How to Master the Art of Grilling Beef Brisket on Charcoal

Low and slow is the key to perfectly smoked brisket with a crusty bark and pink smoke ring

Low and slow is the secret to achieving the most divine smoked beef brisket with a tantalizing crusty “bark” and a mesmerizing pink smoke ring. In this guide, we will unveil the art of smoking a brisket on a charcoal grill, allowing you to create an unrivaled masterpiece in your own backyard.

Unraveling the Brisket Mystery

Brisket holds an esteemed place among the holy trinity of BBQ meats, joining the ranks of ribs and pork shoulder. It is the pinnacle of barbecue perfection, captivating the hearts of meat lovers around the world. The key to mastering this culinary delight lies in the art of low and slow cooking, where a gentle heat penetrates the meat, rendering it tender enough to be effortlessly devoured with a fork. The ultimate goal is to savor a thick, moist slab of meat adorned with a captivating crusty bark, an enchanting smoke ring, and a mesmerizing smoky flavor that lingers on the palate.

Diagram of a cow showing the brisket

Decoding the Brisket

The brisket is a single cut of beef that originates from the lower breast section of the cow, nestled just above the front shanks and below the chuck. Its weight can range between 10 to 20 pounds, offering a magnificent canvas for culinary creativity. The brisket can be divided into two distinct cuts, the fattier and more marbled “point,” and the leaner portion known as the “flat.” The challenge lies in navigating the sometimes perplexing world of brisket shopping, where different cuts are referred to as brisket, regardless of how they are divided or sold. Due to its weight-bearing role in the cow’s anatomy, the brisket possesses an abundance of connective tissue, making it ideal for the low and slow cooking technique.

The Perfect Dance of Wood and Smoke

When it comes to smoking a brisket, the choice of wood plays a pivotal role in enhancing its flavor. While mesquite reigns supreme with its robust and distinctive character, other wood varieties such as hickory, apple, cherry, post oak, and pecan can also deliver exceptional results. The selection ultimately depends on personal preference and the wood’s availability.

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Mastering the Charcoal Grill Technique

You don’t need a state-of-the-art smoker to achieve smoked beef brisket perfection. In fact, the humble charcoal grill can serve as your gateway to flavor nirvana. Our resident expert, David, has honed his technique on a charcoal grill, and we’re thrilled to share his ten-step smoked brisket recipe with you. Brace yourself for a journey into smoky bliss as we guide you through the process of creating an extraordinary brisket on your charcoal grill.

What You Will Need:

  • 1 whole brisket (around 10-20 pounds) with a fat cap at least ¼-inch thick
  • Charcoal grill (gas grills need not apply)
  • A bag of mesquite wood chunks soaked in water
  • Charcoal
  • Charcoal chimney
  • Water
  • Aluminum pan for water (a stainless steel bowl works too)
  • Tongs
  • Probe thermometer
  • Instant-read meat thermometer
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil

Beef Brisket Rub Recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Optional: BBQ sauce of your choice

Beef brisket ready for the grill

Start with a brisket weighing around 5 pounds, ensuring it fits perfectly on the grill. Using a sharp knife, trim any excess fat, leaving a ¼-inch thick fat cap. This careful trimming strikes the delicate balance between preventing the brisket from drying out and allowing the rub and smoke to infuse the meat. Rinse the brisket under cold running water and gently pat it dry with paper towels. Mix all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl, then generously rub it onto the brisket, ensuring every side is coated. For an extra depth of flavor, wrap the brisket in plastic wrap and let it cure in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, allowing the rub to work its magic.

Water pan in charcoal grill

David’s trusty Weber Performer, a kettle-type grill, takes center stage in this smoking symphony. Utilizing the indirect heat technique with a water-filled drip pan beneath the meat, he ensures a stable cooking temperature. Preheat the grill to approximately 250 degrees F, aiming slightly higher due to the anticipated heat loss when placing the brisket. To achieve a consistently low temperature, light around 10 to 16 pieces of charcoal and set up the grill for an indirect Three-Zone Split-Fire. Divide the coals into two equal piles on opposite sides of the grill grate. Heat water and place a stainless steel bowl or aluminum pan between the charcoal piles, pouring in the warm water. With the cooking grate in place, close the lid and allow the grill to reach the desired temperature.

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Brisket smoking on grill

Once the grill reaches the desired temperature, remove the lid and place the brisket on the hot grate, fat side up, directly above the drip pan. To infuse the meat with tantalizing smokiness, add a chunk or two of mesquite wood to each pile of coals. Adjust the vents to regulate the temperature, gradually bringing it up to 225 degrees F. For the first 4 hours, ensure a continuous cycle of replenishing the charcoal and wood chunks on each side of the grill.

While diligently maintaining a grill temperature of around 225 degrees F, resist the urge to frequently open the lid. Each hour, monitor the grill’s temperature and tend to it with care, adjusting the airflow and adding charcoal or soaked wood chips as needed.

As the brisket’s internal temperature reaches approximately 165 degrees F, you may encounter “the stall.” This phenomenon occurs when surface evaporation causes the meat’s internal temperature to plateau. It’s crucial to remain patient and weather the stall, maintaining the pit’s temperature throughout.

Juicy smoked beef brisket on a cutting board

Continue smoking the brisket until a beautiful dark bark forms and the meat’s internal temperature hovers around 190 degrees F. To ensure accuracy, rely on a probe thermometer in combination with an instant-read thermometer, such as the Thermapen One by Thermoworks, to gauge doneness. The ideal temperature for a captivatingly smoked brisket is 190 degrees F. Remember that the internal temperature can increase by 10 degrees even after removal from the grill. If the brisket registers 190 degrees F before being taken off, it may rise to a perfect temperature of 200 degrees F. Be cautious not to overcook, as it can result in dry, chewy meat.

Remove the brisket from the grill and wrap it securely in heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher paper. Allow it to rest for at least 1 hour, a crucial step that tenderizes the meat by facilitating carryover cooking. Not only does the foil capture the natural juices, but it also allows the surface parts that have dried out during cooking to absorb the flavorful essence.

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Slicing smoked brisket on a carving board

Slicing a brisket requires a delicate touch, as the two muscles within the cut have differing grain directions. For a sublime texture, slice the brisket across the grain, ensuring a tender and succulent experience. It’s advisable to slice the brisket just before serving, as it tends to dry out rapidly. When ready, place the brisket fat side up, allowing the juices to cascade onto the meat as you slice. Start by cutting the flat across the grain into slices approximately ¼-inch thick, resembling the thickness of a pencil. Then, cut the point at the location it meets the flat, rotating it to the side while continuing to slice through both sections.

Smoked beef brisket is a remarkable culinary creation that demands respect. Some purists argue that true brisket appreciation lies in savoring it in its unadulterated form, allowing the exquisite smoky flavors to shine. However, if you prefer a touch of sweetness, feel free to add your favorite barbecue sauce. Remember, the choice is entirely optional, as the brisket should already possess an unparalleled flavor profile.

Perfectly cooked brisket epitomizes succulence and juiciness. Serve the slices on a plate or transform them into a mouthwatering sandwich. For an added touch of elegance, drizzle some sauce and present flat-fanned slices, resembling a deck of cards, accompanied by delectable chunks of burnt ends from the point. As you embark on this smoky culinary adventure, we anticipate that the result will leave you in a delightful food coma.

Sliced beef brisket with sides on a plate

In conclusion, the art of grilling beef brisket on charcoal is a true labor of love, requiring patience, skill, and a profound appreciation for the flavors of smoked meat. With David’s expert guidance and these ten steps, you are now equipped to embark on your journey towards brisket mastery. We encourage you to unleash your creativity, experiment with different flavors, and share your experiences in the comments below. Brace yourself for an extraordinary culinary adventure that will leave you craving more!

Editorial Note: “How To Smoke A Brisket” was originally published on July 9, 2015, and revised and updated for improved accuracy and comprehensiveness on 12/26/22.

For more mouthwatering barbecue inspiration, visit Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ.