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.
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.
- 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.
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!
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.