Much is written on the subject of barbeque. In-depth details of the history, regional differences, and fire-smoke science is not in Billy’s wheelhouse; of course, eating barbeque is.
With many years of fire-cookin’ experience, Billy Twang took a leap of faith and began smoke-cookin’ briskets. Done right, a smoked brisket is at the top of the food chain, at least in Texas.
Most pit masters kept smokin’ meat techniques somewhat secret; credit Aaron Franklin for pulling back the proverbial smoke curtain providing backyard cooks with top-notch instructions in the must-read Franklin Barbecue, A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. Many other fine reads on smokin’ meat are available and all make the process more approachable.
Smoke-cookin’ brisket Billy Twang style is simple and easy. This method produces reliable tasty smoke-cooked briskets. Billy says: “Smoke-cookin’ a truly great brisket takes lots of practice and a little luck.” The categories are buying and prepping, fire and smoke-cookin’, cutting and serving.
1. Buying and Prepping
Go find a good butcher. Billy Twang likes buying prime brisket. Be choosy. pick a uniformly thick well-marbled brisket; most weigh in the 9 to 12-pound range. Keep in mind that the rule of thumb for smoke-cookin’ a brisket is about one hour per pound. A raw 10-pound brisket once smoke-cooked feeds about ten people; Billy always includes some smoked sausage and other fixins.
Allow about thirty minutes to prep the brisket. start with trimming the fat side first – carve off enough fat so that the brisket retains an evenly distributed one-quarter inch thick layer of fat. Flip the brisket, remove the silver skin, this is the connective membrane that does not break down easily during the smoke-cookin’ process. Billy Twang trims a little off the sides of the brisket too; think: “Aerodynamic”.
Now using the Billy Twang Elvis Shaker apply Old No. 3 Rub evenly on the entirety of the brisket – solid coverage; not thick coverage.
2. Fire and Smoke-Cookin’
Keep lump charcoal and wood handy for the day’s work. Billy smoke-cooks using a Grand Prize Pit, but these simple smoke-cookin’ rules are adaptable to other styles of pits.
Build a big ol’ smokin’ hot fire directly on the ash pan (remove charcoal grate). The charcoal fire is restricted to the left side of the pit, shoot for only about 275 degrees. Add wood chunks or slabs to the charcoal fire and place the brisket fat-side up on the right side of the pit for indirect heat. Have a pan of water in the pit for brisket hydration.
The goal is to smoke-cook the brisket one hour per pound at 275 degrees; this effort requires relaxed vigilance for the next 10 hours or so. Maintaining a calm even temperature is important; adjust the chimney and damper to modify the pit temperature. Billy Twang uses a mix of lump charcoal and wood. charcoal is best for maintaining a consistent temperature and wood contributes smoke. Expect to refuel about every 60 to 90-minutes; this is a good opportunity to spray the brisket lightly with water.
Once the brisket smoke-cooks about fifty percent of the allotted time, grab Billy’s Boss Pit Gloves and pick-up the brisket – soft and limp, right? Continue to monitor the brisket by feel, once the brisket firms -- time to wrap in some brown butcher paper (wax-free). Lay out two sheets with a slight overlap and wrap the brisket tightly; return to the pit fat-side up. At this point in the smoke-cookin’ process the brisket is plenty smoky, the butcher paper wrap encourages brisket juiciness.
The primary role of the pit master for quality smoke-cookin’ is to maintain an even pit temperature of 275 degrees; some fluctuation is inevitable, just minimalize.
Curious about what Billy does with the spare time in between pit temperature regulatin’? In the wee hours Billy’s been known to sip some caffeine and chew on breakfast tacos or sausage and biscuit. This is a good time to call mom and dad. Chores, honey-do’s, and work are ever-present. Heck-fire, drink a beer. Billy strongly advises to avoid getting lost in a game of tiddlywinks or 52 card pick-up, and sorry, snipe hunting is out of the question; takes too long.
3. Cutting and serving
Once the brisket reaches the magic of one hour per pound and the texture remains comfortably limp; bring the brisket into the kitchen for some rest of at least one hour; keep wrapped in the butcher paper.
Lay the brisket on a cutting board: “Fatty end (Thick) to the left and the lean end (tapered) to the right”. Start slicing from the lean end moving from right to left with each slice being about 1/4-inch thick; slicing this direction stops at the intersection of the fatty end. Now turn the fatty end to the right, fresh cut side facing the pit master. Cut the fatty end in half (north to south). Notice the fatty end contains a thick layer of fat; Billy suggests cutting and removing the fat layer. Put each of the top and bottom pieces back together and slice both halves from the middle out; make these slices a little thicker than the lean end, about 3/8-inch. the much prized burnt ends are the outside pieces of the fatty end; chop into quarter size pieces so everybody enjoys these morsels of meat candy goodness.
Seein’ happy faces relishing the rewards of the time intensive smoke-cookin’ process is the pit master’s payoff. Savor the moment while devouring some mighty-tasty brisket.