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Brisket 101: The Epitome of Low & Slow

Posted by Traeger on July 22, 2012

What is Brisket?

sliced beef brisket

As most experienced grillers and barbecuers will tell you, beef brisket is one of the most challenging cuts of meat to cook properly. In fact, we’ve heard it said that it’s a little like playing checkers: It only takes a few minutes to learn the game, but it can take a lifetime to master. Well, folks, not if you own a Traeger.

Let’s start with a little bovine physiology. Brisket is the equivalent of the pectoral muscle in humans, a well-exercised muscle (there are two per cow) that gets a work-out every time the animal lays down or pushes up. This gives brisket its fibrous texture and beefy taste. (In general, the more a muscle is used, the more flavor it will have.)

Brisket Cut of Beef A full brisket, called a “packer” can weigh up to 18 pounds and consists of two parts: the “flat” and the “deckle.” They are separated by a thick line of fat and collagen.

Whole packer briskets with the fattier “deckle” attached are better left to experienced brisket barbecuers.

The “flat” is the cut you are most likely to see at your local supermarket or butcher shop. It usually weighs between 4 and 8 pounds, and is the best cut to start with if you have never barbecued a brisket before. Look for a center-cut piece graded “Choice” or better, preferably grass-fed “Certified Angus”, with a fat cap on top of about 1/4-inch. Allow 3/4- to 1-pound of raw brisket per person. (The directions below are for a 5- to 6-pounder.) The brisket will shrink substantially as it cooks.

To say brisket is not something you barbecue on the spur of the moment is a gross understatement. It takes planning, patience, and lots and lots of time—the epitome of “low and slow” barbecue. Figure on 1.5 to 2.5 hours per pound, plus an additional hour for “resting” the meat. Always allow more time than you think you’ll need. Count backwards from the time you want to serve your brisket to determine how early your barbecuing day will start. (Of course, some people prefer to put their briskets on before they go to bed.)

Step-By-Step Brisket Preparation

Remove the brisket, again, 5- to 6-pounds, from its packaging and rinse it under cool running water. Dry it thoroughly with paper towels. If the fat cap is thicker than 1/4-inch, trim it with a sharp knife. Turn the brisket over, and carefully remove any visible silverskin (that’s the shiny tissue that sheaths muscles) by shallowly sliding your knife blade under it.

If desired, slather the brisket with a thin coating of yellow mustard to hold any dry rub and to keep the brisket moist during its long cook on the Traeger. Season the brisket generously on both sides with Traeger’s Prime Rib Rub, Beef Shake, your favorite barbecue rub, or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the brisket come to room temperature for about one hour while you assemble the other tools you’ll need.

Tools to gather while your brisket reaches room temperature:

  • An accurate instant-read meat thermometer, preferably a remote
  • Plenty of Traeger Pellets, preferably hickory, pecan, or oak
  • A clean spray bottle
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil
  • An insulated cooler to hold the finished brisket
  • A stack of newspapers or thick terrycloth towels (don’t use the good ones, though!)
  • A gravy separator or bulb-type baster
  • A sharp serrated knife or electric knife for slicing the brisket

Make a thin mop sauce by combining 2 cups of beef broth, cola, apple juice, or flat beer with a little Worcestershire sauce. Transfer it to the plastic spray bottle.

From the kitchen to the grill.

When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes).

If using a remote thermometer, insert the probe in the thickest part of the brisket, preferably through the side. Arrange the brisket on the Traeger grill grate, fat-side up. (Actually, some pit masters prefer to do brisket fat-side down, the theory being that the fat layer will protect the meat from the heat. This is perhaps true for conventional gas and charcoal grills, but not necessarily for a Traeger’s evenly-dispersed, induction fan-driven heat.)

Smoke the brisket for 2 to 3 hours. Increase the temperature of your Traeger to 275 degrees F. Spray the brisket with the mop sauce. Continue to cook the brisket, spraying with the mop sauce every hour or so, until the internal temperature of the brisket reaches 160 degrees F, 4 to 5 hours. (This is where a remote thermometer really comes in handy.)

Patience is key.

Now you are entering what is called the “stall” or “plateau” phase, where the internal temperature of the brisket will rise at a much slower pace. This, not coincidentally, is where some pit masters get nervous and decide to “rush” the process by cranking up the heat. Don’t be tempted to do this, or your brisket will rebel by toughening up.

Instead, tear off two sheets of foil, give the brisket one more spritz with the mop sauce, and lay the brisket in the center of the foil. Remove the remote probe, if using. Bring the sides of the foil up to completely enclose the brisket and crimp the edges tightly. Reinsert the temperature probe. Return the foiled brisket to the Traeger and continue to cook until the internal temperature of the brisket reaches 190 degrees F.

Your work is almost done!

Line the cooler with several layers of newspaper or the terrycloth towels.brisket Remove the temperature probe from the foiled brisket. Transfer the brisket to the cooler and layer more newspaper or towels on top of it to keep it warm. Let it rest for an hour while you set the table, mingle with your guests, drink a celebratory beer, or watch the game on TV.

At the end of the hour, remove the brisket from the cooler and transfer it to a cutting board. Carefully remove the brisket from the foil, pouring any juices that have accumulated into a gravy separator or heat-proof bowl. Slice the brisket across the grain into slices about 1/4-inch thick with a serrated or electric knife. Transfer to a platter or plates, moistening with the accumulated juices in the gravy separator (or use a bulb baster to reach the juices), leaving the fat behind. Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce, if desired.

If you decide to cook your brisket ahead of time, reheat it, wrapped tightly in foil, in your Traeger set to 275 or 300 degrees F.