5 Steps to Cooking Winning Competition Brisket
How to cook competition brisket. Most definitely one of the top searches on the web as far as aspiring competition BBQ cooks are concerned.
Besides the questions I get regarding different ways to cook competition BBQ Brisket, I see the crowds of people lining up to take classes, like the Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply Brisket class Chad Ward teaches, or others signing up to get insights from Pros via the classes listed over on my Competition BBQ Classes page.
Without question, BBQ Brisket remains the most challenging category for most competition BBQ cooks to master.
BBQ cookers here in Florida who do well in the brisket category vary in terms of their take on whether it’s the cut or the cook when it comes to getting those coveted walks to the stage. I’ve searched the web for resources you might find useful if you’re trying to figure out how to improve your Brisket results for competition.
Here’s the best of what I’ve seen thus far in terms of advice and general tips or How To reports.
Step #1 Choosing the Proper BBQ Brisket Grade
Without question, the consensus on how to cook competition bbq brisket rests on what grade of brisket to choose for competition is that choice grade should be your baseline. Meaning, anything below choice (select, for example) should be avoided.
The reasoning here is that choice grade brisket and above will give you the marbling (fat content) required to keep your brisket moist. For the best results, you’ll want to consider Prime Brisket, or go ahead and “level up” to Wagyu Brisket.
Step #2 Where to Buy Competition Brisket – A Few Key Sources
I know that many of the BBQ cooks competing down here in either FBA or KCBS events use either highly marbled choice or Certified Angus Beef briskets (CAB). If you don’t have a quality meat market in your area, Restaurant Depot carries CAB briskets. You need a membership to shop there, but you can get one of those free if you’re a KCBS member.
A few folks competing here take it one step further and go “botique” with their brisket purchases. One popular source for “next level” briskets is Snake River Ranch. These briskets are certified as American Wagyu brisket (see my post on Wagyu Brisket here) and though expensive, they’re prized among BBQ competitors who require the highest quality product. These briskets run around $85-$90 a piece, and shipping from Snake River Ranch is extra. If you’re interested in using these briskets, see if you can find someone in your area with a restaurant or connections to ordering these from other purveyors to try and get your shipping costs down.
(BONUS) A Special Tip for My Central Florida Friends…
If you want what I know to be hands down the best deal on prime or Wagyu brisket, connect immediately with Shawn McCranie over at Master Purveyors in Tampa, Florida.
Everything he sells is top shelf, it’s all aged 30 days (minimum), and you can order up your competition brisket, duroc pork, etc the week you need it and save tons of money in the process. Read more here about how Master Purveyors of Tampa is a BBQ Competition Meats mecca.
I’d like to take a moment to offer a special shout out to Chad Ward of Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply in Lakeland, FL for being the first to introduce me and many others to this amazing source of select competition BBQ meats. (Check out their online shop here and be sure to tell ’em that Kevin from BBQ Beat sent you.)
Learn BBQ Brisket Selection from the Texas Pros
Daniel Vaughn, BBQ Editor over at Texas Monthly posted a great article last year called “BBQ Anatomy 101: Know Your Brisket.” For those of you who don’t know Daniel, he’s pretty much the authority on Texas BBQ and is a go to resource for knowing how it should be done and who’s doing it right.
In his article, Daniel does a great job of breaking down the basics of Texas brisket as follows:
If you’re eating brisket in Texas, chances are that your favorite pitmaster is ordering Item No. 120: a beef brisket, deckle-off, boneless.
The number corresponds to the cut of meat defined by the Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications, or IMPS. No. 120 is “boneless,” meaning that ribs one through four have been removed (Item No. 118 is just “Beef Brisket” and the bones remain intact), and the “deckle,” or the hard fat between the rib cage and the pectoralis profundus muscle, also known as the brisket flat, has been removed.
Even hardcore meat geeks may sometimes mistakenly refer to the brisket point (pectoralis superficialis) as the deckle, but that’s not what IMPS cut description means here.
Beginner competition folks looking to learn how to cook competition brisket should take note when Daniel shares that buying whole brisket packer cuts (with the point and the flat normally sold in cryovac bags) is the most cost effective way to go. Some butchers will trim your brisket to specifications. (Image below credited to The Virtual Weber Bullet site.)
However, as Malcom Reed shows in the rather aggressive beef brisket trimming video below, you can really maximize the flavoring in terms of where the rub makes its way into the beef by doing this yourself.
Where cooking competition brisket is concerned, you definitely need to concern yourself with packing in some solid meat flavor. Profiles with a deep beef flavor that’s not too MSG or soy laden, and that have a little kick seem to do well.
Where this article really shines is with the “investigative reporting” he does regarding the brisket sourcing choices of some of the most well-regarded Texas Pitmasters. In the post Daniel covers the following Texas BBQ stalwarts:
- Pecan Lodge – Dallas, TX
- Big Boys Bar-B-Que – Sweetwater, TX
- John Mueller Meat Co. – Austin, TX
- Miller’s Smokehouse – Belton, TX
- La Barbecue – Austin, TX
- Franklin Barbecue – Austin, TX
Some of these restaurants use select brisket (which was a surprise to me) while others go for only prime grades of beef — when they can get it / afford it. The work put into this article is awesome, as the information Daniel shares here really helps to define some of the nuts and bolts behind these great BBQ joints. It’s a great article, so be sure to head over there, give it a read, and share it with your BBQ friends.
Step #3: Watch Videos on How to Select a Good Quality Beef Brisket
Some say pictures are worth a thousand words, and that videos are even better. In the case of this post on how to cook competition brisket, I think these videos do a bang up job. Check these out.
Beef Carcass Retail Fabrication Video
I came across this super informative video over at the Virtual Bullet site. It’s more than one hour long, and you’ll want to skip to about the 12:15 minute mark to see the brisket portion. However, if you’re like me… you’ll likely get caught up watching most of this primer from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
Aaron Franklin BBQ Brisket Selection, Prep, and Cooking Tips
This video is awesome. Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX (referenced above) does a cooking demo a lot like what you may have seen with Alton Brown’s Good Eats series. Sure, there are fewer “props,” but Aaron has a Made for Video approach to sharing what he knows about BBQ that it hard to deny. In this video, Franklin shares information about the anatomy of a brisket, how to select a brisket, and how to prepare a “secret brisket rub.” Note: The flavor profile you get with Texas brisket may not be exactly what you’re looking for in a post on how to cook competition BBQ brisket. That said, I think it’s a great way to get the idea across that less can in fact be more where this big meat is concerned. You definitely want to watch this.
Of course you want to see what Aaron does with this brisket on the smoker, so here’s that video. I also put a video of his below that provides a great primer on what kinds of wood to use for smoking BBQ brisket.
Aaron Franklin BBQ Brisket Cook Video
Aaron Franklin What Kind Of Wood To Use For Smoking BBQ Brisket
Tip #4: Learn How to Trim a Competition BBQ Brisket
In cooking competition beef brisket, pitmasters I’ve polled including Rub Bagby with Swamp Boys BBQ, Matt Barber of Hot Wachula’s, Dorsey Odell of Team Unknown BBQ, JD Davidsmeyer of JD’s Team Xtreme BBQ, Jim Elser of Sweet Smoke Q, and Matt Pittman of Meat Church BBQ say that in the end, it’s the cooking process that really determines how the end product is rendered.
As you’ve read here, select a choice grade or above whole packer brisket. Go with one that has as much marbling as you can find. You’ll want to make sure there is a good amount of ‘flex’ in the brisket. Hang the cryo-packed brisket over the side of your hand, or arm – or just bend it as you’re able with your hands. 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!
Trimming Your Brisket Prior To Putting It On The Smoker…
In Aaron Franklin’s video above, we didn’t see him do too much of a trim on his brisket. How much you trim your brisket is up to you, and it’s important to understand what BBQ Judges are looking for when they evaluate what you’re turning in. When looking into how to cook competition brisket, it’s important to know what judges are looking for. Here’s a great image of what, in my opinion as a KCBS and FBA judge, think is a great brisket turn in box:
Here’s What A Good Brisket Turn In Box Should Look Like
Great Brisket Turn In Box from John Dawson, Patio Daddio BBQ
Note that all of the slices are uniform, there is no apparent fat (sorry, no Texas style fatty brisket for turn ins), the color is inviting (not grey), there’s a nice bark on top of the slices, and the burnt ends look like little glossy pieces of meat candy.
To get this effect, you’re going to have trim your brisket before you cook it. As you will see in Malcom Reed’s awesome video below, there are some basic things to consider (box size being one of them).
NOTE: You MUST have sharp knives when trimming brisket, and being able to keep your knives razor sharp is also key.
Malcom Reed “How to Trim A Competition Brisket” Video
Malcom gets pretty aggressive with his trim, and you may or may not want to go as far into it as he does. But it’s no secret that Killer Hogs wins Grand Championships. So, he’s obviously doing something right!
Tip #6: Watch How to Cook a Competition BBQ Brisket
Once again, I’m going to turn to Malcom Reed for the first How to Cook Competition Brisket video. He’s cooking on a Yoder Pellet Smoker in this video, which makes for a nice comparison with what you saw Aaron Franklin doing with his offset smoker above.
Pay attention to what Malcom says about being careful not to leave injection marks in your brisket, as they’ll stain and show up in your finished product in some cases. Great information here on cubing up the point for burnt ends here as well.
Malcom Reed Competition Brisket Cook and Burnt Ends Video
Step #5: Take One or Two Competition BBQ Classes from Proven Pitmasters
Too many times, I see people struggling to figure out how to cook competition BBQ brisket, and other BBQ category proteins, all on their own.
Though these struggling competitors seek out online “how to” videos and maybe even talk with fellow competitors who are winning to try and glean some tips, they could really up their game by getting some one-on-one or small group training on how to get the job done.
You’ll want to be sure the person hosting the competition BBQ class has solid credentials that represent a winning trend within the past year, as tastes and flavor profiles of judges do tend to shift or change over time. Basically, you want to know what is hitting now, not what was winning two years ago.
Check out my page on Competition BBQ Classes for a great list of proven BBQ champions who are hosting what I feel are some of the best classes around.
How to Cook Competition BBQ Brisket: Final Thoughts
Hopefully, this post has made your quest to learn how to cook competition brisket more attainable. I hope this post proves valuable to you as you move forward with your Competition BBQ Brisket selection, preparation, and cook.
If so, please comment below with your thoughts on what you’ve seen here. Also share this post with your BBQ friends who might also find it useful!:)