First off, the cuts of meat. You want the biggest, fattiest piece of brisket you can get your hands on - the ideal being 6+ pounds, with at least one inch of solid fat on one side. As it cooks, the fat will slowly cook off, keeping it tender and moist, not to mention giving it a nice flavor. Of course, my luck meant I ended up with 4 small pieces, the biggest no larger than 4 pounds, probably closer to 3, that had been trimmed by the grocery store until it didn't even have a full side of fat, and even at the thickest point was no more than 1/4 inch thick. Sigh. This meant I had to change my plans - trying to smoke these pieces for 2 hours per pound would likely kill them if I just left them as-is. So, I decided on two things: 1.) a marinade to give it a lot of liquid to start off with, and 2.) frequent basting to keep it moist.
You want to have a marinade that is acidic, to penetrate the meat, or if you're brining, salty, so it's absorbed. After surfing for a while, I found a marinade recipe that sounded like it would work, so I grabbed it and used it, give or take a few minor details. Here's the one I used:
# 4 pound beef brisket, trimmed
# 1 cup red wine vinegar
# 1 cup water
# 1 onion, sliced
# 2 cloves garlic, minced
# 8 whole cloves
# 1 tablespoon parsley
# 2 bay leaves
# 1 teaspoon celery seeds
# 1/2 teaspoon thyme
# 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
# 1/2 teaspoon basil
From here: http://bbq.about.com/od/brisketreci
Marinated the brisket for ~24 hours.
After that, I poured the marinade off into a pot, added 4 cans of beef broth to the marinade, and let it lightly simmer for while to a.) make sure there was no killer poisonous bacterial things that would kill people, and also b.) to blend the flavors and such. Once it had cooked a bit, I took out the solid ingredients and put them in a frying pan, added some olive oil, butter, and a little bit of cooking sherry, and fried it up a bit until the ingredients had browned just a bit. Then I put 'em in the blender and put the resulting mush aside to use as the base for the barbecue sauce. The liquid I set aside to use for basting.
Before doing all of that, though, I started the brisket cooking. First I applied a dry rub to each to give it a bit more oomph. I used each of these rubs, again, modifying them slightly:
# 5 tablespoons paprika
# 2 1/2 tablespoons salt
# 2 tablespoons garlic powder
# 2 tablespoons onion powder
# 4 teaspoons black pepper
# 4 teaspoons dried parsley
# 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
# 2 teaspoons ground cumin
# 1 teaspoon ground coriander
# 1 teaspoon dried oregano
# 1/4 teaspoon jalapeno powder
From here: http://bbq.about.com/od/rubrecipes/r/bl
* 4 tablespoons chili powder
* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
* 2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
From here: http://bbq.about.com/od/rubrecipes/r/bl
I cooked the brisket at 225 in the oven and around 200 (give or take; it's hard to get precise temperatures, or maintain them) on the grill - 2 pieces in each place to see how it'd come out. (Long story short: the grill is a lot harder, as you have to constantly adjust the coals and wood and airflow to keep the temperature stable and make sure it continues smoking, but the flavor and texture were both better, I thought, AND it cooked a bit faster for some reason. Grill it is.)
To set the grill up, you want to keep the temperature steady, you want plenty of smoke, and you want low heat. So: start a few coals off, get them glowing hot and ashed over, and put them off to one side of the grill. Don't spread them, pile them against one side. Take some wood (in my case I used hickory, and I soaked it in water for a few hours) and put it around the coals. Wood burns faster and hotter than coals, so be careful about putting it on top of the coals - it'll tend to burst into flames once it dries, which will make the temperature spike up and then drop off quickly once it's burned away. You have to check it at least once an hour, tossing on extra wood or coals when it starts dropping, and pouring on a bit of water if it gets out of control. I generally shot for 200-220 degrees, although a few times it dropped as low as 180 and a couple of times (towards the end as everyone was getting impatient, me included) it got as high as 250, although when it started getting up there I just poured some water over the coals to get it under control.
Every hour, give or take, I took the basting liquid (the marinade, from above, plus the beef broth) and basted the meat. "Mopped" it, in bbq terminology, although I actually just mostly poured it over it and then dabbed it a bit where it missed some spots, as I didn't want to take too much of the rub off. I used meat thermometers to judge when it was done - I shot for an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Took around... 7 or 8 hours, for a piece of brisket around 3 pounds (although in each case it wasn't alone on the heat, so there was a 2nd piece absorbing some of the heat and smoke). I put disposable aluminum pans under the brisket to catch the drips from the fat on the meat and the basting liquid I was putting on it.
While it was smoking (on the grill, using indirect heat and wood chunks) or baking (in the oven), I took the barbecue sauce base, and slapped it in a pot and added ketchup, worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and a bit of lime juice and honey and set it to simmering. I added some of the basting liquid to thin it a bit and give it more tangy flavor. When the briskets were done, I added the remaining basting liquid and the drippings from the brisket, stirred it up and brought it to a simmer, and voila, barbecue sauce. I didn't take this from a specific recipe, although I did read several recipes for inspiration. Anyways, the base was the marinade, which pretty much automatically makes it impossible to follow any sort of specific recipe. I was going for a sweet and vinegary sauce, thought it would go well with the brisket.
After all of that smoking (and as the pieces on the grill finished, I moved the ones out of the oven and up onto the grill to finish them and give them at least SOME smoke flavoring) I took the brisket, didn't bother letting the meat sit as people were starving, and sliced it relatively thinly. Interesting note: you want to cut against the grain, not with it, for brisket.
Links I found useful:
Again, I didn't follow them exactly, but I've found reading other peoples' recipes gives you a good idea of the types of flavors people use and the general proportions to the ingredients. From there, you can customize it based on what you have available and what strikes you as decent. I generally adjusted the recipes to taste, although I will admit with the sauce a lot of it was guesswork, since I had to mix the ingredients knowing I'd be adding the drippings and the remaining basting liquid and guess as to how it would change the flavor. Next time, I should probably just be more patient and wait to make the sauce until I've finished with the bbq'ing, but I'm impatient and was trying to get everything ready at once. Also, people were hungry and wanted the damn food immediately. ;)
Anyways. That gives you some idea of what I did, if anyone is interested, and is a useful starting point for the next time I try some brisket.
(I'm not sure how understandable that all was; I'm tired and about to get to bed, so I'm not sure how good a job I'm doing with the write-up. If you don't understand something, let me know and I'll fix it. (It's useful even for me; if you can't understand it, I may not understand it either if I try again in a few months.) If it all makes sense, great, looks like it was a success. :) )