Aaron Franklin is one of the most famous pitmasters in America. And he’s earned it! His restaurant Franklin Barbecue is one of the best BBQ joints in Texas, which is saying something. He’s also the host of BBQ with Franklin on PBS where he shares his favorite recipes, tips, and techniques with the rest of the country. Plus he wrote one of our favorite cookbooks about smoking meats – Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto.
He shared his famous Franklin BBQ Brisket recipe on his show. We figured we’d feature the recipe here and include the clips from the show so you can try smoking this brisket for yourself at home.
The beauty of this recipe is how simple it is. Aaron Franklin isn’t doing anything crazy, his back-to-basics brisket is meant to show off the taste of the meat. It’s based on technique and simple ingredients, which makes it easy to cook for pitmasters of all skill levels. It also makes it one of our favorite recipes yet!
Franklin BBQ Brisket Recipe
Choosing A Brisket
Like we mentioned above, this is back to basics. Franklin BBQ uses a packer cut just like you’d buy at a grocery store. When choosing your brisket you should look for a heavy amount of marbling. All of that fat is going to render down when it hits your smoker and leave you with a moist and juicy brisket.
You also want to look for a brisket with a thick flat. The flat is the long, thin part of the brisket. The point is the thick, rounded part of the brisket. If the point is significantly thicker than the flat you’re likely to overcook or undercook one side of the brisket. Choosing a cut with a thick flat will ensure consistency when cooked.
If possible you’ll want to avoid a brisket with a thick, deep cut down the middle. Sometimes a brisket will come out of the factory with a deep gash, and they can happen anywhere. It can be hard to tell when the brisket is vacuum sealed but it’s worth keeping an eye out.
Trimming A Brisket
Out of the package, your brisket will need some trimming. If you don’t trim your brisket the fat will likely not render when it’s cooked. You will end up with a fatty, chewy dish that you’ll kick yourself for. If you trim too much your brisket is likely to dry out after hours in the smoker. To get a moist, juicy, tender brisket you’ll want to leave about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch of fat on the brisket.
Pro-tip: easier to trim a brisket when it’s cold, so don’t leave it on the counter for too long before you start making cuts!
If you want a step by step walkthrough of this process we recommend reading our guide to trimming a brisket. But basically, you will cut out any large, concentrated sections of fat. This includes parts of the point, the deckle, and the fat cap. Remove any skin or silver skin as well. And be sure to cut off any meat that looks like it has aged and won’t cook through.
Franklin BBQ Brisket Rub Recipe
A lot of people have complex brisket rubs. They use chili powder, cumin, paprika, any kind of spice they think will tickle your taste buds and make them feel like their rub has an edge.
At Franklin BBQ they like to keep it simple – they just season with salt and pepper. That’s it! They believe most of the flavor should come from the meat and a well-tended fire. If you want to get fancy with this rub, you could mix it up in a shaker and use that to sprinkle the it over your freshly trimmed brisket!
As you season your brisket, make sure to swirl the mixture around. If you don’t, the salt could settle to the bottom of your mixture because it’s heavier than the pepper. You want to make sure your seasoning is evenly applied. It should cover the meat without being caked on.
Make sure that you’re seasoning the edges of the brisket in addition to the top and bottom. If you have any gashes in your brisket make sure you do not put seasoning in the cracks. If you do, you’ll have pockets of seasoning in the final slices of meat (and that will not be delightful…)
When you’re done seasoning your meat it’s best to let it warm up to room temperature for up to an hour. By doing this you’ll ensure that the thick parts of the brisket are not significantly colder than the thinner parts. This will help ensure a more even cook once you put it on the smoker.
Cooking the Brisket
The time has come! After all of your chopping, trimming, and seasoning, it’s time to cook your brisket low and slow over some smoked oak.
The first question is whether you should place the fat side up or down. There are plenty of forum threads where keyboard warriors argue over the perfect placement. Your placement here will effect how much heat is directed directly at the meat as opposed to the insulating fat. It will also change how smoke is absorbed through your brisket. Ultimately it’s your call. All I’m going to tell you is Mr. Franklin likes it fat side down.
Next, you want to make sure you’re pointing the point of the brisket towards the heat source. Because it’s thicker and has more fat it can withstand the extra heat.
Finally, you could decide to add a water tray to your smoker. This is another area where there are lots of opinions, so I’ll leave you to your own research. But the idea is that some of this water will turn into steam. This will increase the humidity inside of your smoker and help keep your brisket from drying out. Again, it’s ultimately your call, but at Franklin Barbecue they almost always keep a water tray inside the smoker.
How long to cook a brisket?
This is another place where, unfortunately, there’s not a straightforward answer. The goal is to get the internal temperature of your brisket to 203 degrees. How you get there is another story entirely.
Franklin estimates that a smoker set at 250 degrees will need an hour to an hour and fifiten minutes per pound of brisket to cook it properly.
Brisket math: 10 lb Brisket x 1.25 hours = 12.5 hours cooked @ 250 degrees.
The more meat you smoke, the longer it’s going to take. This is especially true if you’re using a large smoker or trying to cook multiple cuts of brisket.
And remember, if you keep opening the lid to check on things, it’s just going to take longer to cook. Every time the lid to your smoker opens up you’re releasing heat, smoke, and moisture that would otherwise help cook your meat faster. So try to avoid constantly checking in on things. Patience is the key to great barbecue.
Another thing we want to warn you about is called the stall. It will almost surely send you into a panic when you cook your first brisket. A brisket stall is a phenomenon that occurs when, after a brisket has been put on to roasting on a barbecue or smoker, the temperature of the meat suddenly stops rising. This stall in temperature can last for four or more hours, sometimes even dropping a few degrees in temperature instead. The stall usually happens at around 150°F, nowhere near the ideal temperature of 203°F for a tender, succulent brisket.
We explain the dreaded brisket stall in more depth here. But at the end of the day if you know it’s coming, and you’re patient, it’s not a big deal. If you just cook through it, your brisket will be fine. If you’re short on time, or in a sheer panic, we recommend you read our article to see what your options are to help your brisket get to the proper temperature.
Managing your brisket on the smoker
There’s not much to do with the brisket once it’s on the grill. When smoking meat most of the work goes into managing your fire. You want to make sure you keep a consistent temperature in your smoker so you get an even cook.
You also want to make sure you’re getting a “clean” smoke. This shouldn’t look like a cloudy gray campfire or the dark smoke that comes from burnt cooking. Your smoke should be hot, relatively clear, and should smell delicious.
You may also choose to add a spritz or a mop sauce to your brisket while it’s cooking. It’s not required to add a sauce, some pitmasters would actually argue against it. But it’s a matter of personal preference, how well your cook is going, and how humid your environment is. Spritzing a sauce on your brisket can help keep it moist if you’re at risk of drying it out. At the end of the day we all just want great barbecue, so do what you feel is right here.
The last decision you’ll have to make while smoking your brisket is whether or not to wrap it. This is another area where the keyboard warriors jump in, there are a lot of opinions here. We have an in depth article that explains when to wrap a brisket so we’re not going to dive into it here. But we can tell you that at Franklin Barbecue they wrap with butcher paper, which is how we like to do it as well.
Finishing and Serving Franklin BBQ Brisket
Franklin BBQ Sauce Recipe
You’re going to have quite a bit of time on your hands while your brisket is cooking. If you want to really impress your guests you can use some of that time to make a home made BBQ sauce.
If you’re feeling fancy and exotic, you can go beyond the classic barbecue sauce. Aaron Franklin also serves an Espresso BBQ at his Texas restaurant that has a bit more complexity and tastes great on top of a crunchy, smokey brisket bark.
We hope you love this recipe as much as we do. It’s great for beginners or veteran pitmasters alike, it’s a recipe we keep coming back to. If you want to more recipes from Aaron Franklin you can check out his cookbook or watch his show on PBS.