Texas Brisket… how and why?

30 May 2018, Posted by Chris Waltman in Chris' Corner
Barbecue is a long-standing tradition of Texas.  As most people know, Texas is the proudest state in the US.  One thing Texans take the greatest pride in is their style of barbecue especially brisket.  The art of smoking meats was brought over by the German and Czech settlers in the mid-19th century.  Many of the undesirable, tough cuts were smoked at low temperatures for long periods of time to tenderize and enhance the flavor with smokey goodness. Briskets are the king of the of Texas BBQ.  This cut (just like a pork butt) has a large amount of connective tissue containing collagen.  Under the proper environment, heating up the collagen converts it to gelatin.  A good rule of thumb is to bring the meat up to an internal temperature of 185°F to 195°F to attain this conversation of tough meat to melt in your mouth deliciousness.  The ideal peak internal temperature of brisket should be 205°F-210°F since beyond that it will begin to dry out. This seems counter intuitive since most meats cooked pass 165°F (personally pass 135°F) may as well be a hockey puck. Brisket Whole Finished So that seems easy enough as long as you bring the internal temperature up to 195°F the meat should be perfect… Wrong. There are 8 important rules to follow to achieve a good brisket.
Rules of Texas Brisket
  1. Trim the fat
Trim the fat until it is about 1/4” thick.  There is a myth that a large fat cap will add flavor to your brisket.  This is untrue, and at most the cap will become insulation that keep the brisket from cooking too quickly (but only on the point not the flat).  The fat will hinder the absorption of the salt thus hindering the flavor development.  Thinner fat cap allows the salt and pepper (Texas’ only brisket seasoning) to penetrate the meat better.
  1. Salt and Pepper Only (preferably Morton’s Kosher Salt and coarse cracked black pepper)
True Texas Brisket needs only three things… Salt, pepper, and smoke.  There is no need for smoked paprika, garlic powder (though it is delicious), herbs or any other spices.  Let the meat and the smoke speak for itself.  While we are at it, good brisket does not need sauce either but that is widely debated.  I didn’t come up with the rules.  I just follow them.  The combination of salt and pepper creates a dark blackish crust of delicious crunch. Brisket Salt and Pepper
  1. Keep it low and slow
When you cook the meat too quickly it reacts similarly to sponge full of water being wrung out.  Cooking the meat at high temperatures (+300°F) will cause the muscle fibers to contract injuriously and force all the delightful meat juices out.  Many home cooks like to smoke their meat at 225°F since it seems like a safe bet.  On the professional side, some competition BBQ pitmasters prefer 250°F to 275°F.  With the higher temperature you will be more likely to achieve the Maillard Reaction and thus bringing even more flavor to the bark.
  1. Don’t crank up the heat when you hit the Stall
On the way up to converting that collagen to gelatin, you will experience a “stall”.  This has famously perplexed many amateur pitmasters.  The brisket will continuously go up in temperature for the first few hours then suddenly stop around 150°F and linger for a few hours between 150°F and 160°F.  This is due to the fact that the meat begins to sweat which naturally cools the surface of the brisket.  The best thing to do is just maintain your temperature and muscle through the stall.  If it bugs you too much, then you can use the “Texas Crutch” and wrap the brisket in butcher paper or foil but this is known as the crust killer.  There is a theory that the “Texas Crutch” gives you juicier and more tender meat.  There is always a give and take.  Arron Franklin (owner of the famous Franklin’s BBQ) uses untreated pink butcher paper for the Texas Crutch.  Arron is also a big advocate of cooking at a higher temperature.  All the briskets at Franklin’s are cooked at 275°F.
  1. Choose the right wood for the perfect smoke
Not all woods are created equal.  Some are subtle with a light sweetness such as Maple and Adler.  Others can be mild and sweet such as fruit woods like Cherry, Apple, Peach and Pear.  Then there are the earthy woods like Oak, Pecan, and Walnut (ascending from light to strong).  And finally, there are the bold smoking woods like Hickory (sweet and smokey) and Mesquite (bold and earthy).  Texas brisket has such a long cook time that going all in with the bold smoking woods creates a bitter flavor profile and all in with subtle and mild woods leaves you with a lack of flavor.  Earthy woods are best for the model flavor profile.  Many pitmasters proudly use Oak and Pecan only while some like to use a custom blend of woods that fits their desired final product. The myth of the smoke ring… The smoke ring does not affect the flavor of the brisket though it is commonly referred to as a sign of properly done barbecue.  The smoke ring is caused by the interaction of myoglobin (pink protein) with Nitric Oxide “NO” and Carbon Monoxide “CO” (produced by burning wood to make smoke).  The mixture of NO and CO helps the myoglobin retain its pink color.  The same color can be achieve using curing salt which contain a combination of nitrites and nitrates that also help the myoglobin retain its pink color. Brisket Smoke Ring
  1. Brisket Wobble
The only true way to tell if a brisket it done is the “Wobble”.  A properly cooked brisket will wobble once the connective tissue has converted into gelatin.  This is more of a visual cue so best to interpret via the video below.  
  1. Resting Holding Brisket
As meat is held after cooking, the moisture redistributes evenly throughout the protein.  This also allows the meat to continue to tenderize.  The hold can be done by using a hot holding cabinet or even by wrapping the brisket and placing it in a well-insulated cooler.
  1. Slicing Against the Grain
This is a good rule of thumb when it comes to any protein.  Slicing against the grain give you shorter muscle strand which in turn give a more tender mouth feel. You can cook the best brisket in the world then ruin it by slicing in the wrong direction.  The best way to do this is to find the grain of the meat and slice perpendicular to that.  Do not forget there is technically two muscle structures in a brisket and their grain does not run in the same direction. Brisket Slicing 1 Brisket Slicing 2