Forgive me if I geek out during this Coffee-Rubbed Smoked Brisket post. Not only is this succulent brisket straightforward and ambitious, but the coffee rub is also made with ingredients you already have in your pantry. That’s exciting, no? MY excitement comes from the fact that I love discussing anything that deals with butchery. It is probably the course I excelled at in culinary school, so anytime we get to talking about it, I’m going to go off.
Grab your brisket, your spices, and the smoker, and let’s dive in.
What is brisket?
Brisket is one of the primal cuts of beef. It comes from a whole steer (a male cattle castrated before maturity and raised for beef) after it is butchered and quartered. The brisket and shank are what forms one of the eight primal cuts of beef. A steer’s chest is where the brisket comes from, and it usually contains the lower portion of the 2nd through 5th ribs and the sternum. After processing, it shows up in the grocery store with those ribs and breast bones removed.
Since it’s located in an area of the cattle that gets worked a lot, it is, understandably, a very tough cut of meat. It also has a good amount of fat. Both of these qualities make brisket a great cut of meat for low and slow cooking methods. While braising and stewing are great options, we’re taking it to the Texas ranch by smoking our brisket.
Is this Coffee-Rubbed Brisket a “Texas-Style” one?
The answer to that question is, “It depends on who you ask.” Some people (mainly guys with a chip on their shoulder) swear Texas-style brisket can only be seasoned with salt and pepper. Then there’s the camp that believes you can only smoke it on pecan wood. Others swear post oak is the only “true” wood for Texas-style smoking.
I’m a Yankee transplant who believes that seasoning is a must and that wood is a matter of personal preference. If I can find post oak, I’m going to use it. That’s that. I don’t think anything should only be seasoned with just salt and pepper, either. So, don’t bother if you’re one of those mansplainers who likes to swing by blogs only to comment on how wrong the recipe developer is. I’m beating you to it. No, this isn’t a Texas-style brisket, but it’s a damn good one.
What’s the best smoker to make this Coffee-Rubbed Brisket on?
The best smoker to smoke this brisket on is: whichever one you own.
Seriously. I’m not going to have you running out to buy the smoker I use because, if you don’t own it, you won’t be familiar with it.
I have a Big Joe II made by Kamado Joe, which I bought about 3 months ago. Before that, I was a diehard user of an offset smoker. Both have their own characteristics that you need to get used to. The kamado-style smoker is a lot easier to navigate than an offset one, in my opinion. You want a smoker that has a very tight seal, which means one that is made well. A heavy lid helps seal in that smoke that you’re using to flavor and cook the meat.
I don’t have much knowledge of pellet smokers, so this recipe will reflect that.
How do I prep my smoker?
My prep instructions are for a ceramic, kamado-style smoker since that’s what I own. The instructions also work for offset and charcoal smokers. Not so much for propane or electric smokers, but if you own either of those, you probably have your start-up method nailed down.
The downside to a ceramic grill/smoker is that the heat source sits below the food. As a result, if you didn’t plan accordingly, you’re in for a wild ride if you have to dismantle the set-up to add more fuel.
Open the bottom vent 2-inches. The top air vent I open fully. Build up the fire in a charcoal chimney with 2-pounds of wood charcoal. Once those are red hot, pour the coals out into a pile of more charcoal (about 3-pounds).
Once the embers are glowing and ashed over, I spread them out and add my wood. The flame will shoot up but will die out once you start assembling the smoker.
What type of wood do I use?
This is a matter of preference, in my opinion. The only wood you shouldn’t use is pine or cedar. They contain resins that are not only toxic but will also leave your brisket tasting like tar.
I prefer to use post oak, but it’s been difficult to find, even here in Texas. You can use mesquite or pecan wood, which are always my backups. Cherry, apple, or hickory are other great woods to use.
If you opt for small chips, add at least 2-pounds of them to your charcoal. I use big ol’ stumps, so I only need one log.
After you add the wood, wait until the smoke looks bluish-white before you start assembling the grates and heat deflectors. That black smoke needs to burn off and be allowed to escape, so your brisket doesn’t taste acrid.
How long does it normally take the smoker to get hot?
Depending on your smoker, it can take anywhere from 20-40 minutes to reach 225-250°F (107-121°C). That’s the proper temperature range for smoking this brisket. But that’s a good thing, though. Having to wait that long means you can have your brisket sitting out to warm up, and you can season it without rushing.
Once you have spread out the coals and nestled your wood in them and the clean smoke is rolling, shut your lid. I like to give my smoker a chance to heat up to just about 220°F (107°C) before I add my accessories. This way, I have an accurate temperature inside the smoker.
This is when I also close my lower vent, so that’s only open 1-inch, and close my top air vent, so that’s only open a 1/4-inch. The Kamado Joe has heat deflectors that allow for indirect cooking, so I fit those into the bottom of the smoker above the coals and wood. Next, I put the x-rack over the heat deflector. I set a drip pan on this rack to catch any drippings from my brisket. This also keeps my heat deflector cleaner. You can add a few inches of water to your drip pan, too. This will add a bit of steam to the smoker, which keeps your brisket from drying out. This is especially good if you have a brisket flat.
Close the lid and allow the smoker to come back up to temperature.
What do I need to make this Coffee-Rubbed Brisket?
For the rest of this recipe, you need a brisket that weighs somewhere between 12-15 pounds, coffee, granulated garlic powder, pepper, kosher salt, cayenne pepper, and granulated onion powder. Because, again, I don’t do “just salt and pepper.”
A sheet pan will help hold the brisket as you season it and move it to the smoker. You also need peach butcher’s paper (or brown) for wrapping the brisket halfway through smoking.
What kind of coffee do I need to use?
Use a medium-grind, espresso roast coffee like Bustelo. Anything finer than medium-grind will turn to a paste. Coarse grinds won’t dissolve properly. I drink Bustelo, so I always have it. Whatever you use to brew your favorite morning cup of joe will probably do just fine.
What is the difference between a packer-style, point, and flat brisket?
A whole, untrimmed brisket is usually called a packer-style brisket. You’re buying it just like it was “pack”ed and shipped to the grocery store. It will require the most work. Brisket is made up of two parts: the flat and the point. Those are separated by a fat cap. You need to decide how many people you want to feed, how much fabrication you want to do, and how long you want to smoke the brisket before you shop for one.
Again, I’m a butcher nerd, so I always buy a packer-style brisket. If you want a smaller amount of smoked brisket, you can go with just a point or a flat. The flat will take less time to cook because it’s thinner. It’s also a better option if you plan to slice your brisket since it has more connective tissue, which holds it together. The brisket point is ideal if you plan to chop or shred your brisket.
How do I trim my brisket?
After you decide what brisket you want, you need to pick it out. When selecting the brisket in the store, I play with it in the packaging. I hold it up with my hand under the middle of the package to see if it flops. Think of the packaged brisket like a wet-aged steak. In that cryovac, the enzymes in the meat have begun to break down some of those muscle fibers, which naturally tenderizes the brisket. A firm, unfloppy brisket is fresher, which means it’s still pretty tough. You can still work with it, but I prefer a floppy brisket.
If you pick up a packer-style brisket, you may encounter a funky-looking side on the meat. This grey-ish, bark-like meat is where the meat was cut and treated against bacteria in the slaughterhouse. I trim and discard this edge because it’s useless and unsightly.
If there’s a lot of hard fat on the sides or top, trim away all but 1/2-inch of it. You want softer fat, which melts, as opposed to hard fat, which sits there.
How far ahead can I make the coffee rub?
You can make the coffee rub for this brisket up to 6 months ahead. Heck, you can make it a year ahead if you’re so inclined.
Combine the coffee, granulated garlic, pepper, granulated onion powder, kosher salt, and cayenne pepper with a whisk in a mixing bowl. Once the coffee-spice rub is mixed, transfer it to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store it in a cool, dark area of the kitchen for up to a year. You can use this coffee rub on everything from steaks, to chicken wings, to pork chops.
But, for the purposes of this recipe, we’re going to use the entire batch for our 12-pound coffee-rubbed brisket.
That is coffee-rubbed! Isn’t that too much seasoning?
No! I don’t play about seasoning. A brisket needs spices to not taste like nothing. Don’t be afraid to season your food.
The ratio of spice to meat is 1-cup per 10 pounds. Because this brisket was 12-pounds, I just used the full amount of spice rub. If you have a larger brisket, double the coffee rub and use what you need. Store the rest as instructed above.
The great thing about smoked brisket is that you don’t need to marinate it. Just season it generously, rubbing the coffee rub all over the exterior, and toss it on the smoker. The smoke time, low heat, and the spices work their magic to flavor the meat throughout.
How long do I smoke the coffee-rubbed brisket unwrapped?
Begin smoking the coffee-rubbed brisket unwrapped so you can develop that addictive bark and that coveted smoke ring. Insert a probe into the thickest part of your brisket (the point). This will keep you from having to jab the brisket repeatedly to check temps.
Position the brisket on the smoker’s grate so the point is in the center of the circle (or positioned closer to your firebox). This is usually the hottest part of the smoker. Since the point is thicker than the flat, you want it to be closer to the heat, so the flat doesn’t dry out during cooking. Place the fattiest side of the brisket up. The fat will begin to melt and flavor and baste the meat below.
Once your coffee-rubbed beast is in place, close the smoker and let nature takes its course.
What’s the best way to monitor the temperature of my smoker?
I have trust issues with the external thermometer of most smokers and grills. With all the opening and closing of the lids, they become very inaccurate very quickly.
Instead, I rely on my Thermoworks Billows Temperature Control Fan and my Thermoworks Smoke X4 to tell me the internal temperature of my smoker and my brisket. If I had to choose one for this coffee-rubbed brisket recipe, I’d go with the Smoke X4. The probe you insert into the point of the brisket attaches to the terminal. You set the internal target temp for the first part of the smoke, which is 150°F (66°C). Turn on the receiver- make sure it’s synced with the terminal- and go do something else. It can take this coffee-rubbed brisket anywhere from 12 to 15 hours to smoke, so this Smoke X4 comes in handy.
If you don’t have one, you’ll have to time it. It takes a brisket that’s 12-15 pounds anywhere from 7-8 hours to hit this first temp.
When do I wrap the coffee-rubbed brisket?
Once the brisket hits that first internal temp of 150°F (66°C), remove it from the smoker (make sure you close the smoker to retain the heat). Wrap the brisket in peach butcher paper like you’re wrapping a present. I have yet to see a brisket wrapped in peach butcher paper that doesn’t have a perfect bark and juicy meat. No, there are no peaches in this paper. It’s just called that because of its color.
This butcher paper retains the moisture in the meat and guards against further darkening of the bark. I mean, just look at my bark.
If you don’t have peach butcher’s paper, brown will work. Aluminum foil will also work, but I hate using it because it actually conducts the heat better, which means your brisket may be overcooked. Plus, I don’t like cooking my food in foil.
What is the BBQ stall?
However, the advantage to using foil is avoiding the frustrating “BBQ Stall” that occurs when smoking a brisket. The stall is when the water in the brisket causes the surface of the meat to cool while the smoker is trying to heat it up. It’ll make you think your coffee-rubbed brisket is cooking in reverse. The heat-conducting foil helps eliminate that stall, but I don’t find the flavor is worth it.
Return the wrapped brisket to the smoker with the edges down. The weight of the brisket will keep the paper tightly sealed. Continue smoking the brisket for another 5-6 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 200°F (93°C).
How long do I need to rest the brisket after smoking?
Rest the smoked brisket for at least one hour after removing it from the smoker. I unwrap it to keep it from steaming in the paper, which softens the coffee-rubbed bark. But, to retain as much heat as possible, I tent a piece of foil over it. Some pitmasters throw their smoked brisket into a dedicated meat cooler. I’m not that serious.
The important thing to remember is that your brisket must rest. If not, once you cut it, all the juices will run out of the brisket, leaving you with dry meat.
What’s the proper way to slice brisket?
As you can see, there’s not much liquid on my paper. It’s all in the meat where it should be.
Once the brisket has rested, you can slice across, not along, the grain. You can see the grain in my brisket above. It looks like thin ridges. Slice across those ridges for the most tender chew. Use a long, thin carving knife for this and slice your brisket 1/4-inch thick.
You can also chop the slices if you plan to make sandwiches or use the brisket for other recipes.
How is brisket usually served?
The one thing that is Texas-style about this coffee-rubbed brisket is how I serve it. Here, BBQ joints have buffet bars of condiments like pickled jalapeños, raw onion slices, mustard, pickles, and white bread. Along with those condiments, Potato Salad, and Baked Beans.
Whenever I make this coffee-rubbed brisket, I serve it just like you see here. I lay out a fresh sheet of peach paper, drop the brisket in the center and arrange the condiments and sides around it.
I never serve BBQ sauce on the side because this brisket just doesn’t need it. You can serve hot sauce if you want to, though. I do add that.
Whenever I serve it this way, the entire family enjoys it. Everyone can serve themselves, and it’s totally un-fussy.
How do I store leftovers?
Transfer leftover brisket to a food storage container, uncut. I try to cut only what I think we’ll eat. I cut off more later if we’re greedier than I thought. Leaving the brisket whole keeps it from drying out.
You can reheat the brisket in the microwave, but on the stovetop is best. I add a small amount of water (or beer) to a skillet and add the slices to the hot liquid. Cover the skillet and heat the brisket through. If you heat it in the microwave, make sure to cover it.
Leftovers are good for 5 days if kept in the fridge.
Can I freeze this Coffee-Rubbed Smoked Brisket?
You can freeze the brisket after smoking. Cool it and wrap it in a layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of foil, and freeze it for 2 months.
When you’re ready to eat it, thaw it in the fridge completely and reheat it per the above instructions.
I don’t think I geeked out too much, did I? If I did, OH WELL! That’s just who I am. Be sure to pick up your brisket soon. Pin this recipe to your smoking board and don’t forget to share it with your friends!
Coffee-Rubbed Smoked Brisket
- peach butcher's paper (or brown butcher's paper)
- 12-15 pound (5 1/2-7 kilos) brisket trimmed, deckel fat removed
For the Coffee Spice Rub
- 1/3 cup (96 grams) kosher salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
- 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons espresso coffee medium grind
- 2 tablespoons granulated onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional
- Begin by preparing your smoker. Heat it to 225°F (107°C), then add your preferred smoking wood to the glowing coals. *See post for detailed smoker set-up instructions.*
Season the Brisket
- While you're waiting for the smoker to come up to temperature, season the brisket.
- Combine the coffee, granulated garlic, pepper, granulated onion powder, kosher salt, and cayenne pepper with a whisk in a mixing bowl. Set the rinsed and trimmed brisket on a large sheet pan (or a piece of foil). Rub the coffee spice rub all over the brisket, making sure to cover the entire surface area with it.
Smoke the Brisket to 150°F (66°C)
- Insert a meat thermometer probe into the thickest part of your brisket (the point).
- Position the brisket on the smoker's grate so the point is in the center of the circle (or positioned closer to your firebox) or the hottest part of the smoker. Place the fattiest side of the brisket up. The fat will begin to melt and flavor and baste the meat below. Close the smoker and allow the brisket to smoke for 7-8 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F(66°C).
Wrap and Finish Smoking the Brisket
- Once the brisket reaches the first internal temp of 150°F (66°C), remove it from the smoker (making sure to close the smoker to retain the heat). Wrap the brisket in peach butcher paper like you're wrapping a present.
- Return the wrapped brisket to the smoker with the edges down so the weight of the brisket keeps the paper tightly sealed. Continue smoking the brisket for another 5-6 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 200°F (93°C).
- Remove the brisket from the smoker and allow it to rest, uncovered, but under a foil tent, for at least one hour after before slicing.
- Once the brisket has rested, slice the meat 1/4-inch thick across, not along, the grain using a long, thin carving knife. You can also chop the slices if you plan to make sandwiches or use the brisket for other recipes.
- If you want a smaller amount of smoked brisket, you can go with just a point or a flat. The flat will take less time to cook because it's thinner. It's also a better option if you plan to slice your brisket since it has more connective tissue, which holds it together. The brisket point is ideal if you plan to chop or shred your brisket.
- Select a brisket that "flops" in the package. This is an indication that the connective tissue in the meat is beginning to break down.
- Remove the grey-ish, bark-like meat and discard this edge because it's useless and unsightly.
- If there's a lot of hard fat on the sides or top, trim away all but 1/2-inch of it. You want softer fat, which melts, as opposed to hard fat, which sits there.
Coffee Spice Rub:
- Once the coffee-spice rub is mixed, you can transfer it to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store it in a cool, dark area of the kitchen for up to a year.
- You can use this coffee rub on everything from steaks, to chicken wings, to pork chops.
- Use a bold brew coffee that is medium-grind. Anything finer will turn to paste, anything coarser won't dissolve properly.
- Use 1-cup of coffee spice rub per 10 pounds of brisket.
Storage, Freezer, and Reheating Instructions:
- Transfer leftover brisket to a food storage container, uncut. Keep leftovers for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
- To freeze the brisket after smoking:
- Cool it and wrap it in a layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of foil.
- Freeze it for 2 months.
- Thaw the brisket in the fridge and reheat it per the instructions below.
- To reheat the brisket:
- To reheat brisket in the microwave, cover the slices you wish to reheat and heat on high for 1- 1 1/2 minutes, or until warmed through.
- Stovetop is best:
- Heat a 1/2-inch of water (or beer) in a skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the slices of brisket to the hot liquid.
- Cover the skillet and heat the brisket through.