There are plenty of ways to infuse rich flavor into a brisket cooked indoors, but nothing beats a real-deal grilled barbecue brisket. Slow-cooking for hours over indirect heat, brisket meat becomes unbeatably tender and juicy in a sweet-and-tangy sauce.
Grilling over indirect heat is a fantastic hands-off way to feed a crowd, too. Prepare this stellar entree for picnics, backyard barbecues and holiday cookouts. If the weather cooperates and you can access your grill during the winter months, you could even make this recipe as an alternative to turkey or ham for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
What is brisket?
Beef brisket comes from the well-exercised pectoral muscle (or breast) of the cow. It has a reputation for being difficult to cook. In fact, one of my instructors in culinary school always repeated the mantra, “Brisket—don’t risk it.” You see, brisket is one of those tough-muscle cuts with a lot of connective tissue. If cooked incorrectly, it can turn out tough and stringy. And no one wants to risk their reputation on a chewy piece of meat!
Luckily, I didn’t listen to my instructor’s advice, and I regularly risk it all. Beef brisket becomes mouth-watering, tender and juicy during low-and-slow cooking methods like smoking, indirect-heat grilling and braising. As long as you don’t try to rush it, your barbecue brisket will become the star of your gathering every time.
A whole packer brisket is huge, so ask your butcher for a smaller, trimmed brisket (here are more tips from butchers). You’ll have two choices, the flat cut or the point cut. The point cut (also called the “deckle cut”) is richer and thicker than the flat cut, and it contains more fat. However, it can take longer to cook because of its uneven shape. The flat cut is leaner, but it still has plenty of intramuscular fat to keep the meat juicy as it cooks. It tends to cook more evenly and is easier to slice, so it’s more presentation-worthy on a platter.
Ingredients for Barbecue Brisket
- Beef brisket: Look for a brisket with good marbling. Marbling is the long streaks of white fat within the lean sections of beef. USDA-graded Prime beef has the best marbling, and it’s also the most expensive. You can always opt for Choice beef if it fits your budget better. Just make sure to choose a fresh beef brisket (not corned beef) for this recipe.
- Sauce: Cooking your brisket in a sauce helps the meat stay nice and moist. In this recipe, our sauce gets its tangy undertone from cider vinegar and ketchup, sweetness from brown sugar and dark corn syrup, and slightly spicy vibes from mustard, prepared horseradish and garlic. The sauce becomes infused with the brisket’s rich, beefy flavor, so don’t toss it out when you’re finished cooking. Serve it alongside the sliced meat.
Step 1: Prepare the sauce
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect medium heat.
In a small saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, ketchup, water, cider vinegar, canola oil, dark corn syrup, mustard, horseradish and garlic. Cook and stir over medium heat for three to four minutes or until brown sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a disposable foil pan.
Step 2: Brown the brisket
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the brisket on both sides. Place the brisket in the foil pan, turning to coat it with the sauce. Cover the pan tightly with foil.
Editor’s Tip: Browning the brisket on both sides adds a caramelized flavor to the brisket and sauce. If you don’t want to dirty a skillet, you can instead brown the brisket on the direct heat side of the grill.
Step 3: Grill the brisket
Place the foil pan on a grill rack over the indirect heat. Grill, covered, for 2 hours to 2 hours and 15 minutes or until the meat is tender.
Editor’s Tip: A meat thermometer is the best way to know when brisket is finished cooking. Beef brisket becomes tender when it reaches 195°F.
Step 4: Rest and slice the brisket
Remove the pan from the grill. Remove the brisket from the pan, and tent it with foil. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, skim the fat from the sauce in the pan.
Cut the brisket diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Serve with the sauce.
Editor’s Tip: Cutting across the grain shortens the muscle fibers to the length of the slice. These shorter fibers are easier to chew, and thus more tender. To find the grain, look for the muscle fibers that run parallel to each other. Position your knife perpendicular to these fibers, then slice.
- Add a brisket rub: Coat the brisket with your favorite dry rub recipe. For extra flavor, let the dry-rubbed brisket sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight.
- Make it smoky: Use soaked wood chips to turn your grill into a smoker. Or add a teaspoon of liquid smoke to the sauce to infuse the brisket with smoky essence.
- Use another cooking method: We love making barbecue brisket on the grill, but you could also make this recipe on a smoker. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, take the brisket inside and make slow-cooker brisket, Instant Pot brisket or oven brisket.
Can you make barbecue brisket ahead of time?
To make barbecue brisket ahead of time, cook the brisket until it’s tender. Let the pan cool slightly, then wrap it tightly, and refrigerate overnight. When you’re ready to serve, remove the pan from the refrigerator. Use a spoon to scrape away the fat from the sauce. Slice the brisket against the grain, and return it to the pan. Cover it tightly, and reheat the brisket in a 250° oven until it’s warmed through, 60 to 90 minutes.
How to Store Barbecue Brisket
Store brisket with the sauce in an airtight container. The sauce will keep the brisket from drying out. Leftover brisket is good for up to four days in the refrigerator. You can also freeze the brisket and sauce in a freezer-safe container for up to three months. Reheat the brisket as directed above.
Barbecue Brisket Tips
How long does it take to cook barbecue beef brisket?
As a general rule of thumb, brisket takes about one hour per pound when cooked over indirect medium heat on a grill. In this recipe, a 2-pound beef brisket cooks in about two hours. Every brisket is different, though, so the process can take longer. Give yourself plenty of time with brisket recipes, and don’t try to rush them. Plan ahead if you use a larger cut to make this recipe for a crowd. A whole packer brisket can take 10 to 12 hours (or more!).
What do you serve with barbecue brisket?
Barbecue brisket is a hearty main dish that pairs well with barbecue sides like coleslaw, cornbread, baked beans, potato salad, collard greens and macaroni and cheese. Serve barbecue brisket with the sauce it cooks in, or whip up your favorite barbecue sauce.
What can you do with leftover barbecue brisket?
There are so many ways to use leftover brisket! You can use chopped brisket in most recipes that call for leftover steak, like pizza, salad, pasta or quesadillas. The leftovers make excellent beef flautas, brisket sandwiches and brisket tacos.