The snake method is one of the best ways to arrange charcoal when smoking a brisket on a kettle grill. This method will provide enough heat to last the entire cook. However, if you are smoking a large packer brisket, you may need to build a bigger snake, or add some more briquettes in the later stages of the cook.
How To Make A Charcoal Snake
- Make a large C shape, making it two or three briquettes wide and two or three high.
- Build a snake with about 130 briquettes — which should last for 10 to 12 hours.
- Adjust the top vent 1/8 to 1/4 open.
- Adjust the bottom vent 1/8 to 1/4 open.
- Make one adjustment at a time, then wait 10 minutes before making any other changes.
- Light about five briquettes and place them at the head of the snake. This will be enough to hold the temperature at 250° F for around about 12 hours. However, this is only a guide. The exact temperature and the length of cooking time will depend on your vent adjustments.
- Light one end of the snake, and scatter wood along the top of the front end of the snake.
If you want to kick start cooking sooner, place about 10 extra lit coals, separate from the snake. This will bring the kettle up to temperature much sooner, and help you overshoot the target temperature. Overshooting is important because when you place a large brisket in a smoker, it will suck a lot of the heat out of the kettle and drop the temperature.
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How To Lay Wood On The Snake
Scatter a few chunks of wood along the charcoal snake, particularly on the front end. You want to have a steady flow of smoke during the first stage of the cook, and you won’t need any wood at the back end because the brisket will be wrapped. As for the wood flavors, brisket blends well with hickory or pecan. I usually mix and match my wood to soften the smoke flavor. I usually go for a 50/50 mix of hickory and a fruitwood, such as apple. Pecan is a safe choice, because it has a moderate smoke flavor. Mesquite will make your brisket taste better if it’s a long cook. I would only use a small amount of mesquite, especially if you haven’t tried it before. Hickory can also make your meat taste better if the brisket is exposed for too long. Chunks work best, because chips will burn up too quickly. I actually sprinkle some chips alongside the chunks just for some extra smoke on the front half of the snake.
Adjust The Vents
Keep your vents anywhere between 1/8 and 1/4 open. Make one vent adjustment at a time and wait 10 minutes. Don’t just keep making adjustments. Give your kettle time to respond. The vents will determine how quickly you burn through the car, and the temperature of your Weber kettle. Obviously, the amount of wind will also influence the temperature stability as well.Try place your kettle grill in an area that’s protected from the wind. Otherwise, get yourself up with a barbecue temperature controller and attach a fan blower to your kettle and you’ll never have to worry about fluctuating temperatures again. You can get fan blowers from Fireboard that attach to the thermometers and control your kettle from your phone! If you don’t know more about barbecue temperature controllers, check out this article.
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The First Few Hours
During the first stage of the cook, leave the brisket alone. Don’t open the lid of your kettle and don’t spritz in the first few hours. As long as you’ve got a thermometer in the meat and a probe on the grill, then you don’t need to check on your brisket. If you keep opening the lid of your kettle grill, you’re going to lose all that precious heat that’s been building up. Then your kettle’s going to have to come up to temperature again.
Develop A Bark
The main reason you want to leave your brisket alone for the first 4 or 5 hours is to develop a nice bark. The bark is one of the best features of the smoked brisket and is a combination of smoke, dehydrated meat, rendered fat, and the dry rub.
How To Select a Good Brisket
If you can afford it, buy a brisket with a as much of marbling as possible. If the brisket is marbled, it will be less likely to dry out, and will have more flavor than a lean brisket. A USDA Prime and USDA Choice grade briskets taste much better because they have a nice amount of marbling. A USDA Select grade brisket tend to dry out easily and doesn’t have as much flavor.
How To Trim A Brisket
When preparing your brisket, leave 1/4 of an inch fat on the top. This will provide enough protection and prevent the brisket from drying out. When it’s time to put your brisket in the Weber Kettle, you’re better off placing it fat side down.
The Brisket Rub
The dry rub is one of the most important steps when smoking brisket. The rub will not only add to the flavor, it will also contribute to the texture of the bark. It’s important that the rub stick to the meat, otherwise you’ll have a patchy bark. You can use either olive oil or yellow mustard as a binder prior to applying the dry rub. Check out my article Should I Slather Brisket?
If you want a good rub recipe, check out this post where I provide the best recipes from pitmasters. Or, if you want to keep things simple, use an Aaron Franklin style rub on your brisket. Franklin uses a simple Texas rub whenever smoking brisket, which is a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and a 16- mesh course black pepper. When smoking pork, Franklin sometimes adds a little paprika for color, some granulated onion and garlic powder for more of a savory taste. But with brisket he keeps it fairly simple because you want the natural flavors of the beef to be the star of the show. However, Franklin uses quality meat which will have more flavor. If you’re using a lower grade beef, you might need it a little of a flavor boost by using a tasty rub.
Use A Thermometer
It’s very difficult to cook a brisket in a Weber kettle unless you have a decent meat thermometer. Without a thermometer, you’re guessing. A decent dual-probe thermometer will allow you to monitor the temperature of your Weber kettle, and the internal meat temperature of your brisket.
I use a TP-20 in my Weber kettle, and have done for many years. This is one of the most affordable and effective thermometers on the market and is still the best-selling meat thermometer on Amazon. Easy to use, durable and accurate. You can check it out here.
Spritzing The Brisket
After about 4 or 5 hours, check the brisket and see if it needs a spritz. Using a spray bottle with apple cider vinegar or apple juice, spray the brisket every hour until wrapping. You might notice some of the edges of the brisket are drying out, so make sure you give those areas a decent spray. Just make sure that the rub has set before spritzing, otherwise all your seasoning will wash off and you’ll have a patchy bark.
Wrapping The Brisket
Wrapping the brisket in aluminium foil or butcher paper is an important step in the brisket smoking process. Wrapping will help speed up the cook, protect the meat from getting too much smoke, and importantly, prevent the brisket from drying out. You want to wrap the brisket somewhere in the 160° F to 170° F temperature range. It is in this range where the brisket will usually stall, and wrapping will help push the brisket through this plateau. Wrap the brisket in a couple of layers of aluminium foil, and insert your thermometer probe back into the brisket. Experiment using butcher paper, and I find you get a better bark because the meat can breathe more. Check out this article on butcher paper or foil.
Brisket Done Temperature
Smoke the brisket until it reaches an internal temperature of 203° F. Don’t go by temperature alone, try to go more by look and feel rather than following exact times and temperatures. However, you’ll find that 203° F is a good target to shoot for. You may find the brisket has reached ideal tenderness sooner than 203° F, or even a little after.
The Tenderness Test
Pitmasters will tell you that a brisket should feel like poking a butter stick once it’s reached the perfect tenderness. You can take a toothpick, or use an instant-read thermometer and poke the brisket when it’s close to done temperature. If it feels like poking a stick of butter, then you have reached the ideal tenderness. If there is some resistance still, that needs a little more time for the fat and connective tissue to melt. Brisket is a tough cut of meat with a lot of connective tissue. It needs time and low temperature in order to break down and turn into gelatin. If you were to pull the brisket at 165° F, it will be too tough.
Resting The Brisket
If you slice your brisket too soon, you’re going to lose a lot of the precious meat juice and the brisket will become dry. You need to allow the brisket time to relax, and reabsorb some of the moisture. During the cook, the muscles will tighten up, and push a lot of the moisture out.
You should allow around about 1 hour for the brisket to rest prior to slicing. Only slice what you need, because the moment you cut the brisket open, moisture will escape. You are better off saving your leftovers as a whole piece rather than brisket slices.
Another popular technique is holding your brisket after smoking. This involves placing the brisket into a dry cooler, where it can sit for about 4 hours or longer and remain hot. Leave the brisket in its foil wrapping, and you can also wrap it in a towel. Insert the thermometer probe back into the brisket so you can keep track of the internal temperature. As long as it doesn’t go below 145° F, the meat is safe.
I find holding is a great way to plan my brisket cooks. You can have the brisket done for a 5 hours before your guests arrive or when you plan on serving. For more on the subject, check out this article Should I rest brisket in a cooler?
My Favorite Brisket Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Injector: Injecting meat is a great way to take your barbecue to the next level and help you make competition-style brisket. An injector is the only way you will be able to get flavor and moisture into the middle of the meat. The Beast Injector is a stainless steel injector that is sturdy and affordable. Check the latest price on Amazon here.
Brisket Marinade: The best injection solution on the market is the Butcher BBQ Brisket Injection. This marinade is used in competitions and is made by World Barbecue Champion pitmaster, Dave Bouska. You can find the marinade on Amazon here.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Brisket Rub: These days I make my own rub when possible, but I always have a few pre-made rubs for when I’m running low. Barbecue guru Malcom Reed produces Killer Hogs, one of the best brisket rubs I’ve found over the years. Another great rub is Slap Yo Daddy, made by brisket master and multiple World Barbecue Champion, Harry Soo.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBooard website here.
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