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Boil Brisket Before Smoking: Time Saver or Flavor Shaver?

Is it a good idea to boil brisket before smoking it? What’s the reasoning behind this method? The more you know about brisket (and barbecue), the easier it will be to answer this question.

Boil Brisket Before Smoking

Boiling the brisket before adding it to the smoker will drastically reduce the total cooking time. Unfortunately, it may also have adverse effects on the flavor and texture of the cooked meat. Whenever possible, allow enough time to smoke the brisket without boiling it first.

Why Should You Boil Brisket Before Smoking It?

If you’ve ever tried your hand at smoked brisket before, you’ll know that it can be a daunting prospect.

Brisket is a huge cut of meat—a whole packer can weigh up to 20 pounds. Although they’re usually a tad smaller than that—around 12 to 14 pounds—that’s still a lot of beef. If you choose to smoke the whole cut instead of dividing the point and the flat, the process may take 24 hours or longer.

Even if the cut were smaller, you’d have to cook it for a long time per pound in order to achieve optimum results. The brisket comes from the area around the steer’s ribcage, and the meat is naturally tough and fatty. A low-and-slow cooking process is the best way to tenderize the meat.

We should point out that when we say to “boil” the brisket, we mean that you should bring the mixture to a boil before reducing it to a simmer. You shouldn’t boil meat at high temperatures, or it will turn out too tough.

When you simmer the brisket before putting it on the smoker, you’ll be cutting down on the length of the smoke. The meat will be partially cooked beforehand, so you won’t have to wait as long to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

If you simmer a 10-pound brisket for 1 to 2 hours beforehand, it will only require about 4 or 5 hours on the smoker. That means your total cooking time could be reduced by 10 to 13 hours, assuming you smoke the meat at 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Downside

If boiling brisket beforehand saves so much time, why doesn’t everyone do it? The hard truth is that most pitmasters see this as a cheater’s way out.

To us, smoking meat is a hobby as much as it is a cooking technique. We know it takes a great deal of time and effort, but we think the results are well worth it.

What’s more, most of the time involved is hands-off, so adding the brisket to the smoker right from the beginning isn’t that much of a hassle. All you have to do is make sure that the smoker temperature isn’t climbing too high or dipping too low as the meat cooks.

There’s another important reason why we discourage the boil-ahead method: You’ll be missing out on a lot of smoke flavor. The brisket takes on a lot of smoke during the early stages of the cooking process. If you boil it first, it just won’t taste the same.

The “Hot and Fast” Alternative

Instead of boiling brisket in a water solution, consider using the BluDawg or “hot and fast” brisket methods.

These techniques involve smoking the brisket at a higher temperature than usual–300 or 325 degrees. In order to help the meat retain moisture at these temps, it’s usually wrapped in butcher paper or foil partway through.

With these methods, you can still shave several hours off the cooking time, but the results will be much more satisfactory. When you opt to keep the brisket in the smoker for the duration of the cook, you’ll be rewarded with superior flavor and texture.

Twice-Cooked Beef Brisket

If you do decide to boil the brisket beforehand, we recommend using the following method.

In this recipe, the cooking water is seasoned with Zatarain’s Crab Boil and a number of aromatic vegetables. While this isn’t a substitute for smoke flavor, it will keep the meat from tasting too bland.

Note that we’ve instructed you not to peel the onions. The skins will impart a nice golden color and an extra layer of flavor to the cooking liquid.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole packer brisket (about 10 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup prepared yellow mustard
  • Barbecue sauce (optional)

For The Cooking Liquid:

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 2 onions, cut into quarters (no need to peel them)
  • 2 celery stalks, halved
  • 5-6 cloves raw garlic, whole
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup Zatarain’s Crab Boil

For The Spice Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

Directions

1. Trim the brisket, removing all but 1/4 inch of the fat cap. Set aside the trimmings, if desired.

2. In a large stock pot, mix together the ingredients for the cooking liquid. Add the brisket to the pot, along with enough cold water to cover the meat by 3 to 4 inches.

3. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let the brisket cook for 1 to 2 hours, until just fork-tender.

4. Remove the brisket from the stock and allow it to cool. This step can be done up to a day before you add the meat to the smoker.

5. When you’re ready to finish cooking the brisket, set the smoker temperature to 225 degrees.

6. Mix together the ingredients for the spice rub. Use the mustard to coat the brisket, then add the rub, pressing gently so that the spices cling to the meat.

7. Place the brisket directly on the cooking grate and close the lid of the smoker. Let it cook for 4 to 5 hours, or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Remove the meat from the smoker and let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes. Separate the flat from the point and carve the flat into slices. Shred the point meat.

9. Serve at once with your favorite barbecue sauce, if desired.

The Bottom Line

We don’t advocate boiling any meat before smoking it, whether it’s a rack of ribs or a whole packer brisket. As with any method, though, there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it.

Don’t leave the brisket in the simmering stock for too long. If you do, it may cook through before it’s had a chance to take on any of that mouthwatering smoky goodness. The boiling process is just a preliminary step, and shouldn’t take up the bulk of the cooking time.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!