Big Green Egg: Hickory Smoked Brisket and Turkey Breast

Posted by johngl

In preparation for Vaca y Vino, a whole-steer Argentine inspired grilling adventure being put on by a few Austin chefs in the picturesque Wimberley, TX area later today, I decided to have my own, yet considerably smaller-scale, meat-laden adventure using my Big Green Egg.

Brisket and Turkey Breast (half)

That’s roughly 10.5 pounds of beef and just over two pounds of turkey breast; nowhere near the 800 pounds of cow that is already on the grill for the Vaca y Vino event.

Vaca y Vino: Entire Steer

Of course, I don’t need a pit half the size of my back yard either!

Prep work is pretty simple for these long, low and slow barbeque marathons:

Cross Hatching the Brisket

Start out with a choice-grade whole brisket. I leave the fat intact (that is, not trimmed away). Why? Because 1) it bastes the meat as it melts, carrying seasonings with it and 2) I’m lazy. In fact, I’ve even given up on dry-aging these massive hunks of meat before smoking them. I found that the non dry-aged version actually came out juicier.

You may notice that I cross-hatch cut through the fat down to the meat on the fatty side. This allows the fat to drain down into the valleys as it melts away. Fat is also an insulator and I think the meat gets up to temp faster when it’s cross-hatched. Faster is a relative term here: it may mean the difference between 12 hours and 13 hours.

Even the seasonings are simple: salt and pepper. That’s it.  There is no need to put anything else on the meat. In fact, that is all I put on the turkey breast, too. The key here is to season the meat at least 24 hours in advance of cooking. Be generous, especially on the fatty side since all of that is going to get cut away anyway. I used a heaping tablespoon of each (salt and pepper) on this particular brisket and pressed it into the meat using the backside of a tablespoon.

Prepping the Big Green Egg was simple as well. I’m now using a combo of large-lump hardwood (oak) charcoal mixed 50/50 with Kingsford Competition Grade briquettes. This makes for a quick startup and exceptionally even heating, even over the long haul. For that extra-special smoky goodness, I tossed in five tennis ball-sized lumps of hickory after I dumped the large (Weber) chimney starter full of very hot coals into the Egg. I do not soak my wood chunks in water.

My no-soak philosophy yields a super-thick smoke right from the start and allowing that initial smoke to burn and blow off for 5-10 minutes is a good idea before you drop the meat into the Egg. When you do get ready to pop in the meat, make sure and “burp” the smoke out of the Egg by lifting the lid a few inches, holding, then finishing the lift. If you open that sucker in one big stroke, you take the chance of being engulfed in a good-sized fireball when oxygen floods the environment. Smoke is highly volatile.

Brisket. One hour into the smoking.

This is the brisket one hour into the adventure. Notice that it is fat-side up. Also notice the tub of water under the brisket.  This serves two purposes: 1) creates a moist heat environment (almost like braising) and 2) catches the bulk of the fat that drains off the meat. I learned this lesson the hard way. With my dual chambered smoker, where the heat and the smoke box are in literally separate containers, the fat dripped away and you didn’t have to worry about it dripping on something hot and coating everything in a “burned fat” acrid smoke. The Egg is a bit different in that the “firebox” resides directly under the meat…sure, the “plate setter” ceramic disk is between the heat source and the meat, but it still gets hot enough to burn fat.

With the water-filled drip pan in place, you don’t get a lot of burning fat (also, the cross hatches help direct the melting fat into the drip pan). The pan of water also moderates the heat transfer between the firebox, plate setter ceramic, and the meat. It solved several problems with using the Egg as a smoker and I highly recommend giving it a whirl. The Big Green Egg is way more temperature stable than my double-chambered smoker and with a 12 hour cooking time, I can confidently set the temp and walk away for hours without worry. With the double-chambered rig, you need to check things every 20 minutes and the temps go up and down like a yo-yo.

Four hours into the smoking

Here we are at four hours into the great smoky adventure. Notice the color changes in the water? That’s all from the fat that has rendered away.

Adding the turkey breast

At eight hours in, I added the turkey breast. It too was seasoned only with salt and pepper the day prior to the smoking. I like my turkey breast cooked to 165F and four hours at 225-250F in the smoker gets it there. Notice too that this is actually a bone-in half breast. A whole one might take longer. A probe thermometer is your friend. The brisket came in at 165F at this point: 30 degrees to go.

Smoked and rested: Brisket

Here’s the brisket at 13 hours: 12 hours on the smoker and an hour resting. I was carting this over to my good friend Charlie’s house, so I wrapped it in foil separately from the turkey.

Turkey Breast

I’d never done a small hunk of turkey such as this on the Big Green Egg. I don’t know why I am surprised that it came out as tender and juicy as everything else I’ve cooked on that thing. It is, by far, the most versatile outdoor cooking unit I’ve discovered thus far. Rather stupidly, I didn’t take a photo of the turkey flesh, but it came out nicely pinkish and not overly-smoky tasting.

12 hour hickory smoked choice-grade beef brisket

I did manage to be on the ball enough to snap the brisket. More pinkish than brownish, with a good smoke ring, you can see the juices on the board and oozing out of the meat. Delicious. The “burnt ends” were richly smoky and salty tasting, almost like a beefy bacon. I’d have put them in with the beans if I hadn’t eaten them.

So, that’s about it. In three hours, I’ll be down in Wimberley, chowing down on massive hunks of beef flesh, drinking wine, and taking lots of photos. Tickets are no longer available, so you’ve missed out on this one, but you now have the knowledge to at least cook a brisket (and turkey breast) properly on a Big Green Egg.

Here’s a short-winded recap:
1. Cross-hatch cut the fatty side of the brisket
2. Apply liberal amounts of salt and pepper 24 hours (at least) in advance rubbing said seasonings into the meat. Wrap and keep refrigerated until 1-2 hours before putting it on the smoker.
2a. If you are doing turkey, no cross hatching is necessary, but the seasoning part is.
3. Get things started on your BGE in advance and allow the temps to stabilize somewhere between 225F and 250F. Lower end is better, but takes longer. Allow the initial smoke of the raw wood to blow off (it tends to be a bit acrid smelling). Use  a drip pan and pre-fill it with boiling water (to catch fat — water keeps the fat from burning — and low temp steam helps keep things moist).
3a. Turkey pieces don’t take nearly as long. Once they hit 165F internally, pull ’em.
4. The brisket will be tender and juicy at about 195F. Much more than that and you’ll run the risk of drying it out.
5. Take your time! Do not rush the brisket!
6. Enjoy!

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About johngl

A bit of a wildman, John hails from the Midwest: A land of corn, cows, pigs, and a host of other healthfully meaty pursuits. Born on a dark and stormy night in late Fall, John grew up as the son of a meat cutter. There was always plenty of meat at hand. While not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, his family certainly ate well. According to his father, that was the whole point.

8 thoughts on “Big Green Egg: Hickory Smoked Brisket and Turkey Breast

    • Nice of you to come in for a visit. Different grills are better for different things, but if I had to cut down to two grills (from 7), I’d keep the Egg and one of my Webers.

      If you do decide to get an Egg, spring for the Extra Large one…it’s worth the extra money. The Plate Setter add-on is also a must have.

      • Oh yeah – the XL and all the trimmings! I have to wait until the big move is complete. Don’t want to pay for that 200 lb grill twice. (grin) I nuked another thermometer sous viding shrimp last night – probably could have paid for the PID in what thermometers are costing me. (grin) You’re a bad influence on me – I mean that in a good way of course. 🙂

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