Delicious Oven-Cooked Barbecue Brisket... Seriously

Okay, before you go on and on about how "real brisket is smoked by manly men with manly intentions" and all that, let me just preface this by saying my father did the majority of the cooking in our house and made one of the most incredible briskets in the history of cattle. And he did it in the smoker I believe he considered his most prized possession.

What I am about to detail for you is not a brisket that is designed to satisfy the purist barbecue eater (seemingly an oxymoronic concept to begin with), but rather a damn fine alternative when you, like so many apartment dwellers, don't have access to a grill or a smoker but want some tasty barbecued meat.

Before July 4, I had only made a couple briskets in my life, both on the smoker like Dad's. But, I wanted to make one for a party and didn't have access to a grill or a smoker, leaving me to improvise. I was alerted to a post by Eating Our Words' Christine Ha about barbecue spice rub, which also had an oven-prepared brisket recipe that sounded promising. I did a little more research online and found that one of my favorite food magazines, Cooks Illustrated, had a recipe as well that, unfortunately, involved a grill for part of the process.

I decided to get creative and grafted part of the CI recipe onto the post from EOW. The results were pleasantly surprising, and, after having repeated the procedure now four times, remarkably consistent.

The Ingredients:

7-10 pounds Lean Brisket 1 Cup of Barbecue Spice Rub (my choice was the delicious rub from B&W Meat Market - 4801 N. Shepherd) 2 1/2 oz Barbecue Sauce (preferably sweet, either store-bought or homemade)

When choosing a brisket for this recipe, it's important to note that it should not be overly fatty. On a grill or in a smoker, meat has a tendency to dry out and, often, the more fat, the juicier the meat. As you'll see in this recipe, you'll have plenty of fat to render if you trim the brisket down to about a quarter inch of fat on the fatty side. If you want to avoid the hassle of trimming, have your butcher do it or buy one pre-trimmed.

Rinse the meat and pat it dry with a paper towel. Coat the entire brisket in the spice rub -- get into every nook and cranny. It's called a rub for a reason. You'll need to gently rub the spice into the meat; getting every square inch ensures an evenly flavored meat. Cover with tin foil and put in the refrigerator for at least three hours, preferably overnight. This can be done 24 to 36 hours in advance and, generally speaking, the longer the brisket has to absorb the rub, the better.

After the brisket has had time to, in Emeril parlance, "get happy," remove it from the fridge and let the meat come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees for "low and slow" cooking.

Wrap the entire slab o' beef in tin foil and seal it as tightly as possible fat side up, which will allow the rendered fat to baste the meat while cooking. I used regular old tin foil and it worked fine, but you can use the more heavy-duty stuff if you like. I recommend using one sheet on the bottom and pulling the edges up around the meat as this pouch is going to seal in a LOT of moisture and you don't want it all spilling out.

Once you have sealed the seasoned brisket inside the tin foil, place it in either a roasting pan or on a baking sheet with sides. Invariably, some of the juices will find their way through that seal and no one wants to clean an oven of brisket drippings.

Cook for approximately 45 minutes per pound. In many brisket recipes, I found a one-hour-per-pound rule. Because additional cooking will be done later, I found a 45-minute-per-pound ratio works best.

I recommend checking it after it has gone about three-quarters of the way. The meat needs to be fork-tender throughout. Keep in mind that because of the way this is cooked, it is a VERY tender meat when it emerges from the oven. Minus the char that comes from the grill, it is difficult to get the classic solid slices of beef from the leaner side of the brisket the longer it stays in the oven. So, peal off a hunk from the thick "plank" end and see how it is. If it is tender and cooked through, remove the brisket from the oven, discard the tin foil and place it on a cutting board to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

Carve off as much of the fat as you deem necessary (some like a fattier meat and others not so much). Then, slice the beef against the grain and place the pieces into a baking dish. Pour the half cup of drippings over the chopped and screwed sliced meat and then cover the entire brisket in barbecue sauce. The type of sauce is your choice, but I found that using a sweeter sauce (I went with Stubbs sweet mesquite because I didn't want to attempt making a sauce my first go 'round and it worked beautifully) was a real crowd pleaser, eliciting responses like, "This tastes like meat candy." I also think the added sugar caramelized nicely during the meat's second pass through the oven.

Cover the baking dish in tin foil and place back in the oven at the same temperature for one hour after which, you can turn the oven down to its lowest setting to keep the brisket warm until you are ready to serve. 

The key step in the process that turns this from average baked brisket into delicious "meat candy" is the the addition of the sauce. Instead of trying to mimic the smokiness from a grill I didn't have, the barbecue sauce gave it a wonderful flavor that complemented the spice rub and kept everyone so distracted with how good it was, no one had time to ponder "real" barbecue.

I like to have mine on a bun with some pickles and a little mayo. Fellow EOW contributor Lauren Marmaduke discovered yet another application she calls the "brisket burger," essentially piling brisket on top of a grilled burger (pictured). I'm sure both options will bring groans from meat purists, but, as I said, this is not for purists. This is just a good way to make brisket (and give yourself the meat sweats) when you don't have all the tools available to do it the traditional way. And, I can tell you from experience, people love it. Each time I've made this brisket, the entire baking dish was picked clean before anyone could say "leftovers."

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke