As you well know, I've become a bit of nut about smoking meat over the past 4 years, ever since I first tried my hand at ribs. Since then I've done fish, pulled pork, shrimp, veggies and many, many more. But there's one particular staple of smoking and BBQ that I've been a little nervous about trying and that's beef brisket. First off, you can't do "just a little" brisket, you need to buy a pretty massive hunk of meat and it's hard to justify spending 40-50 bucks on a piece of meat you might screw up and turn into leather.
Another important element to my brisket cooking reticence has been the fact that I don't know the style in which to cook it! Being only 2 hours away from Montreal, my experience with eating brisket has come mainly in the form of the Hebraic staple simply called "smoked meat", probably made most famous in Canada by Schwartz's Deli . But over the years, I've had the chance to try the other most popular form of brisket, which is smoked barbecue style, most famously found in Texas. Both styles are absolutely over-the-top delicious if done well, but brisket's a risky piece of meat to work with. I've had Texas-style brisket that was the texture of sawdust and Montreal smoked meat that was like rubber.
Not one to ever be able to make a simple decision, I decided to treat myself to a 10+ pound (or so) brisket and try cooking both Texas-style and Montreal-style. I cut the 10 pound piece in half, so for each recipe I'll be dealing with 5 pounds of meat.
|First step: cutting one giant piece of meat into two really big pieces of meat|
Now, to be fair, there's really little difference in how one prepares the brisket initially. Both involve a rub/curing process, both involve smoking, both involve a certain measure of rehydration when serving and both are used in a variety of ways, although smoked meat is most often found piled high between slices of rye bread, where it belongs.
I scoured the Internet for recipes on both techniques; I've allowed myself to experiment willy-nilly with various smoked meatstuffs before, but this was a little more high-risk and I wanted to make sure I got off on the right foot. Today, I'm going to stick with the Texas Brisket, and cover the Smoked Meat in a later post.
For the Texas Brisket, I found a bunch of recipes and adapted things as I went. There was one recipe from Bobby Flay that helped me approximate the rub time and heat to use, and I perused a few more for some other tips. But as I did my research, I found that the information was like most information off the 'Net: mostly useful but maddeningly contradictory. In the end, I wound up ad libbing the rub, albeit not the cooking process.
So, here we go:
Texas Brisket Step-by-step
- 1 5 lb. piece of brisket, trimmed of excess bits of connective tissue (you'll want to keep fat to help keep the meat moist, but the tougher bits of membrane and connective tissue you can try to remove as best as possible)
- 2 tsp cocoa powder
- 2 tsp chipotle pepper, powdered
- 2 tsp guajillo powder
- 2 tsp pasilla
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- Mix all ingredients thoroughly
- Pat meat dry, then liberally apply rub to meat and press on. Seal in a zipper bag and leave in fridge for at least 24 hours (48 is better). You can also apply a layer or mustard or syrup to help the rub stick to the meat. I never find it necessary, but many BBQ gurus swear by this.
|Rubbed n' ready|
Start a fire using lump charcoal or blocks of hardwood (oak or hickory or mesquite) and soak 2 cups of mesquite chips in water for about 30 minutes. You'll be looking to get the fire burning at a consistent heat of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-9 hours. Once the fire is ready, smoke the meat for about 3-4 hours uncovered, adding a small handful of mesquite chips to the fire every 30 minutes or so to produce smoke. You'll also want to apply a "mop" to the meat as it smokes. A mop is a liquid sauce used to help keep the meat moist and add flavour. Because brisket is essentially a giant sponge for all kinds of tasty goodness, I used a lot of strong flavours in the mop. Often, mops are usually just apple juice or cider vinegar, but in this case I wanted to add even more:
- 1 cup Mill Street Coffee Porter (or other dark beer)
- 2 tsp prepared yellow mustard
- 2 tsp cider vinegar
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- Whisk everything together thoroughly and apply to meat with a basting brush every 30 minutes.
When you get 4.5-5 hours in, it's time to wrap the meat in foil, adding any remaining mop to the foil package. Smoke for another 3-3.5 hours at 225. Unwrap and smoke at 250 for 30-60 minutes. Let meat rest for at least 30 minutes once removed from smoker.
Now, you'll probably be chomping at the bit to chomp at the brisket, so slice off a piece and give it a taste. If it turned out the same way mine did, you might find it just a teeny bit tough. Delicious, but I wouldn't eat it dry. So, my technique is to chop or slice pieces of brisket (about 1/2 cm thick) and simmer them in sauce for about 10-15 minutes on medium-low heat. Once you've done that, you should have melty, meaty, saucy perfection.
Now, I'm a big fan of homemade BBQ sauce, I just find it is way more interesting (and tasty!) than store-bought stuff. In keeping with the "KA-POW! BRISKET!" flavour profile, I whipped together a sauce with lots of deep, rich-tasting ingredients like coffee porter, molasses and berries paired with high notes from ginger and lime juice.
2 tsp olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
1/2 cup mixed frozen berries (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and blackberry)
1/2 bottle coffee porter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp coriander, powdered
1 tsp cumin, powdered
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 guajillo chili, ground into powder
1/2 pasilla chili, ground into powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
4-5 drops liquid smoke
1/2 cup ketchup (high-quality and/or homemade)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp molasses
1 tsp honey
juice of 1/2 lime
- Heat oil and saute garlic and ginger.
- Add all ingredients from berries to brown sugar and stir well together. Reduce heat to medium-low (4). Simmer sauce for 20-30 minutes, until it thickens (you may have to simmer longer).
- Stir in molasses, honey and lime juice and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
- Put chopped/sliced meat in sauce (ratio of sauce to meat is up to you, but you want that meat SAUCY!) and heat for 10-15 minutes on medium heat, allowing to sauce is bubble for a while.
|Let the giant meatfesting begin!|
Serve with whatever sides you think work, but a little research told me that potatoes and green beans are traditional sides in Texas, so that's how I served it in the first go, as you can see above.
Final verdict? REALLY tasty, but just a bit too salty. Hence why you should soak the meat a little in water before smoking. I had leftover brisket and gave it a soak before using it in a batch of chili. All I can say to that is YEAH! Brisket Chili, b*tches!
So, all in all, an interesting experiment that mostly turned out the way I wanted it to. I give it an 8 out of 10.
That's it for our brisket tour of Texas, next time we head to Montreal to find out which brisket is best!