A great brisket is the pinnacle of smoking in many people’s minds. Competition Pit Masters get crazy with injections, extreme trims, and layered rubs. Normally, I don’t go that far but, sometimes, I want to put on a show and make a great brisket. It is more work, but it really does give a great result.
For those of you who don’t know my terminology, PIA stands for Pain in the Pants. I use it for dishes that are more work than I want to do every day, but that do improve the result. Here is my PIA Brisket recipe. Use all or some of the techniques to make that extra special meal.
Pick a Brisket
The first step in making a PIA Brisket is to choose the brisket. In the US there are various levels of beef described as select, choice and prime. Select makes a decent brisket but, if you really want to make the best, you need at least a choice and preferably a prime brisket.
Here in Canada, we have A, AA, AAA, and prime. You really want a AAA or prime for a great result.
The grade is important because the higher grades have more marbling and give you a better chance of a moist brisket.
You will want a full packer brisket with the point and flat intact. You can’t make the best brisket with just a flat. You need the point for fat content and burnt ends.
A quick reminder, a full packer brisket has two muscles, the flat and the point. They are separated by a layer of fat.
Trim the Brisket
The second step is to trim the brisket. Normally, you just cut the thickest fat layer down and cut out a couple of the hard parts of fat. This gives a decent result but, if you are really putting on fancy cooking, you will want to cut out all the hard fat. You will also be cutting off some of the meat.
Don’t cluck your tongue at me. I hate to waste meat as much as you do. You can use the meat trimmings in hamburger or sausage, but you will want to trim up the shape of your brisket. You will want to cut away any thin parts of meat that will overcook and the ragged edge of the brisket. Remember, you are making brisket art and every slice must be pretty as well as tasty.
I start by putting the brisket fat side down. There is a large of hard fat along one edge. Cut under the edge of that fat and cut most of it off.
On the other edge, the meat is usually rough and discoloured. I cut it off. Just take a thin slice off that edge.
You don’t have to worry about the fat on the meaty side. It will mostly render away. I do look for any loose flaps of fat and cut them off.
The corners of the thin end are too thin and square. They will overcook and not have a great texture. Cut them off to get a nice, rounded shape.
Turn the brisket over so it is fat side up. Cut the fat off in strips until it is ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. Try not to scalp down to the meat but don’t panic if you do. You are trying to get a smooth layer of fat over the brisket. You really don’t want any divots or indentations that would let liquid build up and ruin your bark.
I find that burnt ends made from the point are the best part of a brisket. Some people totally remove the point and cook it separately to make the burnt ends. Heck, I do it. The idea is that separating it lets you get rub on all surfaces of the point. However, I think removing the point negatively effects the texture of the flat.
For my PIA brisket, I partially separate the point but leave it attached. That gives more surface for rub but still helps cook the flat well.
Put the brisket fat side down. You will see a line of fat a couple of inches from the thick end of the brisket. This is the fat line between the point and flat. Slice ½ inch (1 cm) into the fat line and lift the tip of the fat up.
Cut another ½ inch (1 cm) into the fat and lift more of the point.
Continue cutting and lifting until only about 3 inches (8 cm) of the point is attached to the flat.
The point has lots of fat so trim the fat from the sliced area off the point.
Flip the brisket and cut the excess fat off the point section you separated.
If I am going all the way, I want big flavour! I usually don’t inject a brisket, but an injection adds to the flavour, so I inject my PIA brisket.
Inject and Apply Rub
I mix the following injection marinade:
- 250 ml (1 cup) beef stock
- 25 ml (2 tablespoon) soy sauce
- 25 ml (2 tablespoon) Worcestershire sauce
- 5 ml (1 teaspoon) onion powder
- 5 ml (1 teaspoon) garlic powder
This makes enough for a large brisket. You can cut it back by 25% if you have a small one.
Inject the brisket every one inch or so. I find this easier to do from the meat side of the brisket. There will be some squirting so make sure you are ready to clean up before your spouse accuses you of making a mess.
Now I make up a rub. Again, big flavour is the key to my PIA Brisket. My rub ingredients are:
- 25 ml (2 tablespoons) Kosher salt
- 25 ml (2 tablespoons) coarse black pepper
- 15 ml (1 tablespoon) garlic powder
- 15 ml (1 tablespoon) onion powder
- 8 ml (1 ½ teaspoon) paprika
- 8 ml (1 ½ teaspoon) ground dried chipotle
Mix them together and give all surfaces a generous coating.
Make sure to also apply the rub to the slice between the flat and point.
Cover the brisket with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for 4 hours to overnight.
Cooking the Brisket
I cook my PIA brisket at 275 F (135 C). This gives a relatively short cook but still allows enough time to totally render the fat and collagen for a moist tender brisket. I like to use oak for my smoke, but competition blend, hickory or mesquite all give a strong flavour.
Now we get to a problem. How long will the brisket take to cook? Sigh. If you are a Pit Master, you know there is no exact answer to this. At 275 F (135 C) I find it takes about 40 minutes a pound to smoke a brisket to probe tender. Then you need 1 hour of resting time and 45 minutes to make the burnt ends. I like to add ½ hour in case there is a stall. So, I multiply the weight of my brisket in pounds by 40 minutes and add 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Remember, the brisket will stay warm in a cooler for hours, but you can’t rush it if it gets in a stall and takes longer.
Give me a moment. I must put my flak jacket and helmet on. I cook my PIA Brisket fat side up. I know competition Pit Masters will tell you that you get better bark if you cook it fat side down, but I think the texture is better fat side up and that is more important to me. If you don’t like it, get a ten-step ladder, and climb eleven steps. Then go ahead and cook it fat side down.
Put the brisket in the smoker and cook the brisket to an internal temperature of 160 F (70 C). Bring the brisket in to wrap.
I do not use foil for my PIA brisket. Foil gives a moist tender brisket, but it has more of a pot roast texture. I want moist, tender, and a great bit for my PIA brisket. Also, foil generates more steam that softens the bark.
I use unwaxed butcher paper. It keeps the brisket moist but doesn’t soften the bark.
I take two, four-foot lengths of paper and overlap them.
I put the brisket about ten inches from the end and fold the paper over the top of the brisket.
Fold the long edge over and crease it to stay in place.
Roll the brisket in the wrap to totally cover.
Put it back in the smoker and smoke to an internal temperature of 190 F (90 C). Then push a probe into the thickest part of the flat. If it goes in extremely easily, like butter, the brisket is done. If not, cook and test again every 20 minutes until it is very tender.
Rest the Brisket
At this point the brisket has been cooking for hours. It needs to rest. This lets the meat relax and reabsorb its juices. Put an old towel in the bottom of a camp cooler and put the wrapped brisket on top of it. Add another old towel over the brisket and close the cooler. The brisket needs to rest for at least an hour and will keep warm for up to three hours.
Make the Burnt Ends
One hour before serving, have your smoker heated to 275 F (135 C). Take the brisket out of the cooler, unwrap it and cut the point you had separated from the flat. Rewrap the flat and put it back in the cooler.
Cut the point into one-inch cubes.
Put the cubes in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the cubes with your favourite brisket rub.
Add just enough of a sweet/spicy barbecue sauce to coat the cubes. You don’t want sauce pooling in the pan. You want just enough to give a nice layer to all sides of the cubes.
Smoke the cubes for 45 minutes, stirring once, until the sauce is caramelized on the cubes.
Slice the flat into pencil thick slices.
If the slices bend easily, you have success!
This is my best brisket. The injection brings a umami flavour that enhances not overpower the beef. The rub gives a big spicy flavour that I love. The burnt ends are sweet/spicy and so tasty!
If this wasn’t so much work, it is the only way I would make a brisket.
The Old Fat Guy