I have compiled and ongoing list of tips to use when you are smoking a brisket.
1. Better briskets yield better results. If you can find a "Natural" USDA brisket, it came from a cow that was raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. I use natural briskets, even though they cost more, because they are usually more tender and taste better.
2. Try to maintain a consistent temperature in your pit. This takes practice and time to achieve. If you are new to smoking, give it some time and you will learn how your pit works.
3. Try wrapping the brisket in foil during the last few hours of cooking can help with the tenderizing process. Also, let the brisket rest in a cooler for awhile before you cut into it. If you cut into a hot brisket, the juices will pour out more readily. A brisket that has rested awhile retains moisture better.
4. I usually use a rub of Kosher salt, black pepper, and granulated garlic. This combination creates a nice crust on the brisket while adding great flavor.
5. Don't use lighter fluid to start your fire. If you do, the fire will flare up in the beginning, but it may die down before burning all of the fluid off of the wood. Lighter fluid can give your meat a bad flavor.
6. Try using a gas burner, a metal charcoal lighter canister, or even news paper under the wood. I lay two pieces of wood in the firebox parallel from each other with about 1 foot in between. I fill this void with newspaper and stack wood across the top. If the wood is aged properly and dry, it should light with ease. Try not to look at the brisket while cooking. Every time you lift the lid you release valuable heat and extend the cooking time.
7. Smaller smokers tend to have hot spots and cook unevenly. I usually place a piece of foil on the cooking rack right at the firebox opening. This helps to direct the heat into the pit instead of letting it flow from the firebox directly to the top of your smoker.
8. Smoking a brisket is not an exact science. Every brisket has a different fat content, they are of different thickness and they come in different sizes. The trick is to keep the pit heat consistent at 230 degrees or so and smoke it for about 1.5 hours per pound. The time is just a guide and it will vary quite a bit. I smoke the briskets until the internal temp is 180 degrees or so and let it rest for awhile before serving.
9. Some briskets will heat up quickly to 160 degrees or so and maintain that level for a long period of time. When a brisket's internal temperature is not rising, the fat is melting and helping to cool the brisket off. This is an important step of the tenderizing process also called the "plateau."