Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King

Attempting Brisket

posted by in Recipes

This post is dedicated to all those people who excel at the mystifying cooking technique called barbequing.

It begins when my Bin catches an episode on TV about Texas slow-smoked BBQ. I don’t get to see it but later that night he tells me about it, his voice wistful, his eyes, hopeful. We list down the places mentioned in the episode for a future trip, and the next day at the grocery, my eyes land on something: I do believe I’ve been blessed with a brisket!

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This cut of beef located just below the shoulder is the cut of choice for slow-smoking and barbequing. It’s where the best corned beef and pot roast come from, and it’s a large cut perfect for big groups. Unbeatable too in flavor and texture, it requires long, slow cooking.

Though I’m more of a baker than a cook, I think I hold my own in all cooking methods except for frying and grilling. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me, and all because of love (for husband and food, in that order).

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After poring through all my meat cookbooks, my plan of attack materializes. After rinsing and trimming the 5-pound brisket, I make a beef rub (above) to slather all over it. Designed to boost flavor, the 14-ingredient rub consists of an apothecary’s worth of herbs and spices. It looks and smells intense.

The brisket bathes in its rub overnight while I run to the hardware store to buy wood smoking chips. Once there, I’m agog at the abundance of grilling accessories. Should I use oak, mahogany, or cedar chips instead of mesquite? I’m starry-eyed at the smoke boxes, leather cooking gloves, grill-top thermometers, and briefly flirt with the idea of buying the new snazzy grill beckoning to me. Ack! Wanting to avoid giving in to whimsy, I grab a bag of mesquite chips and scurry home.

The next day, I make a BBQ mop (in jar on right in the cover photo). Different from the rub yesterday, the mop is yet another lengthy, multi-ingredient mixture made to further flavor and deplete my spice cabinet. As its name suggests, the mustard-yellow mixture is meant to be basted or “rubbed” over the meat as it barbeques.

Show Time

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I believe that all males have some sort of BBQ gene built into their DNA. They all seem to know their way around a grill and my Bin is no exception. We have Boo’s afternoon dance recital to attend later so we’re pressed for time, which, looking back now, proves to be our folly. In the photo above, we’re firing up the grill and stoking the flame, thanks to charcoal and mesquite smoking chips. The indirect heat and inconsistent temperatures will not fully cook the brisket. Rather, our intention here is infusion, allowing the smoky flavor to penetrate the meat.

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Brisket on BBQ and a fiery yellow because of the BBQ mop.

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After two hours, the brisket is flipped over. Thick grill marks form bands of black on red meat enveloped in a blanket of aroma. It’s deeply smoky, like fruit and wood and the ineffable, distinctive character that only barbequing bequeaths to meat. Our stomachs growl, and as we step away from the grill and back into the house, we notice that we ourselves smell like barbeque.

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After almost three hours of total barbequing time, I stick a thermometer into the brisket. It’s not even close to 180°F, the recommended doneness temperature for barbequed brisket. Boo is panicking that we’re going to be late to her recital, and she’s hungry too; a combination that doesn’t bode well. Glad to have preheated my oven, we transfer the brisket into it and cross our fingers. In the meantime, I try to distract Boo from her panic – we make fries and hustle together some buttered veg.

We end up roasting the brisket for another two hours for a total cooking time of 5 hours. I’d like to say that it’s a happy ending, that we enjoy a lunch of super smoky and excessively tender brisket. Truth is, it’s still tough as leather but the flavor is spot on. So while we’re at Boo’s recital, our helper pressure-cooks the brisket for another hour and a half. If nothing else, pressure will tenderize this meat!

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When we get home at 10pm later, we three tumble into plates of now-dreamy brisket: soft to the point of stringy lavished with lots of the leftover BBQ mop. Over the next few days, we enjoy it even more, pulled brisket sandwiches topped with caramelized onions and oozing with BBQ sauce. I almost cry when we eat the last of the meat, there was so much effort involved here!

Damn, who knew this smoking and barbequing business could be so hard??! I’ll never look at barbeque the same way again. And I don’t know why I can’t seem to wash the barbeque smell off of my favorite shirt…

18 Responses to “Attempting Brisket”

  • Dang Lori,

    hats off for even attempting that.

    sadly smoking meat does take a god-awful long time.

    It also doesn’t help that our local lump charcoal isn’t as dense so its harder to maintain the proper temp for a longer period.

    good thinking with the pressure cooker!

    bottom line though: it looks yummy and im inspired to give it a shot myself.


    Lori Reply:

    Ha, thanks jay p! It was ambitious, I know but I had to try. No wonder BBQ can be so expensive.


  • Come visit me! I will take you around all the best BBQ places in Texas :)

    No need to bring out the grill (I don’t have one) Just bring an ugly shirt that you’re willing to smell like smoke and meat at the end of the day.

    I’ve attempted to do it at home, but alas, I need more practice. But there are always them BBQ places :)

    Note that these guys cook the briskets 12-16 hours over super low heat. Amazeballs huh?


    Lori Reply:

    Truly amaze balls, Didi! I’m aware they have to smoke meat for that long — time AND patience! I’ll take you up on your offer, you can bet I will.


  • Elian and I are big fans of attempting Texas style barbecue- we’ve done it successfully with ribs- we make our own spicy Chipotle Rub :) And I do agree that men and the grill truly have a special relationship. Our home cooking is about 50-50, but when it comes to grilled stuff- Elian handles that 100% :)

    I wonder if pressure cooking the meat a bit first, then slapping it on the grill for a few hours might speed up the tenderness?

    And where do you find the mesquite chips?

    Cheers! :)


    Lori Reply:

    Ines, the BBQ you and Elian cook must be incredible, since he hails from Texas (if memory serves me right?) True Value has a good variety of wood chips for bbq’ing.


  • you make that raw meat look so appealing.

    i chanced upon this after reading this post:


    Lori Reply:

    Raw meat is appealing to this meat lover, Sigh :p Thanks for the link!


  • The title should be changed to “A Tempting Brisket” due to the drool-inducing factor of the photos and writeup.

    And save the shirt with eau de BBQ’d brisket –if I ever need to get a tighter hug from a cute guy I might have to borrow that (wahahahaha…).


    Lori Reply:

    Haha K, and clever twist on the post’s title.


  • Hi Lori,

    Excellent post. I’m just wondering, have you had reports of people not seeing your latest posts on Google Chrome? I read this article the other day and was going to refer to it yesterday but the “Better Practices for Contacting Food Bloggers” article was the latest one available. Now it shows up again but it seems strange and just thought you might want to know


    dindin Reply:

    i had the same issue too! for about two weeks, all i could get from your site was the contacting food bloggers post.. i check your blog everyday.


    Lori Reply:

    Francis & Dindin –
    I’ll check this out and rectify the situation. Thanks for letting me know.


  • How to wash off that smell from your favorite shirt:

    In a pail of water or your washing machine tub, add 1 cup of white vinegar (as in Datu Puti, Silver Swan or any generic white vinegar) and soak your shirt for at least 30 minutes or run a normal washing cycle (but only with the vinegar). Once your shirt has been soaked, rinsed and spun, wash as usual. The smell will be gone.

    Note: this method also works best for clothes and washable items soaked in cat pee (because we have cats).

    I miss you, Lori. I hope this helps!


    Lori Reply:

    Ah, I appreciate domestic tips! Thanks very much. K tells me you’ve got some marvelous Nutella-salted caramel cookies with aged rum that I should try.


  • amazing! coffee will help remove cooking odor in the shirt but the color not much help :)


  • The only place I know which does low and slow barbecue (maybe 6 hour smoke) in Manila is Big Daddy Jay’s over in Cubao. Though they use pork ribs. But still quite good. If you can’t be bothered to do it again.


  • The meat was tough because of the direct heat. Try moving your charcoals to one side and a drip pan with water on the other. Place your meat opposite the coals and try to maintain your temp to 200 to 250 deg F.


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