Smoked a brisket that was edible but not great. What would you do differently


I smoked my first brisket last weekend and even though it wasn't terrible it was a little dryer and rougher than I would have liked.

Here is the smoker I used:

Here are the steps I followed (along with some notes on things I may have done wrong):

  1. I bought a four pound fresh brisket from a butcher. It was 9.99/lb (next time I'm going to hit up Sam's club and try and get a 10-12 lb packer cut of USDA Choice)
  2. I used Stubb's store bought dry rub. I rubbed it on and then seared the meat on the grill. I did not sear the fat cap. (Should I have let the dry rub sit longer? Also, next time I'm thinking about doing equal parts salt, pepper, and paprika. Should I have seared at all? A lot of people seem to throw the meat right in the smoker after giving the dry rub some time to set in).
  3. I had turned the smoker on and set it to 200 degrees before searing, so when I put the brisket in it was at 200 degrees and was already smoking. I used dry wood chips and filled the water pan to the mark specified in the pan.
  4. The smoker stopped producing smoke about 30 min in. I wet some wood chips and put them in, but the smoke never came back. (How often should I be adding wood chips? Should they be wet? How long should the smoker be spitting out smoke?)
  5. I let it sit for six hours. I didn't have a meat thermometer at the time. (What internal temp should I go for next time?)
  6. I pulled the meat out, didn't wrap it in foil, and cut it after 20 min. The bark looked nice but the meat was brown like a pot roast. I know when I get good restraunt BBQ that the meat tends to be a little red/pink. The meat still tasted ok although it was a little tough.

Other questions. Should I have wrapped the brisket in foil at some point? When should I do this and what are instructions for after? Some people seem to advocate doing so once the meat hits ~150 degrees F which will drastically decrease the cooking time. Others seem to advocate taking the brisket out when it hits about 180, wrapping it in foil, then putting it in an empty cooler until it rises to ~200.

I know that this is really a bunch of questions rolled into one but I feel like this is a typical experience for a smoking newbie like myself. I don't expect answers for every item but please try and point out the things I've done which are just empirically wrong.

Best Answer

From what I can tell you're generally on the right track here. From what you've said, there are probably just a few issues.

  • tough/dry/rough. Believe it or not not cooking long enough could be the problem here. You want your brisket to get in that 190-200 range, this will cause the connective tissue to break down and make it very nice. The other possibility here (and you didn't say so we don't know), is that brisket can be very tough if it's not cut properly. You need to cut the flat across the grain for it to be tender as it's a very long muscle.

  • Lack of a smoke ring. This is what we call the pink ring around the outer bit of the meat. You don't want the inside to be pink, you want the outside to have a pink ring around it. This can be unpredictable in formation and depends on a lot of things. If you liked how much smoke flavor your meat had, I wouldn't change anything, but if you wanted more smoke, try to either put in more wood chips at the start, or put them in dry (careful though, you don't want them to burn, but wetting them really just slows the burn time). From what I've read, the smoke ring forms early, so the first hour or so is the important part here.

  • Foil. This is hotly debated in the BBQ world. I only foil if I need to hold my meat for a period of time (if I mistime and finish early I'll wrap it up, drop it in a foam cooler with towls), but a lot of people swear by it for producing juicier meat. Totally up to you, experiment here.

Lastly, a few bits of advice (I've done a couple of briskets now, all on charcoal though). Don't bother to sear the meat, let your smoker take care of the whole cook. Do that, make sure you get your meat up to temp (brisket is hard to tell without a thermometer as it doesn't have a bone you can check, so go get an instant read one, they aren't too expensive). As far as the dry rub goes, that's a matter of taste, a lot of folks put it on the night before, but the meat gets plenty of flavor just applying it right before you put it on.