Smoklahoma Brisket

Place of origin: Oklahoma
Method: indirect grilling/ smoking
Serves 12 to 16.

Larry Willrath lives in Yukon (Oklahoma, not Alaska). We met through my web site, where the talk often turns to how to smoke the perfect brisket. Given Oklahoma's central location, it's not surprising that an Okie brisket would combine elements from Texas and Kansas City. The rub, for example, boasts the Tex-Mex tingle chili powder, cayenne, and cumin. In Kansas City style, the meat is basted with a sweet-sour mixture of apple cider and vinegar. Of course, Larry adds a few twists of his own, like marinating the brisket in a paste of brown sugar and mustard, then swaddling it in aluminum foil half way through the cooking to keep the meat moist and tender. What results is a brisket bursting with regional personality, with a complex layering of flavor that just won't quit.

Tips: Larry cooks his brisket in a smoker fashioned from a 500 gallon propane tank, taking the concept of "low and slow" to a whole new level. (Low? How about 190 degrees? Slow? How about 24 hours?) You simply can't cook this low and slow on a charcoal or gas grill, so I've raised the temperature and shortened the cooking time. But if you have a smoker that runs on low heat, you can certainly try Larry's method. By the way, the Oklahoma pit master starts smoking the brisket over a mixture of oak, pecan, and hickory, switching to apple wood midway through. Note: this recipe is fairly easy, but it does take time for marinating and smoking. Start first thing in the morning.
  • 1 12 pound beef brisket
for the seasoning paste:
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons apple juice or cider (or as needed)
for the rub:
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) paprika
  • 3 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons celery salt
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons pure chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
for the mop sauce:
  • 1 quart apple juice or apple cider
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce
You'll also need: 4 cups oak chips or chunks, soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained. (Note: if using chunks in a smoker, you'll probably need more like 8 cups.)

1. Trim the outer layer of fat on the brisket so that about 1/4 inch remains. Cut out the pocket of fat between the flat and cap. Place the brisket in a foil or ceramic roasting pan.

2. Make the seasoning paste. Place the mustard, sugar, and garlic in a mixing bowl. Stir in enough apple juice to obtain a thick paste. (How thick? Like wallpaper paste, says Larry.) Spread half this paste over the brisket on both sides with a rubber spatula or your fingers. Let sit for 15 minutes. Spread the remaining paste over the brisket on both sides and let set for another 15 minutes.

3. Combine the ingredients for the rub in a bowl and stir to mix. Sprinkle the rub over the brisket on both sides, rubbing it into the meat with your fingertips. Cover the brisket and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.

4. Make the mop sauce. Combine the apple juice, vinegar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until the salt crystals are dissolved.

5. Set up your grill for indirect grilling. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips in the smoker box or a smoker pouch. Run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to low (275 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, preheat to low and toss 1 cup wood chunks on the coals. If using a smoker, fire it up according to the manufacturer's instructions.

6. Place the meat fat side up on the grill (away from the heat) or in the smoker. Cook it until handsomely browned, 3-1/2 to 4 hours. (The internal temperature will be about 165 degrees.) If using a charcoal grill, replenish the coals and wood every hour. Mop or baste the meat every hour with the mop sauce.

7. Generously brush the brisket on both sides with the barbecue sauce and tightly wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil. Continue cooking the brisket until very tender, another 3-1/2 to 4 hours, for a total of 7 to 8 hours cooking time. This will be easy in a smoker. It's a little more challenging to maintain such a low heat on a gas or charcoal grill-work at a higher heat if you have to, but shorten the cooking time. Partially unwrap the brisket to test for doneness, taking care not to spill the juices-the meat should be very dark and very tender, with an internal temperature of around 190 degrees. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and let rest for at least 20 minutes.

8. Thinly slice the meat across the grain. Spoon the reserved juices over the brisket and serve at once. You could accompany the meat with your favorite barbecue sauce, but if you do so, serve it on the side. The brisket will be so phenomenal, you shouldn't distract the first taste with sauce. Hell, Larry Willrath doesn't bother with sauce period. ("The brisket doesn't need it," he says) and I'm inclined to agree with him.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort