These days a lot of the brisket content on the internet will borderline make you believe that you need to own an offset smoker to put out decent brisket.
I can personally tell you that I've been smoking brisket on the Weber Kettle for over 15 years of my life.
My recipe is super straightforward and the methods used are super consistent (especially for beginners).
To preface: This is a very long guide with dozens of pictures and illustrations of everything I'm talking about. I've attempted to make it for all experience levels and tried not to leave any stone unturned.
When smoking a brisket on a weber kettle, the most important thing to remember is, you're smoking a brisket on a weber kettle!
What I mean by that is that the meat needs to fit on the grill grates. While a huge packer brisket that weighs 16+ lbs is wicked cool, I genuinely wish you luck fitting it on your 22" kettle.
A good size for a brisket on a weber kettle is around 7-10 lbs trimmed. Assuming you'll trim 2-3 lbs of fat and protein, start with 11-13 lbs.
My brisket for this recipe was 12.58 lbs.
Keep in mind, if you're only able to get huge packer briskets, no sweat! Trimming will allow you to remove as much weight/size as necessary to fit on the Weber kettle.
While there are a lot of different nuanced factors that people say to look for, the single most important factor is the amount of intramuscular fat in the meat.
A lot of people will call these "striations" or "marbling."
To use my choice grade brisket from Wild Fork Foods as an example, if you were in a grocery store, pay attention to this area of the flat muscle:
In the US we have the USDA Grading system to help guide us. The easiest way to know that the meat has enough intramuscular fat is by buying a USDA Choice or Prime Brisket.
Here's a choice brisket halved:
Here's a prime brisket halved:
Keep in mind too, your Guests only care if it's tender and moist. After smoking hundreds of choice and prime briskets there isn't a whole heck of a lot of difference other than the prime one costs me $8 - $20 more.
USDA choice has more than enough intramuscular fat and prime isn't markedly better. I directly compared these in another article - be sure to check it out.
Of these grades though, I'd entirely avoid using Select grade as it does have a tendency to dry out. Some folks have even gone to the extent of injecting with beef fat or "tallow" just to increase the fat content.
Apart from USDA grades, there really aren't other factors that are worth considering. I've smoked tons of briskets and in most cases any potential issues can be rectified through trimming.
However, things like:
Are great to start with.
Here's a picture of the fat cap side:
Here's a picture of what I mean by even-ish flat:
I also try to avoid:
If you aren't sure what I mean by point and flat, you can read my in-depth article here.
I will say though, gashes in the meat aren't the end of the world and you can typically smooth them out when you apply rub (don't put rub in the gash). I've also successfully smoked what I'd deem "super-trimmed" briskets from online butchers like Snake River Farms.
Keep in mind too - all briskets are different.
I always trim and season my briskets the day before. This makes it much easier in the morning. That way you can just take it out of the refrigerator and put it on the smoker.
However, if you're doing this the day of, no sweat! I personally don't find dry brining over night to be super necessary and 1-2 hours in the fridge is more than enough.
I have an entire article that goes over my trimming process. I don't think I could do that article any justice by attempting to condense it here.
You can check out my brisket trimming guide by clicking here.
Remember folks - this is backyard barbecue. We're not in a competition and nobody is grading this as an assignment. If you scalp the meat or leave too much or too little fat on a certain spot, it's not the end of the world.
More often than not, it all tastes the same going down.
The Main Reasons to Trim:
Here's the fat side before (left) and after (right):
Here's the meat side before and after:
I trimmed 2 lbs 9.7 oz from the meat. This meat I freeze to be ground up later for brisket burgers.
With brisket I try to keep things as simple as possible. I tend to go with cracked peppercorns, kosher salt, and either Lawry's seasoned salt or garlic powder.
You can get as creative as you like; Brisket is also a large cut of meat and can stand up to most rubs.
A word of advice though on pepper:
A lot of people will use 16-mesh ground black pepper because it aids in bark formation; Which I'd definitely agree with, but it just feels lacking. Rather, I prefer peppercorns from places like Burlap and Barrel.
Keep in mind, there is a HUGE difference between freshly cracked peppercorns and 16-mesh black pepper. In my experience, you can't go heavy with freshly cracked peppercorns like you can 16 mesh.
I also know my family doesn't like super salty meat so I tend to go light with kosher salt/Lawry's.
For this recipe I used roughly:
Again, you'd have to adjust the amounts above based on what YOU like.
Mixtures of 50/50 kosher salt and 16 mesh black pepper are popular and so are 1/3 salt to 2/3 pepper. Both can also include varying quantities of garlic powder - usually 1/3 added to either ratio is adequate.
Also side-note about kosher salt; In the barbecue community a lot of people give Morton's flack because it contains a caking agent, where-as Diamond Crystal does not. Personally, I can't taste a difference and just buy whatever I find at the grocery store.
There are a number of different ways to smoke on a charcoal grill like the weber kettle.
To name a few:
I personally own the Slow N' Sear attachment so I used that. However, I've smoked dozens of briskets with the snake method over the years - the Slow N' Sear just makes things easier, especially when reloading charcoal.
In terms of temperature, my goal is 250F.
With the Slow N' Sear, I simply dumped unlit charcoal in the basket. Lit a few pieces of lump charcoal with my charcoal chimney and then placed them on the left side of the unlit charcoal.
This way the charcoal passively self-ignites throughout the smoking process.
To have a better visual of what we're doing in the kettle, refer to the image below. The brisket is placed in the indirect zone (left) so that it receives convection heat as apposed to radiant heat above the charcoal (right).
Vent adjustment on a Weber kettle is something that a lot of beginners struggle with. However, it's pretty straightforward.
Our goal with smoking is to sit in the range of 225 - 275F. With a charcoal grill you have control over three things:
To start you only need a small amount of lit charcoal. If you're using a chimney, you can even flip it over to light a small amount:
If you're using briquettes, usually about 10 is a good starting point. If you're using lump charcoal, roughly 1/4 chimney is a good starting point.
In terms of the dampers, I have a better article that goes more in-depth on that topic but what I typically do is:
1. Start with a small amount of lit charcoal and then add your unlit charcoal so that it self-ignites.
2. Start with your dampers - both the intake and exhaust - completely open. This way we're maximizing airflow or the draft in the smoker.
3. As the smoker starts to come up to around 200F, you can adjust your dampers. I'll typically use the intake damper, rather than the exhaust damper.
Roughly 1/4 to an 1/8 open results in that range of 225-275F.
The reason I use the intake is because it's how you control the amount of oxygen that comes into the smoker and how hot your fire can be. Conversely, completely closing the intake would starve the fire and put it out.
4. From there I leave the exhaust damper completely open.
I can already read your mind: "Dylan - I don't have that type of Lid thermometer on my grill!"
I added the Tel-tru thermometer to my lid because the way the standard lid thermometer is setup on the grill is incorrect for smoking. It's on the other side of the grill - opposite the exhaust damper.
This gives us the temperature above the fire rather than the temperature above the food. If you're still not sure what I mean, here's a visual:
Don't fret though!
What I've found is that roughly 400F above the fire on the regular lid thermometer is roughly 250F above the food.
You could also opt to dangle a meat probe into the exhaust damper as this is what I used to do.
Once my Weber Kettle was cruising at 250F, I placed the brisket in the cool zone with the fat side facing the fire and with the fat cap up.
If you followed my trimming guide - this is the "hump" side, not the "mohawk" side.
The Brisket went on the smoker at 9:54 am.
Note: On smokers like the weber kettle, the heat source comes from the top rather than the bottom. With the idea being that the fat cap works to shield the meat, it's better oriented (and rendered) when placed towards the heat source.
I only had Cherry wood chunks on hand so I used that; I personally think that post oak works best with brisket or a nut wood like pecan.
Note: The photo above has the wood off to the side just for the picture so that it doesn't catch on fire while I take photos. Before closing the lid I put that chunk of cherry on the fire to smolder.
With how the Weber kettle works, you want to minimize how often you peak or take the lid off. The old adage of "If you're lookin', you ain't cookin'" truly applies.
Note: This can actually be advantageous in certain situations. Say your kettle runs a little hotter than you want; You can simply open the lid and remove a few lit coals to calm things down.
At this point I'm only opening the lid every hour or so to add more wood chunks. Fruit woods like cherry are pretty light in terms of smoke flavor too.
Cherry wood in particular offers beef and pork a wonderful red hue that's quite appetizing and it's great paired with other woods like hickory, pecan, or post oak.
Here's the meat at 2:56 pm or roughly 5 hours later:
At this point I can start to tell that the meat is nearing the color I like where the outside starts to look like a meteorite of meat.
As indicated by the picture above, I can tell that spot can likely render more simply because the color change hasn't occurred on the surface.
Here's the meat at 4:12 pm or 1 hour later:
The reason I pulled here is because usually after 6 hours, the meat has taken on more than enough smoke.
Note: I also took the above photo in the shade because it can be kind of hard to describe color changes via pictures/over the internet - especially when the sun is shining.
It's fairly obvious though the meat is visibly darker than an hour prior.
Typically this is around when I wrap. I know if the thickest part of the flat is probing around 175F we're already far enough into the stall to where not much more moisture will push to the top.
A lot of people online will say: "Hey the stall happens at 150-160F, you should wrap then." I wholeheartedly disagree.
Mainly because the brisket is still pushing out tons of moisture. By waiting, you can get a markedly better bark.
Once the brisket hits around 175F in the thickest part of the flat, my only goal is to bring the temperature up to around 195 - 205F.
Meaning, all we need is heat or BTU.
These days I foil boat almost all my briskets.
I used to be in the camp of wrapping with butcher paper but I find the foil boat method to be fool proof - which is a huge bonus for beginners.
Previously I used to wrap my briskets with butcher paper and then bring them into my electric oven to finish.
The reason for this is because electricity is wicked cheap and charcoal is very expensive; I'm also not too keen on burning through all my charcoal.
Remember: After about 6 hours the meat has taken on more than enough smoke flavor, we just need to continue to render collagen. Meaning we need heat.
Your brisket also doesn't know if it's being cooked by charcoal or electricity; As Harry Soo says: "Heat is heat or BTU is BTU."
With that said, I recently moved and I now use a gas range which I'm not too comfortable finishing my briskets in - especially overnight.
Instead, I now use my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker to finish the meat.
What I'll typically do is program my Electric Smoker or Kitchen oven to 250F about 15 minutes before I know I'll foil boat - this way I can foil boat it and pop it in the smoker.
I have a rather nuanced guide on foil boating - found here.
The method is easy enough to condense though:
Lay out two sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil, place the brisket fat side up in the center of the foil. Crinkle the edges of the foil around the brisket.
Unlike wrapping you also don't have to worry about being super tight with your seal.
The biggest benefit of foil boating is that you continue to render the fat on top. As fat renders, it collects in the boat which then confits the meat side of the brisket. This results in tender meat, wonderfully rendered fat, and a better bark.
If you don't have an electric smoker - you can simply use your Home's oven. I used to use my oven and what I found was that it was pretty inaccurate - by almost 10-15F in some cases.
A lot of time what I would do is bump my oven to 265F just to compensate.
At this point, all we're waiting for is for the meat to be probe tender. Typically this occurs somewhere in the internal temperature range of 195 - 205F.
For me, this happened at around 204F in the thickest part of the flat. In terms of time, this was at 8:38 pm or 4 hours and 26 minutes later.
Note: The instant read thermometer above is the Thermoworks Thermapen ONE - be sure to check out my review.
I want to re-iterate too - internal temperature is just a guide and not the end all be all for smoking meat; Your goal is probe tenderness.
Often people will say - it should feel like the probe is sliding through hot butter. I know that's hard to comprehend so I recorded a video of me probing the meat.
In this video I actually completely let go of the probe (on purpose) and dropped it through the meat and punctured a hole in my foil boat - you can even hear the tallow falling on the drip pan.
I did this just to illustrate a point - there should be no resistance.
In terms of resting, I prefer to actually smoke my briskets a day in advance. This way when it comes time to have the meal, I'm not antsy or tired - if you're a beginner you might even have adrenaline as it's super exciting.
Resting is sort of a necessary evil with smoking brisket.
Resting allows all the rendered collagen to gelatinize or "set-up" (meat to re-absorb juices) so that when you go to slice the meat isn't dry because all the juices pour out.
If you're wanting to serve the brisket the same day - you want to start much earlier than I did. Mainly because you should rest brisket for a minimum of 2 hours and not many folks want to eat at 10-11 pm.
In 2 hours the meat should come down to around 150-170F internal, which is perfect for slicing.
Holding simply means to keep the internal temperature above 140F.
The reason we're using 140F is because of food safety. Between 40 - 140F food enters the Danger Zone. In this temperature range, bacteria grows quite rapidly.
You have two options for holding overnight:
*I wouldn't advise overnight holding in a gas oven. Namely because the pilot could go out and fill your house with gas.
Since I have an electric smoker, I run that overnight at 140F till I'm ready to serve the next day.
A couple of bullet points for overnight holding:
If you have a cooler like a Coleman, Yeti, or Pelican, you can hold the brisket in the cooler instead.
1. First start by priming the cool with some boiling water just so that the cooler won't wick moisture from the meat.
2. Then wrap the meat in butcher paper and insulate with a few old towels.
3. Dump the water from the cooler and put the wrapped brisket in the cooler.
The next morning the brisket should still be warm and around 140F internal. You could even pop back into your oven so that it's around 160F for slicing.
Again, I have a way more nuanced guide on slicing brisket but the general idea is to slice against the grain of the meat.
Brisket point and brisket flat have two different grain directions, they look like this:
Our goal is to simply slice against these.
As I've tried to say over and over, you don't have to be super anal with backyard barbecue. I mean some folks might as well invest in a ruler just for slicing brisket.
In my opinion you can slice like this and be totally fine:
The reason the above is fine is because we're rendering the collagen/meat fibers. This is completely different from something like steak where you're only cooking to medium-rare.
Steak gets juiciness from free moisture. Brisket gets juiciness from rendered fat and gelatinized collagen, resulting in one of the best cuts of beef that you can eat.
The first slice you'll want to make is the separation of the two muscles. If you followed my trimming guide, this happens at the slope - roughly in the middle of the brisket.
The white line is my first cut:
You can then slice the muscles individually:
Pictured above are the flat slices.
Here would be the point slices and the burnt end slices:
Here are the flat slices:
Here are the point slices:
All the above results in truly awesome brisket.