After smoking on the Bradley digital 6 rack for about three years, I think I am qualified to relate my experiences to the board. Being from West Texas and transplanted to Dallas/Fort Worth, all I had smoked on before were massive offset smokers using large hunks of mesquite gathered by the trailer full. My brother, knowing lack of mesquite in the DFW area by West Texas standards, bought the small 4 rack Bradley for me as a Christmas present. When I saw this wimpy little thing, I was embarrassed to have it in my home. I looked it over and after measuring several packer cut briskets and determining that they wouldn’t even fit the racks, I set the unused smoker in the garage for a year. I figured I might smoke some cheese, chicken or fish or a half rack of ribs or something small and leave it at that. The 6 rack digital smoker hit the market and I thought maybe it would have bigger racks. It didn’t, but I liked the concept and traded my unused small Bradley for the 6 rack.
I decided to dedicate myself to this little machine and try it on brisket. Now, you need to understand that the reason we have these huge offsets and trailers full of wood in Texas is because we fill the cookers up with meat. This would include cabrito (goat), puerco (hog), paloma (dove), barbacoa (originally cow head smoked covered underground but now also chuck, shoulder, goat and other meats above ground), fajita (smoked skirt steak), pollo (chicken) and of course the hallmark of Texas Barbeque, the brisket. Many in Texas like to refer to the meats as the Vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) did to pay homage to those who first learned, in my part of the world, to take the tough cuts of meat and make them melt in your mouth, bursting with flavor. I bought four packer cut briskets and after reading all the advice freely and generously given out on this board, I started my journey.
I searched around and found four small briskets between 10 and twelve pounds and using a tape measure at the store (measuring briskets at the store may have looked goofy, but nobody asked) and found some short and stocky briskets with thick flats (about 45 lbs of beef). I brought the briskets up to almost room temp and preheated the Bradley to as high as it would go. I seasoned the brisket with my rub, slathered them with French’s mustard and Dijon mustard and laid them with the fat cap up. Starting with the largest brisket at the bottom and the smallest at the top, flipping the racks so that there was about an inch or two in between each brisket, I started the cooking process at 9:00 pm. I inserted a probe into the bottom two briskets and placed a chamber probe on front of the lower rack and turned the oven temp to 225 degrees ( this turned out to be way too low).
I was up about every two hours basting and checking temperature and rotating and turning shelves and checking meat temp. Long story short, the last brisket came off 24 hours later and they were very good but a lot of trouble. More trouble than a large offset.
Now, I have refined my cooking process and nothing could be easier. I rub, slather and arrange my briskets as above. If a brisket doesn’t fit, I wrinkle it a little (it’s going to shrink to fit anyway) or if the flat is skinny, I cut the last of the flat off and lay it on the thinnest part of the still intact flat. I cover the back half of the V shaped deflector loosely with heavy duty foil which forces more heat to the front and middle. The water pan has been replaced with a large foil turkey pan that just fits in the bottom (bend the back lip down a little) in which I pour boiling water just before putting the briskets in. I still smoke three or four briskets and maybe throw some ribs on the top shelf the last six to eight hours. Temperature is set at about 280 degrees when the briskets are placed in for overnight between 6:30 and 9:00 pm. The vent is about 5/8 open (definitely no smoke out of the generator). I load the generator with apple, hickory and some mesquite. In the morning, I reload the smoker and open the door to see if anything crazy is happening, submerge any used pucks that are stacked in the water pan and refill with boiling water as necessary. When the bottom brisket hits 168 internal temperature, I monitor the oven temperature and try to keep it about 225 which is 250 to 260 on the oven setting. I want a slow rise to 190 or 195 degrees internal temp. At 185, I will test the bottom brisket for fork tender on the end of the flat and continue to test every five degrees. 195 internal is as hot as I have ever gotten to. I foil wrap the bottom brisket and place it in a cooler lined with newspaper and towels (after I have generously taste tested what we call the burnt end of the deckle or point). Next I move each brisket down one level and repeat the process until all are finished. The last brisket usually comes out at about 18 hours. I stack each one on top of the other in the cooler for two to four hours. Take them out of the cooler, pour a little apple juice over each brisket and wrap in two or three layers of foil. When they have cooled (those that you haven’t already eaten), freeze for reheating later.
No more rotating racks, basting, or watching. My briskets come out with a very dark to black bark, are moist throughout and I am told “taste better than any BBQ shack or joint in Texas.” People tell me putting sauce on this Q “is a waste.” I recently took some briskets to a church dinner and put out two types of sauce. Very little sauce was used.
I was used to brisket being cooked 8 to 12 hours max and thought that this long cooking time would dry the meat but the high water content and progressive downward drippings make the difference. This is moist, fork tender, fall apart brisket. In fact, I accidentally dropped a finished brisket one time and it blew apart. I must admit that it is still a little embarrassing when people ask to see my pit, but the proof is in the pudding or in this case, the brisket.
I reheat thawed briskets in the foil on a cookie sheet in the oven at 225 to 235 degrees until 190 – 195 is reached (about two hours) and it is as good as the day it was cooked.
As far as smoke goes, being from West Texas, Qing with anything other than mesquite is sacrilege. However, I find long smoking with the Bradley mesquite pucks leaves a bitter taste. I prefer mostly apple with hickory, some oak and just several pucks of mesquite in between. I have thought often that I should just smoke for a few hours using mesquite and shut the smoke generator off, but I like the layers of smoke that build up over 12 hours of smoke and steam wafting over and around the brisket and through the 5/8 open flu. This is opposed to closing the damper down and forcing condensed, wet smoke to settle on the brisket. I generally let the smoke generator rest in the middle of the smoke and restart it again toward the end, finishing with apple.
On the subject of trimming, I do my trimming at the store and pick out briskets that are not overly fat capped. I wet age for a while and then trim any brown meat off and trim fat off the deckle end where the two main muscles join. If I have a thin flat, I use this fat to protect the lean side a little more. As slow as this brisket is cooked, the fat renders down to a thin coating anyway. I’ve never had any complaints and usually, plates come back empty, fat and lean both gone.
I normally don’t take the time to write this sort of review/testimonial but I felt compelled to say thank you to this board. And so, thanks and muchas gracias to all on this forum who contributed, unselfishly and unknowingly to my success with a Bradley.
By the way, Pachanga is Spanish slang for “wild rowdy fiesta or party”. This is the word we use to describe most barbeques at my home as in “Honey, let’s throw a Pachanga this weekend.” I also named my fishing cabin on a little island 28 miles by boat south of Corpus Christi, Texas on the Intracoastal Waterway and bay system Pachanga, but my friends say that it applies to me also.
Good luck and slow smoking,