I had never tried the ancient technique of smoking food before, but when my brother found a kettle-smoker set by the road for trash pick-up, he took it home, refurbished it and brought it to the family cottage. With a big group coming up for a summertime weekend, I decided to risk the 6-lb brisket my mom had bought, and either wow the crowd, or go down trying in a blaze of glory.
Still, I was confident that this was something I could do. I have a bit of experience being a judge at barbecue competitions, and from what I learned from some of the pit-masters, time is perhaps the most important factor in successful smoking. I had the time. Now, I just needed a plan. So I perused the Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen, and set to work on my beefy mission.
As instructed, I threw together a dry rub, massaged it into the brisket, and then put it in the fridge to cure overnight. I also bought some hickory chips, and made sure we had lots of charcoal on hand. By 11 am the next morning I had my brother start up the fire while I soaked the hickory chips in cool water. Before long, we were smoking the brisket on the smoker, using indirect heat from the attached charcoal compartment. We tossed on some soaked chips every once and a while and monitored the temperature to be sure it didn’t get too hot (between 250-270F is ideal).
As expected, I got bored after 45 minutes, so I went inside to make some homemade barbecue sauce, then went swimming for the better part of the afternoon while my brother took over smoking duties.
About seven hours later, I slathered the fully cooked smoked brisket with my sauce, then threw it on the barbecue to get some char on the outside with some good sticky bits (Raichlen doesn’t say to do this but he’s not the boss of me.) And by 8pm we all sat down to a dinner of the single best piece of food that I had ever made.
Texas-style barbecued brisket
4-8 hours (or best, overnight) curing of meat. The next day, allow for 6-8 hours of smoking.
6 cups hickory or mesquite chips or chunks, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover and drained
A smoker or charcoal grill.
1 beef brisket (5-6 lbs), with a layer of fat at least ¼-in. thick, preferably ½-in. thick
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne
½ tsp cumin
1. Rinse the brisket under cold water and blot dry with paper towel.
2. Make dry rub and massage it into brisket on all sides. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
3. The next day, set up the charcoal grill or smoker for indirect heating. When ready to cook, toss 1 ½ cups of the wood chips on the coals. Place the brisket, fat side up, in an aluminum foil pan and place the pan in the centre of the grate, away from the heat. Bring lid down over grill.
4. Smoke-cook brisket until tender; 6-8 hours, all the while, replenishing the coals and chips. The cooking temperature in the smoking chamber should always be between 250-270 degrees. Check in on it about every half hour.
5. If not mobbing it with barbecue sauce and then quick-grilling it like I did, Raichlen says to remove brisket from the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes. Slice against the grain, transfer the sliced meat to a platter, pour the pan juices on the top and serve at once.
Not up for a weekend smoked brisket project?
Here are 10 simple smoky-tasting recipes you can make at home: