Uses USDA Prime (9-30 months in age, well-fed w/ abundant marbling). Marbling is important to the style of brisket desired, which is tender and moist.
Look for fresh meat. Freezing breads down the fibers in the meat somewhat, and you'll end up with a mushier product. If you see a lot of blood in the Cryovac-packed brisket, or it is overly floppy, it's likely been frozen. It doesn't hurt to ask the grocer
Avoid anyone trying to sell a brisket that has been dry aged.
Even though the USDA doesn't suggest there is any benefit to aging briskets, he keeps his briskets from 14-21 days after the packing date (may have to ask the butcher) before cooking them
Floppiness -- the idea is that a brisket with more marbling and softer fat will have more give. If the brisket is not frozen and is still rock hard, the stiffness may not disappear entirely during cooking. Stiffness may be due to the hardness of the fat. Huge amounts of hard fat are undesirable, though some is unavoidable. Try to avoid briskets that have heavy, compacted layers of rock-hard fat on the outside.
Grass-fed beef is not meant for barbecue. Diverse diet reflects itself in diverse organic compounds found in the meat and fat, resulting in stronger flavor and aroma hen the is cooked. Can work for steak, not brisket.
Size -- look for a flat that has a consistent thickness acros the end because it will cook evenly and slice better. If it tapers off wildly, need to end up trimming that back anyway until get a more even shape.
Trimming - Be ruthless, cut away both fat and meat to get the shape desired. Trim the fat cap to 1/4-1/2" thickness.
Slathers - Regarding slathers (pre-rub), prefer to use water-based rather than oil-based due to solubility of certain types of smoke. Keep a very low sugar content (can harden and seal off the surface of the meat). Apply a very conservative amount, just enough to make it tacky.
The Rub - Always apply the rub to meat about 1 hour before cooking and let the meat warm up to room temperature. That will let the seasoning "sweat" into the meat, and the warmer meat will shave off hours of cook time. Apply the rub evenly, keep the shaker about a foot or two over the surface of the meat. Don't be too heavy handed, a fairly light even coating is desired.
Use equal parts 16-mesh ground black pepper and kosher salt. Use 1/2 cup (4-oz) for a 12-lb brisket.
Temperature - cook at 275 degrees Farenheit. Personally feel 225 is a little too slow, 275 allows brisket to form a good bark while still rendering properly on the inside. Too hot is more dangerous than too low, you can always cook it longer. With briskets containing more marbling, you can cook at lower temp and still get the rendering needed. If it is lower-grade with a lot of hard/waxy fat, cook higher to break that stuff down
Collagen when heated quickly begins to shrink. Shrinking of the connective tissue squeezes the moisture right out of the muscle fibers. If you heat things up way too much, all the moisture will evaporate and hydrolysis will not occur, leaving behind solid collagen and a mess of dried-out chewy muscle fibers-no good. At long, slow cooking temperatures, collagen will slowly melt away and the fibers of the meat just fall apart. Consequently, need to maintain the temperature of the cook chamber "just so."
Fat Up/Down - Cook fat side up because type of grill has more top heat than bottom. If it were opposite might cook fat side down. Need to make sure fat renders before the other side gets over done.
Water Pan / Spritzing - To achieve the proper bark, need to have a humid environment which encourages the penetration of smoke and slows the drying of the exterior of the meat. It is crucial to keep a water pain in the smoker at all times. If you don't you'll dry out the meat and it won't cook at a proper rate. The humid environment helps preserve the moist, tacky surface of the meat which is desirable to attract smoke. Also, directly moisten the surface of the meat further into the cooking process, using a spray bottle filled with practically anything wet (e.g. vinegar, water, apple juice). Spray the surface of the meat in the last half hour to hour before they get wrapped. The surface should have a tacky, glistening sheen (not wet).
Timing - Keep the lid closed for 3 hours. After that, periodically check every 20-30 minutes for color. Start spritzing occasionally with water or vinegar if the surface starts to look dry. At 6 hours internal temperatures should be getting through the stall. Pay attention to bark formation and whether the fat cap is rendering. If the temp is stalling but don't have sufficiently colored bark, or the fat cap is still hard and solid, considering bumping up the temperature to push through the stall. At about 10 hours start feeling the brisket. If you must, check the internal temperature of 203 (can be a range 195-210), but keep in mind feel trumps all. You want it to be soft and jiggly.
The Stall - Usually between 160-170 degrees Farenheit. It is due to evaporative cooling. This continues until the humidity inside the cooker rises or until the surface of the meat has no more moisture to give. Temperature will resume climbing when the accessible moisture in the meat has evaporated and it becomes a dry hunk. Instead, add humidity to the equation by wrapping the meat before all of that moisture is gone. Preserve what is left and let the collagen render. Don't wrap during the stall, better to let it come out of the stall and then wrap.
Wrapping - Brisket gets wrapped in butcher paper (allows for a bit of interchange with outside environment). It is not evil to wrap in foil (creates a fairly hermetic pocket); might do it if it is especially lean (for richer cuts its not as important as they have amble moisure). The idea is that at a certain point, the meat has absorbed all the smoke it's going to or all it needs, but it's not done cooking. Technically you could just finish it in an oven but that is cheating. Hit the brisket with a spray of water to gauge true color of the meat or bark. If it washes off easily give the meat more time in the smoke. If dark enough, wrap immediately.
Smoke Ring - When heated, myoglobin loses its pink color and turns dull gray associated with well done meat. The depth of a smoke ring indicates how far the smoke has penetrated the meat before it contacts meat whose internal temperature has already risen enough to turn gray. Thus, if you start with cold brisket you get a wider smoke ring. However, they don't contribute anything to flavor or texture
Resting - The outside of the meat is cooked by heat carried in the air and smoke. The inside of the meat is cooked by heat contained in the outer layers. The idea to judge carry-over is to think about how much momentum it has (i.e. did you cook it hot and fast or low and slow). Resting is incredibly important. Allows meat muscles to relax and reabsorb some of the juices that were squeezed out. If you cut it open right after it's been pulled, you will lose a lot of important liquid and you will see a great brisket dry up in no time. Let the brisket rest until the internal temperature is 140-145 degrees Farenheit.
Apply a slather (e.g. olive oil) to help the rub stick
Apply the rub -- (1/2 Morton's Kosher Salt, 1/2 16 mesh black pepper, Paprika, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder)
Note --> we toned down the pepper/salt ratio to 1/3 to 2/3
Cook at 275 degrees Farenheit over indirect heat.
Sprtiz with Apple Cider Vinegar after 3 hours, repeating once an hour
Wrap in foil after 5 hours
Cook until the internal temperature reaches 203 degrees Farenheit
Let the meat rest for AT LEAST 30-45 minutes