4 Steps to Smoking Competition Brisket....and WINNING
If you look up trending searches on google (related to barbecue) you will notice one of the top searches is "how to cook competition brisket". If you ever cooked brisket, you know that it is a temperamental and difficult protein.
I started doing barbecue many years ago, and it started with a KCBS event I attended in Georgia. I got to see how the competitors cook, I got to taste some amazing barbecue from some of the top pit masters in the world, and I fell in love with the smell of smoke in the air.
Competition BBQ has started to rise again, post covid, and is even being featured on Food Network with "BBQ USA" hosted by Michael Symon.
One of the most challenging questions about brisket, when it comes to competition, is whether it is the way it is cooked or the cut of beef that you get. I have searched all the corners of the internet (figuratively) and wanted to put together a resource that would be helpful for anyone looking how to make competition brisket.
Here is the BEST of what I found, compiled into four "easy" steps.
Step 1: Choose the CORRECT Grade of Brisket
Just like when you are choosing any kind of protein to cook, the better the grading from the USDA, the better the flavor of the cut. For example, when choosing a brisket for competition, CHOICE should be the baseline for your selection. Anything below that (Select) should be avoided. The reason being, a choice or higher grade will give you the fat content (or marbling) that you need to have a fighting chance in a competition and will keep your meat moist throughout the cook.
If you want to level up your chances, you can always choose Prime; or even go to a higher level with Wagyu. These will give you the "best" results and increase your chances of winning...by A LOT.
Step 2: Watch Videos on How to Select Quality Brisket
The internet is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to wanting to know information. There are countless search results when it comes to how to select quality meat or brisket. Knowledge is power, but if you are like me you are a visual learner.
A picture can be worth one thousand words but a video is even better. Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas is KNOWN for his brisket. In fact, it's probably the thing that made him a legend in the BBQ community.
In this video series, Franklin gives you his step by step process from selection to smoking when it comes to brisket. However, he is giving you his process for resale (at his restaurant) or backyard barbecue. There is a VERY big difference between being a grillionaire™ in your own backyard to winning grand champion at a barbecue competition.
Step 3: Learn How to Trim a Competition Brisket
Pit masters alike will tell you that the cooking process is will determine the end result. Trimming a brisket for backyard bbq and competition are so different. As I stated earlier, select a choice grade or above whole packer brisket. You want to find one that has as much marbling, not fat, as possible.
When you find one that you think is a good selection, try the "flex test". At the store, hang the brisket over the side of your hand, or arm. If it’s stiff, pass on to another. Sure, you’ll get some funny looks from some of the other shoppers – but they’re not going to be trying to coax tenderness from that bad boy come cook time!
Trim your brisket PRIOR to smoking.
Franklin didn't trim much off in the video above. It is important to know what a competition judge is looking for when they are looking at your brisket. From a judges perspective, they are looking for uniformity, no fat (sorry no Texas style), inviting color (not gray), solid bark on the top and sides, and the burnt ends to look like "meat candy" with a glossy finish.
Pictured above is a great example of a good turn in box for competition. There is uniformity in the color, the slice, and the burnt ends look like perfection. This SPECIFIC example came in second place in a KCBS competition in 2019.
To get THIS effect, you are going to have trim your brisket before smoking it. Malcom Reed has a GREAT example of how to trim a brisket for competition.
Grillionaire™ Pro Tip: MAKE SURE to have SHARP knives when trimming your brisket. (Click here to get some RAZOR sharp knives that cut well, and look great!)
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, he just trimmed off half of that brisket. It is true that he was very aggressive in trimming this brisket, but Killer Hogs (his competition team and subsequent business) has won MANY Grand Championships. So he must be doing SOMETHING right!
Step 4: Watch How-To Videos on Cooking Competition Brisket
For my own channel, I am doing a series on my YouTube channel about competition barbecue. Expanding from the backyard to the top leaderboard!
However, mine might not be the BEST representation, as I had a select brisket for this video (I didn't want to refinance my house for something more).
Malcom, again, walks you through his process of cooking. I tried to do the same sort of steps in my video but he might be able to explain it a little better.
Make sure to take notes on what Malcom says in this video. Watch where you inject, how he cubes the burnt ends, when to separate the two muscles that make up the brisket, etc. In his video, Malcom uses a Yoder pellet smoker. Aaron Franklin uses an offset smoker (a little more traditional). I used a Kamado Joe Classic to cook in my video.
All three smokers are efficient and can do the job well. The grill or smoker does not really matter, it is the cooking process that determines the end result.
Grillionaire™ Pro Tip: Take Competition BBQ Classes from Proven Pit Masters
There are all kinds of barbecue resources available on the internet from the leading names in the barbecue community. So often I see and hear from people that can do all the research on the internet, but can't seem to get their protein to come out to the same result.
There is something truly beneficial from seeing a pit master at work in a one on one or small group setting. These classes are chances to ask questions and some even let you cook along with them as they walk you through their process.
A close friend, Ty Sherrell of TX Brew and Barbecue, is the front man of Rec-Tec Smokers and does BBQ classes. I have yet to attend one, but I hope to have an edit of this post to say I have attended one soon. Ty has a great way of sharing the secrets bbq and making it fun and funny. And he is just one of many!
However, whenever taking a class, make sure to check the credentials of the pit master. You want to make sure that they have won in the last year, because that is what is trending in the competitions NOW. Learning from someone that won a world championship fifteen years ago is great, but they may not be as good as you think now.
I hope this article gave you a good walk through of how to cook competition brisket. From selection to smoking, it is all about the cook process to determine the end result. Happy grilling and I'll see you next time!
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