How to Smoke a Brisket on a Charcoal Grill

It might be a little intimidating smoking brisket on a charcoal grill, or preparing it in any manner for that case. As a prestigious cut of beef, and one of the most popular smoked meats, many new grillers find it extremely intimidating to smoke the meat. For those who are wondering how to smoke a brisket on a charcoal grill, it truly is more of a technique than it is a specific science. 

Of course there is no wrong or right way of doing so, it does require time. This is one of the key components to the rich, roasted taste, and the fall off the bone texture you are going for when smoking brisket, or any cut of meat for that matter. 

So, without further adieu, consider some of these factors when you are preparing the meat, and are looking to enjoy the finest taste, alongside the perfect texture when grilling the brisket on a charcoal grill.

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It is more technique than flavor:

One of the leading factors to consider is that the seasonings don't matter as much as the technique. Sure if you want a bbq taste, or Cajun spices you are going to add such seasonings. But, the technique and manner in which you prepare, flip, cut, and otherwise grill the brisket, is going to do a lot more for the flavor than the actual seasonings you are going to rub or spread over the cut of meat. 

Another point on this subject is the timing. You have to know when to add the seasoning, how much to add, whether to use wet or dry, and so forth.

The weight:

How much the brisket weighs is going to dictate the grill time. Anything from 12 to 15 pounds in weight is typically a good starting point for new grillers. A good rule of thumb is to pick something which is even in thickness throughout as well. 

Not only does this avoid over or under grilling in a particular area of the meat, it also ensures even spreading of the seasoning/rub you use, and it is going to call for the same grill time throughout the entire cut of brisket you are preparing, whether you prefer a rare, medium rare, or well done brisket. 

A flexible flat is also important in the cut of meat, as this is going to make it easier to maneuver, flip, and otherwise move when grilling the cut of meat.

smoke a brisket on a charcoal grill

The preparation for grilling:

For those who are new to grilling, brisket is the perfect cut to start off with. In order to grill the perfect brisket you have to be willing to give it time; even if you are grilling at up to 325 degrees F, it can take up to 8 hours for the perfect texture. Wireless meat thermometer can be a good device to control temperature. 

So rule one, and probably the most important thing to keep in mind is that you don't want to rush it. When you add in the 12 hours of seasoning the meat, you are looking at up to 24 hours (including the sit time after grilling to allow the seasoning to seep into the meat).

A good rule of thumb is to give the brisket from 4 to 6 hours to sit prior to serving or cutting into it. So you want to begin grilling up to 12 hours in advance of the actual serving time you have planned.

Prep for smoking/grilling:

You are going to take a few steps in preparing the brisket; these include:

  • Trimming down fat.
  • Injecting seasoning or rubbing dry rub.
  • Seasoning the meat.

It is a good idea to allow this to sit on the meat for 10 to 12 hours before it goes on the grill, so the flavors truly blend in. It is also important to refrigerate prior to grilling, as you want the brisket to be as cold as possible the moment it is placed on the grill. Of course for the gorgeous sear marks, but also for proper and even cooking.

KISS (keep it simple stupid):

​This is the rule you want to go with when you season your brisket. The less is more ideology will ring true here, and your brisket is going to really taste richer and heartier when you apply less to it.A light salt and pepper rub, or a few dry herbs and seasoning can go a long way in preparing your meat.

The smoker:

You actually have to prepare your grill for cooking the brisket. This is for indirect cooking of the brisket you are going to prepare. You won't place the meat directly on the grill, so it is indirect heat which is going to sear, and charcoal the brisket you are preparing. 

You should place the coals and wood on one side, and your brisket on the other side of the grill. With the lid closed, you are going to slow roast and prepare the brisket, while grilling the meat evenly throughout. Your brisket should be on the opposing side of the coal; this will allow for more even heat transfer, and allows for even cooking when preparing the brisket.

charcoal grill

The type of wood or charcoal used will also dictate flavor. You can go with a hickory wood, or a Smokey wood, in order to help dictate the flavor of the meat you are going to prepare when smoking it as well. If you prefer additional taste, this is a good way to naturally infuse it into the meat, without over doing it with those rubs or seasoned products you would buy in store. 

Your brisket is going to taste richer, it is going to taste smokier, and you are going to notice the hint or nuance, rather than an abrupt taste you would notice with the overcooked seasoning you would apply directly to the meat.

The smoke should be light and thin. You don't want to fully cover the grill as this will cause too much smoke and condensation build up; so leave a small gap or space to allow the grill to let air out, and your brisket to cook evenly and naturally throughout.

Moisture retention:

When grilling you have a few options to help keep the tenderness and moisture throughout, rather than drying out the brisket. A syringe to inject it every 30 to 45 minutes is one option. Not only does this add moisture to the meat, it helps it from firming up and curling up when being smoked at higher temperatures. 

Adding water to a pan and placing it on the grill is another option. Even with the lid fully closed, the water will help add condensation to the area, and avoid drying out or overheating.

Mopping or dabbing the brisket during the grilling is another way to retain moisture. You can use a cloth or a brush to apply water or a light salt seasoned rub to the meat as well. A squirt bottle with water or light oil is yet another option to consider when adding moisture to the meat you are grilling.

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When is it done?

This is obviously the most important point when grilling your brisket. A good rule of thumb is that once the meat reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F throughout, you are ready to take it off the grill, and allow it to sit for a few extra hours prior to preparing it. 

Of course grilling at 325 F is going to take a little less time than if you were grilling at 250 F. Of course the longer you allow the meat to smoke (so grilling at lower temperature if you have the time to spare it the best way to attain the desired taste and texture), as soon as the meat reaches the internal temperature of 200 F it is ready for you to consume.

In order to take the internal temperature a thermometer is the ideal checking point. Simply place it in the center of the thickest part of the brisket cut; once this reaches the desired cook temperature you are ready to remove it from the grill.

smoke a brisket

Don't cut directly into it:

As mentioned above, you should allow the meat to sit for about 6 hours at a minimum when grilling so don't dive in and cut into the brisket. This not only causes it to become tough and chewy in texture, but will also remove the moisture you took so long to build up when you were preparing it. The longer you allow it to sit, the more rich taste you are going to get from this spectacular cut of meat.

Grilling a brisket does take time; although there is no right or wrong way, and there is no direct science behind it, time is the most important factor you need to keep at the back of your mind as you are preparing this great cut of meat. For those who are new to grilling, or even those who've been grilling for years but haven't ever achieved the perfect brisket, these are a few simple tips to keep in mind for the perfect grilling taste.

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