...make a whole brisket
I have read countless posts where some pit master has been pontificating on the difficulties of making a brisket.  Not so says I.  Sure, it isn't grilling a burger easy, but anyone with some time, a little culinary skill, and a proper cooker can make one.  I suppose I have just committed some type of barbecue blasphemy, but since I am unaffiliated what have I got to lose.  :)  What I am about to disclose is how I make the perfect brisket by my tastes.  There will be others that disagree, there will be some that agree, there will even be some that tell you I am crazy.  You want to know the confounding part... they are all correct.  If you ask five barbecuers how to do something you will get ten different answers.  No lie.   They cant even agree with themselves.  :)

Here is what I believe you need to make the perfect brisket.

A smoker of some type
Fuel-- lump charcoal and wood chunks
Some time
A half dozen good friends

Smokers and fuels are about as varied as those that own them.  I have my preferences and I am guessing you are at least forming your own at this time.  Whichever smoker you choose be sure to maintain the temp and keep the smoke thin.  

Since I think smoke is a requirement I use wood.  For brisket I have tried several-- hickory, pecan, oak, and mesquite to name a few.  My personal preference is mesquite.  The next guy you talk to might like hickory or oak.  Mesquite does have a sharper or pungent flavor and green mesquite even more so.  If you prefer something milder then try oak, pecan, or maple.  Since this is just a guideline you should use the fruit or nut wood that matches your flavor preferences.

The brisket.  Picking the brisket is a matter of preference and I talk about that more on this page.  I want to address trimming the brisket before the rub.  There are all kinds of opinions on how to trim a brisket.  My general philosophy is don't.  Don't trim the fat off.  OK... I might trim out the section of hard fat that some call the kernel, but that's about it.  Even that isn't necessary, but it isn't tasty so it might as well go early.  If you are seriously concerned about the fat layer, first don't eat the fat, and if that falls short maybe you should try the chicken.

There is a "How To" on rubs and you can go there for some more info.  As far as the application of the rub we are looking for heavy coverage with your rub of choice.  If this is your first brisket I would recommend using the Brisket Rub on my rub page.  Shake it on liberally to all surfaces of your brisket.  Place whatever is left over in an air tight container and it will keep for some time in the pantry.  There are also several prepared rubs like the ones from Dizzy Pig that are quite good if you would prefer to buy one instead of making one.

Time... well that is the killer for most folks.  I have found that about 90% of the folks that want to make good barbecue want it to be quick and easy.  It is fairly easy, but it is anything but quick.  Until you have had some practice give yourself plenty of time.  I would start 24 hours before you want to eat.  I like to be done a few hours before dinner time as there is nothing better after ten hours of queing and cooking than a shower before the guests arrive.  Just my opinion and something to think about.

Friends... well that is why I do much of this.  You have a few... call'em up and get'em over to the house.  A real good friend will come by early and have a few while the brisket cooks-- these are rare.

OK... so by now we should have a smoker, some fuel, a brisket, rub, some extra time, invited a few friends, and a supply of cold beverages.  About 12 hours before you are going to start cooking or 36 hours before dinner time.  Yes... A day and a half.  Get that brisket out of the fridge and apply the rub generously with a shaker if you have one.  There are glass shakers that remind me of the big Parmesan shakers from the pizza parlor.  You can re-use the green lidded plastic Parmesan shakers-- you know the ones.  Or your hand works just fine.  Throw it on and give it a rub.  Make sure to cover the whole surface of the brisket.  Then seal it up tight in plastic wrap and heavy duty aluminum foil or some other container to catch the juices that will inevitably be drawn out by the rub and put it back in the fridge.  Let it rest over night or for 12 to 24 hours.

When you are ready to start cooking get that smoker going with your fuel, I prefer lump charcoal, and a few chunks of wood.  Stabilize the temperature at 225 degrees and get the smoke nice and thin.  Now lay the brisket on fat side up.  Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the flat and close the lid.  Don't mop.  Don't peek.  Just keep the temp steady and the lid closed.  If you're looking... you ain't cooking.

Big cuts of beef and pork do a funny thing called "plateau" around 170 degrees.  It is most likely the real point at which barbecue magic happens-- when the fat and collagen begins to break down and become that unctuous delight we call barbecue.  During the plateau you will notice that the temp goes up and then it goes down.  Up... Down... 2 steps forward and 1 steps back.  We are going to not only help the brisket through this process but use it as an opportunity to make it even better.  Place 2 pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil shiny side up on the counter.  When the brisket reaches 170 degrees place the brisket in the middle and fold up the first sheet really tight.  Be sure to crimp the edges to hold in all of the beefy goodness.  Then repeat with the second layer.  Put the probe back in and return it to the smoker.

Continue to cook the brisket until the internal temperature is 195 to 200 degrees.  Now we have to feel for the doneness as each brisket is different.  Wiggle that probe.  Do you feel any resistance?  Take another probe or metal skewer and insert it along the top.  Does it feel like it is sliding into butter or a steak?  Steak... leave it on.  Butter... we are done.  I generally check every 3 to 5 degrees at this point.  Some use a fork for this and that will work too just be aware that the fork makes four holes each time.  

Roasts and steak require a rest before slicing and a brisket is not an exception to this rule.  Since we are cooking by temperature and not time a good long rest is sometimes required to get to dinner time.  As I mentioned before, I plan on this.  Here is how we are going to keep it hot and do a little tenderizing too.  Get a big Styrofoam cooler.  One from that steak place that ships across the country works great.  I found one called a Hercules at the liquor store and I think I could get a whole goat in it.  Whatever you get line the bottom with some heavy duty aluminum foil, place some wadded up newspaper or old clean, stress on clean, beach towels in the bottom, set your double wrapped brisket on top of that, and add another layer of towels or newspaper.  Close the lid and leave it that way until you are ready to slice and serve.  This will keep the meat hot and allow the juices to re-distribute.  

When it is time to eat remove the brisket from the cooler and carefully unwrap the foil.  There will be some seriously good juices collected in the bottom of the foil.  Keep that around for a bit.  Works great to moisten a few slices or to keep the leftovers juicy.  Take the whole brisket and place it on the cutting board.  The point and the flat should be separated first.  There is two ways to do this.  It can be separated at the line of fat that runs diagonally from the top in front of the point to the bottom under the point.  The fat line should be pretty flimsy at this point and I have separated them using only the back of a chefs knife.  The easiest way is to simply cut straight down where the point begins to rise off the flat.  Once that is done set the point aside for later and slice the flat.  There is a definite grain to brisket-- we want to cut across it.  Pick a corner and slice off a small piece.  Does it look like it is made up of long pieces of meat?  If so the cut is with the grain and incorrect.  Does it look like small pieces of meat that want to fall apart?  Keep going... this is the correct way to slice it.  I generally start with about ½ thick slices and adjust accordingly.  I am looking for slices that stay together on the tray.  Sometimes an inch thick sometimes 3 quarters.  Suffice to it say if it starts to crumble it is sliced too thin.  Lay the slices on a platter and add a little juice if needed.  

Serving options are pretty varied too.  For me a couple of slices of Texas toast and a few slivers of Vidalia onion is delicious.  Some will add sauce and that's OK too.  Cheese, jalapeno's, and pickles are options at some places.  Really all that is needed is a piece of butcher paper and a cold beverage.  Everything else is optional.  :)  

I hope this helps make briskets a little less mystifying and more enjoyable.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  Relax... it's just barbecue... even the worst you have had is still pretty good.