The perfect brisket is the holy grail of barbecue—often pursued, rarely attained. The basic principle for cooking brisket can be summed up in a single sentence: You smoke this tough ornery cut low and slow until it’s tender enough to cut with the side of a fork. Then, you spend the next decade mastering the fine points. Your goal is a thick moist slab with a crusty “bark,” a vivid smoke ring, and meat so smoky, you’re inclined to measure your consumption in pounds not ounces. What follows is a synthesis of my favorite Hill Country briskets.
Step 1: Trim the brisket so as to leave a 1/4-inch cap of fat. (Any less and the brisket will dry out; any more, and the fat will prevent the rub from seasoning the meat.)
Step 2: Place the mustard, salt, pepper, powdered Worcestershire sauce, if using, in a bowl and mix them with your fingers. Sprinkle the rub on the brisket on all sides, rubbing onto the meat. If you have time, wrap the brisket in plastic wrap and let it cure in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight.
Step 3: If you are using a smoker: Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat it to 250 degrees F. When ready to cook, place the brisket fat side up in the smoker. Add wood chips or chunks to the smoker every hour, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 4: If you are using a charcoal grill: Set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a a large drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.) When ready to cook, toss about 1 1/2 cups of wood chips or chunks on the coals. Place the brisket on the hot grate over the drip pan, fat side up, and cover the grill. You’ll need to add fresh coals and more wood chips or chunks to each side of the grill every hour for the first 4 hours.
Step 5: Smoke or grill the brisket until a dark “bark” (outside crust) forms and the internal temperature of the meat is about 160 degrees F, about 5 hours; use an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness. Then, tightly wrap the brisket in a couple of layers of aluminum foil, crimping the edges to make a tight seal. Return the brisket to the smoker or grill and continue cooking until the brisket is very tender—the internal temperature should be 190 to 195 degrees F, about 3 hours longer.
Step 6: Remove the wrapped brisket from the smoker or grill and place it, still wrapped in foil, in a warm spot, such as an insulated cooler lined with newspapers or towels. Let the brisket rest for about 30 minutes. This resting period is very important; during that time, the brisket will reabsorb its juices.
Step 7: To serve, unwrap the brisket and thinly slice it. Spoon any juices over the brisket and serve the Coca-Cola Barbecue Sauce on the side.
If you don’t have Worcestershire powder, add 1 tablespoon more of dry mustard to the rub.