Chef Tanya Holland uses an industrial deck smoker at B-Side BBQ, her Oakland restaurant, but an ordinary backyard grill, infused with smoke from wood chunks, works fine. A charcoal grill will give you the smokiest flavor. Throughout the grilling time, your goal should be to produce lots of smoke. "That's what gives it the depth of flavor," says Holland. And don't worry about the internal temperature of the meat: "You'll finish cooking it afterward, in the oven."
5 to 6 lbs. beef brisket in one piece, preferably the fatty end of a whole brisket (the "deckle" or "point cut")
6 fist-size hickory chunks and 6 fist-size applewood chunks*
2/3 cup kosher salt
10 1/2 cups warm water
6 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
1 1/2 tablespoons pickling spices (includes coriander seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and crushed bay leaves)
2 tablespoons white peppercorns
1/3 cup coriander seeds
1/3 cup black peppercorns
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
How to Make It
Trim outer fat of brisket to about 1/4 in. If there's a thick pocket of fat in the meat, trim it out carefully, leaving about a 1/4-in. layer of fat.
Make brine: Whisk salt and water in a large bowl to dissolve, then whisk in remaining brine ingredients. "The bourbon adds flavor and helps tenderize the meat," says Holland. Add brisket and put a plate on top to submerge it. Chill overnight and up to 24 hours.
Soak hickory and applewood chunks separately in warm water for at least 45 minutes. Meanwhile, remove brisket from brine and pat almost dry.
Make rub: In an electric coffee or spice grinder, pulse white peppercorns until coarsely ground; pour into a bowl. "If you grind the spices right before you rub the meat, they'll taste a lot fresher." Repeat with coriander, then black peppercorns (because each spice has a different degree of hardness, they are best ground separately for an even grind). Add both to bowl along with brown sugar and salt; mix to blend. Rub generously all over brisket, including in the pocket and on the sides. "You have to really pack it on. If you have leftover rub, use it for pork chops." Let meat come to room temperature, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, set up a charcoal grill for indirect low heat (300°): Light 40 briquets in a chimney starter. Open grill's bottom vents fully. When coals are spotted with ash, about 20 minutes, set a drip pan (at least as large as brisket) on one side of firegrate. Bank coals on other side, piling them highest against wall of grill. Fill drip pan halfway with hot tap water (it helps regulate the heat). Put cooking rack in place with the hinged flap aligned over coals. Cover, with lid vents fully open and over the drip pan. Let coals burn to 300°.
Drain 4 soaked wood chunks (2 hickory, 2 apple) and set on coals. "The applewood is soft and fruity, and burns at a good rate. But hickory, that's the one you really taste. It's what people think about when they think about smoke." When smoke begins to billow out of grill, position brisket on cooking rack over drip pan, fattiest side up. Cover with lid so that vents are over meat; close vents halfway.
Cook and smoke brisket 3 hours, adding 4 wood chunks to coals at the first hour mark, and again after the second, using 12 chunks total (you may not need all of them if enough wood remains to produce a consistently thick smoke). Turn brisket over halfway through smoking and add hot water to drip pan as needed to keep it about half full. Whenever heat dips below 275° (about every 40 minutes), add 5 or 6 fresh briquets to coals (it will take a few minutes for heat to climb). If the heat rises above 300°, nudge vents three-quarters closed (don't close completely or fire will go out).
Preheat oven to 375°. Transfer brisket to a roasting pan just big enough to hold it. Pour in hot water to come halfway up brisket; cover tightly with foil. Braise, covered, until so tender that a fork slips in easily, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Transfer brisket to a cutting board and let rest at least 20 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and serve hot.
*Find at barbecue and home-supply stores.
Make ahead: Through step 7, up to 2 days. Let brisket cool 20 minutes, then wrap in foil and chill. When braising, increase time to 3 1/2 hours. Also, save braising juices for reheating cooked brisket, covered, at 350°.