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Slapilicious Umami Brisket

For the upcoming Labor Day barbecue weekend, I’m sharing my Umami brisket recipe because many backyard grillers are hesitant to venture into cooking beef brisket because it’s rumored to be one of the most challenging meats to cook well. Some even fear it having failed in successive attempts. Yes, it’s true that if two teams tie in points during a BBQ throwdown in the Texas-based International Barbeque Cookers Association (IBCA) contest, the team with the higher brisket score wins. Beef brisket is a meat category that SYD knows how to cook well and in 2010, SYD won the national KCBS Rancher Reserve Brisket Cup.

Once I demystify beef brisket for you and you follow my umami BBQ brisket recipe, you’ll be a brisket hero in no time at all.
So what is beef brisket? If you are familiar with corned beef or pastrami, then you’ve already eaten beef brisket which comes from the pectoral muscles of a cow.

The first problem you will encounter if you’ve tried to cook brisket like a piece of steak is that you’ll soon discover after cooking it that it chews like shoe leather. Because it is full of tightly wound connective tissue, it takes prolonged cooking to tenderize the meat.

The second issue you will face is that there will likely not be much flavor in the meat after you cook it. So what’s the secret to cooking beef brisket that has made some BBQ institutions in Texas holy shrines for beef brisket?

I’ve made my share of pilgrimages to the brisket holy land restaurants around the country and will reveal my secrets which begin with a story over 1,000 years ago in Japan and continued 150 years ago in Switzerland. In case you’re worried that I will ask you to inject your brisket to give it flavor, rest assured that you don’t need to inject your brisket using my recipe. You have my assurance that you will get close to a competition grade brisket without resorting to the chemical cocktails, MSG, and phosphates that professional BBQ teams often use to win contests. The SYD Umami brisket only uses mostly natural ingredients including some which will be very surprising to the BBQ world and destined to cause controversy and discussion for years to come. Remember that you learned it here first.

If you’re not a food scientist-type and want to skip past my Alton Brown stuff in the next paragraphs, I won’t be offended. So keep reading or jump straight to the Recipe Section if you prefer. I will show you how to create a mouth-watering super tender brisket that will melt in your mouth and will cause your family and friends to hail you as the new Brisket Queen or King of your neighborhood!


So let me begin with the story of flavor which began in Japan. For over a thousand years, the Japanese have been using brown Konbu seaweed as a base for their soups and stews. If you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant and had sukiyaki or miso soup, it’s likely that the savory flavor of the soup came from that seaweed. In 1908, a Japanese professor named Ikeda noticed that when Konbu seaweed was dried, powdery crystals would form. He tasted those crystals and discovered they had a savory taste that could not be described by the four tastes of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. He likened the taste to the mouth sensation of cheese and meats and coined the term “umami” which roughly translates to “delicious” in English.

What Ikeda tasted was glutamic acid which is one of the 20 or so amino acids that exist on this planet. He analyzed those powdery crystals and discovered a separate distinct taste sensation caused by monosodium glutamate or MSG. Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein in living creatures. For example, glutamic acid makes up the majority of the nervous tissue in your brain and is essential for learning and memory retention. So the fact that you’re able to read and comprehend my article shows that glutamic acid is working for you! The term “umami” was viewed with suspicion by Western scientists who felt it was an enhancer but not a unique taste on its own merit. It wasn’t until 2001 when researchers at the University of California San Diego showed that our tongues do have a specific taste receptor for MSG. Today, umami is widely accepted as the fifth dimension of taste.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, a year after Ikeda’s discovery, the company called Ajinomoto was formed in Japan to mass produce the ubiquitous white powder form of glutamic acid called monosodium glutamate aka MSG. Food companies soon noticed how it amped up the flavor of their products and started to use it in mass quantities to achieve a level of deliciousness in their foods by taking the MSG shortcut. Literally centuries of careful and pain-staking recipe development by various cultures throughout the world to develop naturally delicious recipes for soups, stews, and foods went out the window with the introduction of this white powder that became the boon of food manufacturers and the bane of consumers. Today, MSG is manufactured by the ton by glutamic acid producing bacteria. The liquid the bacterium grows in is siphoned off and refined into white MSG powder.

Because glutamic acid occurs naturally, it’s not really toxic to humans and stories of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” which refers to headaches, allergies, and malaise after eating MSG-laden food have proven to be false after many toxological studies. The probable reason is the same reason why some folks are allergic to seafood. Most plants and animals on earth have a salinity or saltiness of about 1% in their body. The salinity of the ocean is about 3%. So if you are a sea creature swimming in the ocean and swallowing salt water, the salt will kill you as your body’s salinity will eventually match that of the ocean (called osmotic effect). Many sea creatures like fish compensate by producing glutamic acid in their bodies to prevent the ocean salinity from invading their bodies. This explains why saltwater fish are generally tastier than freshwater due to the presence of glutamic acid. So for folks allergic to fish, they may also be allergic to MSG.

Many foods contain natural glutamic acid, including soy sauce, fish sauce, cheeses, ripe tomatoes, tomato sauce, and many meats. That’s why your Caesar salad tasted so good because it has Parmesan cheese and minced anchovies (tip: next time try putting one tablespoon of minced canned anchovies into your meat stews and you will taste what I’m trying to describe). That’s also why your cheeseburger tastes so good with the melted cheddar dripping over your beef patty.

In my recipe, I use a product that is high in glutamic acid in natural form that was invented in Switzerland over 150 years ago. It is a natural product of a hydrolyzed vegetable protein-based sauce containing high concentrations of glutamic acid. It’s commonly called Maggi Sauce and many cultures around the world revere this condiment and think that their country invented it but it was the Swiss who brought this sauce into the world in 1897.

My second umami ingredient comes from Japan and it was discovered by Professor Kodama, a disciple of Professor Ikeda. It originated from the dried fish flakes of the bonito fish which is a type of tuna. If you’ve ever had a sushi roll in a Japanese restaurant, you may have noticed the chef garnishing the top of your roll with light brown flakes. This umami ingredient works differently than MSG but has a similar pleasing taste sensation.

My third umami ingredient comes from the ancient Chinese tradition of drying shitake mushrooms and rehydrating them in water before using them in Chinese dishes. Shitakes have been cultivated since prehistoric times and are used as food and as medicine, taken for a wide variety of ailments. Dried shitakes are widely used in vegetarian dishes and the Chinese discovered that drying and then rehydrating them makes them tastier than fresh shitake mushrooms. It was not until 1957 that another Japanese researcher named Kuninaka discovered that shitake also had umami properties. His most significant discovery was that the shitake was synergistic with the fish flakes, and with MSG such that a very small amount of each strengthens the overall taste sensation. For example, he discovered that when glutamic acid was mixed with the ingredient in the bonito fish and the dried shitake, it created a very powerful umami flavor synergy that was much greater than the sum of their parts by up to thirtyfold.
My brisket recipe utilizes these three readily available umami Ingredients, plus a couple of others, to create a mouthwatering brisket that I think you will like.

Shitake Mushrooms, Worcestershire, Maggi, Bonito Flakes, and Beef Paste

  • Total Time: 38 mins
  • Yield: 6 1x


Units Scale
  • 1 whole Brisket packer consisting of both the point and flat muscles. I like them in the 15-19 lb range. Always try to get Choice grade and above as Select grade briskets are usually not as tasty nor as tender.
  • 3/4 cup SYD Hot Rub
  • 6 whole dried Shitake mushrooms (from Asian or Japanese grocery store), soaked in hot water to rehydrate, squeezed dry, and then finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Maggi Seasoning (from Asian, Latin, Filipino, or Japanese grocery store)
  • 3 tablespoons your favorite beef base paste (I used Diamond brand from Restaurant Depot)
  • 4 tablespoons Bonito Flakes (from Japanese grocery store)
  • Brisket Mop – 1/2 cup beef stock mixed with 1/2 cup of water, plus 1 teaspoon of Maggi Seasoning

Finishing spices

  • 1/2 teaspoon SYD Hot Rub finely ground up using a coffee grinder
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce mixed with 1/4 cup of honey


  1. Remove the brisket from the Cryovac packaging. Wipe off excess liquid with paper towels
  2. Trim the brisket with a sharp boning knife taking care to trim all the fat from both sides of the triangular muscle called the point. This will help create flavorful bark on both sides. The point is used to make brisket burnt ends which are twice cooked point served as little 1-inch cubes that melt in your mouth
  3. Remove any silver skin and excess fat from the top of the flat muscle.
  4. Trim off any excess fat cap leaving behind about a ½ inch fat cap. We will be cooking the brisket fat side down so you need some fat to protect the brisket from the heat source coming from the bottom of the pit (I use an 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain)

  5. Trimmed brisket ready to cook
  6. Mix the beef paste with the Worcestershire sauce and Maggi Seasoning and spread all over the brisket except the fat cap
  7. Sprinkle the bonito flakes evenly and let the flakes melt into the brisket
  8. Apply the SYD Hot Rub generously enough to cover the exposed meat so you cannot see it anymore. There is no need to season the fat cap
  9. Apply the chopped rehydrated shitake

    Notice the bits of re-hydrated chopped Shitake Mushrooms on top

  10. Put the brisket into a smoker at 250 degrees fat side down
  11. Cook until the crust sets, about 5-8 hours depending on your pit. Do not attempt to check the internal temperature. Just cook it long enough for the bark to form completely around the brisket. You can use my SYD scratch test to determine if the bark is properly set. Just scratch the surface of the meat gently. If no rub comes off in your fingernail when you scratch the sides and the top, then the bark has set. If not, let it cook and check back in ½ hour. Remember BBQ is ready when it’s ready so don’t hurry
  12. Spray your brisket with water using a spray bottle once you see bark beginning to form around the edges of your brisket (about 5 hours into the cook). Continue to spray every 30 minutes if you can
  13. Once you notice that the shitake bits are cooked and have deposited their umami flavor, remove them to allow the bark under the shitake bits to crust up. I suggest that you gently remove the cooked shitake with a fork. Apply SYD Hot rub and re-season any areas that don’t have rub. I use the bits to make a yummy mushroom sandwich snack between two slices of white bread with some mayo. Nothing goes to waste when I cook
  14. Continue to cook and remove the brisket from the smoker once bark has set.
  15. Make a double layer of foil twice as long as your brisket. Put your brisket in the foil and make a bathtub shape before you pour in the mopping liquid all over the top of the brisket. Wrap the foil tightly around the brisket taking care to remove all the air pockets. Return to smoker
  16. Cook at 250 for another 2-4 hours until tender. Check for tenderness by using a thermometer tip to probe the brisket from the top and through the foil taking care not to puncture the bottom of the foil pouch. Again, do not attempt to check the internal temperature for doneness
  17. Cook until it feels like your thermometer tip is going through a muffin when you probe your brisket. Remove and cut open the foil immediately to allow the heat to escape and stop the cooking. It takes me anywhere from 8-14 hours to cook a 16 lb packer in a 250-degree pit
  18. Do not put away the brisket to keep warm until the internal temperature drops below 170 degrees. On a hot day, this may take 2hours! Note that every animal is different and if you follow my technique instead of a time-temperature formula, you will always have a consistent result regardless of the specific characteristics of animal you are cooking. I’ve taught over 500 pitmasters this technique and they all have told me that this method is pretty fool proof. I have a string of students who have become Grand Champions using my technique
  19. I prefer to let the brisket rest at least 4 hours in a food warmer or igloo before serving. This allows the brisket to rest and reabsorb the juices. If you slice the brisket too early, it tends to be crumbly and the flavor has not mellowed out. Resting the brisket for a long time is one of the secret to my first place briskets
  20. About one hour before you’re ready serve the brisket, remove the brisket from the foil pouch. Pour the liquid into a fat separator. Discard the foil pouch. Drain off the au jus minus the fat and keep the au jus warm. Remember to taste the au jus and add water if it is too salty
  21. Place your brisket fat side down on a large cutting board. Use a Grafton edge slicer knife to remove the point from the flat. Trim away any excess fat from the point and then apply some SYD Hot Rub onto the area where you sliced. Return the flat to your igloo to keep warm and return the point to your 250-degree pit with the cut side down. Cook for another 45-60 minutes to render the fatty point until it looks and feels like excess fat has been rendered. Remove and spray the point with water to rehydrate it. Cover loosely with foil and keep warm
  22. When ready to serve the flat, trim off excess fat off the cut side the flat. Apply a thin layer of the BBQ sauce mixture on the side where the bark has formed. Slice your flat using a Grafton slicer into pencil thick slices. Taste and apply some ground up SYD Hot rub if it’s not salty enough
  23. Cut your burnt ends point into little 1-inch cubes. Sauce the point if you like. Some folks like to sauce the point and recook it a third time for another 10 minutes
  24. Arrange your slices on a nice platter and surround it with your brunt ends. Enjoy
  • Author: Harry Soo
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 8 mins
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: American