Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Brisket

I like to think of myself as a decent producer of barbeque. I own a smoker that has a side-mounted firebox, and I maintain a cord of hardwood specifically for barbeque production.

Brisket is easy in principle, yet it can take a lifetime to master. On paper, nothing could be easier: you take a hunk of meat, you throw it on a smoker, you take it out several hours later, and Wah-La! Oh, if only!!! There are many things that can go awry for the novice. First, you need a half-way decent brisket to start. The biggest difference between what the Barbeque Gods are making and what you are making is that they have access to better briskets. Let's face it: if you're going to Kroger's and buying the 99¢/lb stuff that's on special, it's probably not as good as one you would buy for twice that at any decent meat market. AND FOR THE LOVE OF PETE DON'T BUY ONE THAT'S PRE-TRIMMED! Rub: keep it simple. Salt, red pepper, black pepper are your basics. I like garlic powder, onion powder, and a bit of dry mustard as well. Remember that the smoke is doing most of the flavoring.

Next is the set-up for cooking. Brisket as barbeque has to be done slowly. S-l-o-w-ly. Too quick (hot) and it's going to be flavorless and overdone on the outside. Of course, you can overcook one, and with the cheaper ones especially the longer you go the tougher they can become. But the main problem here is temperature control. You can't do slow-and-low over a direct fire. You need a side set-up, one with the smoke going only indirectly towards the meat. This also makes fire maintenance easier. And it also makes having a water pan an easier proposition. No water pan equals drippings everywhere, also equals hotter drier fire equals drier overdone meat. Beer in the pan is optional, as is beer in the belly.

Wood: don't bother with fancy wood, this is beef. Hickory, pecan, oak or mesquite. Mesquite burns very hot, so be judicious in loading the fire box. Time: An hour per pound is a good guide if your heat is about right (190-210 Fahrenheit). A meat thermometer is always nice. Wrapped or unwrapped: I've been going unwrapped of late and I think that's why I've been doing lack-luster (IMO) briskets lately. Wrapping doesn't keep out as much smoke as you might think, and it keeps the outer portions from drying too quickly. I quit wrapping because 1) I'm lazy and 2) it's always a pain draining out the juice. I may solve that by making drainholes.

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