By Jasmin Sun, Food & Wine
Aaron Franklin spends a lot of time thinking about brisket. Considering lines at his cult Austin joint Franklin Barbecue, a slew of accolades (he's one of F&W's best new pit masters in Texas), and the incredible number of hours and pounds of brisket he dedicates to his craft (Franklin starts tending his smokers daily at 2 a.m. and goes through 20,000 pounds of brisket a month), it's probably safe to say he's mastered his approach. The result is super tender and flavorful slices of beef served by the pound, plate or piled into sandwiches. Here, Franklin saves home cooks and their summer guests from the worst crimes against Texas-style barbecue brisket.
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1. Using the wrong cut of meat.
Proper Texas-style brisket is made with the "Packer" cut from a cow. Many grocery stores will only sell the "flat" cut, which has the fatty point cut off the meat. "You really need that fatty half on there. If you only have that flat cut, then you're just going to be doing a Jewish-style, pot-roasty kind of thing," says Franklin. Most butchers will be able to provide this cut of meat.
2. Positioning the meat incorrectly in the smoker.
To ensure a tender brisket and to prevent it from drying out, position the meat as far away from the fire inside the smoker, with the fatty end facing the flames.
3. Choosing the wrong wood.
It's easy to over-smoke brisket due to its long cook time. This will result in a piece of meat that "tastes like liquid smoke." To prevent this, it's necessary to use very dry wood. Franklin prefers to use Post Oak that's been cured for 9-12 months. This particular type of wood creates very little soot when it burns and imparts a mild smoky flavor to the meat. He uses 20-inch-long logs for his restaurant smokers, but suggests buying pre-cured wood chunks ("Wood chips should only be used to get a smoky flavor when using a gas grill,") from a sporting goods store for a smaller backyard smoker.
4. Smoking at the wrong temperature.
It's important to keep the temperature even and calibrated according to the size of the smoker. The meat gets much closer to the fire in smaller cookers, so for those, Franklin recommends keeping the temperature around 225 to 250 degrees (temps inside the trailer-sized custom smokers at Franklin Barbecue can get up to 375 degrees). Also be sure to position the smoker's temperature gauge as close to the grate -- and the meat -- as possible. Many are at the top, which often leads to an inaccurate reading since heat rises.
"The biggest mistake I see is that people simply don't let the meat cook long enough," says Franklin. Trying to rush the process by taking the brisket off the smoker and finishing it in the oven, or wrapping the meat in foil to speed up cooking time will increase cooking time because the meat doesn't have a chance to cook efficiently. Franklin recommends smoking the meat for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours per pound of meat. Finally, let it rest to seal in all the juices. "You just can't force it -- it's done when it's done. And then you eat it."