Outdoor flavor cooked indoors
BBQ beef brisket cooked over a slow, smoky fire? Nothing better. But when the weather is cold—as it currently is throughout much of the US—most of us don’t venture outside to tend a smoker or grill.
We’re happy to turn on the oven, though. Which is handy, because brisket “barbecued” in the oven can have flavor that’s almost as good as the outdoor kind. It even takes a bit less time to make. And it requires very little attention from the cook.
That gives you more time to enjoy other things—like chatting with your guests at the annual Super Bowl party. This year, maybe you’ll even get to see the whole game.
Recipe: Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Beef Brisket
This recipe is a riff off our Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs and Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork.
As noted in those recipes, people often use the term “barbecue” for anything cooked outdoors on a Weber. But most of the time, what we’re actually doing is grilling—i.e., cooking meat over relatively high heat. By contrast, when you barbeque meat, you cook it at low heat (typically 200 to 225 degrees F) for several hours. This slow-cooking process infuses the meat with flavor, and breaks down fibrous connective tissues that make some cuts of meat tough.
Fortunately, you can achieve the same degree of tenderness in your oven. And because you don’t have to keep a live fire going at a constant temperature, you can let the barbecue cook largely unattended. The meat will come out tender and flavorful.
This recipe uses a small amount of liquid smoke to help flavor the meat during the cooking process. Good liquid smoke is a natural product, containing nothing but water and natural smoke concentrate. But do read the label; cheaper brands include chemicals you don’t want to use. Warning: As the brisket cooks, your oven will emit a wood-smoke aroma (mild, but distinct). If you’re allergic, or the idea of this smell drifting through your house doesn’t appeal, omit the liquid smoke in Step 5 of the Procedure.
For this recipe, you’ll use a “rub” to season the meat, and it’s best if you apply it the day (or night) before you plan to cook the brisket. You can create your own recipe for the rub, or use one of our favorites, which we describe below.
Preparation time for this recipe (making the rub and applying it to the beef) is about 20 minutes. Then the rubbed brisket needs to rest in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. Cooking time is about 1 to 1½ hours per pound of meat. So this recipe does take a bit of time (though most of it is unattended).
This recipe yields 8 or more generous servings. Leftovers store well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.
For the rub:
- 3 tablespoons pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
- 2 tablespoons dried ground chipotle or ancho chile powder (ancho doesn’t have a smoky flavor, but it’s milder than chipotle)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons hickory-smoked salt (to taste—we use 2; see Notes for sources; may substitute table or Kosher salt)
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1½ tablespoons garlic powder
- 1½ tablespoons onion powder
- ~1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional, and not to be included in the rub; apply to the brisket in Step 2 of the Procedure)
- ~4 pounds beef brisket, preferably USDA Choice grade or better (flat cut is our preference; see Notes)
- 3 to 5 cups hot beef broth (or hot water; see Notes)
- ¼ cup additional liquid smoke (optional, but it does add some extra flavor)
Steps 1 through 3 should be accomplished several hours before you plan to start cooking the brisket. Ideally, the rub-coated, uncooked beef brisket should rest in the fridge overnight.
- The night before you want to cook the brisket, prepare the rub: Combine all ingredients except the liquid smoke, then mix thoroughly until well blended.
- Coat the beef brisket: Remove the brisket from its packaging. Rinse and pat dry. One side of the brisket usually has a layer of fat on it (called the fat cap). Trim off most of the fat cap, but leave about ¼ inch on. If using the optional liquid smoke, pour about half a tablespoon on the fat side and rub it in with your hands. Turn the brisket over, add another ½ tablespoon liquid smoke and rub it in. Next, with your hands, pat the rub onto all sides of the brisket (more on the meatier side, but make sure the fat side receives a good share too). You’ll want to use at least ¼ cup of rub, but use more if you wish (see Notes). Reserve any unused rub for another purpose.
- Place the brisket in a heavy-gauge food-storage bag (we use 2-gallon freezer bags), squeeze out as much air as possible, and fasten the top of the bag. Refrigerate the brisket overnight.
- Half an hour before you want to begin cooking the brisket, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F and remove the brisket from the refrigerator (so it can warm up).
- Place a wire rack in the bottom of a roasting pan (preferably a pan that’s just large enough to hold the brisket). If you don’t have a wire rack, roll a sheet or two of aluminum foil between your hands, forming a “snake” that you can place (in zig-zag configuration) in the bottom of the roasting pan. Add hot beef broth or water until it’s about halfway up the legs of the rack (you don’t want the broth/water to touch the beef, which will sit on the rack). Add ¼ cup of liquid smoke to the broth/water. (Again, as the brisket cooks, your oven will emit a wood-smoke aroma, so skip the liquid smoke if this doesn’t appeal to you. But do include the broth or water—it helps keep the beef moist.)
- Place the beef brisket on the wire rack, fat-cap side up (again, make sure it doesn’t touch the broth or water). Tent the brisket and the rack with a sheet of aluminum foil, crimping around the edges to keep steam from escaping. Place the roasting pan in the oven and set a timer for 3 hours.
- At the 3-hour mark, remove the foil. Insert the probe of an instant-read thermometer to determine how the brisket is coming along (you want it to reach at least 200 degrees F; we often cook it to 205 degrees F, sometimes a bit higher than that). If the brisket is not done yet, return it to the oven until it reaches the appropriate temperature (leaving the foil off).
- Timing note: Total cooking time is usually 1 to 1½ hours per pound, but start checking after 1 hour per pound. If the beef is taking too long to cook, you can increase the oven temperature to 300 - 325 degrees F to hurry things along. In some cases, brisket will cook a bit faster than you expect it to. If that happens, turn the oven down to 225 (or even 200) degrees F.
- Once the brisket is done, you can serve it at any time. If you need to wait before serving it, remove the brisket from the oven and wrap it in aluminum foil. You can hold the cooked beef brisket in a 180-degree F oven for up to 3 hours (see Notes for additional suggestions).
- When ready to serve, remove the cooked brisket from the oven and discard the broth or water (but see Notes). Let the brisket cool at room temperature for 20 minutes. When cutting the brisket, slice it across the grain.
- A whole brisket has two parts: the point muscle and the flat muscle. You’ll most often see the flat cut at the supermarket, and we think it’s the better choice for BBQ brisket. Flat-cut brisket has a nice uniform grain that makes it easy to slice (and we recommend slicing across the grain). It also has great flavor.
- You can use a whole brisket in this recipe, but that’s a large piece of meat—at least 8 pounds, usually more like 12 to 16. A whole brisket will yield enough for a mob (and it will take quite a while to cook).
- Whole brisket also won’t slice up as nicely as the flat cut. That’s because the grain of the point and the flat parts run in different directions. To further complicate things, there’s a large layer of fat between the two muscles.
- Beef in the US is inspected and graded by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) at the meat packing house. Prime (the highest grade) has abundant marbling (veins of fat) throughout the meat. Marbling is a good thing since fat (in moderation) adds flavor and tenderness to beef. Only a small percentage of the meat produced in the US is graded Prime—and most of it goes to restaurants and fancy meat markets. So it’s unlikely you’ll see it at your local grocery.
- Choice is the next best grade, and it’s what most of us see in the supermarket. It has less marbling than Prime beef, but it’s still plenty tasty. It works well in this dish.
- Next down in grade is Select—and lately we’ve been seeing more of it in supermarkets (probably because meat prices have increased, and it’s a cheaper cut). Because Select has much less marbling, its flavor and tenderness are inferior to that of Choice or Prime cuts. Avoid it for this recipe.
- The rub in this recipe contains both pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) and dried chipotle chile powder (made from smoked and dried jalapeño peppers). The naturally smoky flavor of these ingredients helps flavor the beef.
- Hickory-smoked salt has terrific flavor. But it's often hard to find in grocery stores. If you’d like to try some, Google (and the reviews at Amazon) are your friends. We ended up buying a pound of the stuff, and store it in the freezer to help preserve its aroma.
- The recipe for the rub makes more than you’ll use for this dish. You can store the rest in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks. It will keep even longer if you refrigerate or freeze it.
- We tend to use a lot of rub—about half a cup for a 4-pound brisket. It adds a nice, spicy crust.
- You should use an instant-read thermometer when slow-cooking brisket (or any barbecue meat) because you really need to know what is going on temperature-wise. We like the (rather pricey) Thermapen—its temperature sensor is at the tip of the probe, so you can position it accurately, and it records a temperature within 3 seconds. It’s also exceptionally accurate (within about one degree). We received one of these as a gift several years ago, and find it indispensable. BTW, we have no connection with the makers of Thermapen, nor do we gain financially (or in any other way) from mentioning it. We’re just extremely happy users of their product.
- If the brisket gets done too quickly and you don’t want to hold it in in the oven (Step 9), you can wrap it in aluminum foil, then put it in an empty picnic cooler. When a cooler is covered (and, obviously, contains no ice), it will keep brisket warm for several hours.
- Alternatively, you can let the brisket cool, then refrigerate it in an airtight container (we like freezer bags). When you’re ready to serve, just pop the brisket into a 300-degree F oven for half an hour or so to warm it up.
- We’ve cooked brisket using both hot beef broth and hot water (Step 5). The broth adds some flavor, so that’s what we suggest. To make beef broth, we generally heat water, add it to the roasting pan, then add some beef base to the water along with the liquid smoke.
- When the brisket is finished, we recommend discarding the cooking liquid. However, you may want to remove the fat and taste it—the liquid is quite flavorful. We find it a bit too smoky for our tastes, but you may like it.
- What sauce should you serve with the brisket? We like to use our Tangy Barbecue Sauce. But your favorite barbecue sauce will work just fine.
- Beef brisket goes well with any number of side dishes. We like to serve it with Green Chile Chili Beans, Garlic Coleslaw, or American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad. Cornbread is also a great accompaniment—particularly Jalapeño Cornbread.
- Prefer to serve your brisket in a sandwich? Soft white bread is the classic choice (many people opt for Wonder Bread or the like). We tend to prefer a nice sturdy Kaiser roll, however. Just add barbecue sauce, sliced onion, and maybe a pickle or two, and you’re all set.
What’s Your Beef?
“Wowzer,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This is seriously good barbecue.”
“Yup,” I agreed. “Sure better than a lot of restaurant so-called barbecue we’ve had.”
“I’ve got no beef with it,” said Mrs K R.
“This recipe could feed a herd too,” I said. “Maybe I should use the leftovers to beef up another dish.”
“I bet we’re going to butcher some more puns before this is over,” said Mrs K R.
“How does BBQ Beef Brisket Chili sound to you?” I asked. “We could steak that out for next week’s post.”
“Sounds udderly delicious!” said Mrs K R. “And it’ll the answer that age-old question.”
“Which is?” I asked.
“Where’s the beef?” she replied.
That Mrs K R. She moo-ves me.
You may also enjoy reading about:
BBQ Beef Brisket Chili
Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs
Tangy Barbecue Sauce
Green Chile Chili Beans with Bacon
Skillet Jalapeño Cornbread
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
Or check out the index for more recipes