Getting my Texas on for the Labor Day weekend

This brisket checks in at about 10.5 pounds. The bottle of beer is in the photo to provide perspective, but it's also a vital part of the cooking process. While a Texan would properly have a Shiner or a Lone Star, this Radeberger is a fine German pilsner that's not as out of place as it might appear, as a lot of Central Texas cooking was handed down from German immigrants.
This brisket checks in at about 10.5 pounds. The beer is in the photo to provide perspective, but it’s also a vital part of the process. While a Texan might properly have a Shiner or a Lone Star on hand, this Radeberger is a fine German Pilsner that’s not as out of place as it might seem, as a lot of Central Texas cooking was handed down from German immigrants.

It’s the beginning of a long Labor Day weekend, and while my body is staying firmly in New Jersey, my mind is already in my home state of Texas, and that means two things for certain: smoked beef brisket and football.

It's the dawn of a new era for Texas football, the Charlie Strong era, and while I'm not thrilled about our prospects for THIS season, I'm very optimistic for the future!
It’s the dawn of a new era for Texas football, the Charlie Strong era, and while I’m not thrilled about our prospects for THIS season, I’m very optimistic for the future!

My University of Texas Longhorns kick off their season tonight, and although I won’t be able to see it on television, I’ve already downloaded an iPhone app that might net me the radio broadcast. Fingers crossed on one hand, with the fingers on the other extended in the familiar Hook ‘em Horns sign.

But this post is really about the brisket. Texas brisket, that is, as if there were any other kind.

There’s nothing about smoking a brisket that I don’t like, except perhaps paying for the damned thing. I practically have to take out a loan to buy that big hunk of dead cow, but aside from that initial outlay, the process is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a lazy Saturday.

This won’t be a detailed how-to. You can find that information in other places on the Internet, including a very nice series of videos by Texas barbecue guru Aaron Franklin*.  Still, I will provide a short list of what I consider to be the essentials for producing an acceptable Texas-style smoked brisket, no matter where you live:

  • One beef brisket. Not one of those horrible things with all the fat trimmed away that are sold at some grocery stores. The fat is vital to the cooking process, so resist any temptation to cut it off, though you may remove any large, hard knobs of fat, which won’t render properly no matter how long the brisket cooks.

    Brisket Day starts early with lighting the charcoal in the chimney starter. Another good reason to get an early start with this is that it always freaks out my wife, so it's good to get this part over with  before she's awake.
    Brisket Day starts early with lighting the charcoal in the chimney starter. Another good reason to get an early start with this is that it always freaks out my wife, so it’s good to get this part over with before she’s awake.
  • A barbecue grill with a side smoker attached. Brisket-smoking is a long, slow process, and it’s best done with indirect heat.
  • Proper wood for smoking: I prefer oak, hickory and pecan. Optimally I’d use only that wood, but I’m somewhat limited by availability, so I have to use charcoal to produce the heat, with wood chunks thrown on top to produce the smoke. Mesquite sounds all “Texany” and everything, but it’s just not a good choice for brisket, as it burns too hot and is too acrid for long exposure to the meat.
  • A dry rub. Don’t get too fancy. I use salt, black pepper and a bit of cayenne. Apply a light and even sprinkling the night before. Unlike some other meats, brisket doesn’t require a thick coating of dry rub. You want the smoke and the beef flavor to be the stars of the show.
  • I'm running a little hot, so it's time to tighten down the dampers a bit!
    I’m running a little hot, so it’s time to tighten down the dampers a bit!

    At least one six-pack of beer to drink while you’re smoking the brisket and watching the world go by.

Temperature is critical, and it’s not always the easiest thing to maintain a constant 220-250 degrees Fahrenheit on a smoker for 8-10 hours. But you can accomplish it by learning to adjust the dampers on your smoker. Don’t go away for long periods of time. You have to constantly monitor the temperature inside the smoking chamber, and resist the temptation to keep opening the lid to peek at your masterpiece! It’s not easy, but you can accomplish it with practice and patience; this is where that six-pack also comes in handy!

I wish I had enough wood so I didn't need charcoal at all, but it does make a pretty sight. How I wish my sister was here to play with the "pretty gray rocks!"
I wish I had enough wood so I didn’t need charcoal at all, but it does make a pretty sight. How I wish my sister was here to play with the “pretty gray rocks!”

Well, that’s it for now, because I see the sun is up and I have to go check my fire. I’ll post again later when I’m getting closer to a finished product.

* I moved north from Texas before Franklin’s Barbecue became all the rage, so I haven’t sampled his product, but doing so is on my list.
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14 Comments

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  1. Your sister wishes she were there to eat the brisket, and she would leave the pretty gray rocks alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t wait for dinner. This LONG good smelling day will be pure torture. And thanks for doing the scary part before I got up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Franklin’s is supposed to be great, but I’d rather go to Lockhart before I’d wait hours in line with all the hipsters.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d have to reconsider the Salt Lick on that trail. We were there a couple of weeks ago. They’ve added a new building and a vineyard/tiny bar. At least I qualified for the senior discount!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Salt Lick is still firmly entrenched among my favorite spots. The original Luling City Market is another, along with Southside Market in Elgin. But that’s the think about barbecue in Texas … it’s hard to find a place that’s NOT pretty good. Up here, most barbecue ventures fail after a year or two. It’s sad. You want cue up here, you’d better learn to just do it yourself.

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  5. Do your neighbors ever catch a whiff of it?

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  6. What kind of barbecue is up there, when there are barbecue ventures?

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    • There were two places nearby that both went belly-up. One billed itself as “barbecue fusion,” which was a turnoff from the beginning. I ordered brisket and they brought out a mound that had been chopped with lots of sauce added. The other place was a real dive, and tasted better though theirs was probably made in an electric smoker. As you know, barbecue in Texas is a culture as well as the food itself, and I don’t think New Jersey can wrap its mind around that. I doubt I’ll ever see cue served on pink butcher paper in these parts!

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  7. One last: y’all probably don’t get this program up there, but there’s a locally produced PBS program called The Day Tripper here. The host visits Texas towns, large and small, to highlight places to visit, and always samples the local barbecue. You can watch some episodes online: http://thedaytripper.com/.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Not that I’m suggesting it as an alternative to your favorite barbecue haunts, but a food section story in this week’s Chronicle talked about how they do brisket at El Tiempo here in Houston, and I have to say it’s very good:

    Small holes are punched in the brisket. The cooks apply a rub and sauce – the holes allow those to get into the meat – and then the briskets go into the smoker and cook overnight. Family patriarch Domenic Laurenzo said when they’re pulled out after nine hours in the smoker, the briskets nearly falling apart.

    Liked by 1 person

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