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Chef Todd Ruiz's sweet and tangy Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce is the perfect counterpoint to the smoky meat.

Chef Todd Ruiz’s sweet and tangy Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce is the perfect counterpoint to the smoky meat. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

What are the two key factors in smoking beef brisket, the ultimate low-and-slow food? Patience, as in all delectable things comes to those who wait, and time — over 12 hours of it. 

Chef Todd Ruiz perfected his recipes while competing in barbecue competitions. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

“Don’t break the tradition of slow-cooked brisket,” says Todd Ruiz, a South Texas native, now executive chef at The Pridwin Hotel & Cottages on Shelter Island.

Ruiz adds to the time factor by insisting that the meat rests for 3 to 4 hours after applying the “pretty interesting” dry rub.

“It acts almost as a curing agent, drying the outside of the brisket along with seasoning it through,” explains Ruiz, “so it’s not just a salty crust.”

Ruiz, who has more than 20 years of experience in the culinary world and hotel resorts in particular, describes his mastering the smoker as “a battle of life.”

While an electric smoker could be the set-it-and-forget-it answer for most, he chooses to engage in the skill of understanding flame and feeding the fire. “You have to learn how much heat a log or piece of wood will put off,” says Ruiz, “and start to gauge your smoker from there.”

What is that caramel-colored liquid slowly gathering flavor in a hotel pan next to the prime beef? Why, it’s Dr. Pepper, of course, the Texas soda staple.

“I created this recipe about 10 years ago doing barbecue competitions,” Ruiz says.

Smoking low and slow is the secret of tender beef brisket. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

“I go through a procedure of smoking and reducing Dr. Pepper in the smoker with the brisket, then finishing it off like a very traditional barbecue sauce, with ketchup, yellow mustard, spices, seasoning and blackberries, which gives it that sweet tang at the end.”

When choosing a good cut of meat, Ruiz says a high-upper-choice brisket, is “tender and delicious without too much marbling and a great alternative to prime beef.” (Check out Sonny’s Village Prime Meat Shoppe in East Quoque or Peconic Prime Meats in Southampton.)

This recipe serves 18 to 25 people, so choose your guests wisely for that graduation or Father’s Day party. 

Paired with a good slaw, potato salad and that delicious smoked Dr. Pepper and blackberry barbecue sauce, there’s only one more thing to add. “A nice, cold beer never hurts,” suggests Ruiz. A Crow Moon Pale Ale from Sag Harbor’s Kidd Squid Brewing Company should do it.

Chef Todd Ruiz’s smoked brisket with Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce

Prep Time 45 minutes


For the brisket

  • 1 14 lb prime beef brisket
  • 3 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup coarsely ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup onion powder
  • 2 tbsp activated charcoal powder
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

For the Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce

  • 24 cans original Dr. Pepper soda
  • 2 pints blackberries, rinsed
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 3 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water, as needed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder


To make the brisket

  • Clean and trim the excess fat from the underside of the brisket, and trim some fat from around the side and top. (NOTE: Do not over trim the brisket; fat is flavor!) Allow to dry.
  • Mix all dry ingredients for rub and set aside.
  • Mix water and apple cider vinegar; transfer to a spray bottle.
  • Rub brisket with dry rub and allow to season for 4 hours before loading into the smoker.
  • Smoke brisket at 250° to 275° F for 12 to 14 hours, gently rotating every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Spray brisket with cider water mixture several times during the smoking process.
  • When brisket reaches an internal temperature of 195°F to 200°F and feels tender to the touch, wrap in butcher paper and allow to rest inside the smoker for an additional hour as the temperature drops. Slice, serve with Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce and enjoy!

To make the Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce

  • Pour all Dr. Pepper cans into a pan large enough to hold the liquid and that fits into your home smoker.
  • Smoke and reduce the soda at 250° to 300° F for 1 to 2 hours, until Dr. Pepper is close to the consistency of a syrup.
  • Pour reduced Dr. Pepper into a medium pot. Add blackberries, shallots and place bacon on low heat on the stove. Add the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, water and seasoning. Allow sauce to simmer for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Once ready, puree sauce in a blender until very smooth. Adjust thickness with water if needed and season to taste.