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BARDSLJR

A difficult, complicated brisket cook

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So...I made a big meat order from Snake River Farms which was delivered yesterday morning, including  a 17 1/2 lb prime brisket. So the plan was to first, thaw that huge sucker, which was frozen solid, in the large kitchen sink. That took roughly 6-8 hours and then I trimmed it, slathered with mustard and coated with a sea salt/ medium coarse pepper mixture. The plan at this point was to start the cook at midnight, get up at 6 and check on it, perhaps to wrap at that point, and previous experience indicated it would be done by 1-2 the next afternoon, perfect timing to let it rest for a few hours and serve to my extended family (wife, daughter, son-in-law,  3 grandkids) for dinner. (And probably have enough left for both households for several days.) So I got the KK set up with a nice hardwood lump charcoal and big chunks of post oak. I started the KK at 11 aiming to put the meat on at 12. Here's where we went off the rails, before we started.

I used my propane wand to start the fire in one small tennis-ball sized area, as usual. I usually start by giving it a pretty good venting to get the fire going and then choke it off when I am within about 25-50 degrees of where I want to be, because the temperature will continue climb after I tamp it down (a little like steering an ocean liner). So 45 minutes later I came back to check on my cooker and it was already over 300. This is BAD, 'cause experience also tells me it will be quite a while before I can get the temperature to drop to where I had wanted it, around 250*. I choked it down as far as I dared, a whisper of air coming through the bottom vent and and about 1/4 turn off shut at the cap. Checked back 45 minutes later....not much change. URK.

At this point it was about 12:45, so I put the brisket on and hoped for the best and went to bed. Did I mention I set up my Aksesroyal bluetooth temperature monitor with one probe in the flat and one in the point?

Got up at the unearthly hour of 6, and happily I had put out my LED head lamp (designed for hunters, I think) so I wasn't stumbling around in the dark through the obstacle course Ms. Daneta has created in our sideyeard patio. Did I mention it was pitch black at 6AM?

And then the October surprise: my fire has apparently gone out and the 32" KK is...cold. The brisket, however, is not too bad...about 134 from both probes. Okay...I still have 12 hours till dinner, and we are partly there....so I get the propane wand out, restart the fire, this time stand by it until I can level it off at 275, and resume the cook. The photo below is the brisket at 170*, just before I wrapped it with pink butcher paper, tightly, and resumed cooking. This is about 11:30 AM and it was done 203 and 201, respectively, at 1:30. It went straight from the KK into a styrofoam cooler (just barely fit)  to rest until we are close to dinner. So wish me luck- I know it's done, and it has some decent bark, and I hope we didn't dry it out and ruin $140 worth of really good beef brisket.

More photos and a taste test to follow when I carve this sucker up, in about 2 hours.

Brisket 10-11-20.jpg

Snake River Brisket thawing.jpg

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To quote a previous POTUS - "I feel your pain!" We've all been there, son! Just when we think that we've got this whole thing figured out, we get a curve ball like this one to put us back in our place. Seems like you recovered nicely though - a mark of a true BBQ'er! :salute:

I'm pretty sure that your brisket will be awesome and the family will be happily fed. At the end of the day, that's all that counts!

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Well, here's the results: the good news is, the Snake River brisket is, as advertised, very high quality- though not noticeably better than the prime brisket I can get at Costco for, of course, a lot less per pound. Maybe there could be some debate about this, if you are a real brisket fanatic, maybe you can discern some significant difference: I can't.

Second, after all the issues with the early part of the cook, I got it done, and it was....decent. Very good bark (as you can see). I might have even trimmed too much fat- hard to tell. I'm not Aaron Franklin, but I am sure he would know. Good smoke- I like post oak better than anything else I've used (fruitwoods, hickory). The family was happy with and practically inhaled about 2/3rds of the finished brisket, as you see from the middle picture. I also was able to send enough home with them for lunch today for 5.

Then, the bad news and the diagnosis: I've had brisket from some of the best- Franklin, LA Barbecue, Snow's, Truth, Mickelthwaite...I know what it CAN be. My flat was tasty but a bit dried out, and therefore not as tender as it could and should be. The point- the fatty part- was more moist and tender but not as good as the best. It may end up as brisket hash tonight, which is not bad.

Now, the debrief. Why was it dry? The last one I did came out pretty close to perfect, though not perhaps exactly 'Franklin-level". So remember, the night before I had started the brisket at about 325* and tamped it down to a whisper, thinking it would fall to 275-300. I NEVER thought I'd get up and find the KK nearly cold 5 hours later, at 6 AM. There are several good pitmasters, like John Mueller, who cook at 300*, so I wasn't worried about it starting off hotter than my normal 250*. The meat was still at 135* when I started it back up and brought it up to 275-300 for the rest of the cook. So why did it dry out? We don't know what temp the meat reached at maximum before falling to 135*. So it might have been up as high as 165-70, for all I know, and maybe it dried out in the second phase of cooking. I certainly wouldn't recommend a two-stage cooking method. Also, there is the matter of the "rest". I thought the brisket would finish at 3 or 3:30 and be served at 6- that would have been nearly ideal. It finished faster than I thought- about 1:30-2 and immediately went, wrapped in its butcher paper, into a very tight disposable styrofoam cooler that we had available. Next, dinner got pushed from 6 to 7:30, so the brisket stayed in the hot cooler, "resting" from 2 to 7. It was still 155* when I pulled it out to slice it, just before serving. So maybe I should have rested it less long, and maybe used a cooler which would have allowed for more heat dissipation?

It will be different next time, but any brisket cook is a difficult timing challenge. If, for example, you want to start dinner at 6PM, working backwards, you want a 2-3 hour rest, a 12-14 hour cook for a good 15-17 pound brisket. So for a perfect schedule, you'd start the brisket at 2-3 AM or so for a 6PM dinner, and you'd be taking it out to wrap around 6 hours more or less into that. Starting a cook at 2AM really doesn't work for me. If you wrap in foil to keep it moist, you can destroy the bark. So it's a challenge- I will be interested in the thoughts and suggestions from this group, which has many skilled and experienced KK cooks.

Brisket, done (7-30).jpg

Brisket-the remainder.jpg

Brisket- the flat, sliced.jpg

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what a journey, wow.

I made the choice to forget the crunchy bark and go for the simple, predictable and repeatable hot-n-fast method.

I have results that are dependable and without the angst involved in the low-n-slow brisket cook.

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Too bad BARDSLJR that your fire went out but, the end result was picture worthy, nice bark. Leaving the brisket in the cooler 5 hours allows the juices to come together in a positive way, and you still served at 155 so it was all worthwhile. Have you tried a Cyber or DiGi Q for those long cooks that go overnight. I like you prefer to run with just the vent settings so the work put in at the beginning to steady a 250 temp maybe all you need. An unfortunate series of events, no worries...you'll knock it out of the park next time. Looked fine to me

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Is it normal to cook at such a high temperature?  I know offsets cook that high (275-300) - part of the reason why is: when cooking with real stick wood, there is still a fair amount of moisture in the wood itself - even seasoned.  From what I've gathered, this is why the high air flow doesn't dry the meat out (and of course, regular spritzing doesn't hurt).  

For pellets and charcoal based smokers, a lower temperature (225-250) is more typical.  Granted, my current pellet rig has temp swings that are pretty maddening...

For my next brisket cook, I plan on merely staying up late rather than waking early.  Though my last brisket cook took 14 hours!  (Again...temperature swings).  The only other thing I can think of offering is: looking at the fat cap as an indicator for when to wrap.  Temperature readings will get you in the ballpark...looking at how much of the fat cap has rendered (turned slightly yellow) as well as bark-build up can be additional indicators for wrapping.  One of my recent favorite Youtube BBQ guys is Mad Scientist BBQ.  I like that he breaks down the chemistry of a fire to help explain what you're looking for in a good fire.  Granted...He's a stick burner acolyte...I try not not to judge.  :-)  

Hope that helps.  

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As far as I know, most of the well-known Texas brisket masters, like Aaron Franklin, cook in the 225-250 range until they wrap. Then a lot are upping the temp to 300 to finish. Some, like John Mueller, cook at 300 all the way through. However, almost all of them cook on those large converted propane tank stick burners (with the exception of Snow's, which is an open-pit-over-coals setup),  which are very different than cooking on a Kamado style smoker- much more air movement and turbulence, and the heat hits the meat from above...so all in all, very, very different.

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1 hour ago, Stewart said:

Mad Scientist BBQ

One of my favorites also Stewart. I do believe without a doubt his favorite piece of meat to cook is brisket. I like my ribs in the KK but you can't beat a stick burner for brisket

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11 hours ago, BARDSLJR said:

As far as I know, most of the well-known Texas brisket masters, like Aaron Franklin, cook in the 225-250 range until they wrap. Then a lot are upping the temp to 300 to finish. Some, like John Mueller, cook at 300 all the way through. However, almost all of them cook on those large converted propane tank stick burners (with the exception of Snow's, which is an open-pit-over-coals setup),  which are very different than cooking on a Kamado style smoker- much more air movement and turbulence, and the heat hits the meat from above...so all in all, very, very different.

Sorry to hear about your travails but it sounds like it was well received, even if it wasn't to the standard you wanted. Electronic monitoring is great for post match analysis but probably more useful to trigger an alert, giving you a chance to intervene. I have been saved on one occasion where my temperature dropped inexplicably and the app alerted me to this at gone 3am with the urgency of an air raid siren announcing a Luftwaffe attack. It's disorientating being pulled from deep sleep to figure out in a split second whether the screaming alarm is your house or your cook in trouble. 

I appreciate that a stick burner (assuming something like a Lang) is going to have a lot less refractory material (defined by the gauge of steel alone I'm assuming) and ambient conditions outside the cooker will also exert influence on temperature. Not knowing how John Mueller cooks, he might be using baffles to direct airflow and bleeding off heat beyond what is being lost due to the difference in insulation so 300 could be a misnomer. Reason I mention this is because I've been having a discussion with an engineer at Meater about probe accuracy for the last week and he has been sharing some of their test data. I've been really surprised at the extent of temperature variations within various ovens they've tested and the differences that small changes in position make even within a heat soaked and controlled environment (open put over coals for brisket sounds like masochism to me by the way!). Anyway, the engineer sent me a photo of a cook they'd done which looked like a porcupine for all the probes sticking out of it together with the graph data from those probes. Even though they had done a cook at 300 in the test I'm thinking of, there was variation of 50-75 degrees around the cook - even though some probes were only a few centimetres apart. I'd have expected a lot more stability from an electric oven (which was their control) and which had been allowed to heat soak in their test. 

Forgive my ignorance as I don't cook with a stick burner but from my understanding, using reverse offset methods on a stick burner allows radiant heat from below as well so it'd be not dissimilar to a KK in the way. Or do I have that totally wrong? Appreciate air flow dynamics are going to be different due to the shape of the cylinder but just wondering based on your comment of cooking from above. 

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Re: hot-n-fast brisket.

I prep the meat as usual; bullion paste, yellow mustard, rub. Sit overnight in frig.

Cooker at 350 f, indirect, smoke wood of choice.

Brisket goes on w/ temp probe, set alarm at 160f.

Cook until internal temp hits 160f. Usually takes about 2 hours. Size of meat has not made this metric vary to much, ~20-30 min maybe.

Put into a foil pan with 1/4 cup beef broth, cover with foil.

Cook for 2.5 hours more. Pull from cooker, rest 20-30 min, drain liquid. Can hold it from here in foil and cooler if needed, but I find I can time it accurately due to the predictable 4.5 hr cook time.

if you want a bit of barky crust, pull at the 2 hrs mark, back on cooker unwrapped for 30 min.

I will probably never go back to low-n-slow for brisket again.

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It's a good thing you clarified that about the using the flat only! This wouldn't have made sense at all.  I can see where this could be a delicious piece of meat. I always cook a whole packer, do not separate them- that is part of the challenge, to get the flat and the point to finish close to the same time and not under-or-over cook either. In this case, I got the flat to 203 (perfect) and the point 201- close enough.

BTW, I took about 12 ounces of the leftover brisket last night, sauteed some bell pepper and onion, added some frozen hash brown potatoes, cooked that to almost done, added the chopped brisket, turning it frequently to get a nice crust worked in, and served it- and it was outstanding.

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Braai-Q- I had a Lang reverse flow stick burner before I switched back over to the KK (had a Richard Johnson Kamado for 12 years before that. Good, but not nearly as well constructed as the KK). The logic of the Lang is that is has a false bottom running the length of the cooking area, and the smoke and heat are supposed to travel the length of bottom, enter the cooking chamber, and exit through the chimney which is on the same end as the firebox. (It looks really strange.) It is supposed to even out the temperature in the cooking area and eliminate hot spots. It does that pretty well. Since I put my water trays on the bottom, underneath the cooking area grill, I don't think there was very much radiant heat from the false bottom area. It made pretty great barbecue. My beef with it (no pun intended) was that it was extremely labor-intensive. One is always adjusting the fuel, the air flow, etc, trying to maintain a constant temp. You can't walk away for 30 minutes. It's about a 15-minute cycle and you are handcuffed to the smoker. A brisket cook would be a marathon. Other than that, build quality was excellent and it worked great.

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4 hours ago, BARDSLJR said:

had a Richard Johnson Kamado for 12 years before that

You must have had one of the early (Sacramento) POSKs to last that long? I had one of the 1st made in Indonesia (still much better than the later Mexi ones) and mine lasted a little over 8 before it began to have serious cracks and tile shedding.

Back on topic - I ALWAYS use the Guru on a brisket cook. It just makes things easier and more reliable. 

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4 hours ago, BARDSLJR said:

Braai-Q- I had a Lang reverse flow stick burner before I switched back over to the KK (had a Richard Johnson Kamado for 12 years before that. Good, but not nearly as well constructed as the KK). The logic of the Lang is that is has a false bottom running the length of the cooking area, and the smoke and heat are supposed to travel the length of bottom, enter the cooking chamber, and exit through the chimney which is on the same end as the firebox. (It looks really strange.) It is supposed to even out the temperature in the cooking area and eliminate hot spots. It does that pretty well. Since I put my water trays on the bottom, underneath the cooking area grill, I don't think there was very much radiant heat from the false bottom area. It made pretty great barbecue. My beef with it (no pun intended) was that it was extremely labor-intensive. One is always adjusting the fuel, the air flow, etc, trying to maintain a constant temp. You can't walk away for 30 minutes. It's about a 15-minute cycle and you are handcuffed to the smoker. A brisket cook would be a marathon. Other than that, build quality was excellent and it worked great.

That was one of the things that I always thought with the Lang stick burners - hugely labour intensive. More commitment than I think I'd be willing to make. Particularly on a long cook. 

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There are things we look for in every BBQ we purchase, be it convenience, aesthetics, ease of handling, color, size and ooh soo much more.  We often buy a number of them to meet our needs & over time when we tire of them they pass.  I haven't reached that point yet, the Lang I own along with the other tools (cookers) I have are essential for specific uses. I  have enjoyed them all and work with them because I refuse to paint myself into a corner. Having a choice is simply a freedom I don't wish to loose. 

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As a point of clarification, I am not saying LANG stick-burners specifically are labor-intensive: ALL stick-burners require pretty frequent restocking of fuel and if so equipped, air flow adjustments. My KK, on the other hand, I can get set and walk away from it for 12 hours and the temp won't budge: on the other hand, you probably have a lot less air movement in the cooking chamber with the KK.  So you get something, you give something.

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Yes, my POS RJ Kamado was made in Sacramento, and the next year they moved production to Mexico. Mine held up for 10-12 years and then began to shed tile and develop cracks.

Say more about this Guru?....Where do we order them, how do they work with the KK, etc? I am not familiar.

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11 hours ago, Tyrus said:

There are things we look for in every BBQ we purchase, be it convenience, aesthetics, ease of handling, color, size and ooh soo much more.  We often buy a number of them to meet our needs & over time when we tire of them they pass.  I haven't reached that point yet, the Lang I own along with the other tools (cookers) I have are essential for specific uses. I  have enjoyed them all and work with them because I refuse to paint myself into a corner. Having a choice is simply a freedom I don't wish to loose. 

You're right. I've always been a believer in having the right tool for the job and choice is a fine thing. My wife is understanding of this philosophy. To a point. I think it was cars or camera bags that instituted the draconian 'one in, one out' rule. 

Genuinely curious as I come from a place of no experience cooking brisket on something like a Lang. Do you feel the difference between a KK and Lang is born in the ease of achieving a consistent result, flavour or the enjoyment and ritual that comes with it? Are the results similar if you know how to use each pretty well?

Cooking is a bit like photography I guess. You're judged on the result, not the process that got the result.

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