How to cook Texas-style brisket on a gas barbecue
It’s mid-week, you are working all day, you’ve got a group of friends coming round for a barbecue in the evening. What do you cook? Something tried and tested? Some pre-prepared kebabs from the supermarket?
Or do you browse through your cookbooks and find a recipe that not only needs a smoker (which you don’t have) but also says this:
Brisket is the Mt. Everest of barbecue. Not only is it huge, but it also poses challenges all along the way. If your first couple of attempts don’t work out exactly as you had hoped, persevere. The rewards of mastering your own barbecued brisket are unspeakably good. Among a cadre of outdoor cooks you will have earned long-standing respect and admiration.*
There are acres of pages on the internet dedicated to achieving the holy grail of brisket – the Texas barbecue. People (mainly men I suspect) worship at the altar of a smoky, soft, melting, gargantuan slab of meat surrounded with myths, ritual, complexity and a ton of kit.
I just had my barbecue. Actually we have three – no prizes for guessing which family member acquired these – but I chose to use the gas barbecue so I could regulate the temperature accurately without too much attention.
Aye, there’s the rub. And the question of to rub or not to rub. Using this as a vague guide I found a pot of ‘rub o soul’ a friend had made (get it?). The colour was brick-red so I guessed it would contain chilli and some other smoky ingredients. Copious amounts were applied to a 41/2 kilo brisket, mixed with brown sugar and salt, then into the fridge overnight. In the morning I set the barbecue for indirect cooking and put clusters of wood chippings (Jack Daniels infused) both wet and dry in cylinders of foil with the ends open. The brisket went in a foil tray on top of an upside down roasting tray, 4 hours wrapped, then cooked for a further 1 1/2 hours. Now here was the high risk bit. Apart from sticking in the thermometer I wouldn’t be unwrapping this until I served it in the evening. Which would be triumph or disaster!
It was a true triumph and super easy as this beast is so well-tempered. KP requested it again when a bunch of golf mates were coming round and there would be fifteen of us round the table. I made my own version of Tony’s rub. Prime Gourmet, a good butcher in Dubai, sold me a monster brisket of well over 7 kilos; a day and a half of cooking later I was asked for the recipe several times as friends tucked into tender, slightly smoky, spiced, meltingly soft slices of beef.
Texas-style barbecued brisket
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
- 80ml (1/3 cup) soft brown sugar
- 80ml (1/3 cup) coarse sea salt
- 4oml paprika
- 2 tablespoons ground chipotle
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon chilli powder (or more if you prefer)
- 1 tablespoon crushed chillies
- Generous amount black pepper (about 25 twists of the grinder)
- 3 tablespoons smooth yellow mustard (I used American style)
- 4 1/2 – 71/2 kilos brisket trimmed of all but a cap of 2-3 cm of fat
You will also need: a very large disposable aluminium tray, a rimmed baking tray or similar that you can place on the barbecue upside down, a meat thermometer, wood chips, a smoker box (optional), a meat thermometer (digital preferred), lots of foil.
- To make the rub: lightly toast the fenugreek in a dry, non-stick pan, then add the black mustard seeds and remove from the heat when they start to pop. Mix with the sugar, salt and remaining dry spices.
- The night before you are going to cook the brisket, rub the surface of the meat with mustard then sprinkle with the rub. Press into the surface all over. Rewrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
- Remove the meat from the fridge about 45 minutes before you start to cook to bring to room temperature. Soak about five large handfuls of wood chips, reserving some dry ones. Check that your barbecue drip tray is clear (a lot of fat renders), put the baking tray upside down on the grill bars and light the barbecue for indirect cooking (with my Weber it is by lighting the outer burner only). Put two large handfuls of the soaked wood chips plus a few dry ones in the smoker box or into a piece of foil scrunched up with an opening at the top. Place this at the edge of the grill and close the lid. Bring the temperature of the barbecue to 107-121C (225-250F).
- Unwrap the brisket and put into the disposable foil tray. Place this on the upturned baking tray on the barbecue grill and close the lid. Top up the chips every hour if necessary (depending on how smoky you like your meat). Keep at a constant 107-121C (225-250F). Check the internal temperature of the meat – it needs to reach 71C (160F) – this will take at least 4 hours.
- Once the thickest part of the brisket reads 71C (160F) on the meat thermometer, take the meat off the grill in its foil tray. Remove the smoker box or wood chips. Close the lid of the barbecue to retain the heat.
- Put a big piece of double layer foil on the counter, take the brisket out of the foil tray and place the meat in the middle of the foil sheet. Baste with some of the juices from the tray and then seal the parcel well. Put back onto the barbecue (on top of the baking tray). Keep the barbecue at a constant 107-121C (225-250F). Check the internal temperature of the meat by inserting the probe through the foil (do not unwrap) – it needs to reach 88-90C (190-195F) at its thickest point – this will take at least 2 hours.
- Remove from the barbecue and leave to rest for at least 1 hour. It will rest without problem for several hours – just put in a very low oven (50C). When ready to serve carefully unwrap the meat reserving the juices.
- Carve across the grain into thin slices, basting with the reserved juices if you like. NB. My pictures are not of the whole cooked brisket and taken the day after. I went light on the smoke hence no pink line at the edge of the meat.
*From Weber’s Way to Grill
This beef, from Australia, was butchered before shipping and comes in a sealed bag. Here’s what 7 1/2 kilos looks like packed, mustard-coated and then rubbed.
We served this with sweet potatoes with orange and angostura bitters; tomato, onion and roasted lemon salad – both from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, a green salad, baby new potatoes and a sourdough bagette. A big piece of meat is my preferred way of feeding a crowd especially for a barbecue. Jeanne from Cook Sister agree with a whole leg of lamb and Franglais Kitchen makes hickory-smoked slow roasted pulled lamb. Both sound delicious.
Have you tried cooking a Texas brisket? Do you do anything differently?