There are many ways to successfully cook a brisket for competition, but this method has worked well for me. It’s how I prepared the brisket that took second place honors at the Hudson Valley Ribfest in 2010, a NY State Championship Competition.
We’re talking about a whole packer here, not just the flat. I like to start with one that weighs at least 14 or 15 pounds.
The slices I turn in will be from the flat, and since no rub or smoke is going to penetrate through the point, through the line of fat between the muscles, and into the flat, I only trim enough fat off the end of the point to give me enough of that muscle with good bark to make burnt ends to put in the box with my slices. The rest of the fat cap I leave on, to retain moisture and to act as a heat barrier.
I remove the big hunk of fat on the thick end of the brisket where the two muscles meet, and I actually cut in a couple of inches between the flat and point to make separating them later a little easier. I trim down both sides of the brisket to remove any browned or otherwise ugly looking meat. I sometimes cut off the thin end of the flat perpendicular to the grain so I’ll know the direction of my slicing later. It’s hard to see once the bark develops. Finally, I remove any loose or hard pieces of fat from the top of the flat. Here’s how it should look all trimmed up.
The next thing I do is inject the brisket. I do this at an angle and in line with the grain. I use a pattern of approximately 1″ x 1″. Here’s what it looks like:
Next, I pat it dry and give it a fairly heavy coating of spice rub. Here’s what it looks like when it’s ready to go into the smoker. Some people like to wrap it at this point and put it into the refrigerator for about 4 hours or so before cooking. Since I’ll be cooking the brisket for 10 12 hours or so, I not so sure that step is really necessary.
I have cooked briskets really low and slow, and I’ve cooked them hot and fast (which is coming into style these days). Big Red (my cooker) and I prefer something in between like 265 to 275 degrees, but your mileage may vary. I believe you should always cook at temperatures that you and your cooker like best. Just be prepared to adjust the cooking time and understand that “It’s done when it’s done!”
Then there’s the Texas Crutch Debate, “To foil, or not to foil, that is the question”. I do foil when the internal temperature reaches 165*. I find that the increased moisture and a faster shot through the stall (that nerve wracking time when the internal temperature just sits there as your turn in deadline or meal time approaches), more than offsets the softer, less developed bark that foiling produces. I’ve tried them both ways, and both ways produce great brisket. The foil just helps move the process along with a little more predictability, which is important in competitions. All that said however, the brisket only comes off the cooker when the probe slides into the thick end of the flat like butter. This usually happens somewhere around 200* but that can vary greatly from brisket to brisket.
I rest the brisket for a minimum of one hour and up to four hours in the Cambro before slicing, so I start plenty early. Here’s one that’s well rested and ready to slice:
If you have a good eye for detail, the patience of a saint, a sharp knife and a steady hand, your turn in box should look something like this:
Good luck! I hope to see you some day on the competition trail!