Barbecuing a brisket is probably the most intimidating thing in the backyard barbecuer's realm. Don't let it intimidate you. Not only is it not that difficult to cook, it is delicious. In my opinion it's the most delicious thing you can take off of a grill or a smoker.
Now what you need to know about a brisket is how it comes. You can get a full brisket, which is called a packer brisket. It's going to contain both parts of the brisket - the flat and the point. This is a great option if you're feeding a large crowd not only wanting to do sliced brisket but also wanting to make burnt ends, which we'll talk about here in a second. If you're just looking to do sliced brisket for a smaller group you might just choose the flat. The flat is what's most commonly found in the grocery store today. However, if you ask a butcher nicely you can most likely get the packer brisket as well.
So, how do you prepare this 15 to 20 pound piece of meat? It's pretty simple. Get it out the night before you plan to smoke it and rub it with your favorite all-purpose rub. We like to put a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on the meat and rub it in really good with a heavy coat of our favorite rub. In our case that's our Pork Barrel All American Spice Rub. Then we let it set overnight in the refrigerator.
The next morning we come out and we get our smoker all set up. We want it to cook at about 225 to 250 degrees for somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 14 hours depending on the size of the brisket. If you're cooking an entire packer brisket it's going to be a lengthier cooking process than if you're cooking just the flat. A good rule of thumb is about one hour per pound of meat. So, if you have a 15 pound brisket you might be looking at a 15 hour cook. If you've got an eight pound brisket you may be looking at about an eight hour cook.
Now, how do you take the brisket that you've prepared and slice it? The most important thing is to slice it against the grain. If you slice it with the grain you're going to get a really chewy, rubbery piece of meat. It may be the most succulent, well-prepared brisket you've ever had, but if you don't do this one simple step you may ruin it. So, make sure that you're slicing it against the grain.
Back to those burnt ends. If this is something you want to try then you want to get that packer brisket. Once you've cooked that process the first time through, cut off the point, remove it, season it up again with your spice rub, and place it back on the smoker. Cook it for another two, three, four hours and really let all that fat in the point render down and provide a really, really juicy piece of meat. Cut it into cubes. Put it in a sandwich and you're going to have heaven on a bun - a burnt end sandwich.
So, the brisket, it's a big cut of meat, it's intimidating, but don't let it be intimidating. Because it's really not that difficult to cook. The most difficult time is just setting aside the 10, 12, or 15 hours needed to cook it.