When it comes to how to make a brisket, prep is the key. What you do to the meat before you put it into a smoker, Dutch oven or crock pot makes all the difference.
Recently Michael Johnson, a Culinary Arts instructor at Lincoln Culinary Institute (LCI) in Shelton, CT paid a visit to the Bull & Swine, a Southern style restaurant in New Haven. In the kitchen, Chef Ross Ragusa – a grad of LCI who now holds the title of Chef de cuisine – took time to show how he prepares one of Bull & Swine’s most popular selections: brisket.
From trimming the fat, to creating a rub, to explaining how crucial the “spritz” is, watch as Chef Ross teaches you how to make a memorable brisket, step by step, in this informative and hunger pang-inducing video.
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How to Make a Brisket: Full Transcript
Chef Michael: Good afternoon. I’m Chef Michael Johnson, culinary instructor at the Lincoln Culinary Institute, and we’re here today at the Bull & Swine on State Street in New Haven. And with us today, a Lincoln graduate and chef here at the Bull & Swine, Chef Ross. Tell us about your journey from Day One at Lincoln to here.
Chef Ross: It started back in November 2015, and it was just a wonderful experience at Lincoln Culinary. The teachers there are phenomenal. Learned so much. It’s really hard to go through so many memories in just a short briefing, but I was just really blown away with the education that I got there, and if you put the work in, you get a lot out of it. And it was just very exciting. I finished about last August, and for my externship, I started here. And I’ve been here ever since, starting off as a prep cook and working my way up to sous chef. And then we had a change in management, and I’m now chef de cuisine here at Bull & Swine and couldn’t be happier.
Chef Michael: Like you said, if you put what you put into it at the culinary school, this is where you’ll be, right? Taking over a restaurant, having fun, doing what you love. And today, you’re [going to show us how to do] something you really love. Will you tell us about that?
Chef Ross: Yes, today, we’re going to be fabricating a brisket, and we’ll talk a little bit about our dry rub and our sprays that we use, and we’re going to be smoking it … So here we have a choice brisket. Just one hair under prime, which is the best on the market. And there are two main pieces of un-renderable fat that you need to take out of the brisket. One is on the bottom and the other one is on the top. So, for starters, we have right here in this corner, this one piece of fat that’s un-renderable. You don’t want it in your brisket. So we’re going to start off by taking that bad boy out.
We’re not going to render it down for au jus or anything like that. I’ll trim off some of this even though this all renders down anyways. You can sit there and clean this for hours if you really wanted to, but you’re just going to end up losing product because I would guarantee, you’ll end up digging into it. But we’ll just take away some of this little stuff. Anything hard fat, you don’t want.
I’m happy with that. Flip it over. Now on the top half of your brisket, you have this piece right here, which is about maybe a half-inch thick of un-renderable fat that you do not want. Everything on this side that you could feel is nice and soft. About a quarter-inch thick is your ideal thickness for brisket. We don’t want to take off too much because then you’d lose your flavor. So we’re going to trim off some fat. And a little deep here, it’s all right. Yeah, this is all fat.
You want to give it a nice feel. Anything that’s hard, you don’t want.
Chef Michael: I can see you did very well in knife skills and meat fabrication.
Chef Ross: Yes. [The Lincoln Culinary Institute instructor] taught us quite a bit. That was one of my favorite modules that we did.
Now, we’re ready for dry rubbing. We here at Bull & Swine do the basic dry rub for any type of meat, which is two parts salt, one part pepper. We’ve got barbecue champions like Aaron Franklin down in Texas who swear by just two parts black pepper, one part salt.
We take one part of that black pepper and we grind those down and we use that as a third, plus our black pepper and plus our salt, and sometimes we throw a couple extra peppers in there, but we’re going to keep that our little house secret. But I’m very liberal with dry rubbing.
Seasoning high is ideal so you get even distribution. Seasoning low, then you get some heavy spots and light spots. But we season nice and high to get a nice, even rub. I like to take that, rub it all in some more. Then it can go less heavy on the top since the top is mostly fat anyways. I like to cover all the surfaces. The sides, all of it. Which will make for good bark in the end product after we spritz. All right. This brisket’s pretty much ready to go in the smoker.
Chef Michael: Now when you say “bark” and “spritz,” what is that telling us?
Chef Ross: What you want in your end product is nice, what they call, bark. There’s dozens of recipes, but I usually have some sort of sugar base in there, as well, so to carmelize it, create a nice crust. That’s what people want. Like, your nice burnt ends on briskets all come from good spritzes. We use even parts cola and cherry juice, about 12 ounces of each, and 4 ounces of bourbon is our spritz. And it’s also important to not spritz too early in the smoking process. We like to smoke for about 12 hours. About the last three hours, we’re going to get some spritzing. Or you can burn the sugar, so you over-carmelize and then your bark tastes very bitter.
So now we’re going to slide this into our Southern Pride smoker. Be sure to cook this meat. Get that bad boy in there. I’m going to set this, our temp to 212 for about 12 hours. And we’re going to try to hold that about 20 degrees less than where you start. So around 190 is my ideal holding temperature. You don’t want it to hold too low because you want all the hints of muscular fat to render down, so it’s not a chewy product, either. Because brisket can be tough if you under-cook it. A nice, high temperature gets good smoldering …
Now let me clean this up, put on a new pair of gloves and we’ll pull out the end product.