Attempting Brisket

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…

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