In previous posts I have made passing mention of – and will expand later this week upon – the fact that smoking brisket isn’t hard, tricky, or any great arcane mystery. All you really need is the right cut of meat and some patience. A lot of patience, since cooking a brisket the traditional way can take anywhere from 12 to 20 hours. Generally, this is not an issue – when you cook brisket you plan ahead, you clear your day, and you turn the cooking (and the subsequent eating of the meat) an event.
However, there will eventually come a time when you either need or want a nicely-cooked brisket but you don’t have the time or the equipment to do it in the time-honoured fashion. What then?
Obviously, I have an answer, or I wouldn’t be writing this. The answer is “Emergency Brisket” and you can do it in as little as 6 hours total time, with a 4 hour cook. However, there are two items you need to have to make this work:
A probe-style thermometer that you can insert into the meat and leave in during the cook so you know the exact point to pull the meat out of your oven
A roasting pan that is deep enough to cover with foil and not have the brisket touching the foil
It would also be helpful to have a second roasting pan that has shallow sides, but it is not necessary.
So – if you have your equipment, follow the jump to the main recipe and lets make some beefy goodness! And be sure to read through the whole thing first to make sure you have the tools you need and understand when to change pans and when to use the rack and when to take it out. Ready? Let’s cook!
The ingredient list for the Emergency Brisket is pretty simple:
1 full beef brisket*
1 sweet yellow onion (like a Vidalia or Honeysweet – one of those large suckers)
1 head of garlic
a handful of “True North” beef rub 
2 cups of beef or chicken stock
*NOTE: A “full” brisket means both the point and the flat, still joined together. If you are not familiar with this, it should be generally triangular and large. If you see something called “brisket” at the supermarket and it is less than 4 kilos (9 pounds or so, for those of you south of the border) then you are looking at part of a brisket, probably the point. This will not work – you need the whole thing. Talk to your butcher if you need help. Your butcher is your friend. The one you see in these photos was almost exactly 5 kg, or just about 12 pounds.
Peel and roughly cut up the onion into pieces that your food processor can deal with. Peel the garlic (and yes, we are using a whole head of garlic, not a clove). Toss the onion pieces and the garlic into the food processor, with about 10 cranks of black pepper. Whiz the mix until you get a smooth paste. Take your brisket and smear the paste on both sides of the meat. Put all of the paste on, you need to really coat this. Sorry, but I did not take a picture at this step because I was crying like there was no tomorrow. Just trust me and believe it was smeared on there nice and thick. If you are in a super hurry, you can do this as little as one hour before you start to cook. If this is the case, do not put the meat back in the fridge, leave it out. It needs to get as close to room temperature as possible. Otherwise, and if you can possibly do so, rub the onion-garlic paste on the meat the night before, wrap the thing back up, and stick it in the fridge. Take it out and let it start to warm up at least an hour before cooking, preferably 3 hours if you can manage it.
Either way, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.
When you are are ready to cook, take a paper towel or two and wipe off any excess paste. You want to use a paper towels because you also want to dry the surface of the meat. You will note that, despite my having slathered the paste on nice and thick, most of it has mysteriously disappeared overnight. All of the rest of the onions and garlic has seeped into the meat as Flavour Juice.
After you are all wiped down, apply the beef rub to both the top and bottom. Don’t be afraid of it, you want to put in on at least as heavily as this:
After you have a good coating on there, rub it in. Put some pep into it, don’t be afraid of tearing the surface of the meat. And be sure to get the sides as well as the top and bottom. Place the brisket on a rack fat side up in a roasting pan – if you have a shallow-sided one like the one in the following picture, you will get a better result, but be aware that you need to move it to a different pan after the first hour. If you don’t have a shallow roasting pan, you can either just go with a high-sided roaster from the word go, or you can go to the grocery store, get an extra large disposable foil roasting pan, and cut the sides down.
Now you are ready to cook. Your oven should already be at 400 degrees F. Put the brisket in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 300 degrees F. Leave the meat in for one hour, do not open the door at any point during this time. When the hour is done, take the pan out of the oven. The meat will have a nice bit of sear and crust on it at this point.
Now – move the meat to the deep pan (if you started with a shallow one) and get rid of the rack. Keep the meat fat-side up, and the meat sits right on the bottom of the pan for this step. Pour your beef or chicken stock into the bottom of the pan, add enough water to make sure the liquid comes about a quarter-way up the side of the meat (don’t pour either of the liquids over the meat, carefully pour them down the side) and then insert your temperature probe. Finally, tightly cover the pan with two or three layers of foil. Do not just use the lid of the pan, it will not seal tightly enough. Put the pan back in the oven (we are still at 300 degrees) close the door, and turn on your thermometer (it will probably read about 95 degrees at this point). Leave the meat in the oven, and leave the foil sealed, until the internal temperature if the meat hits 195 degrees F. No peeking! When the temp hits 195 take the meat out of the oven. Carefully take the foil off the pan (try not to tear it, we want to use it again).
Lift the meat out of the pan and wrap it tightly in the foil you just saved. Before you seal the foil, ladle in a couple of big scoops of the liquid from the pan. And don’t throw the liquid out yet, if you are freezing your leftovers you need it (see below).
If you want to eat as soon as possible, seal the foil, wrap the whole thing in a thick towel, and place it in a warm cooler. Wait 1 hour. This resting period is crucial, do not try to skip this!
If you don’t need to eat right away and you are cooking this to store as sandwich meat (or for some other purpose) just put the foil-wrapped brisket aside and let it cool for 2 or 3 hours.
Whichever method you use, when it comes time to slice the meat you must separate the point from the flat before slicing – the two parts have grain going in two different directions and you have to slice across the grain for best results. You will be able to see where the top and bottom plates meet (there is a band of rendered-down fat between them) and you can easily take them apart. If you are unsure of the way this part works, ask your butcher – he or she can show you the two parts and explain the grain and how to slice it.
For serving straight up on a plate, cut the slices about as thick as a pencil. For sandwiches, cut it slightly thinner. And always cut across the grain. Again, if this is something you aren’t familiar with or you aren’t sure how the grain goes, ask your butcher. Either way, I think you will be startled by the quality of the beef flavour that you come up with. And this freezes remarkably well. Slice it before freezing, put the slices into one- or two-serving freezer bags, and add a small ladle of the braising liquid to each bag before sealing.