For years, I have slowly built my skill on the grill. Steaks are actually done according to the desired temperature (most of the time). I can grill chicken without drying it out. Corn, potatoes... no problem. I can even do fish.
But I have never in my life smoked anything.
Oh, I've talked about it. For a couple of years now, Donna and I have mentioned how I ought to do a brisket. But those are not cheap cuts of meat, and I've just never found the right time to take the plunge.
Well, a few weeks back, I noticed that Target (where I shop for groceries) was carrying brisket. I mentioned this to Donna, and we said again that we really should have me give it a shot. Then, Caleb suggested that he ought to come over the watch the NFL playoffs, and that I should do a brisket. The stars were aligning, so I took the plunge.
I obtained a couple of 4.5 pound briskets from Target, got myself a large bag of charcoal and another bag of hickory chunks... and started to do my homework.
As it turns out, there are a ridiculous number of approaches to smoking meat, and the number of opinions as to what was the "right" way to do almost anything was pretty daunting. One concerning recurring theme was that brisket is probably the most challenging thing to smoke, that I should have probably started with something easier and that I'd likely screw it up. I had tried looking a couple of places for help and got some general advice (which - surprise, surprise - often conflicted), but my good friend Roger Briant was kind enough to reach out to me from the frozen tundra of Canada to help me out.
Roger answered my very specific questions, really helped clarify everything to me, then sent me his phone number again in case I ran into trouble. Thus educated and feeling better about the process, I got ready to smoke some meat.
I had settled on doing the ultra simple Texas style brisket - a dry rub of coarse salt and pepper would be all that went on my meat. As it just so happens, the brisket came in such a pre-applied rub, but I added more in the hopes of helping with a nice bark to the meat. After firing up the smoker box on my grill, I pre boiled some water, poured that into an aluminum pan, placed the temperature probe, and laid the meat out.
My plan was to go low and slow - 225 degrees was my target cooking temperature, which should have taken me roughly five hours. I allowed an extra hour in case things took longer, and built in two hours after that for the meat to rest before we served it.
As it turns out, I was a cockeyed optimist. The grill took longer than I had expected to get cleaned and properly going. The meat weighed a little more than I was thinking (each cut was about four and a half pounds, but for some reason, I had four pounds in my head). Far and away the worst of all, however, was that I simply could not seem to keep my temps up properly for the first couple of hours; 225 was a pipe dream, as I could barely keep it between 190 and 200 degrees.
Rather than add a few charcoals every hour, I ended up adding a handful every 15-20 minutes. I then added even more to get my temps up to 250 in an effort to make up a little time. Still, it was a constant struggle... I eventually burned up all of my charcoal and wood, had to make a quick run to get more.
I had started at 9 AM, figuring that I'd be pulling the meat off by 3:30 PM or so at the lastest, letting it rest two hours, then serving it in time for kickoff at 5:30 PM. Please feel free to laugh heartily at my foolishness.
At 5 PM or so, I elected to implement the Texas Crutch - I wrapped the meat in aluminum foil so as to help speed the final cooking and get past the "stall" (where the meat simply refuses to rise in temperature). Most sources say that you want to pull brisket off the grill when it gets to 190 - 200 F, but I couldn't seem to get past 159 F for approximately EVER.
At 6:30 PM, I pulled the first brisket off the grill and placed it in a towel-packed cooler to rest. At 7:00, I brought the second one in and put it into the oven, as it refused to get above 178 F. It still took about twenty-five minutes at 400 degrees in the oven for the second brisket to hit 190. I then tossed some corn and hot dogs onto the grill.
At 7:45 PM, I pulled the first brisket out of the cooler and started slicing it. At this point, I was frustrated. The smoking had taken far longer than expected, the grill had stayed too cold. I was worried that it would be tough, dry, not great.
Were my concerns ever unfounded!
As you can see, the meat had a gorgeous smoke ring. It was fall apart tender - you could literally crumble the meat with a spoon. As for dry? Check out this picture.
The meat was incredibly moist and flavorful. Yes, the flavor was out of this world. Donna had made it clear ahead of time that she would eat it but wasn't excited like Caleb and I were... afterwards, she suggested that we need to do this a LOT more often.
As a little side dish aside - I was doing baked beans, which I came close to ruining by accidentally putting too much brown sugar into them. Donna cut me a couple of potato chunks and told me to put them in to cook with the beans for a bit... and sure enough, they pulled a lot of sweetness out of it, making them darned near close to perfect!
Aside from the brisket, corn, and baked beans, Donna did some really out of this world twice baked potatoes to round off the meal. All told, this was a superb experience.
Tags for this post: Cooking
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