I have a low-end little gas grill (Sunbeam Grillmaster 660) that we use for our weekend barbequing. I used to be strictly a charcoal kind of guy, but I’ve been won over by the convenience and predictable heating of a gas barbeque grill. There are some Texans who claim that *real* brisket can only be made over coals and/or wood, but I beg to differ. I’ve been eating barbequed brisket my whole life, starting when we moved to a small Texas town in the 60’s, where my uncles would make brisket (along with ribs, chicken, and homemade venison sausage) for family gatherings. Since then I’ve eaten brisket from just about every kind of barbeque joint and backyard cook you could think of. And the brisket described here, cooked over a gas grill, ranks right up there with the best of ’em.
The brisket pictured here will give you an idea of what yours should look like. Note the tray of charred wood chips on the left. Also, only the left side of the grill is on, and the right side (under the meat) is off. Also remember that the brisket cooks with the cover closed. Click the picture for a larger version that shows more detail.
The Keys to Good Brisket
- Good meat – get a big chunk of uncooked, unflavored brisket, 10+lbs with a nice fatty side, just a big old slab of meat in a vacuum sealed heavy plastic package. Do NOT use any of the pre-flavored, pre-smoked briskets for this recipe, and do NOT trim the fat off.
- Patience – prep time can extend overnight, cooking time is 6+ hours, resting time is nearly an hour and none of the steps can be rushed.
- Restraint – very little seasoning is needed, and the meat must cook virtually undisturbed (no forking, flipping, meat-thermometer-stabs, or manhandling – just gentle slow cooking and smoking).
- Non-violence – up until the time you’re ready to slice and serve the brisket, the meat should not be punctured or pierced in any way. No forks, thermometers, unskilled tong use, flavor injections, slicing, scoring, tenderizing, etc.
- Practice – it will probably take a few iterations for you to get the hang of the nuances of your grill, tools, and preferences.
Tools and Such
- Gas grill with independent left and right side burner controls (only one side will be lit)
- Big roasting pan or foil pan, large enough to hold the brisket and tough enough to withstand grill heat
- Lots of aluminum foil (the extra-wide kind is better)
- Aromatic wood chips (mesquite, pecan, hickory all work good) plus small foil pan or metal tray to hold them
- Big, flat metal spatula to turn brisket while seasoning and move it without piercing the meat
- 1 beef brisket (10+ pounds), with a layer of fat at least 1/4 inch thick, preferably 1/2 inch thick
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground comino (cumin)
Remove brisket from packaging, rinse with cold water and pat dry. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Sprinkle half the dry ingredients over one side of the brisket, then rub it into the meat by hand to spread evenly, including the sides and edges. Gently flip the brisket over and use the rest of the dry rub on the other side the same way. If you have the time, wrap the brisket in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours to cure in the rub – overnight is better (curing is optional, it will still be flavorful if you cook immediately).
Light only one side of the gas grill and set it to low heat. Soak wood chips (mesquite, hickory, or pecan) in water for 30 minutes, then drain and place in small foil pan (or other heat-tolerant metal container) and set on the grill directly over the side that is lit.
Place the brisket FAT SIDE UP in a large foil pan, or large roasting pan lined with two layers of foil, and place it on the grill on the side away from the direct flame heat. If you use a foil pan it’s still a good idea to line it with two layers of foil to ensure you don’t get any punctures, rips, or creases that the drippings can leak out of. Make sure the thicker side of the brisket is closer to the flames than the thinner side, that way it will cook more evenly. DO NOT cover the brisket with foil at any time during the grilling process. Now, close the grill and leave it alone for 2 hours (DO NOT OPEN GRILL DURING THIS TIME). After two hours, use a turkey baster to baste the brisket with the juices that accumulate in the roasting pan. Baste every 45 minutes or so after that. After three hours of total cooking time replace the wood chips with a freshly soaked batch. Let the brisket cook with the grill closed (except when basting) for a total of 6 hours from the time you put it on the grill. Remember, the brisket should not be lifted, turned, or punctured/pierced during the cooking process.
Remove from the grill, cover the brisket with foil tightly sealed to the pan, and let the brisket sit for 45-60 minutes, during which time it will re-absorb a lot of the juices and also undergo tenderization. This resting period is very important for juicy, tender brisket.
At this point, if you have been patient and the BBQ Gods are smiling, you will be ready to enjoy delicious, flavorful, fork-tender, juicy Texas-style brisket. Make sure to cut across the grain of the meat when you slice it, not with it – this one mistake can ruin an otherwise perfect brisket. It’s easier to spot the grain before you cook and get an idea of which way the striations run, and you want to slice perpendicular to the grain.
Traditional accompaniments include potato salad, pickles, onion slices, and white bread. If you want BBQ sauce, try for something sweet and not-too-vinegary, like this:
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vinegar
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs onion powder
1 tbs garlic powder
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs brisket drippings (if you have them)
1 tbs coarse black pepper
1 tbs Paprika
1 tbs salt
1 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp chili powder
- Combine all ingredients in a heavy sauce pan on the stove
- Slowly simmer for 30-60 minutes, stirring occasionally
- Adjust water and/or simmer time to get desired thickness
- Serve warm on the side or over the meat, but do *not* use as a baste for the brisket while it’s cooking
Optionally, the onion powder and garlic powder can be substituted with fresh, use 1/2 an onion and 2-3 garlic pods, pureed. If you choose fresh onion/garlic, I recommend preparing it the day before, chilling it overnight, then reheating the next day – this takes the edge off the fresh garlic and onion and leads to a smoother taste. Also, since you probably won’t have drippings the day before making the brisket, you can substitute in a teaspoon of Liquid Smoke.