If it were easy to make Aaron Franklin’s famous Texas brisket recipe, then every city would have a smoked barbecue joint like his with long lines and meat that is sold out by the afternoon. There are many steps and a lot of science behind his technique, and that means many opportunities to make mistakes and learn life lessons along the way.

Fortunately, you can learn just as much from your own mistakes as you can from Franklin’s instructions which are widely available through his videos, books, and MasterClass interviews. These are moments where you stumble but bounce back up, and as long as your beef brisket makes people happy when it’s on the plate, that’s all that matters.

Most of these mistakes fall into the category of ‘be prepared’, like getting the wrong cut of beef, water drip pan, or trimming knife, or just not looking closely enough at his videos and explanations. 

sliced smoked brisket
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I took the Aaron Franklin Brisket Challenge and kept a journal along the way, so I could chart my own ups and downs, in the hopes of being even better at this fine art the next time around. Trust me, here are 15 mistakes to avoid:

1. Pick the Right Beef 

It’s easy to make the first mistake before you even get to barbecue day. A proper brisket in Texas is a “whole packer” from the steer, usually with weight in double figures. Your average grocery store will probably offer the “flat” cut of 5-8 pounds or less, but that’s only half of what you need. Make sure it includes the “point” or the larger half with more fat. That’s where most of the flavor is. Look for Prime, or in Franklin’s case Prime Black Angus.

2. Don’t Oversleep

If you want a brisket for dinner, wake up early for a winner. Franklin says to plan for about 1.25 hours per pound, and that was pretty close to my experience. 

He also starts tending his smokers each day at 2 a.m. and reportedly goes through 20,000 pounds of brisket a month. I got up early enough to make it work for suppertime but then lost a couple of hours buying final parts such as wood chunks. You want to enjoy this when it’s just finished, not after refrigerating overnight.

3. Get the Right Blades 

I thought I was all set for this with my knife game, but didn’t pay close enough attention to Franklin’s boning knife that he uses in the main video. He said it was from his father. It has a nice hook on the blade that makes it easier to trim fat, which is the first order of the day. Some people leave too much fat on the brisket and it can’t smoke properly. My Big Green Egg large and small knife set was OK but you want to follow his advice here.

brisket sliced

4. Injector Schmector

Franklin doesn’t use an injector in his brisket. You don’t really need an injector for any kind of meat. Smoking meat is one of life’s great joys and its purpose is to maximize that meat’s own juices. 

Injecting juices is just so unnatural, not to mention messy. I bought one at Publix the night before my cookout, the kind that’s attached to a mediocre marinade, so at least I didn’t invest in an expensive one online. Don’t get suckered with injectors.

5. Just Use Salt and Pepper 

After trimming the fat on a brisket that you’ve taken out of the refrigerator on the morning of a barbecue cookout, you’ll find that it is right around room temperature. That’s the time to just sprinkle it liberally with a mix of coarse salt and pepper in a big shaker. 

I had read somewhere that you can take a little vegetable oil and dab it around the brisket to help the seasoning stick on. Franklin doesn’t do it that way, and he has lines of customers that start at 6 a.m. Just do it his way.

6. Save the Mustard Too

Again, don’t mess with perfection. I like to slather some meats including pulled pork butts with mustard before seasoning, but there’s just no need for this despite so many videos and blog posts out there to the contrary. The only thing that will happen is you will have a slightly sharp hint of mustard at the very end when every taste bud in your mouth is craving the purity of brisket heaven. Don’t mess it up with mustard! You’re not at the ballpark with a hot dog!

7. Dry Post Oak Wood for the Win 

Franklin uses dry Post Oak wood that has cured for 9-12 months. Fortunately, Ace Hardware had a bag of B&B Post Oak wood chunks, although I have no idea how long they had been dry. 

I was able to put six of these on top of the regular Big Green Egg 100% Natural Oak & Hickory Lump Charcoal that I used to build the fire, as usual. Just wait till the fire is going before adding. Never use charcoal briskets when smoking anything, always a mistake to avoid.

8. Get the Right Water Drip Pan

Just when I thought I knew my Large Big Green Egg so well from previous cooks, there was one safety lesson to learn in smoking the brisket. 

I bought a water drip pan the night before at Publix, and did not realize it was too wide for the space. It sits on top of the BGE ceramic convEGGtor plate setter, and I was going by the 18 1/2-inch diameter of the EGG when I bought the pan. I failed to account for convEGGtor’s three upright legs, which cut into that diameter a good inch or more on each side. 

To make matters worse, I had just filled the pan half-full with hot water in the kitchen and then brought it out to sit above a fire that was perfectly hot under the convEGGtor, so it’s not a great situation to improvise. I managed to mash in the corners since it’s aluminum, but I was feeling the heat while doing that, and some of the water splashed in small amounts onto the coals below with an angry hiss. This was a really dumb mistake but it was overcome.

brisket being wrapped

9. Resist the Urge to Press on the Brisket to Check Tenderness 

I did this during the second three-hour stage of smoking, and all it got me was a thumbprint-sized blemish on the otherwise beautiful mahogany bark that was emerging. There was nothing I could do to fix it except hope further smoking would even it out. 

The final BBQ brisket food product looked good to the untrained eye, but if you look closely at the brisket before I wrapped it, the discolored blemish is visible. Another reason not to open the grill’s lid without a good reason.

10. Know Your Smoker’s Temperature Control 

Franklin has said the biggest mistake most people make is that they don’t cook at high enough temperatures. 

Nevertheless, it became obvious to me during the first two hours that my Large Big Green Egg ceramic cooker smokes the brisket faster than Franklin’s offset Pit Boss grill if both temperature settings are identical. 

It’s just a fact, with an oval kamado cooker that has a history going back to the Qin Dynasty and the start of the Great Wall of China two millennia ago. Its shape creates the perfect heat retention, maybe the best ever devised. It’s like running the New York City Marathon or running the Kentucky Derby with a strong finisher: Don’t come out of the gates quite as fast, back off 10 or 15 degrees from the Franklin game plan. 

In my case, the EGG was taking longer than I wanted to get up to Franklin’s target temperature in the first hour, and that wound up being a blessing in disguise as it turned out perfect, removing it at 203 degrees just like Franklin advised. It would take me a few go-rounds to get the temperature spot-on for Aaron’s recipe on the EGG, but we’re close.

11. Handling the Brisket for the Wrap

There are plenty of mistakes you can make at this stage because it’s time to actually handle the increasingly tender hunk of meat. 

I was proud to be well-prepared with pink butcher paper or “peach paper” when it was time for the Wrap, also known as “the Texas Crutch.” I overlapped two large pieces on a big table next to the Big Green Egg, but I spent too much time planning that part and not thinking about how I would transport the brisket onto that wrapping station. 

My black Grease Monkey disposable gloves were no match for the surface heat of the brisket. The more oxygen entering the EGG with the dome open, the more flames lapped up along the inside of the oval kamado cooker. Some grease hit the coals, probably due to the scrunched-up water pan issue. I tried using a towel to lift the brisket but it was a fire safety issue now, so I immediately closed the dome and regrouped. I didn’t want to use a utensil like a spatula that could cut into it and lose the juice. Looking around, I grabbed the large and 1/2-inch thin cutting board, and now I was able to gently slide that under the brisket and push it back so that I could get the brisket on it and remove it. This part may take another time or two to perfect.

brisket being wrapped

12. Wrap it Right

Maybe I missed the definition of “perpendicular” but here’s a good reminder to study the way Franklin arranges his butcher paper for the wrap. I was ready, but I had one long sheet going in one direction and the other one crossing it. So I had to wing it in the wrap, yet it turned out just fine. However, it is easier if you get it right. 

Both sheets go out longways from you, overlapping each other on the sides. That way it’s basically an even wider sheet of paper. Place the brisket about one foot in, and then take the overhanging part and go over the top. Begin tucking in the sides, and follow Franklin’s instructions for the flips and it’s a nice, tight package.

13. Let it Rest Until it’s Ready

Some people are in a hurry to get the meat onto the table for dinner, and they might give this step short shrift. Finish the job! 

Remove the wrapped brisket from your Traeger smoker or Weber kettle grill after it hits 203 degrees on the inside, and then place it in a towel and put it in a cooler for as long as it takes to get down to 145 inside. You’ll need to check it a few times with a meat spike in various places. This will ensure a super moist brisket that’s ready to eat.

14. Slice in the Right Direction 

Make sure you have a proper brisket-cutting blade. I bought the Big Green Egg model with the rounded end from Ace Hardware and used Franklin’s “pull-slice” technique. An improper blade could rip the brisket pieces apart. Be sure to follow Franklin’s technique here, first with a cut to separate the point from the flat in half. Then slice from each end going against the grain.

15. Keep a Log The Whole Way 

Franklin has noted, “how microscopic one thing can be and how magnified it becomes over the course of the cook.” That makes it even more important to keep track of all the steps during your journey from trimming to slicing because it’s a roughly 12-hour adventure and it’s easy to forget the small milestones along the way. The more you chronicle for yourself the more you will be able to make one basic change each subsequent cook.

The bottom line is there is no one Aaron Franklin way. Even when you follow his brisket BBQ process to the letter, you are going to individualize some things whether you want to or not. The brisket is not going to be exactly the same as that other brisket, the fire not exactly the same, the weather not exactly the same, and so on. His way is a popular guide that gets you really close, and it helps you learn about yourself as a barbecue chef. As in life, mistakes are OK if you learn from them.

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About Mark Newman

Mark has 20-plus years of BBQ experience working on just about every device and cooking medium.

He is a crafted expert on open fire cooking.

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