Monday, October 1

Lone Star Dispatch: Brisket, Glorious Brisket

From the keyboard of guest blogger Daniel Vaughn, whose computer smells vaguely of brisket. 

In this "Lone Star Dispatch” series I've danced around quite a bit, so this week we'll get to the meat of Texas barbecue: beef brisket. As I've noted before, we Texans enjoy our pork, barbacoa, and hot links just fine, but it's brisket that any joint will be judged on.

Photos by the author. Click to enlarge.

It's a difficult cut. If pork butts are the predictable and mostly compliant toddlers of the barbecue world, briskets maintain the unruly nature of a willful teenager. This twelve-pound chest muscle is actually two cuts. There's the fatty point and the lean flat. If you smoke it too long the flat will dry out, but not long enough and the point will be full of undercooked and opaque fat. You'll also risk all of it being hopelessly dry if you crank up the heat too high. Stay below 275 degrees until it's done.

Knowing when a brisket is done is the real art (and deserves a blog post of its own). When I'm asked for tips on smoking a brisket, my usual retort to a novice is to buy a pork shoulder, too. When the brisket sucks, you'll at least have some good pork to feed your guests.

Brisket perfection: With practice, you'll get there one day.

Most of my other tips for smoking a brisket involve things that you don't need to do. Brisket does not need an injection, a brine, squeezable margarine, sweeteners of any kind, fancy rubs, over-trimming of the fat, or elaborate mixes of smoking hard woods.

All you need is a good chunk of fatty beef, lightly trimmed of excessive fat and seasoned with a simple mix of salt and black pepper.

This is about thirteen fewer ingredients than most television chefs will tell you are required, but a 4:1 mix of fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt are all you'll ever need. A few qualities to look for in a good brisket—whether it’s your own or from your favorite barbecue joint—are a black crust, a red smoke-ring beneath the crust, and a line of translucent fat remaining on each slice.

Your smoker need not be fueled with anything more elaborate than oak wood (pecan and hickory work just fine, too), but some charcoal to get things started is not frowned upon, at least not for home cooks. Now, if you can take your eyes off these close-ups, go get your own fire started.

You can follow Daniel Vaughn on Twitter at @bbqsnob.