Kansas City Barbecued Brisket

From Cook's Country | June/July 2010
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Why this recipe works:

Scoring the fat cap on the brisket helps it render and lets the potent spice rub penetrate the meat. (We like to rub it the day before for deep seasoning.) We put the brisket on the cooler side of the grill for gentle cooking, having set it in a disposable aluminum pan to catch the flavorful… read more

Scoring the fat cap on the brisket helps it render and lets the potent spice rub penetrate the meat. (We like to rub it the day before for deep seasoning.) We put the brisket on the cooler side of the grill for gentle cooking, having set it in a disposable aluminum pan to catch the flavorful juices. After a couple of hours of smoke on the grill, we add our homemade barbecue sauce to the pan, cover it, and move it to the oven, where the steamy environment fully tenderizes the meat. Finally, we let the brisket rest in the turned-off oven so that it can reabsorb some of the juices that it has lost, ensuring moist, tender meat.

 

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Serves 8 to 10

To use wood chunks when using a charcoal grill, substitute two medium chunks, soaked in water for 1 hour, for the wood chip packet.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 (5- to 6-pound) beef brisket, flat cut, fat trimmed to ¼ inch
  • 2 cups wood chips
  • 1 (13 by 9-inch) disposable aluminum roasting pan
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce

Instructions

  1. 1. Combine paprika, sugar, chili powder, pepper, salt, granulated garlic, and onion powder in small bowl. Cut ½-inch crosshatch pattern through brisket fat cap, ¼ inch deep. Rub brisket with spice mixture. Wrap brisket in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 or up to 24 hours. Just before grilling, soak wood chips in water for 15 minutes, then drain. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips in foil packet and cut several vent holes in top.

    2A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent halfway. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal­ briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.

    2B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Place wood chip packet over primary burner. Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burners.

    3. Pat brisket dry with paper towels and transfer to disposable pan. Set pan with brisket on cooler side of grill and cook, covered, with lid vent positioned above brisket, for 2 hours.

    4. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk ketchup, water, molasses, and hot sauce together in bowl and pour over brisket. Cover pan tightly with foil and transfer to oven. Cook until brisket registers 195 degrees, 2½ to 3 hours. Turn off heat and let brisket rest in oven for 1 hour.

    5. Transfer brisket to carving board. Skim fat from sauce. Slice brisket against grain into ¼-inch-thick slices. Serve with sauce.

Smoke, Braise, Rest

To turn this notoriously tough cut into juicy, tender barbecue, we devised a hybrid barbecue/braising method that ended with about an hour of rest.

1. Use a disposable roasting pan, which catches the cooking juices yet lets the brisket develop a smoky char.

2. Add the sauce, cover the pan, and put it in the oven. The moist cooking environment efficiently tenderizes the brisket.

3. After braising the brisket for a few hours, leave the meat in a turned-off oven to relax and fully tenderize.

Core Techniques

Whether you’re in Kansas City, Texas, or your own backyard, the key to good barbecued brisket is the right balance of smoke, fat, moisture, and tenderness. A low temperature for a long period of time is a given for this tough cut of meat. We’ve developed a few other strategies as well.

KEEP THE FAT (AND SCORE IT): Most steaks and roasts are marbled with fat throughout. Not flat-cut brisket. It has a large cap of fat, but the meat itself is fairly lean and prone to dry out. For moist meat, buy a brisket with a considerable fat cap. Trim any hard or particularly thick fat off, but leave at least ¼ inch attached. Then score the fat in a crosshatch pattern to encourage it to render and baste the brisket as it cooks.

GO FROM GRILL TO OVEN: A Texas pit master might scoff, but for home cooks, using the oven is the key to moist, tender barbecued brisket. You need the grill for smoke—that’s nonnegotiable. But to cook a brisket all the way to tenderness on a charcoal grill (our preferred grill for this recipe), you would need to keep the fire lit and at a constant temperature for more than 5 hours, carefully monitoring it and refueling with fresh charcoal at least once. It’s much easier to regulate the heat in the oven, so after grilling it for a few hours, we finish our brisket in the oven, low and slow. Don’t reverse the process. If you go from oven to grill, the smoke flavor will never permeate the meat.

POSITION THE VENTS: To keep charcoal lit, you need air flow in the grill—fire needs oxygen to burn. The bottom and lid vents provide the ventilation. The lid vent has another important function, too: It directs the path of the smoke coming off the wood chips, drawing it out of the grill. By placing the vent above the brisket, you direct the smoke right where you want it: over the meat. (This is moot on gas grills, as most don’t have lid vents.)

GIVE IT TIME: There is no hurrying a brisket. To season it deeply, we coat it with a spice rub and let it rest for at least 6 hours. The salt in the rub penetrates and seasons the meat. For large cuts like brisket, season for 24 hours if you can. Give brisket plenty of time to cook, too. The tough connective tissue, collagen, will slowly break down into gelatin; gelatin dissolves in the moisture within the meat. Remain patient, even after the brisket is cooked. As meat cooks, the muscle fibers contract, squeezing out moisture. Let it rest in its own juices—at least an hour and as long as overnight. During the rest, the brisket reabsorbs some moisture and becomes more flavorful.

Anatomy of a Brisket

Cut from the breast of the cow, a whole brisket weighs about 12 pounds. It’s a well-exercised muscle, which makes for coarse-grained, tough meat. Butchers usually break down whole briskets into two cuts: The flat (or first) cut is separated from the point (or second) cut by a thick layer of fat that runs diagonally through the fat end of the brisket. The knobby, irregularly shaped point cut is more marbled and has more overall fat. Few grocery stores carry it. Here in the test kitchen, we prefer the thinner, rectangular flat cut anyhow; it’s leaner and once cooked is easier to slice. The flat cut usually weighs about 5 pounds, although butchers occasionally break it down further into two (2- to 3-pound) roasts.

POINT CUT: Irregularly shaped.

FLAT CUT: Cooks—and slices—evenly.

Essential Gear: Slicing Knife

A good slicing knife should be about 12 inches long, have a thin blade with heft and balance, and be slightly flexible yet have enough sturdiness to ensure a straight cutting path. In our tests, knives with small, oval scallops cut out of either side along the blade, a style known as a granton edge, cut the thinnest slices with the least effort. The hollows allow for a razor-thin cutting edge while maintaining heft at the top of the blade. A rounded tip is also essential. It prevents the blade from getting caught as it slices the meat. But the most important characteristic is sharpness. Most knives are sharp when they’re new, but the best knives hold an edge for longer.

OUR FAVORITE SLICER: Victorinox 12-Inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife.

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