Smoked Brisket

Aaron Franklin on how to smoke the perfect brisket.

April 2011By Comments

Photograph by Jody Horton

The Dish

Why do we love brisket above all other barbecued meats? Is it because of its resonant beefy flavor, its exterior as shiny as black patent leather, its rivulets of fat moistening every mouthful and staining the eater’s shirt? Yes. The very nature of brisket is to be delicious. Yet there’s more to it than that. We love brisket because cooking it is a spiritual path, a quest that, as a wise man once said, begins with a single log. The steps toward enlightenment are threefold. The seeker of Brisket Truth must first embrace mental discipline, immersing himself in the craft of tending the fire and minding the meat. Second, the seeker must practice physical discipline, to be capable of wielding and slicing a twelve-pound brisket after having consumed a six-pack of Shiner Bock. Finally, the seeker must exhibit spiritual discipline, neither napping beside the smoker, nor wandering inside to catch the game on TV, nor sneaking off to update his Facebook page. The person who does these things is granted true knowledge of the brisket’s essence. He who honors this ritual is prepared for life.

How to Make It

You’ve driven to Lockhart for back-to-back meals at Smitty’s and Kreuz. You’ve talked your co-workers into two-hour meat-only lunches. You’ve written exasperated letters to a certain magazine about its barbecue coverage. It’s time now to put your passion into real practice. And who better to teach you how to smoke a brisket than Aaron Franklin? The 33-year-old Austin pitmaster started learning his chops as a kid—his parents briefly owned a place in Bryan—and later honed his technique by throwing many backyard barbecue parties, working for a year at the highly regarded Austin spot run by John Mueller (eventually buying his pit), and visiting the legendary joints of Central Texas. His sixteen-month-old Franklin Barbecue is the current sensation of the Texas barbecue world, inspiring road trips, feverish blog posts, and a blurb in Food & Wine magazine.

To cook a worthy brisket at home, Franklin says, “You want an offset smoker—that’s the style with a firebox off to one end.” (If you’re buying your first one, Pitts & Spits, Oklahoma Joe’s, and New Braunfels Smokers are all good manufacturers; count on paying at least $300.) His preferred woods are oak or hickory because “they taste best and burn clean.” Purchase a ten- to twelve-pound brisket—it will feed about a dozen people—that is well-marbled on the interior. Trim the exterior fat to between a fourth and a half an inch and rub the outside generously with kosher salt and coarse black pepper. While the meat is coming to room temperature, put some kindling and paper sprinkled with vegetable oil in the firebox. Once they’re burning steadily, add logs and let the temperature rise to between 225 and 250 degrees (an oven thermometer placed at grate level—very important—works fine). Hoist the brisket onto the grill, with the thicker end toward the fire and the fat cap facing up. Fill a foil loaf pan with water and put it as close as possible to the firebox. Then find a comfortable chair and read War and Peace. During the eight or more hours it will take the meat to cook—allowing 45 to 60 minutes a pound—watch the fire closely. Check the temperature every 20 minutes and adjust the vent, flap, and door to keep the heat even. Replenish the water as needed, do not poke the brisket with a fork, and, Franklin admonishes, “Do not turn it.” When an instant-read thermometer registers 195 to 203 degrees, the brisket is done. It’s best to take it off the heat a little sooner, though, because it will continue to cook. Let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Then slice it—fat side up, against the grain—and serve to people who deserve it. —PS

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  • URKiddinMee

    When Aaron Franklin talks brisket, I damned well LISTEN!

  • URKiddinMee

    Complaining about ANY Bar-B-Que joint in Texas is a little bit like griping that you made love with Salma Hayek on an Army cot. Might could have been a bit better, but it STILL ain’t bad!

    • TallTexan2

      I did … and, you’re right, it wasn’t bad.

  • URKiddinMee

    Mustard? Where you from, North Carolina?

    • Pig=BBQ

      btw, mustard is South Carolina. Don’t get the OG BBQ state with that mustard nonsense.

    • PDN

      There’s no mustard taste at all once the brisket is done.

  • James

    Mustard on a brisket is wholly unacceptable in Texas, Mr. Franks…

    • PDN

      You can’t even taste the mustard. It’s not necessary to use mustard, but it doesn’t hurt at all.

  • James

    You clearly have never eaten Franklin’s, Sir…

    • RBR

      Cut the man some slack. He has been doing his penance for the better part of a year now. He gets it.

  • Matt Hohmann

    lockhart is the =ONLY BBQ to get to know!! Not some kid in austin!!

    • TallTexan2

      Lockhart has fallen … the champion has fallen. Long live Franklin!

    • Rob

      I was fortunate enough to try Franklin’s brisket this past week and have to say that it was pretty damn good. I’m a BBQ judge and have tried various competition briskets as well as BBQ restaurant briskets. Franklin’s was a 9. Black’s in Lockhart, TX was an 8 but their beef rib(Not a KCBS item) was a 9. Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse is about a 7, sorry but may have just been the day. I still don’t believe it’s just salt and pepper at Franklin’s though. Keep taliing Q guys.

      • BP

        What about Snow’s

  • http://crenshawalarm.com/ Charlie Crenshaw

    been smokin brisket for a long, long time. Have been to most of the best BBQ joints in Central Texas, Dallas, and Ft Worth. The reason this guy is good is he is PASSIONATE about his methods and is patient. He even shares his technique on youtube. His food is simple, and great. Is in the same style as Smitty’s, Mueller’s, and City Market…all fantastic. He’s got it.

    • TallTexan2

      Went on a BBQ tour last Dec … Smitty’s, Mueller’s, and CM. Good, not great. Franklin … great. Consistently so.

      • Pedro pilot

        and you didn’t go to Kreuz Market? Fail.

  • ThriftJunkie

    Are you serious? Have you tasted Franklin’s? If not . . . .
    I can’t think of anyone I would rather hear from, old and crusty or not.

  • Charlotte Egbers

    Smokin I love the apple cider vinegar and brown sugar with a bit of cayenne as marinade and mopping sauce. Taste much more complex than these three simple ingredients. So delish.

  • TallTexan2

    You obviously have never tasted of Mr Franklin’s brisket, Huckle. Get over to his place and once you have, you’ll see why he’s giving lessons.

  • TallTexan2

    Done it. It’s worth every minute of waiting.

  • TallTexan2

    Sorry, didn’t see the date on this posting, and your mea culpa later!

  • SJBiehl

    Totally disagree with the two knuckleheads that responded, many “REAL” Texans know that grain mustard is an awesome binder for dry rub made by “REAL TEXANS”…There’s more than one way to skin the brisket cat fellas and I make one helluva brisket using that method!!!

    • mike

      Amen.

    • URKiddinMee

      Mustard BBQ SAUCE is for Carolina style pulled pork. No self respecting Texan would EVER slather it on a brisket.

      I’ll go with Aaron Franklin’s advice now that he’s won the “Best Bar-B-Q in Texas” award several years running. And MUSTARD Bar-B-Q sauce isn’t on his table.

  • Guest

    Poor Huckle Cat. Come to my house, I’ll fix ya some ribs, spicy slaw and Bootlegger beans…try to make up for the remarks made towards you. Sending smoky hugs your way.

  • BDW

    umm because people wait in line from 7 am to get a chance at getting his daily fare…..and many stand in line multiple days in a row because when he is out he is out….

  • BDW

    sorry, just read how much you got bashed for that remark….

  • URKiddinMee

    I just wish they still made Lone Star and Pearl in San Antonio instead of at the Miller brewery in Ft. Worth. Now THERE were some cold beers to go with Bar-B-Que!

  • Michael

    At 61, born and raised in Texas, I have eaten my share of good brisket (mine is not bad!) I’m tellin’ you the truth. I wouldn’t wait in line for 7 hours for the Pope’s que! Ain’t no way! The older I get, the more precious time is.

    • Rob

      Michael, I agree with the wait thing. I happened to go there at 2:30 in the afternoon and was lucky to get in and try the brisket. Only waited 20 min. It was pretty damn good and I have had my share of briskets in Texas. Try heading over there during the week at 2 or 2:30 pm. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

  • joey weber

    I ate at Franklins in February and without doubt it was best I ever had. I was at Salt Lick the night before and it was distinctly better then them.

  • ztitans1

    I use honey to rub the brisket before putting on the seasonings to get them to stick. It adds to the flavor a bit and also gives a little glaze to the finished product. I have smoked lots of briskets. I use a vertical smoker which also has water in between the fire source and the meat to keep the temparture stable. I look forward to coming down to Franklin’s next time I get down to Austin. I would love to be able to learn from someone like Aaron who has been able to open a successful business doing what I like to do as a pasttime.

  • DiscoDuck

    Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester

  • joe

    If one has to wait 7 hours why not just make your own. As an old crusty NC pork BBQ’er BBQuing brisket is just a smoke pit away from BBQuing pork.

  • Joseph Harrison

    I’m sorry but you forgot three really important ingrediants and I’ll not divulge them but I’d go toe to toe with you any time and leave you swingin in the breeze if that’s all you do to your brisket.

  • Robert

    Still trying to figure out my smoker I got a char broil off set smoker from my buddy for 20 bucks and did three briskest that turned out horrible…….. I know that 20 dollar smoker ain’t a 300 dollar smoker but what in the hell why can’t I keep its heat up to the desired 200- 210 degrees it needs that thing only gets up to 200 than drops to 150 and I can’t seem to get it any hotter after that

    • Tony Mccarthy

      Try more charcoal for heat, or add wood. Full burning wood split or two will jump the temp. In a 7 journey cook I use no less than 10 splits with lump charcoal. Definitely get your temps up though. And burn a full combustion clean fire. Smoke for.as long as you can, but after 5-6 hours when you wrap, you can finish in the oven. Let it rest a couple hours wrapped and wrapped in towels.