The big birthday brisket writeup

[I managed to auto post an incomplete version earlier.  If the version you read sort of ended weirdly, that’s why.]

I’m calling the birthday brisket success. Overall I’d give it a B or B+. There’s room for improvement, but lots of things went really well. Given all the things that I was doing for the very first time, I’m very happy with how it went.

For those of you not scoring at home, the brisket in question was a whole 13-lb packer that I bought at Bill Finke & Sons in Ft. Wright, KY. I’ve always liked going there. They’ve been at it for a long time and they know what they’re doing. It’s a place I can score tri-tip, for example. That’s not easy on this side of the river. They’re old-school butchers in the best sense of the term. I also made the happy discovery that they carry Humphrey Lump Charcoal.  I’ve wanted to try it for a long time. Curt McAdams recommended it to me a while back and I trust his judgement on stuff like this. He’s a pro.  Anyway, the closest to me I knew I could get it was Dayton, OH and it never worked out to pick any up when I was up there for work. Finke’s rearranged the store a little since the last time I was in and I came across it as I was checking things out. Now I have even more of a reason to love the place. Anyway, here’s what the brisket looked like after coming out of the cryovac.

The flat starts on the left on top and runs to the big chunk of fat on the right. The point is the underside below that layer of fat and is what makes up the whole right side you can see.

I didn’t measure the length of the thing, but I believe that cutting board is 19-inches long and the grid on my Big Green Egg is 18.25-inches in diameter. I explained in the preview post about how this is actually two muscles connected by a big strip of fat. I separated the two muscles (typically called the “flat” and the “point”) and came up with two 6-ish lb. pieces of brisket. I didn’t weigh them because their final dressed weight really doesn’t matter that much once things get underway. The important thing for this story is understanding that the very, very, very rough rule of thumb for a brisket at 220F is an hour-and-a-half per pound.  There are lots of variables, but that’s a good starting point. Just don’t plan a bank heist with a brisket being finished at a certain time as a key part of the plan. So instead of estimating a 19-20 hour cook, dividing the flat and point reduced it to a 9 hour estimate. I knew I had no intention of running at 220F, I’d already decided I was going to go 190F through the night and kicking it up in the morning sometime, so I was figuring on a 14-hour or so cook. Here’s what the separated flat and point looked like.

Flat on the left. Point on the right. If you flipped the flat onto the point like you were closing a book, you’d get what see in the first picture.  The thin end of the flat lines up with the thick end of the point. A good big of fat has been trimmed out.

I made up a rub comprised of 2 parts salt to 1 part each of paprika, cumin, chili powder, onion powder and a half-part tumeric and some black pepper . No recipe.  I literally just grabbed what looked good out of the spice cabinet. The salt is the main thing. Lots of very good briskets have been made using nothing but salt and pepper as a rub. I put the well-rubbed chunks in a foil pan, covered it in more foil and parked it in the fridge overnight and through most of the next day.

Here’s the load of charcoal I used.

IMG_1243The wood chunks are pecan, my preferred wood for smoking brisket. Oak is also very, very good but I grew up in a house with a pecan tree in the backyard. It’s what I like.  There’s one little stick you can see in the center sticking up. That’s a 4-inch long “fatwood” fire starter stick shoved through the charcoal pile.  I hit that area with a propane torch for about 45 seconds and there’s a fire. The Humphrey was amazing. I honestly think I could have started the whole fire without the resinous wood starter.

Now we go to data. I won’t deny that Carla and I were having some beer as I was getting this all ready to go. Was that why I forgot to attach the SmoBoT temperature probe to the grid? I don’t know. Causality is such a difficult concept. Mistakes were made. Isn’t it better that we all look forward rather than backwards? We don’t want Al-Qaeda and ISIS to win, do we? Anyway, after a while it really started bugging me that smoke was pouring out the top of the smoker but the grid temperature was stuck at 60F. That’s pretty much what the outside temperature was. That’s weird. It’s almost as if … Oops. When I put on the probe it was quite happy to inform me the Egg was at 320F.  Just slightly higher than the 190F I’d planned on.

Screenshot 2016-04-28 16.09.31

Long story short, that graph you see is the cooling rate of the ceramic on a large Big Green Egg.  The two dips were me opening the lid to dump heat. You can also see it was completely ineffective because the heat just came right back up and continued to dissipate at its own rate. It’s as if the thing is working exactly as designed! Sometime between the second lid opening and the time the temp got down to 190F the fire was snuffed.  I put the meat on (that’s why the food probes jiggle) but you can see the temp just kept falling. I thought it would be harder to relight the fire in an Egg than it was. Let’s hear it for propane torches. I relit about 9:47 PM and by just after 10 I was rocking and rolling. And I went to bed. Here’s the graph of the rest of the cook. The flat is Food1 Temp. The point is Food2 Temp.

Screenshot 2016-04-28 16.15.58

You can see I was well into the stall by 3AM. I was asleep. Around 4:30AM the fire got wonky. I think it was the fact I really didn’t mound the lump and it took a while for more to collapse back in. SmoBoT handled it while I was asleep. Check out the food temps right around the time all that’s going on. The temperature on the flat is actually falling. I was asleep  Have I mentioned in the last 5 minutes how much I love my SmoBoT?

When I got up I decided to just leave it at 190F. No big strategy. I was just enjoying this view and wanted it to last as long as possible.


If I wanted to be super-critical of myself I probably should have kicked the temp up to 220F around 9 or 10AM. Then I could have gotten the bark going earlier and I would have broken the stall a little more gracefully. Not that I mind the stall. I’ve embraced it. I’m convinced it’s where the magic happens. But it went on a little too long for the flat. It didn’t dry out. But it was starting.

But there are no regrets. I was wanting a day to unwind and just stare into space and I got that. The point was at least an A-  The flat worked well on the awesome Kimmelweck rolls I baked on Monday. So I’m good with a B on the flat. Still better than a lot of brisket I get around here.

When I pulled the flat at 187-ish I wrapped it in foil and stuck it in the only appropriate foam cooler there is.

Before the wrap.
H-E-B is a Texas grocery store.
Resting comfortably.

You can see on the graph I did kick the temperature up for the last couple hours. The fact that the flat rose so much faster than the point should have told me the moisture content of the flat had dropped and I ought to have gotten it off an hour or so before I did. Live and learn.

I’m feeling like this is more about tweaks than anything else.  This was a success by any measure. And a good birthday.