May 21, 2021
By Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley
My husband Rick and I own an electric smoker. We got up on this particular morning feeling super productive. An electric smoker makes smoking meats so easy. You basically set it and forget it—maybe check if you need to add more wood from time to time. In the meantime, I thought I’d be free to do other things around the house. Rick could go out and run some errands.
Well, that didn’t happen.
In the middle of warming up, our electric smoker stopped working. We frantically tried every outlet available. We checked to see if the electricity to our house had gone out. Nothing. Not going to lie – I was a quite peeved that this smoker, which we’ve only used to smoke a few trout thus far, decided to die so soon. I won’t name any names, but it ruined our day. We called customer service, and they told us it might be a bad controller. They’ll send us a new one, but that didn’t do us any good at that moment. The brisket had to be cooked that day.
Smoking meat is serious business. It takes an entire day of sticking around the house – even with an electric smoker – and those kinds of days are few and far in between in our busy schedules. What to do?
Rick suggested using the old barbecue grill in the back, the one that should’ve been replaced two summers ago. I cringed for a moment. Expensive wagyu beef cooking on rusted grates? Babying briquettes for hours? And no smoke box? How barbaric.
Have no fear, Rick said, we’ll figure it out. And we did. Rick knew what he was doing, but it was eye opening for me. If an electric smoker is to digital cameras, then smoking meat on a charcoal grill is to film photography. Keeping the temperature consistent was a challenge. I found that manually controlling heat is a balancing act between oxygen, fuel, and not opening the grill lid too often to add more wet woodchips and briquettes.
You can tell that I haven’t done much grilling nor smoking in my life. I’m so glad I can’t see all your eyes rolling.
Because our grill had no smoke box and we were afraid to open the lid too much, I wasn’t able to get as much smoke on the brisket as I’d like, whereas an electric smoker would’ve been able to feed consistent smoke onto the meat. Still, our brisket showed a nice bark, came out juicy and tender—I was thrilled. It tasted just about as good as any brisket I’ve had made by others. But dang, it was a lot of work.
I hope none of you have to deal with a broken smoker on the day you need it. The directions below reflect this optimism.
>>Click here for tips on how to choose the best beef brisket
Recipe: How to Make Smoked Beef Brisket
Prep time: Overnight
Cook time: About 6 hours
- 4 pounds of flat cut brisket
- Your favorite barbecue sauce
Dry Rub (double recipe for whole brisket):
- ½ tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
- ¼ tablespoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon ground mustard
- Pinch cayenne pepper or to taste
- ½ teaspoon sumac (optional)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
- 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- Rinse brisket with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Trim off excess fat on the brisket; you only need about ¼ inch of fat on top of the brisket.
- Combine the dry rub ingredients and sprinkle evenly all over the brisket. Place brisket in a rimmed cookie sheet, cover with foil or plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
- One hour prior to smoking, take the brisket out of the refrigerator.
- Set your smoker to a consistent 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit with the wood of your choice; we used hickory. Stick a probe thermometer into the brisket and set it for 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Set brisket onto the rack and smoke, adding more wood as necessary according to your smoker’s instructions. Try not to open the smoker lid/door too often to avoid heat loss. If the brisket’s surface looks dry, lightly spray or brush it with apple cider vinegar.
- The brisket will stall out between 160-170 degrees, meaning that the internal temperature will have a hard time getting any hotter. At this point, your brisket should’ve formed a decent bark. If not, let it go longer until you’re happy with it. Then carefully double wrap the brisket with heavy-duty foil, trying not to damage the bark, and put it back into the smoker—with probe thermometer still in place. The foil will help prevent further moisture loss and stop too much bark from forming, which can taste bitter. It will also help the brisket retain heat, allowing the internal temperature rise further.
You can also skip the foil and use peach paper instead, which is highly praised by serious barbecue enthusiasts.
- Continue to cook brisket until the internal temperature hits 185 degrees. Total cooking time for this 4-pound brisket was about 5 hours; figure between 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes per pound. Take the wrapped brisket off the heat and place it inside a cooler or your oven (off) to rest for at least 1 hour. Do not skip this step. Keep the probe thermometer in while the brisket rests to prevent juices from flowing out.
- Once rested, unwrap the brisket, remove the probe and slice thinly with a sharp, serrated knife against the grain.
- Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce and sides.