How to Smoke a Brisket (Plus, a Pitmaster-Approved Shortcut)

In my hometown of Austin, it’s hard to escape the wafting aroma of Central Texas Barbecue. Yes, that means there’s tender brisket and spicy smoked sausage links at every turn, but it’s way more fun to make your own. If you’ve got the time (half a day, …

In my hometown of Austin, it’s hard to escape the wafting aroma of Central Texas Barbecue. Yes, that means there’s tender brisket and spicy smoked sausage links at every turn, but it’s way more fun to make your own. If you’ve got the time (half a day, but you can keep busy with stuff while the meat smokes), a well-marbled beef brisket, and a couple bags of lump charcoal and wood chunks, you can part-time pitmaster your way to tender smoked meat.

My recent cookbooks are devoted to firing up dinner quickly and seasoning foods with a whiff of wood smoke in as little as 20 to 30 minutes. But every now and then, when a sunny weekend calls for quality time with my trusty grill and barbecue and all the fixings, only slow-smoked brisket will suffice.

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How to Smoke a Turkey

The swoonworthy results and surprising ease of cooking an entire turkey over a wood-infused fire should make you rethink cranking up the oven. Three steps make the method work:

Butterflying the turkey creates a broad, flat surface that cooks more qui…

The swoonworthy results and surprising ease of cooking an entire turkey over a wood-infused fire should make you rethink cranking up the oven. Three steps make the method work:

  1. Butterflying the turkey creates a broad, flat surface that cooks more quickly and evenly.
  2. Slathering the bird with a fragrant paste made with brown sugar, vinegar, and red spices, along with a few fresh herb sprigs placed here and there, perfumes the meat (and bastes the skin) with warm, subtly sweet-and-spicy flavor.
  3. To address the perennial quandary of how to cook the dark meat through without drying out the breast, the coals are arranged in a crescent shape positioned under the legs and thighs, which allows both parts of the bird to reach the ideal temperatures at the same time.
Photo by Paula Disbrowe

Smoked Turkey Tips

I strongly recommend asking your butcher to spatchcock the turkey for you—or you can earn bragging rights and wrangle it yourself with poultry shears and a sharp chef’s knife (be sure to reserve the backbone, neck, and giblets for making turkey stock or gravy). It’s important to maintain the grill at a medium heat of 325°F (165°C) to 350°F (175°C) so the skin doesn’t get too dark while the meat cooks through.

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