Practice Brisket

by zydecopaws on June 27, 2009

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I will be barbecuing brisket for about 20 people next Friday, and since I have never had a chance to smoke a whole packer I figured I better practice and make my immediate family eat any mistakes.  And although today’s results were pretty good, some mistakes were made and lessons learned for the future.  Among other things, I’m going to have to seriously consider picking up another packer in addition to the one already in my freezer if today’s lack of leftovers when only feeding 6 were any indication of what might happen on Friday if I don’t make the same mistakes…

Today’s brisket seasoning deviated considerably from my inaugural attempt.  I started with a full packer weighing somewhat over 5 pounds (if the handwriting on the package was to  be believed, and instead of measuring carefully I sprinkled liberally and used a different mix of seasonings.  I used a combination of coarse ground salt, fresh ground black pepper, Bayou Cajun spice mix, something called “Barbecue Spice Mix” (both from McCormick), and some cayenne pepper.  The end result had a bit more of a kick, but still could be improved upon, mostly by using more of everything next time around.

Smoke wood for this cook was a heavy application of mesquite lump (looks more like pre-burn than actual charcoal) and several sticks of apple.  The WSM was lit using the Minion Method shortly after midnight and was up to temperature by 00:45 or so.  I’m still getting used to the vents on the 22.5″ WSM, and ended up checking it about every 15-20 minutes and tweaking the vents until about 03:00 when I finally was satisfied and went to bed.  I got up and checked it again around 08:30; the temperature had dipped slightly below 200°F, so it was back to fiddling with vents again.  I finally got the WSM to settle in at about 230°F, and think I have the vents figured out now.  At 10:00, I finally stuck the Thermapen into the brisket to check the internal temp; it was in the 145-155°F range, so on went the lid and out we went for a late breakfast.

About 13:30 the brisket was 180°F+ everywhere, and the probe was sliding in like butter.  I pulled the brisket off to rest and put on some seasoned mixed veggies (potatoes, carrots, onions) in one of the grill baskets.  Here’s where things started to go wrong…  Lesson #1: don’t slow cook veggies in the grill basket on the WSM at low temps.  The finished result was, well, destined for the compost pile from the start.  In fact, it was so bad I didn’t even bother to take pictures; I really didn’t want any reminders…  The veggies looked great in the basket when they first went on (picture below), but they were shriveled, dry, and the smoke flavor was overwhelming.  Next time they go in a roasting pan with some liquid (or a foil pouch)…

Lesson #2 involves slicing the flat too long before it is time to eat.  This learning experience was compounded by not wrapping it well and not putting it into a cooler to stay warm (sidebar: why do they call them coolers when they are insulated chests that can also keep things warm?).  The flat was moist, tender, and very tasty when it was first sliced.  After sitting for two hours, it was still tender, but had dried out considerably and lost some of the flavor it had when fresh cut.  Next time around I will simply pull the meat when it is time, wrap it tightly, let it rest in a cooler, and not slice it until it is time to eat.

Lesson #3: If you aren’t fond of well-done meat, there is a good chance that burnt ends aren’t going to be your favorite thing.  The chopped point of the brisket was absolutely delicious when first cut around 14:00.  It was re-seasoned, put on a pizza plate, and got stuck back on the WSM.  At 15:00 I stirred the results and they were very tasty.  At 16:00 when it was dinner time, they were still OK, but nowhere near as good as when the meat first came off the smoker or after the first hour back over the coals.  This is probably a personal preference thing, but the instructions I was following suggested that they still had at least another hour or two left before they were “done”.  Next time I will chop, and at most put them back on the smoker for no more than an hour.

In spite of all these issues, the brisket disappeared pretty quickly, and as I mentioned above, there weren’t very many leftovers.  If I can learn from my mistakes, Friday’s batch ought to be pretty darn good…

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