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Get ready to create the most juicy, mouthwatering Texas Smoked Brisket in your own backyard using a wood or pellet smoker. These are all my best tips & tricks for making the best smoked beef brisket that is perfect for your next outdoor BBQ.
Texas Smoked Brisket
When it comes to BBQ, I’ll admit that smoked brisket is my very favorite. I grew up eating my mom’s slow roasted oven BBQ beef brisket that she would bake low and slow in the oven for hours. Which is totally wonderful and amazing if you don’t have a wood smoker or a pellet grill, even though it’s nothing like true Texas smoked brisket.
If you haven’t tried real, authentic Texas Smoked Brisket, the kind with a dark, almost black bark on the outside and a pink smoke ring when you slice it, served on butcher paper sans sauce, you are missing out!
Also, who says you can’t get bark on a pellet grill? Behold this beauty shot of our brisket that was smoked on our Traeger grill.
Don’t be fooled by the short ingredient list. All you need to create authentic Texas-style smoked brisket is a super simple rub and the smoke from the wood. That’s it. No marinade. No wet mop sauce. Just wood smoke and a simple spice mixture, the same way you would get brisket at a famous central Texas BBQ joint in Austin like Franklin Barbecue or Pecan Lodge.
Then serve it up with macaroni & cheese, cornbread, baked beans, slaw, bbq sauce on the side (I always skip the sauce when it comes to smoked brisket) and a peach cobbler for a barbecue feast that would make any Texan proud.
House of Nash MEATS
For several years now, Paul and I have enjoyed smoking meats on our Traeger smoker. A few months ago, Paul had a great idea and recommended I do a short series devoted to the meats we smoke, called House of Nash MEATS! I’ll be posting our favorite smoked meats recipes this week – hope you enjoy!
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Texas a number of times since Clara, our oldest, was born there and we have an open adoption with her birth family. And every time we have gone we have sought out the best Texas barbecue we can find to load up on smoked brisket, beef ribs (my other favorite smoked meat), and smoked sausage.
Cooper’s is our favorite that we have visited, but one of these days we are going to brave the line and try Franklin Barbecue.
And it was my Uncle Richard who taught us how he makes his brown sugar & honey smoked baby back ribs. Most of my dad’s side of the family lives in Texas, including my Uncle Richard who looks so much like my dad that they could be twins, so that rib recipe is also as close to authentic as I can make it.
What is Texas Barbecue?
Barbecue is a method of cooking that uses a closed lid and indirect heat to cook the meat. Don’t confuse barbecue with grilling, which uses direct heat where the meat is cooked right over the flame or heat source. Grilling has a quicker cooking time while barbecue takes a lot longer, even 12 hours or more, depending on the cut of meat.
And barbecue has regional differences from state to state and city to city even. The are four major types of BBQ in the United States: Memphis barbecue, Kansas City barbecue, Carolina barbecue, and Texas barbecue. Each type of barbecue is known for its preference of meats, the spices it uses, the fuel source, and the fixings that go along with it.
When it comes to meat, Texas barbecue is all about the beef, with beef brisket and beef ribs being the main stars of Texas barbecue. But you will also find some amazing sausage, chicken, turkey, and even pork chops, pork loin, and pulled pork at many Texas barbecue joints.
Texas barbecue is also known for being a wood-burning barbecue tradition, although the type of wood used will differ depending on whether you are in Central, South, East, or West Texas. This is partly because of the type of wood that is readily available in the different regions of Texas, and partly because of the settling of immigrant groups in each area of Texas, which heavily influenced Texas barbecue.
Central Texas uses oak and pecan wood, with dry rubs and meat smoked at low heat. Central Texas barbecue was highly influenced by Czech and German settlers who owned butcher shops and started offering smoked meat to customers.
West Texas is known for burning mesquite at higher temperatures, and its barbecue traditions hark back to days of cattle drives and cowboys.
And East Texas and South Texas both emphasize barbecue sauce, with South Texas barbecue having a heavy Mexican influence (it’s known for its barbacoa) and East Texas being more of a saucy, chopped barbecue that developed with a significant influence of former slaves who settled the region after being emancipated from slavery.
Paul got Aaron Franklin’s book, Franklin Barbecue, and poured over it along with a couple other smoking cookbooks that we have in our collection to figure out how to make the best smoked beef brisket at home using our pellet grill. If you haven’t heard of him, Aaron Franklin is basically the reigning king of brisket and barbecue in Texas and people will wait for 3 to 4 hours in line just to get some of the brisket smoked by him and his team, which often runs out. He is located in Austin, Texas, which makes his style very typical of Central Texas barbecue.
Even with all the information about smoking out there, it can be an intimidating and confusing thing to master. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are our best tips & tricks for making Texas smoked brisket in your own backyard.
Ready to smoke? Let’s do this!
How to Smoke a Brisket in a Smoker
- Make your rub. You are just combining black pepper, kosher salt, and granulated garlic. Simple, right?
- Trim the fat cap to 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick.
- Rub the brisket all over with the spice rub. Paul will usually do this the night before, and tightly wrap the rubbed brisket in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. Once ready to cook, be sure to pull it out of the fridge and let the brisket sit at room temperature for a full hour.
- Start the smoker and get the temperature up around 225°F to 250°F. Fill a disposable aluminum pan with water and set it on the smoker to create humidity. You will want the water pan to be full during the smoke.
- Place the brisket on the smoker fat side up and close the lid. Leave the lid closed and smoke the brisket for at least 3 hours, then start to check it every 30 minutes or so to see that a nice dark color is developing, spritzing the surface of the brisket with water or vinegar in a spray bottle if it starts looking dry.
- When the brisket has a dark color and reaches an internal temperature of around 165°F to 170°F on an instant read meat thermometer (around the 5 to 6 hour mark), you might choose to wrap your brisket in unfinished butcher paper (i.e., peach paper) or foil. There’s nothing scientific about this, just wrap it all up by folding the paper or foil around the meat and stick it back on the smoker. Wrapping the brisket (aka the “Texas Crutch”) is totally optional, and we’ve done it both ways.)
- Continue to cook through the stall (a long period where the temperature of the brisket doesn’t go up and may even decrease a bit). This can go on for hours, but don’t worry, it’s totally part of the process of making truly amazing smoked brisket.
- The brisket will be done when the internal temperature reads somewhere between 200°F and 210°F (203°F seems to be the magic number) when measured in the middle of the flat part of the brisket (the thinner side of the brisket is called the “flat” and the thicker side is known as the “point”). According to Aaron Franklin, you can also tell doneness by feeling the brisket with a thin, clean towel to see if it is soft and tender. Paul says that when he can tell it is done is when the brisket is jiggly like jello and a probe goes in and out like butter.
- Remove the brisket from the smoker and let it rest for 1 to 2 hours, still wrapped, until the internal temperature drops to 140°F to 145°F, then slice against the grain and serve. We usually wrap the brisket in a towel and stick it in a cooler during the rest period.
Smoked Brisket Rub
The rub you use plays a big part in making the brisket look and taste delicious, forming a crusty dark exterior known as “bark”, and they also help the smoke adhere to the meat. Franklin Barbecue uses only equal parts ground black pepper and kosher salt for their rub.
We like to add granulated garlic to our rub but that’s it. Honestly, most of the flavor of brisket will come from the meat and the smoke anyway.
You will want about 1/2 cup of rub for each 12-pound brisket.
Incidentally, we use the same rub when making beef ribs.
Be sure to apply the rub to the brisket at least 1 hour before you plan to put it on the smoker (or the night before) and let it sit out at room temperature to take off the chill from the refrigerator. This will not only cut down your smoke time on the brisket, but it will help it cook more evenly and have been flavor.
Be sure to season the brisket evenly with the rub. I learned a long time ago that whenever you season meat, whether it’s brisket, steak or chicken, you get more even coverage if you sprinkle your from a foot or two above the meat rather than doing it too close to the surface.
How many hours does it take to smoke a brisket?
The amount of time it will take to smoke a brisket is going to vary depending on a number of factors like temperature and size of the brisket. Another factor that will affect the time of your smoke is whether you decide to use the “Texas crutch” method of wrapping the brisket partway through the smoke.
Plan on around 60 minutes smoke time per pound of meat, more or less.
So a 12-14 pound packer brisket (the untrimmed kind you can get at Costco) can take you around 12-14 hours to smoke if you decide to wrap it partway through.
What kind of brisket should I buy?
I think a big reason why people get intimidated by brisket in the first place is that you need to pick up a huge hunk of meat! You want to look for a “packer brisket”, which is a whole brisket including the point and the flat (names given to the thinner portion of the brisket and the thicker end, respectively).
Do not just get what is in the grocery store case, which is usually just the trimmed flat and a lot leaner than a packer brisket.
For Texas smoked brisket, you definitely want the whole 12-pound packer brisket. Keep in mind that you will be trimming quite a bit of the fat, so even starting out with a 12-pound brisket you might end up with more like 10 pounds after trimming and more around 8 pounds after cooking.
How to trim a brisket
We always trim our briskets to get rid of some (but definitely not all!) of the thick layer of fat called the “fat cap” on top of the brisket.
Just use a sharp knife like a curved boning knife to make horizontal cuts to slice off all but about 1/4- to 1/2-inch of fat cap on the brisket. As the brisket smokes, the fat will melt and flavor the meat, making it extra tender and juicy.
On the other side of the brisket, it’s usually a lot cleaner and you can see more of the meat. But there is still fat there that you will want to trim away.
There is usually a big hunk of fat right where the point (the thick part) and the flat (the thinner part) meet. This part can also be cut off because it won’t render all the way.
Then trim off any other large fatty pieces on this side and the brisket is ready to be hit with the spice rub!
When it comes to whether to smoke the brisket fat side up or fat side down, there seem to be quite a few debates and I honestly don’t know whether anyone is right. That said, we always smoke our brisket with the fat side up with the theory that the melting fat will seep down through the rest of the brisket.
What wood to use for smoking brisket
There are lots of different types of wood you can use for smoking meat, but when it comes to Central Texas barbecue, which is what we are trying to recreate, oak is the top choice. But if you have a Traeger pellet grill, they make a Texas blend (<– affiliate link) that has a mix of oak, mesquite, and pecan woods and it gives amazing flavor as well. It’s actually the mix we used when making this brisket for this post.
Hickory is our next choice for smoking brisket (or other beef cuts like beef ribs).
I don’t think apple, cherry, or peach wood does as much for beef though, since their flavor is more subtle. I think those are better for chicken and turkey, like our apple wood smoked turkey that we make every year for Thanksgiving dinner.
What is the Texas Crutch?
The idea behind the Texas crutch is that at some point, the brisket has absorbed all the smoke it’s going to absorb, but the meat isn’t done cooking yet. Wrapping it at that point with unfinished butcher paper or foil lets the meat finish cooking without drying out.
Some people think it’s “cheating” but we don’t have anything against using a technique that gives more consistent, easier to achieve results.
Wait to wrap until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 to 170 degrees F on an instant read thermometer (usually around the 5 hour mark) and a nice dark color on the outside, since some of the color will actually wash off while the meat steams in its wrapper.
How to slice brisket for serving
Be sure to use a large, sharp knife for slicing the brisket. You want to slice against the grain for the most tender brisket ever.
Remember that the flat and the point are essentially different parts of the packer brisket so you will want to slice against the grain for each piece.
How much brisket per person?
When trying to figure out how much brisket per person, plan on around 1/2 pound of meat for each guest. The untrimmed packer briskets we typically get from Costco typically range around 12-14 pounds. But remember from above how we are trimming fat and then more is lost during the long, slow cooking process likely leaving you with around 8-ish pounds of smoked brisket by the end?
I find that a regular size brisket typically feeds 14-16 people if they are each having just one serving and there are lots of other sides (there usually are).
If there are leftovers, brisket makes amazing sandwiches, salads, nachos, burritos, tacos, etc.
Tools Needed to Make Texas Smoked Brisket
- Smoker: We have a little Traeger and it works great, but any smoker will work.
- Wood or Pellets: We like using the Traeger Texas blend or oak pellets, with hickory being our next choice.
- Digital Meat Thermometer : We have a few that we use because they are indispensable when smoking meat. This is our favorite.
- Butcher/Peach Paper or heavy duty foil
- Sharp knife for trimming
- Sharp knife for slicing
- Cutting boards and sheet pans for preparing the brisket
If you are going to Texas and wondering where to try the best barbecue, I found this article listing the top 50 barbecue joints in Texas to be extremely helpful.
What is served with Texas barbecue?
Traditional Texas BBQ is served with barbecue sauce on the side (if at all), as well as slices of white bread, pickles, and pickled red onions. Popular side dishes served with real Texas barbecue include mac and cheese, corn on the cob, sliced watermelon, coleslaw, and baked beans.
And if you are planning a full Texas barbecue menu, you’ve got to have dessert! I say cobbler is the way to go, whether it’s blackberry, peach, apple, or cherry. But you will also can’t go wrong with brownies, Texas sheet cake, pie (especially blackberry or pecan), or banana pudding. Basically, all my favorite dessert choices, ever.
More Barbecue Recipes You’ll Love
- Alabama White BBQ Sauce Grilled Chicken
- Santa Maria Tri-Tip
- How to Make a Brined and Smoked Turkey
- Perfect Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet BBQ Pork Rub
- Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends
- Smoked Pulled Pork
- Hot Smoked Salmon
- 1 (12- to 14-pound) brisket, packer cut
- 1/4 cup ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoon granulated garlic
- Combine the black pepper, kosher salt, and garlic powder.
- Trim the fat cap to 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick, then rub the brisket all over with the spice rub. Let the brisket sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Start the smoker and get the temperature up around 275°F. Fill a disposable aluminum pan with water and set it on the smoker to create humidity. You will want the water pan to be full during the smoke.
- Place the brisket on the smoker fat side up and close the lid. Leave the lid closed and smoke the brisket for at least 3 hours, then start to check it every 30 minutes or so too see that a nice dark color is developing, spritzing the surface of the brisket with water or vinegar in a spray bottle if it starts looking dry.
- When the brisket has a dark color and reaches an internal temperature of around 165°F to 170°F on an instant read meat thermometer (around the 5 to 6 hour mark), you might choose to wrap your brisket in unfinished butcher paper, peach paper, or foil. There's nothing scientific about this, just wrap it all up by folding the paper or foil around the meat and stick it back on the smoker.
- Continue to cook through the stall (a long period where the temperature of the brisket doesn't go up and may even decrease a bit). This can go on for hours, but don't worry, it's totally part of the process of making truly amazing smoked brisket.
- The brisket will be done when the internal temperature reads somewhere between 200°F and 210°F when measured in the middle of the flat part of the brisket (203°F seems to be the magic number). You can also tell doneness by feeling the brisket with a thin, clean towel to see if it is soft and tender.
- Remove the brisket from the smoker and let it rest for 1 to 2 hours, still wrapped, until the internal temperature drops to 140°F to 145°F, then slice against the grain and serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 149Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 53mgSodium: 1203mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 15g
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