Ok I have seen a lot of people talking and asking questions about how to smoke a whole brisket correctly. There are a lot of different ways to do this and none of them can say that their way is the only way to do it.
But here is what I have learned after smoking hundreds of briskets. I have watched a lot of other Pitmasters and listened to their way and reasoning for doing it that way. I ran a commercial BBQ restaurant and I have even cooked a lot of brisket on my own. After trying every method that I have seen and heard about this is what I believe to be the best way to do it.
Use a whole brisket.
Make a few cuts across the fat cap to help the heat get in. This will help start the melting process that you ultimately want. Do not cut the fat cap off the brisket, this is where a lot of your flavor comes from and you will want it on there.
Get out your favorite meat rub and rub the brisket generously. I find in easiest to use a hotel pan or large tray.
Once the brisket is covered with the rub. Place in fridge overnight. This will let the seasoning become incorporated with the meat.
Staring Your Smoker:
Light you smoker and start it heating up. You should use a good hardwood for your smoker. (I prefer Applewood or Hickory) Plus I use charcoal to keep my fire burning. You want your smoker to be holding at temperature (250 degrees) for an hour before you place the brisket in it.
Take the brisket out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for an hour. This again will help loosen up the fat and get it ready to start melting.
With the smoker holding at temperature (225-250 degrees) for an hour and the brisket sitting at room temperature for an hour now you are ready to start smoking.
Going On The Smoker:
Place the brisket in the smoker fat cap down for the 1st hour then turn it over and cook for the rest of the time with the fat cap up. This will allow the fat cap to melt away during cooking and that fat will be running though and around the brisket. Which will be increasing the flavor of your brisket.
I like to mop my brisket with a BBQ/Orange & Apple Juice/Rub mixture about ever 30-60 minutes while in the smoker. Some others will spray it with apple juice.
Depending on the size of brisket you should cook at 225-250 degrees for 12-18 hours.
Some Pitmasters will only smoke the brisket for 4 hours and then remove it from the smoker and wrap it up then return to the heat to finish the cooking. But this all depends on how smoky you like your brisket and how much smoke that your smoker infuses into the meat. Some Pitmasters will smoke the brisket for the entire time that it is cooking. This is all about preference and you will need to try it a few different ways to find your favorite.
Letting it Rest & Cut: (WAIT TIME IS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP)
When you remove you brisket from the heat you should let it rest for 30 minutes before you cut into it. If you have wrapped it and finished cooking it wrapped you should let if rest for 30 minutes before you unwrap it and start cutting. This allows the juices to redistribute and makes all the difference between juicy or dry brisket.
Keep in mind that a whole brisket is really made up of 2 different muscles (The Flat and the Tip or Cap) and the easiest way to cut the brisket is to start by separating these two pieces of meat. The Flat can be identified by finding the thinnest part of the brisket and is the lean part, it is great for slicing and on sandwiches. The Tip or Cap is the part that had the fat cap on it and is usually a lot more tender then the Flat. The Tip is always a lot fattier that the Flat and is best served chopped. Remember that if you have cooked it long enough almost all of the fat will have melted away. The outside should look very dark with a burnt look to it. (Then you know you have done it right)
Place the brisket on you cutting board with what was the fat cap up. When you look at the cooked piece of meat you can see the Flat. Run your knife along the top of the Flat cutting parallel where the cap starts up. By cutting straight across you can remove the Cap from the Flat. Now trim off any pieces left on the Flat and set aside.
Now with the pieces separated you can start slicing the Flat. Turn the Flat over with the trimmed side down. Make thin even slices running against the grain of the meat. When finished slicing put the Cap on the cutting board and dice into 1 inch cubes removing any large pieces of fat that you find. The slices from the Flat make great sandwiches or dinner plates. The cubes from the Cap make great dinner plates or ingredients for side dishes.
Special Note & Idea:
Some BBQ Pitmasters will take the cubes from the Cap and re-Rub them with their Rub and put them back on the smoker another 6-12 hours and make Burnt Ends. Then they sell them for a lot more per pound.
Eat It Up:
Put on the table and call the crowds to come and get it.
Don’t put BBQ sauce on your brisket when you serve it up. If you ever do a BBQ challenge you would be disqualified for putting sauce on the meat. If your meat isn’t good enough to stand on its own keep practicing until you get it right. You should have some BBQ sauce on the table for those who really want sauce but most won’t want it.