Brisket Blues

So I’ve had great luck making brisket Uncle Jeff’s way, braised in wine, beer or stock, with lots of onions to make a succulent gravy. The pot is covered to create a moist environment, and within three, maybe four hours, the meat is tender enough to eat with a spoon.

For election night at Casa Appetite, I chose a different brisket route, one with more smoke than liquid, for an American barbecue feel. But here’s the rub (and not the spice rub, which I’ll get to shortly): I’m without a smoker, grill or pit. So Miss Thing over here decides she’s gonna smoke her brisket in the oven.

I had it all planned out: I soaked wood chips in water overnight and placed them in the bottom part of a broiler pan, with a few inches of water. The top part, which is vented, is where the brisket, marinated in and spice rubbed (with help from “The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking and Entertaining by Cheryl & Bill Jamison) would go. Then I’d cover with foil to create even more moisture and put my theory of oven smoke and moisture to the test.

The oven was set to 250 degrees, and I crossed my fingers. If I didn’t burn down the house and ruin the oven, I’m thinking I might be onto something. It was a small brisket too, just three pounds, so how long could it really take?

I put my experiment into the oven at 1:30, and I’m thinking, if all goes well, this baby should be done by 5:30 tops.

Boy, do I feel like a dope.

5:30 comes and goes, and the brisket is far from being succulent and spoon tender. Friends are due any minute, the baked beans are waiting for their turn in the oven and I’ve got blue corn bread asking for attention to boot.

While our small group gathers 'round the CNN fireplace, the meat upstairs is saying, what were you thinking? I crank up the heat from 250 to 295, but I knew deep in my cook’s heart that something was amiss.

Ah yes, liquid.

By seven, the brisket had budged some, but not enough. I cut off an end; the flavor was there, lots and lots of it, but the texture was, well, downright chewy. Out went the wood and in went one beer, the brisket wading happily. I cranked the temp to 325, covered the pan and prayed for a lil’ kitchen karma.

Sure enough, the meat liked the bath, but it was kind of too little, too late. My guests, promised dinner with their election returns, were getting antsy. I had to face the music. My brisket, although more striated and tender than just an hour ago, remained shoe leathery.

So it’s the morning after, and I’m hanging my head, more than a little embarrassed. My guests, gracious and too kind, lapped up the brisket, and as we watched John McCain deliver his concession speech and then Barack Obama address the nation, I was reminded of the all-powerful lesson: Some days we win, some days we lose, and it’s never too late to learn from one’s mistakes.

Brisket Rub
From "The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking and Entertaining" by Cheryl & Bill Jamison
2 tablespoons smoked salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons smoked or sweet paprika
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder or another kind


1 12-ounce bottle or can beer or 1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 canned chipotle chiles, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from the can
2 tablespoons pure liquid smoke (I omitted)

One four-pound brisket (I adjusted rub amounts accordingly for a three-pounder)

The night before you plan to cook, stir together the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside all about 2 tablespoons of the rub. Combine marinade ingredients, including 2 tablespoons of the rub, in a blender or food processor, and puree. Place brisket in a large zippered plastic bag and pour marinade over it. Seal and refrigerate brisket overnight.

Before you begin to cook, remove brisket from the refrigerator. Drain and discard marinade. Pat brisket down with remaining rub, coating meat well. Let brisket sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 5, 2008; 12:00 PM ET Kitchen Musings
Previous: Where's Food on the Next Presidential Agenda? | Next: Chat Leftovers: Post-Election Eyes on Thanksgiving


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In the end, what would your advice be for cooking the brisket with this marinade?

Posted by: con-e | November 5, 2008 12:34 PM

Hey con-e, I'm still working that out, as the revelations were late into the night. In hindsight, I should have placed marinated brisket in a roasting pan or covered Dutch oven kind of thing, with another 12-ounce beer or equivalent amounts of stock. Cook at 325, covered, keeping an eye on liquid level.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 5, 2008 12:44 PM


Could this recipe work in a crockpot? We just purchased one over the weekend and I have NEVER cooked with one.

Maybe there is a crockpot for beginners article in our future?

P.S. Thanks for all the great recipes! I made the cous-cous salad many times this summer and everyone loved it!

Posted by: vch0920 | November 5, 2008 2:35 PM

vch0920 - I use my crockpot pretty regularly and have found that I need to reduce the liquid called for in most standard recipes (recipes for stove or oven) because I don't lose much moisture to evaporation during cooking. I also wait until it's pretty close to done to add fresh herbs because they lose so much flavor during the extra long soaking/cooking.

I used to be a tax accountant and I don't think my family would have eaten during those years if I hadn't had a crock pot. Good luck with yours and just keep experimenting.

Posted by: esleigh | November 5, 2008 2:51 PM

My grandmother's brisket recipe calls for cooking about an hour/pound, at 325. It always seems ridiculously long, but it does come out very tender. Believe it or not, the only seasonings she uses are: Lipton onion soup mix, bay leaves, allspice & lots of ketchup. :) It's delicious!

Posted by: jmwash1 | November 5, 2008 3:13 PM

The best brisket recipe I have used was one from Epicurious that uses frozen cranberry juice (I use real, not the cocktail with corn syrup), red wine, rosemary, and portabello mushrooms. I use a bit more liquid than it calls for and a lot more mushrooms and onions. I also flour, salt and pepper, then sear the meat first before putting it into the liquid and oven for the long haul.

My in-laws, several friends, and my husband all swear by this recipe. I use it every Chanukah and the masses clamor for more :).

Posted by: Wiggs1 | November 5, 2008 4:25 PM

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