Thursday, September 13, 2012

Texas Barbecue Brisket

I love all forms of barbecue.   If I have the option, I always get the barbecue sampler or platter, with two or three different types of 'cue (pulled pork, brisket, links, ribs, chicken, etc.).  However, if that option is unavailable, then there is a definite order to how I order barbecue.  I almost always go with pulled pork, especially if it is done in an Eastern Carolina style.  I think that it is because that represents the one type of barbecue that I have the least access to ... eastern Carolina whole hog barbecue.  The order continues with brisket, ribs and then chicken.

My preference for pulled pork also carries over to my own smoking.  I usually smoke pork shoulders, such as when I made Big Bob Gibson's Eight Time World Championship Pork Shoulder or my own Raging Pig Pulled Pork.  While I have also made smoked salmon and smoked mullet, I have not really ventured into smoking other types of meat.  I did try to smoke a brisket once, but I would hardly describe it a success, let alone "blog-worthy." So, I decided that I would try to smoke a brisket once again.  

Brisket is synonymous with Texas barbecue.  There are four, distinct types of Texas barbecue: Eastern, Central, Southern and Western.  One of the things that differentiate these types of barbecue is the wood: Eastern Texas barbecue uses hickory wood, while central Texas barbecue uses indirect grilling over oak wood and western Texas barbecue uses more direct grilling over mesquite wood.  As I looked at my bags of wood, I realized that I had a lot of mesquite wood.  So, I decided to smoke the brisket in the Western Texas style (i.e., using mesquite wood), but with some inspiration and techniques drawn from the Central Texas style, such as indirect grilling.

I immediately realized that I was behind the proverbial eight-ball.  Generally speaking, when one smokes a brisket, they should use a "packer cut."  This is the cut of the brisket that includes the fatty point of the meat.  Most grocery stores sell the flat cut, which does not include the fatty point.  As I stared down at the brisket on the cutting board, I realized that I had a flat cut.  I knew that I would have to adjust cooking temperatures to ensure that the brisket would not dry out.  Low and slow would have to be lower and slower. 

One can do only so much with a flat cut.  While I got a great smoke ring, the meat was still a little dry. I kept the temperatures between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit (and, for most of the smoke, it was at the lower end).  Still, cooking is about trial and error, that is the only why you learn.  I've already got information on where I can get a packer cut.  So, the next time, it will be different ....  

Adapted from Obsessive Compulsive BBQ and 
inspired by Aaron Franklin's advice in Food & Wine
Serves Many

1 brisket (preferably a packer cut)
1/4 cup of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup of kosher salt
Vegetable or canola oil.

1.  Prepare the brisket.  Trim any excess fat off of the top side (the meat side) of the brisket.  Brush a little vegetable oil or canola oil on the top side of the brisket, as well as the sides of the meat.  There is no need to brush any oil on the fat side.  Apply the salt and pepper rub to the top side of the brisket and all of the sides. 

2.  Prepare the fire.  Place a few chunks of wood in a bucket full of water. Start a chimney and prepare a fire in the bottom of the smoker.  Once the temperature reaches the range between 225 degrees and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, add a couple chunks of mesquite wood.  

3.   Smoke the brisket.  Add the brisket, fat side down, and close the smoker.  The brisket is going to cook for at least 1 hour to 1 1/4 hours per pound, until the brisket reaches approximately 185 degrees Fahrenheit.   I used a five pound brisket, so I was looking at about six hours total.  After about half of the smoke time, combine about 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 of Worcestershire sauce in a sprayer and spritz the brisket.  As an alternative, use a basting mop and just delicately baste the meat.  Whatever you do, do not cause the rub to run off of the brisket.  Make sure that the temperature stays within the 225-250 degree range throughout the cooking time.  You can also add a couple more mesquite chunks, but be cautious with the wood.   Too much wood may result in an "over-smoking" of the meat, with the brisket seeming like it had been bathed in Liquid Smoke.

4.  Rest the brisket.  After the cooking time, let the brisket rest for at least forty-five minutes, if not an hour.  Slice the brisket against the grain.


Obviously, the best thing that goes with barbecue -- at least for me -- is beer.  When one thinks of Texas, thoughts turn not only to brisket, but to Shiner Bock.  Other beers work just as well, such as a pale ale or a pilsner.  


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