It's easy to Barbecue Brisket in a Smoker

Barbecue Brisket in a smoker is simple when you use the "Cookin' Cousins" 6 Secrets, and our step-by-step recipe. Now you can establish your backyard barbecue fame for this Texas staple! We believe that... "Barbecue is the Mystical Communion of Fire, Smoke and Meat" 

6 Secrets to Smoking Barbecue Brisket

  1. Great Meat
  2. Great Spices
  3. Great Tools (grill, tongs, thermometers, etc...)
  4. Heat Control
  5. Timing
  6. Smoke

Look at our "6 Secrets to Smoking Meat" page, to assure your brisket is a competition-grade winner!

Lets start with the stuff you'll need for smoked barbecue brisket...

Patience Low and slow is the real secret to smoked barbecue brisket. We're talking low heat (200-230°F/93-110°C) for an extended cooking period. This is not the fastest method, but the "bestest"! You'll need a full bucket of this virtue when doing using a barbecue smoker. Figure about 1.0-1.5 hours/pound.

Meat Try to buy the freshest, fattest brisket you can find! A vertical "bullet" or "box" style barbecue smoker will hold 4 1/2-5lb./2-2.3kg of brisket per smoking rack, so buy a full 10-12lb./4.5-5.0 kg brisket. This will serve about 15 hungry folks, and maybe enough left-over for a sandwich the next day! >Go to Secret #1 for more on this.

Spices We like to use a rub for our barbecue brisket, and enjoy putting together our own, with these basic fresh ingredients.Please visit our Great Rub Secrets for our secrets to competitor quality tips on rub preparation.

  • Salt (Kosher preferred)
  • Sugar (turbinado or brown)
  • Paprika (Hungarian much preferred for best flavor)
  • Pepper, black (fresh ground!)
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin (ground)
  • Cayenne pepper (ground)
  • Mustard (dry)

Smoker  The vertical "wet-pan" type is the most popular backyard smoker, so we wrote this smoked barbecue brisket recipe from our experience with this fun cooker. Our favorites are the Masterbuilt 2-Door Propane Smoker and the Weston 36 inch Vertical Stainless Steel Propane Smoker.

Hardwood chunks/chips  Use only hardwood for any grill. For barbecue brisket we like Hickory, oak, Mesquite, or a combination of any two.

Oven thermometer  To ensure the success of your smoked barbecue brisket, this tool is the only way you will really know what's going on inside your barbecue smoker! Our favorites are the CDN High Heat Oven Thermometer or the Admetior Kitchen Oven Thermometer, because they are very accurate, sturdy, and priced right.

Instant-Read probe type thermometer  We've found that the ideal temperature of a brisket should be between 185-210°F/85-99°C. Our favorite inexpensive tools are the fast reading CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer and the Thermoworks Super Fast Water-Resistant Digital Pocket Thermometer.

Mop tool  This is optional, but it sure makes basting a whole lot easier! Yep, a Mop...just a miniature version (12-18" long) of a string-mop you might have for cleaning the kitchen! More on this subject in the "Does a smoked barbecue brisket need a mop?" section, below.

Tongs  You need a darn good pair of tongs to handle a brisket. Long and strong is the secret. Two excellent choices that will keep your paws out of the fire are the Weber Style Professional-Grade Chef's Tongs, and the Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs.

Insulated Food Gloves  An optional alternative to tongs, these things are fantastic for handling the finished roast! Our hands-down favorite are these insulated gloves for preventing the "opps, dropped it" problem.

Great barbecue brisket recipes start with a rub!

The brisket is first "rubbed", with a simple, dry, spice accented "rub", and then smoked slow, with low indirect heat. All for that unforgettable succulent, perfectly seasoned, beef favorite of the "wild west".

This classic rub will impart all of the flavors your drooling chops are hankerin' for. You can adjust the recipe (as the "pros" do) to make it "yours".

Barbecue Brisket Rub Recipe

Mix together thoroughly the following:

  • 1/2 cup sweet paprika (Hungarian, if you can get it)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed), or "turbinado sugar" for ease of use, but either one works fine.
  • 1/4 cup kosher (or sea) salt
  • 1/4 cup Cumin (ground)
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup black pepper (peppercorns recently ground!)
  • 2 tblsp cayenne pepper (no, it will not be "hot")

Prepare a "Mop"?

Does a smoked barbecue brisket need a mop?A long time favorite with the "pros" is to occasionally apply a mop (baste sauce), during the cooking cycle, to enhance the flavors, and keep the meat moist. If you are following this barbecue brisket recipe faithfully, slathered the brisket liberally with common yellow table mustard, and you have the smoker water pan at least 2/3 full, a mop is not necessary.

Mops are usually a watery mixture of vinegar, water, and spices applied with a "mop". Notice the spices in the baste are similar to the rub. You want to compliment the flavors of your rub. Experiment and have fun!

Here is a simple favorite:

Barbecue Brisket Mop Recipe

  • 1/2 cup vinegar (apple cider type, for our taste)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tblsp prepared yellow mustard
  • 3 tblsp olive or peanut oil
  • 1 tblsp garlic powder
  • 1 tablsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne

Mix well. Put mop sauce in a bowl and apply with a mop tool. If you use the mop tool, stir each time before mopping.

NOTE: Never save mop sauce left in the bowl (it is tainted with the meat's raw juices). Otherwise, the sauce will last a long time in the refrigerator.

Now, let's prepare the meat...

NOTE: Brisket should always be kept in the refrigerator (below 40°F/4.4°C) prior to preparation.

  • Score the fat-cap diagonally, several times, to allow the rub to mingle with the fat (self basting).
  • Slather the meat with a coat of any common, yellow table mustard (not mandatory, but a cool method many top contenders use) before applying the dry rub. This will not impart a mustard flavor (as that cooks out) but holds the spices close to the brisket, keeps the meat moist, does not block the smoke and leaves a nice thin seasoned coating.
  • Sprinkle the rub liberally all over the brisket; if you choose not to use the mustard, rub it thoroughly in the meat.
  • Wrap the brisket in plastic-wrap, or a covered glass/plastic container, and place in the refrigerator for 2-48 hours. The longer the better!
  • Take the brisket out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before putting it in the grill.

Get that Smoker Ready...

Our recipe for smoking brisket is written for the vertical 'box", or "bullet" wet-pan type smokers, regardless of the heat source so...

  • Fill the water pan to within an inch of the top (or at least 2/3 full). Use hot water to help avoid wasting fuel.
  • For gas smokers, place the chips (pre-soaked in hot tap water for about 20-30 minutes) in the wood chip box. One full box of chips will be sufficient for the whole cooking time.
  • Fire-up the cooker, get the temperature to about 225°F/107°C, and prepare to keep that temperature as steady as you can! Maintain the temperature between 200-230°F/94-110°C for the ideal barbecue brisket.

NOTE: If you are using a charcoal-fired smoker, soak 3-4 cups of (dry) chips/chunks for about an hour, drain, and place them directly on the coals once the smoker has reached temperature. This will be sufficient for the entire cooking period, regardless of the addition of more coals. Too much smoke= bitter and nasty! Control the temperature using the bottom vents only. The top vent should always remain open and not used to control oxygen intake. Each cooker is different so, experience rules!

Cook 'Em

  • Place the brisket in the center of the grates, fat-cap side up. Most horizontal backyard smokers will hold only one half of the brisket per grate. Place the thickest half on a lower grate. You will not have to rotate/flip the brisket during the whole cooking cycle.
  • If you are using an offset horizontal smoker, we recommend that you place a pan of water in with the brisket, turn the meat over after about 2 1/2 hours, and use a mop occasionally (if you have not used the mustard method).
  • Close the cooker (did you remember to put the oven thermometer on the grate?) Let the cooker recover the heat loss, and keep it at about 200-230°F/94-110°C.
  • Resist peeking! You're loosing precious heat. Open the lid/door only far enough to do the job, and don't tarry. Check the brisket for the first time at about 20 minutes, to ensure the temperature is holding. Let it cook for about 2-3 hours, and then check about every half hour to check the temperature (and mop, if you did not use the mustard).
  • You have time! If you have judiciously maintained the cooking temperature, peeked and mopped the brisket quickly, you can leave your station several times before the brisket is done. When you barbecue brisket in an offset smoker, think 30 minutes between mopping/temperature checks, and 8-10 hours 'til end-of-shift. Toward the end of the cooking time, grab the instant-read thermometer and...
  • Check the brisket at the thickest part of the meat. Look for an ideal temperature in the range of 190-200°F/88-94°C. Now, take the smoked brisket off of the fire, and let stand for about 15-30 minutes. Time to carve!
  • Start with the brisket's widest end, find the fat seam, and cut along it horizontally, effectively cutting the meat in half. Trim the excess fat, and slice across the grain. Or, just cut n' eat!

Serve it!...

Barbecue brisket has a wonderful smoked flavor, and for the Cookin' Cousins" taste, we like to eat it just as is, but...

Many folks like a "finishing sauce". This is nothing more than a barbecue sauce, of your choice, served as a side dish, for the folks who would like to put something more on their ribs.

Lets eat!

Try one of our favorite Texas-style rub recipes for that authentic South-West experience.

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