The brisket hit the smoker at 8am. The whiskey was open by 11am. An early start is important. It’s well established that good barbecue should begin around dawn. It needs the better part of a day to drip, blacken, and break down into tender perfection.
That’s why Thomas Boemer, chef at Revival and Corner Table, had a gorgeous brisket on my smoker by 8am. And the whiskey? Well, that’s because nothing complements a full day of chatting with one of the finest barbecue minds in the Twin Cities better than a few fingers of Kentucky’s finest.
“This is actually my pork shoulder technique,” Boemer says. “It’s a very Carolina way of doing it. Where I come from, true barbecue isn’t whole hog, it’s specifically pork shoulder—which, if you think about it, is a lot like brisket when it comes to the proportion of meat to bark, and tissue to fiber.”
With a second Revival location (featuring expanded barbecue offerings) taking shape in St. Paul, what better time to have Boemer over to helm a Southern feast? We did it all in a Green Egg, but this would work in any smoker setup; just make sure the heat is indirect and you have a full day to let it patiently smoke and rest.
Boemer wasn’t the only chef in the kitchen that day who knows his smoked meats. Alex Roberts of Brasa and Restaurant Alma came by a little later in the day to grind his own cornmeal into fresh masa for brisket tacos (more on that here, as Roberts breaks down the expected virtue of masa). We can’t give away all these chefs’ secrets, but Roberts was kind enough to bring brisket beans, and share with us his recipe for creamy chard.
Finally, Nick Rancone, Boemer’s partner at Corner Table and Revival, dropped by with an armful of exceptional sour beers—a marvelous pairing for rich foods like barbecue; if you haven’t tried it, they bring that burst of acid needed to balance the fatty brisket and creamy chard.
There’s no way I could absorb all the barbecue wisdom Boemer dispelled over the course of that afternoon. Instead, I’ll let a few important tips punctuate the recipe, which can be found in all its glory on the next page.
How to smoke your Brisket like the pros
- 12 pounds all-natural beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
- ¼ cup paprika
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup brown sugar
Thomas Boemer: For the meat, you want to get as close to prime grade as possible. And look for beef that has never been treated with hormones or antibiotics.
The night before smoking, mix the spices together and spread evenly over the brisket. Refrigerate the brisket overnight, uncovered, on a wire resting rack over a sheet pan. Plan ahead for 11–14 total hours of cooking time before serving.
TB: You want to use wood. In true barbecue form, you’d burn down wood in a fire pit and transfer the coals to the firebox or Green Egg. I use hickory or oak, or a blend of each. Burn the wood down to coals, chop them into smaller chunks if you need to, and add them as needed.
Early in the morning, heat your smoker to 350°F, making sure there’s no direct heat on the brisket, and smoke the brisket for about two hours.
TB: You’re trying to get the outside hot as quick as you can, to get the internal temperature to where you’re breaking down the connective tissue. Then it can just coast at a lower temperature after that.
Drop the temperature of the smoker to 300°F for the next four hours, or until the meat reaches about 150°F.
TB: When you smoke brisket or shoulder, it climbs up to about 150°F at a steady, predictable rate. But then what happens is called “the stall”—the meat starts to lose moisture and the evaporation stops the temperature from rising. It might only go up 10 degrees in two or three hours. Some people wrap their brisket in foil with beer or apple cider to push through the stall. I don’t like that, because you lose the crispy bark—and that’s a very precious thing.
Turn the smoker down to 275°F and cook until you feel a loose jiggle in the brisket (or until it reaches an internal temperature of roughly 200°F). This step may take 3–6 hours, depending on the size of the brisket.
TB: It’s all about that jiggle. That’s the most important thing when you look for doneness, that signature jiggle. There’s a certain amount of relaxing the meat does. You’ll poke one side and it’ll go from tipping back and forth like a rock, to jiggling like a Jello mold. I pull out brisket at 204°F. Someone once told me that’s the temperature to look for, and I’ve done that ever since. It just works.
Finally, let it rest for two hours in a 140°F environment before slicing into it. (If you leave it in your smoker, turn off the smoker and shut all the vents, killing the fire.) Make sure to slice against the grain.
TB: Just make sure that it’s cool enough when it’s resting. Those Green Eggs retain heat so well, that if you just leave it in there, you’re done for. It works to leave it in a big barrel smoker, but make sure you’re around 140°F. I’ll even rest my briskets in an Igloo cooler.
Enjoy! See the Creamed Swiss Chard recipe on the next page for a side dish, or get some other ideas from the below photos.
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Photos by Kevin Kramer