Let's take a quick look at how we do brisket here in Texas. For the sake of this article I am assuming you are cooking in your backyard smoker. I see articles all the time about making "Competition Style Brisket" and I disagree. First off, the folks winning these competitions are NOT going to teach you their tricks. Secondly, if follow my exact instructions, we still will have two very different products in the end. You just have to put your own touch on it and make it to your liking.
CHOOSING A BRISKET
First off, you normally get what you pay for. So look for the better grades of meat. Find you one with a good fat cap, I buy mine untrimmed and then take it down to about a quarter inch. You can buy one trimmed, but make sure they left a quarter inch or so. This will melt away and help keep your brisket moist.
Look at the marbling. These are the strands of fat going through the meat. Think of a marble counter top, and that's what you want your brisket to look like. This also helps with a good moist final product.
Finally, try the bend or "flex" test. Hold a few briskets up with your hand in the center. The one with the most bend or flex to them will usually have a better chance at being tender.
TRIM YOUR BRISKET
As I stated above, I personally trim mine to about a quarter inch fat cap. Some will argue that you should not trim it at all before cooking. And some will trim even more, such as trimming the fat between point and flat muscles. This is a personal choice that you will just have to decide what you prefer.
I have an injector, and I even know how to use it. But I don't use it very often. I have done brisket with and without injecting and had good luck both ways.
If you choose to inject your brisket, you can find or make a variety of marinades, or simply use a beef broth. Inject every couple inches going parallel to the grain. Slowly pull the needle out as you are pushing the liquid in.
RUBS AND SPICES
This is where you get your own flavors involved. You can go with just a salt and course ground pepper, or you can get as creative as you like. There are plenty of rubs you can buy, or you can find some basic rub recipes on the internet. Of course I like to use CrownBBQ rubs.
Coat your entire brisket with your rub, if you like you can use a very small layer of oil or mustard before you apply the rub to help it stick. This also makes a real nice bark on your finished product. Let it set and absorb these wonderful flavors for at least an hour.
COOKING YOUR BRISKET
Have your smoker to temp and ready to cook before you put your brisket on. I know some of you are thinking that I did not need to tell you that part, but you would be surprised. I cook mine at 240 degrees, but that can be as big an argument as fat up or fat down. If you are new to smoking briskets, I recommend that you start at 240 and play with temperatures later on. At this temp a good reference is about an hour and a half per pound, but you can't go by time. Always go by temperatures. Put your brisket on fat side down. (Let the arguments begin) and leave it alone a couple hours. After your brisket hits about 160, wrap it tight in foil. This is considered a crutch by many, but in my learning it makes a more moist product and it also helps keep your internal temperature from hitting that point where it stalls. You can also add some broth,marinade or just about any other liquid before you wrap it to add moisture. Keep your smoker at an even temperature and cook until you have an internal temp of 200 to 205 in the thickest part. You can also unwrap it the last hour or so of cooking for a crisper bark.
LET IT REST
Your brisket has had a long hard day and needs a break. OK, that's not exactly it. Allowing meat to rest after cooking gives the meat time to reabsorb the juices as it cools. Some will say let your brisket rest an hour, some will say up to six hours. You can rest it wrapped up and in a cooler. Or you can open up the foil and let it rest. Whatever makes you feel the best. Since I am the guy writing the article, we are going to do it my way. Which is to let it rest to an internal temp of 165 and then slice.
Slice your brisket against the grain. Sounds pretty simple huh? Well, you will find that brisket has the grain going two different directions. This is because this is two different pieces of meat. The simplest way is to remove the point from the flat and slice both in the appropriate direction.
FINAL THOUGHTS There is as many opinions on how to smoke a brisket as there are people smoking briskets. If you use this article as a guide you will be on the right track to make a very good brisket. If you play with it and adjust flavors and techniques you will be on the road to making great briskets. I welcome your comments and or suggestions.