Clubhouse Eats: 6 rules for smoking the perfect brisket, according to a famed golf resort’s experts

Brisket

Looking for the perfect brisket? We have you covered.

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Barbecue in this country might be balkanized into regional styles. But good brisket is good brisket, no matter the location, and the best versions all arise from the low, slow cooking of high-quality, deftly seasoned meat. Beyond that, though, there are countless ways to do it.

In search of further guidance, we turned to Winston Brown and Benjamin Ayala. They’re the chef and pit boss, respectively, at Pinehurst Brewing Company, the spot-on craft brewery and smokehouse in Pinehurst, N.C., that is owned by famed golf resort, Pinehurst Resort. Here are Brown and Ayala’s ground rules for doing brisket right.

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1. Start with the right cut

Brisket is composed of two muscles: the fatty “point” and the leaner “flat.” A lot of beginners make the mistake of buying just the latter. You want the whole brisket, including the point and all the fatty goodness that comes with it. And make it a high-quality grade of meat. Prime, ideally, though choice will also do.

2. A dry rub, not a marinade

Marinating helps tenderize tough cuts by breaking up the muscle fibers. But low, slow cooking does that, too, so no need to marinate when you’re smoking brisket. Brown and Ayala start with high-grade brisket from a ranch in Iowa, and season it with nothing more than a dry rub of equal parts salt and pepper. Marinating, they say, would only take away from the “fresh, beefy flavor” of the meat.

3. Don’t season too far in advance

Seasoning too far in advance will start to cure the meat, resulting in dry brisket. Brown and Ayala usually apply a dry rub about an hour an advance, though they say it’s also fine to do it right before you put the brisket in the smoker. If you’re experimenting with spice rubs for several hours, omit the salt to avoid curing the meat. As with so much cooking, simplicity is sublime. “What you are looking for is a slice of brisket that has a nice smoky and seasoned bark around it, with juice flavor inside,” Ayala says.

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4. Take your time

Low and slow means low and slow. At Pinehurst Brewing Co., that translates to 12-13 hours at 200 degrees.

5. Use good wood

Another common rookie mistake is letting the fire die and having to re-stoke it, which produces excess smoke that does no favors for the meat. A slow and steady source of heat is what you’re after, and for that you’ll need good wood. Brown and Ayala favor white oak, hickory and pecan, hardwoods that impart great flavor and color to the meat.

6. Wrap it and let it rest

When you grill a steak, it’s wise to let it rest, tented loosely under foil, allowing time for the meat to finish cooking as the juices settle evenly throughout the muscle fibers. Letting brisket rest achieves something similar, but it’s best to go about it in a different way. Two to three hours before the meat has finished smoking, Brown and Ayala triple-wrap their brisket in butcher paper, like a deli sandwich, and leave it on the smoker at super-low heat (wrapping in tin foil is a no-no, as it only steams the meat). At this point, smoke is no longer penetrating the meat, but the brisket continues slow cooking to completion, with its precious juices retained.

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.