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More BBQ: Beef Brisket

Since my last post, I've exclusively given over to pork shoulder instead of ribs, and the snake method for easy slow-and-low instead of slaving over my huge and inefficient smoker. I don't think I've done ribs at all in that time.

I have, however, recently picked up on beef brisket. When done properly, beef brisket is DIVINE.. I've been trying to recreate Armadillo Willy's brisket, and I think I've gotten pretty close. I just completed my second brisket tonight and it's a winner. I took a few slices to some friends down the street and they seemed to really like it. I'm bringing the rest to work tomorrow for some coworkers who are in from out of the country.

The process for pork shoulder and beef brisket are very similar.

When doing pork, get a whole shoulder, about 8 to 10 pounds. Bone-in or boneless, which ever you prefer. Bone-in will likely be cheaper and arguably have a bit better flavor when smoked correctly. But then you have a huge bone to deal with when you're done.

When doing a beef brisket, I buy a whole brisket sealed in a pack. It's a HECK of a lot cheaper like this ($3.70/lb instead of $8/lb!) and, hey, left overs are good! If there is a huge knot of fat on one side, trim it down to about 1/4". But DO NOT trim off all the fat! You need this fat. Trust me. :-)

Brine the hunk of meat (either pork shoulder or beef brisket) for between 4 and 12 hours (more is better, but even 4 hours will be hugely beneficial). I use Alton Brown's brine recipe even for beef. Summary: 1.5c salt, 1c brown sugar, 6qt water. Ish. This is usually not quite enough to fully submerge the meat in my brine cooler (one of those 5 gallon drink coolers you see on the back of work trucks), so scale up the quantity of brine as needed.

Some beef recipes suggest using broth in the brine, or adding spices and other flavours. I suppose you could here, but I haven't bothered.

For pork, I go simple and just use the mix from my local butcher shop. It's very similar to Susie-Q's Santa Maria Style BBQ Seasoning. It's mostly salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and maybe a few other things.

For beef, that mix by itself is a little flat. So for 1/3c of the above mix, I add 1Tbsp paprika, 1Tbps cayenne pepper, and 1Tbsp cumin. I also add something a little unconventional: about 1/4c of Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal. (Any cornmeal will probably do, but I like Bob's for many reasons.) This is an idea I got while trying to reverse engineer my favourite restaurant brisket from Armadillo Willy's. I haven't verified with them that this is what makes their outside texture so course and tasty, but I'm pretty sure it is.

Smoke it: Snake Method
I'm completely sold on the snake method. I can set this thing up, light it at night, go to bed, and wake up to tasty tasty smoked meat.

Take the meat out of the brine, dry it off, rub it down, and put it on the Weber with a snake lit underneath.

A few things I've done differently that BBQ Like It's Hot:

  • I use paraffin wax BBQ starters instead of a chimney starter. I just bury a couple of those at the head of the snake and light them with a match when I'm ready to start.

  • A friend and I welded up a 13"-ish diameter ring of expanded steel, about 3" tall. I put this ring directly on the goal grill and line up the charcoal around the outside. It helps keep the charcoal and wood chips from falling over and ruining your snake. If you're cooking something that needs a higher temperature (turkey!), you can be lazy and just pour in the charcoal between the ring and the outer wall. But that's too much charcoal for pork shoulder. The round ring makes the rectangular water pan impractical. So I use a dog water bowl instead. I found a HUGE 13" water bowl this morning at the local pet store and it works great. :-)

  • If I put two rings of briquettes in the snake, it hovers around 180degF. If I put three rings of briquettes, it gets hotter and goes to around 250degF. I've been trying perfect a 2.5 ring snake. :-)

  • Use wood chunks not chips. The chips are small enough to fall through the cracks between the briquettes and down into the bottom of your BBQ where they do you no good. The chunks stay on top of the charcoal and smoulder nicely.

  • Use fruit or nut woods, or a hard wood like oak. DO NOT USE soft woods like pine, doug fir (no construction waste!), or mesquite (fine for grilling, not for smoking!)

A full snake around a Weber will last between 6 and 9 hours, depending on how hot and fast it goes. 3 rings burns hotter, and therefore faster, than 2 rings. Keep the meat in the smoker until it hits a reasonable internal temperature: About 160 for pork, 145 to 150 for beef.

The braise is the secret to fall-off-the-bone ribs, fork-pulled pork, and juicy tender brisket. Put the meat in a pan (I'm lazy and use disposable pans, a half pan for pork or a full pan for ribs or brisket) with about 1/4" of some sort of liquid (apple juice for pork shoulder and ribs, but I'm still looking for the right braise liquid for brisket), cover with foil, and put in the oven at 350degF for about 3 hours.

This will take whatever connective tissue is left over from the smoke process, and break it down. The higher temperature also renders fat out of the meat which collects in the pan and can be boiled down into a sauce (see my previous post on the subject)

That's about all there is to it. Once it's done braising, it should be about ready to fall apart. Literally. A pork shoulder will be no match for a couple forks, and a beef brisket should be trivially easy to slice.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 9, 2015 10:08 PM.

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