Grill/Barbecue

How to Smoke a Brisket (Plus, a Pitmaster-Approved Shortcut)

Award-winning author and grilling expert Paula Disbrowe walks us through her Texas-style smoked brisket recipe.

February 20, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

In my hometown of Austin, it’s hard to escape the wafting aroma of Central Texas Barbecue. Yes, that means there’s tender brisket and spicy smoked sausage links at every turn, but it’s way more fun to make your own. If you’ve got the time (half a day, but you can keep busy with stuff while the meat smokes), a well-marbled beef brisket, and a couple bags of lump charcoal and wood chunks, you can part-time pitmaster your way to tender smoked meat.

My recent cookbooks are devoted to firing up dinner quickly and seasoning foods with a whiff of wood smoke in as little as 20 to 30 minutes. But every now and then, when a sunny weekend calls for quality time with my trusty grill and barbecue and all the fixings, only slow-smoked brisket will suffice.

I learned the following method from Aaron Franklin, our good friend, legendary brisket whisperer, and the acclaimed pitmaster behind Franklin Barbecue. When I first started smoking larger cuts like brisket, I didn’t want to screw it up—so I took advantage of having Aaron on speed dial, sent him too many photo updates, and offered cold beer for his honest feedback. His response that I still cherish? “This doesn’t suck.”

I typically follow Aaron’s purist approach of using quality meat seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper. But playing with rubs is a fun and easy way to mix up the flavor profile. For a full-on Central Texas experience, serve slices of the smoky, salty meat with coleslaw, potato salad, and pinto beans—and pass the hot sauce.


Texas-Style Smoked Brisket

Ingredients

One 10 to 12–pound whole beef brisket, fat trimmed to 1/4-inch thickness
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup freshly ground black pepper

Equipment

A charcoal grill and a drip tray
A chimney starter
Two (20-pound) bags hardwood charcoal (you may have some left)
8 to 12 baseball-sized chunks of untreated kiln-dried hardwood, preferably hickory or oak
An instant-read thermometer

Photo by Paula Disbrowe

Directions

Season the meat

An hour before preparing the grill, place brisket on a rimmed baking sheet. Mix salt and pepper in a small bowl and season the meat all over (it should look like sand stuck to wet skin, without being cakey). Let meat sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Prepare your grill

Light a full chimney of charcoal and let it burn until you see flames rising from the top, then pour the coals onto one side of the grill. Wipe the preheated grates with a lightly oiled paper towel. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel again.

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Top Comment:
“You only mention salt and pepper for seasoning but in Picture 2. We can see Fire-Smoke seasonk g and it appears to be rubbed on the brisket as well. ”
— Nola_Doll
Comment

Place 3 chunks of wood around the periphery (not on top of) the fire. (You want the wood to catch slowly and smolder. Placing them on top of the coals will cause them to burn too quickly.) Place the brisket over indirect heat (the side with no coals), close grill and vent for smoking. (If you’re using a round kettle-style grill, position the vent on lid as far from heat source as possible. This helps draw the smoke up and over the meat as it rises). Stick thermometer through top vent. Heat until thermometer registers 225 to 250°F, adjusting vents on bottom and top of grill as needed to maintain temperature.

Maintain a steady temperature

Adjust vents as needed to control temperature. Check coals and hardwood about every 45 minutes. (Try to open lid as little as possible; check and replenish coals and hardwood at the same time.) For the coals, once you have checked them and decided to add more (they've burned down enough that you'll need more to keep your fire going and maintain your grill temperature), fill a chimney halfway with coals, then add coals to grill once they're covered with a thin layer of ash. If you control the heat well, you shouldn't need more than 4 to 6 chimneyfuls of coals to cook the brisket (2 to 4 chimneyfuls if finishing brisket in the oven). When checking hardwood, move it around to a hotter spot if needed, or replenish extinguished chunks to maintain a steady stream of smoke.

The brisket, two hours in. Photo by Paula Disbrowe
Know when it's done

Keep smoking the brisket, rotating every 3 hours and flipping as needed if top or bottom is coloring faster than the other side, until meat is very tender but not falling apart and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of meat registers 195 to 205°F, about 10 to 12 hours total.

A pitmaster-approved shortcut

If you just don't want to spend your whole day at the grill, here's a fail-safe Aaron Franklin–endorsed alternate method that will deliver similarly glorious results: Smoke brisket on grill until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of meat registers 150 to 170°F, about 5 to 6 hours. Double wrap the brisket in butcher paper or foil, place on a baking sheet, and cook in a 250°F oven until meat reaches the same 195 to 205°F internal temperature, 4 to 6 hours longer. What's important is getting that smoky flavor into the meat, and 5 to 6 hours on the grill should do it. After that point, you're simply getting the meat cooked through.

Dig in

Transfer brisket to a carving board and let rest at least 30 minutes. Slice brisket against the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices and serve.

Do ahead

Brisket is best shortly off the grill, but you can still get good results smoking it up to 3 days ahead. Let cool for an hour before wrapping in foil and chilling. To serve, reheat meat, still wrapped, in a 325°F oven until warmed through.

Order Now

Any Night Grilling is your guide to becoming a charcoal champion (or getting in your grill-pan groove), any night of the week. With over 60 ways to fire up dinner—no long marinades or low-and-slow cook times in sight—this book is your go-to for freshly grilled meals in a flash.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • steve423
    steve423
  • Nola_Doll
    Nola_Doll
  • Rafael Ulises Yanez
    Rafael Ulises Yanez
  • Paula Disbrowe
    Paula Disbrowe
Comment
Paula Disbrowe writes frequently about Food and Travel. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her bread baker husband David Norman, two children, and menagerie of retired ranch animals.

5 Comments

steve423 February 21, 2020
Thanks! Just ordered your book. I've been thinking about splurging on a PK 360 and, based on the photos in this article and in the preview pages in your book, I presume you use and enjoy that model. The big concern i had was whether there'd be sufficient space for a full packer brisket using a 2-zone setup on the 360. Looks like you've successfully managed that task, yes?
 
Nola_Doll February 20, 2020
You only mention salt and pepper for seasoning but in Picture 2. We can see Fire-Smoke seasonk g and it appears to be rubbed on the brisket as well.
 
Author Comment
Paula D. February 21, 2020
I'm generally a salt and pepper purist, but of late I've had fun playing with different rubs. This rub, Thundering Longhorn, is actually a blend I developed for my friends at Fire and Smoke Society.
 
Rafael U. February 20, 2020
I have tried the short cut method and it came out as good as the traditional method. .
 
Author Comment
Paula D. February 21, 2020
Yes! The meat has enough smoke after 5 or so hours on the grill, so it's a nice (easy peasy) option to finish in oven without needed to tend a fire.