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04 June 2007

Smoked brisket

Smoke and be damned. It's as simple as that. Ignore the health warnings. Evolution has taught us that sweetness equals energy and sourness equals off food, then so smokiness must equal nectar. I have decided there is no better way to eat a 4kg slab of fresh brisket than after a 12 hour shvitz in a smoker, equally, can chicken ever be more majestic than eaten cold after a four hour smoke bath? I think not.

The smoking session came about as a result of a perfect storm: too much time on my hands, guilt at not having used a birthday present I'd specifically asked for and a dinner party for my family. Several years ago, in the run up to an insignificant birthday, I had mentioned in more detail than is polite, the amazing attributes of the Weber Smokey Mountain. It is true that the attributes I was extolling were those on the Weber website and other marketing guff I had read. I had never eaten something cooked on one, nor obviously had I cooked on one. Nonetheless, I sensed a calling - I bought into the PR and knew my life would be worthless without one. So for two years my WSM has been sitting under its tarp, singing like a harpe, luring me in, but I never quite fell for it until this weekend. I am deeply pissed off that I have wasted two years of my life not smoking.

Hopefully you can tell I like it. I like the fact cooking on it becomes a zen-like experience. Less of the brassiness of a traditional barbecue, more caressing and nudging and tweaking. I love the fact that the finished product tastes unlike anything I've had before. I particularly like that smoking has allowed me to fall in love again, this time with cold chicken breast. Yes, I know chicken breasts are not great cold - but try one the day after a smoke. It will restore your faith. However, this post is not about chicken breasts, it is about beef and lots of it. I plan to get around to the chicken post shortly.

I detail below what I did to the beef, how I did it and what the meat looked like at various stages. However, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Virtual Weber Bullet, a website with a disturbing level of enthusiasm for its rather specialised focus. My method detailed below is basically their method, so any successes I had, were theirs.

From putting the meat on the grill to serving it was approximately 12 hours, that included about an hour and a half of resting in kitchen foil.

This serves 8 people, or 6 with decent amount of leftovers, which you will want.

  • 4kg fresh brisket - make sure it's fresh not pickled
  • apple juice for basting

For the rub

  • salt & pepper
  • sweet smoked paprika
  • English mustard
  • za'atar

You need a big hunk of meat for this. Mine was enormous - the largest cut by area that I have ever cooked. Remember though that given the length of cooking, it will shrink considerably. Also remember to keep some of that fat on the brisket, do not be tempted to remove it, despite the fact there is so much of it. Much of it will be rendered down during the process and it will help keep the meat moist during the cooking. What is left at the end, you can simply trim away before serving.

Start off by making the rub and marinading your meat overnight. Use as much of the rub ingredients as possible, but bear in mind not to use too much salt as you will dehydrate the meat unnecessarily. Usually I don't add salt to marinades, because it leaches the water, but having done some reading it seems par for the course for smoking so I dutifully followed the trend.

I cocked up slightly - forgetting what a mammoth cut it was, it wasn't fully defrosted by the time I put the rub on. Being the first time I have done this, I have no idea what impact this had on the outcome. However, it tasted to me that the rub had had an effect and I had more than one guest ask was covering the meat.

So far, so simple. The main part of the cooking process comes down to playing with the heat.

I started the smoker using the ingenious Minion method to fire it up. It was ridiculously easy and I was surprised how little charcoal I used during the cooking: 1 and a quarter 3.5kg boxes of lumpwood charcoal. I think, with a bit more experience I could probably have got away with just one box.

Once the lit coals were sitting on top of the cold coals, I added some lumps of hickory wood and filled up the water bowl.

At this stage the beef went on, fat side down and the cooking began.

I tried to be as accurate as possible compiling the details for the table below. I have listed the temp in the body of the smoker and the times I took the temperature. Where I noted it, I have also detailed the temperature of the meat itself. The method I used to determine the heat was by sticking a digital Polder thermometer in the lid vent, which remained open throughout the cooking process. All temps are in Celsius. If you're a luddite, click here.

It should be noted that the vent column represents how much the vents on the bottom of the smoker were open. 100% means they were all open all the way, 0% they were all shut all the way. 2x0 / 1x50 means two were shut entirely and one was open half-way. On the Virtual Weber website they list which vent was open to which percentage, personally I can't see it makes any difference which actual vent is open, rather the percentage. The only caveat to that is if there is a strong wind. If there is, then the vent that is face on to the wind will obviously have a greater impact on the heat in the coals than one that is leeward.

Finally, please note that I was cooking a chicken as well. This resulted in the beef getting shifted around a little, the temp dropping when the chicken went in and so on. Therefore, it did have an effect on the cooking process, so bear that in mind. However, I don't think its impact was too significant.

[If you are reading this on a RSS reader, you might want to click through to the post itself, so you can see the table of temps and timings.]

1. Meat goes onto the lower grill
2. Meat is flipped and basted with apple juice PHOTO
3. Got very scared with the plummeting heat. Added cold coals to the grate and used my kitchen blow torch to make sure all coals in grate were lit
4. Put in the chicken on the lower grill. Beef moved to top grill. Turned & basted the meat w/apple juice. Added wood. Internal temp of beef 77°C
5. Internal temp of beef 88°C
6. Internal temp of beef 95°C. Beef removed PHOTO

When the meat was taken out, I let it sit in a blanket of silver foil for about an hour and a half. I left it in the warmest place I could find - on top of the washing machine.

So how did it turn out? Simply put it was a revelation. The meat was moist (whilst hot) it had a fantastic depth of flavour and has converted me to 'cue. I made a pretty spicy and vinegary sauce to go with it. I'm not going to list it here, because I forgot to write down how I made it, but it was basically a good mix of vinegar, tomatoes, chillis, sugar, onion and garlic all sauteed down and then blended. I'm sure it's considered heresy in some places, but we loved it.

These are some of the photos during the process.

The brisket after six and a half hours

The brisket after 10 hours

The brisket after ten hours - in profile

This is not a barbecue, this is 'cue. Learn the differences and go forth and smoke.


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I've been coveting a smoker/grill for a while now.

I found a secondhand Brinkman one yesterday at the council dump whil I was getting rid of garden refuse.

I look forward to trying this recipe out now I have the necessary kit

It looks delicious!

Go for it. Just make sure you clean that baby thoroughly before you do. It'll change the way you cook.

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