Thank you again to all of you who contributed to my thread about wood chips and BBQ brisket that ran on November 25-6. I wanted to post about the experience. This is not a happy story.
I performed the BBQ on last Wednesday, the 4th, a lovely fall day with temps in the 20s. I used my Weber Smokey Mountain with Kingsford charcoal and hickory chips. Fire was provided via the Minion Method, which I will link to a description of at the end. This method allowed for me to avoid having to add more fuel during the smoking.
The meat was a whole brisket, untrimmed, right out of the meatpacker's shrinkwrap, about 12 lbs. I rubbed it the night before with Willy's Number One-derful Rub, which can be found as the first recipe in the cookbook Smoke and Spice, by Jamison & Jamison.
I put the meat on heat at 7:35 AM. It was a little too big at first, and next time I would probably put it on some kind of rack so it'll bend and stay on edge for the first couple of hours.
The temperature came up slowly, and I made my first mistake at a few minutes to 9. The temp inside was still below 200, so I opened the vents almost all the way, and then went inside to give my infant daughter her breakfast. I returned at 9:15 and found the temperature at about 375! I immediately closed all the vents most of the way, but it took over an hour to get the temperature down to a little below 250, and I couldn't get it below like 240 the whole afternoon.
Somewhere around noon I flipped the brisket, putting the fat side on top for basting. The meat had by now shrunk enough to do so. This was the only flip.
At 3:45 I mopped with Basic Beer Mop, from the same cookbook. I applied more of the same at 6:20.
Based on advice from this board (not passing the buck here, decision was mine alone) I determined to leave the meat on the smoker for a full 12 hours. I removed the meat at 7:35, brought it in, and left it on the counter wrapped in foil until about 8:45.
OK, so those of you who know BBQ can probably guess where this is going based upon temperature control issues...
FINAL RESULT: If it's possible to desecrate a piece of meat, I would humbly submit that I've accomplished it. I cut in with my electric knife, against the grain, starting at one end. I got 2 slices in before I could detect actual meat. At first I was like "OK, well burnt ends are a delicacy..." This fantasy fast faded.
There was definitely a good smoke ring, but there wasn't enough moisture to taste much of the leaner parts of the meat beyond a strong leather sensation. The fattier section under the cap did have some decent flavor, but the meat didn't really absorb enough of the rendered fat to be that good. The bottom of the brisket was so charred and tough, that it was almost impossible for my electric carver to cut through. I basically stood at the cutting board ripping into this thing for almost 2 hours, searching for tasty morsels, but only found a few. After much pleading from my wife (and I won't tell you what she said about the results, because this is a family board...) I finally chucked 90% of the mess.
So what happened? Well, I got several good lessons:
1) If you're cooking too hot, pull the meat off for a while.
2) Don't make radical changes to your airflow, and ESPECIALLY don't make them and walk away.
3) If you do cook too hot (above 225) for a while, you probably need to cook for less time.
4) I did get a nice smokiness in the fat. Therefore, I can probably salvage the basic technique from the experience.
I'm counting on you all to point out some other obvious blunders that have likely sailed clear over my head.
As for me, well I'm a little wiser and all it cost me was a $25 piece of meat and about 15 hours of my vacation time, which I did multitask for much of. In fact, on a related note, during the mid-day hours I roasted a turkey which came out superb! I use the high-heat method found on page 616 of the New Joy of Cooking (hardcover), and have had nothing but the moistest breast meat every time.
So, the day wasn't a total loss. I feel pretty bad about not getting my brisket, and possibly offending the brisket gods, but I was just coming off a brisket bender anyway. I'd made about 12 lbs (precooked) of traditional braised brisket like momma's for a Hanukkah party, which was stupendous, and we were eating it until the day before anyhow. My smoker's frozen solid from the snow we got on Thursday, so we'll have to wait until spring to try the BBQ version again.