Thu Aug 22, 2019
Up until a couple years ago, I thought I needed to go to Texas to get my fix of truly incredibly beef brisket—no smokehouse near where I live comes anywhere close to the good stuff, and previous home efforts weren't up to snuff. Then all of that changed three summers ago when I finally smoked a brisket in my Weber bullet that was on par with what I'm used to getting in Texas. That shifted my outlook on brisket completely, and instead of shying away from cooking them, I started the make them more often. This summer I reached a point where brisket smoking began to feel monotonous and I wasn't satisfied with serving brisket as is, no matter how good it was. So when I smoked up another brisket beauty at my annual Carne-val celebration, I branched out just a bit and put together brisket tacos, but kept the entire thing very much Texas-influenced.
North Carolina, where I live, is very much hog country and we have a general quality and quantity of beef problem. This is extra true for brisket—it's fairly easy to get a brisket flat, but a full packer is hard to come by, and with few to no true butchers, it's also hard to order at a reasonable price. Oddly enough, the only place I've been able to find packer briskets—which have both the point and flat sections—is Walmart, and luckily they stock it pretty consistently and are priced right.
I knew I was going to make the brisket into tacos from the start, which had me considering a rub that went beyond the standard salt and pepper to pair better with the taco theme. After some contemplating though, I decided to hold true to the Texas-style and put together a rub of salt and coarse black pepper that I ground myself right before the time of use for maximum potency. My recipe goes in heavier on the pepper because I'm partial to the strong bite it creates in the bark.
After trimming the fat cap down to a 1/4-inch and removing some of the hard fat between the point and flat, I seasoned the entire piece of meat liberally with the salt and pepper rub. Sometimes when applying, I feel like I'm adding way too much rub, but brisket seems to like a lot of seasoning and I've never had one come out too salty or overly peppery.
I'm not sure why I started producing really good briskets, although I feel like it's a mixture of refining my cooking process, keeping the smoker at a more steady temperature, and intuition that has come from years of barbecuing great things mixed in with the less-than products I've outputted over that time. I had originally thought my Weber smoker was just not the right vessel for a brisket, but that has turned out not to be the case, although I think I would still get a better result from a quality offset smoker burning more wood than charcoal.
I now let my brisket smoke at 225°F until it develops a deeply darkened bark. This is usually an overnight proposition, and the photo before this one was taken around sunset time, and one right above was early the next morning. It's usually 10 to 12 hours until the bark looks right, and the internal temperature of the meat when it's time to wrap the brisket seems to consistently come in around 180°F.
I've been going with butcher paper as my wrap of choice for briskets, the main reason being is that's what's most common in Texas and why not go with what the pros do. I haven't tested, but I assume the fact that butcher paper still allows some moisture to escape and it becomes saturated in fat, which sits right on the surface of the meat, are both reasons why butcher paper may have a leg up on foil here—although some of the top briskets I've had in Texas have been foil wrapped, so either works well.
After wrapping the brisket, I let it cook until it reaches 203°F, which does seem to be a magic number for this particular cut. Once it hits that mark, I toss the entire thing in the Cambro and let it sit for at least an hour, up the three. The rest seems essential for letting the bark soften and re-saturate with fat, as well as letting the meat to get to its ideal moistness and textural best.
There's nothing quite as satisfying as slicing into an incredibly well cooked brisket I made myself. As the beef releases waterfalls of fat, the meat revels its extreme tenderness and that makes every second of those 18 hours of process and waiting worth it.
Unlike a pork butt, a brisket shouldn't fall apart when it's smoked correctly—it should be super tender, but still hold together when sliced. So this meant to get the small pieces of brisket I wanted for the tacos, I needed to cut off slices and then dice those up to prepare them for stuffing into tortillas.
The only weak part of these tacos were the tortillas. I usually prepare my own flour tortillas so they have the required lard and freshness to make them as good as they can be. On this particular day, I didn't have the time to go homemade, so I picked up street-taco sized flour tortillas from the grocery. To my surprise, these puffy tortillas were better than the standard ones I pull off the shelf, and that even includes those by the same brand. So it wasn't all bad, just not as good as homemade, but even a not great tortilla is still pretty satisfying when warmed, which I used my grill to do here.
After the tortillas were toasty, I assembled the tacos with brisket first, then pickled red onions, fresh jalapeño slices, Longhorn cheddar, and a squeeze of sour cream, which all came together into a package that epitomized the best of Texas cooking. The brisket was as juicy as I could had hoped for, with a dark peppery bark that delivered the primary flavor in the tacos. The pickled red onions provided the acidity to help cut through the heaviness, while the jalapeño lent its heat and fruity freshness. Cheese and sour cream just felt required to make something Tex-mex, so they tasted at home here, and the soft flour tortilla was the right vessel—a corn one would not have tasted quite right with this taco mixture. So I've kept the quality brisket flowing, but am finding new paths of delivery, which is making it feel a little less like I'm just making Texas brisket now, and more like I'm delivering at true Meatwave one!
- Prep Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 1 Hour
- Cook Time:
- 14 Hours
- Total Time:
- 15 Hours 30 Minutes
- 18 servings
- For the Pickled Red Onions
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- For the Brisket
- 1/4 cup coarsely ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1 brisket point (about 5-7lb), any exterior fat layer trimmed to 1/4-inch
- 2 chunks of a medium smoking wood, such as oak or hickory
- For the Tacos
- 36 street taco-size flour tortillas, warmed on grill or in oven
- 3/4lb Longhorn cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 cup sour cream
- 4 large jalapeños, cut into slices
- To make the pickled red onions: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add in onions and boil for 1 minute. Drains onions in a colander or fine mesh strainer. Transfer onions to now empty saucepan along with vinegar and salt. Add enough cold water to just submerge the onions. Bring to a boil over high high, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 minute. Transfer onions to glass jar with enough liquid to submerge onions, cover, and place in refrigerator until completely chilled.
- To make the brisket: In a small bowl combine pepper and salt to make the rub. Season brisket all over liberally with the rub. Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood chunks when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, place brisket in the smoker or grill, fat side up, and smoke until an instant read thermometer registers around 180°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Wrap brisket butcher paper, place back on smoker or grill, and continue to cook until an instant read thermometer registers 203°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Place brisket in a cooler or over and let rest for 1 to 3 hours.
- To make the tacos: Remove brisket from butcher paper and cut into a medium dice. Place a generous portion of brisket in each warmed taco and top with pickled red onions, jalapeño slices, cheese, and sour cream. Serve immediately.