindful of.
If you’re looking to make your own Brisket, it does take a lot of love and tender care to get the desired result. Or if you like, just stop in anytime and let us do all the hard work.
Next up: A look at Pork Shoulders