Smoked Brisket on a Charcoal Grill

Beef brisket is probably the pinnacle of bbq cooking.  It’s not as easy as burgers or steaks because it’s such a tough cut of meat but once you master it you will be a true pit master.  While it’s not something I would call easy, Smoking brisket doesn’t have to be hard either.  You don’t even need a smoker since you can make great smoked brisket on a charcoal grill.

juicy sliced beef brisket

Smoked Brisket on a Charcoal Grill

Brisket is a tough cut of meat because of all the connective tissue.  To make it tender you need to slowly cook the meat at low temperatures.  This will melt the collagen that makes up the connective tissue.  Most pit masters will use a smoker that can control the temperature and allow movement of smoke from fruit and hard woods to roll over the meat.  I have a few smokers, but I wanted to show that you can get started with smoking on the grill.

Applying the BBQ Rub

The first component is going to be your rub.  There are countless rub recipes on the internet and plenty of good commercial options too.  For this brisket I was using the leftover rub from the spicy bbq chicken skewers I made the week before.  Since the brisket is a bigger cut of meat I lightly coated in kosher salt before applying the rub all over the meat.  If possibly apply the rub the night before so the salt and seasoning can penetrate the meat.

beef brisket lightly covered in kosher salt on a white plate Seasoned Brisket on a white plate

Smoking on the Grill

The key to making this work is temperature control and indirect heat.  This works really well on popular barrel style grills like mine where you can build the fire on the other side.  If you are using a round or square grill use the same technique but you may have to work harder at temperature control.  Also, be sure to build the fire on the opposite side of the smoke exhaust.  The smoke should be moving over the meat, not sitting still, so plan you fire placement out.  The thick fat slab on the brisket should be on top so as the fat melts it drips through the meat.

A beef brisket on a charcoal grill with the fire started on the opposite side.

Add hardwoods for smoking to the fire.  This was mesquite, apple, and cherry.  Hickory, pecan, and walnut are also great choices.  Just about any fruit tree, nut tree, or hardwood will make good smoke. If you haven’t liked smoked meat in the past try experimenting with different woods.  We found out my wife doesn’t like hickory, so now that I avoid that wood she loves it when I fire up the smoker!

Closely monitor your grill temperature and try to maintain 225 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it get’s hotter than that try opening the exhaust vent and closing the air inlent vent to slow the fire down.  Or prop it slightly open to cool it off.  Add more charcoal and wood as needed to maintain 225.

You will need a probe style meat thermometer and I highly recommend a wireless one if you don’t plan to sit by the grill watching it all day.  Cook the meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees.  This usually takes 3 – 5 hours depending on the size of the brisket and how well you maintained the temperature.  The brisket will be starting to develop a nice black crust and juices will be gathering on the outside.

a beef brisket cooked with a nice smoked crust ready to be wrapped in foil and finished.

Finishing Up

Wrap the brisket completely in foil with the shiny side facing in and continue cooking until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.  You want this to take an additional 3 -4 hours minimum, or as long as you can wait.  Total cooking time should be at least 8 hours and longer is better.  For a smaller brisket you may have to let the grill temperature drop below 200 degrees to keep heating the brisket without drying it out.  Another option is to move it to the oven and set the temperature to 190.

Resting and Slicing

Remove the brisket from the grill at least an hour before serving.  Let the meat rest without removing the foil until the internal temperature drops back down to below 160 degrees, usually about an hour.  If you cut 190 degree meat all the moisture will quickly escape as steam.  Letting the meat rest allows for the juices to settle in the meat to keep it moist.

Carefully unwrap the brisket.  Even with resting there will be a lot of juice in the foil.  You want to save as much of this as possible because it is delicious.  I like to baste my whole brisket with the juices before cutting and then use the remainder like a BBQ au jus.

Slice the brisket against the grain in thin slices and enjoy.  You can see mine just fell apart as I was cutting it and the fat was melting perfectly.

juicy sliced beef brisket

While I was making the brisket I also cooked some homemade baked beans in my dutch oven for a classic bbq combo!  The next day, I shredded the remaining brisket and mixed it into the beans for some brisket baked beans that were nothing short of amazing.

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