Some food, some drink.
...and now, some Barbeque Advice from a guy who has no place giving it.
Abstract: Any meat-eater worth their salt loves a good barbeque; and while eating is easy, the cooking part can be intimidating. I have personally done very little in the way of real barbeque, but with a brisket in the freezer and a friend offering to bring his grill to work, I decided it was time to bone up on my slow and low technique. I'm pretty sure the person who first established the eight-hour work day was a barbeque enthusiast; 'cuz I can't think of a better way to multi-task.
Purpose: I love my gas
but propane just ain't
the thing when you wanna cook smoky, slow, and low. I am one of a
minority in Hays, USA that does not own a Traeger Grill,
and when folks that know I mess in the kitchen discover that I don't
own said pellet cooker, I'm
with looks of confusion.
Don't misunderstand; if someone handed me one tomorrow, I'd
sure take it; but as some sort of barbeque will likely be my next major
purchase, I wanna do plenty of shopping around. I work the GIS
thing with a guy who owns one of these Traegers, and he offered to
bring it with him on one of my work days so I could kick the tires on
it. Of course I graciously took him up on his offer, so all that
remained was to pick the protein. I've got a quarter of a
steer destined for my freezer very soon, so it only
made sense to use up the largest hunk of meat in my freezer, which was
a six-pound brisket.
I've done braised BBQ-style brisket a number of times in my slow
cooker, and I've even tried my hand at corned
beef, but I have never done a proper barbeque beef brisket.
For all intents and purposes, we're essentially dealing with a "beta" recipe here, and with the fate of a rather large hunk of critter as my responsibility, I knew I'd need to do some research. After reviewing some methods, techniques and temperatures, I decided that my best approach would be to concoct a rub, and follow it up during the cooking process with the occasional mop. The mop was unknown territory, but after examining about a half dozen different recipes, it became apparant that most mops are a mix of fat, vinegar, water and seasoning; so essentially, we're talking about vinaigrettes for carnivores. On the other hand, I've made spice rubs plenty of times (even for vegetables), so I knew finding the right balance of flavor to compliment the smoke wouldn't be a problem.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
The Grill Mop
Prep the brisket by trimming off additional fat until what remains is from 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick. Score the fat cap(s) down to the muscle with a series of cuts approximately one inch apart, and then do it again in the perpendicular direction (that'd be a criss-cross pattern there, Daddy Mac). Combine and mix together rub ingredients. Reserve a tablespoon of that rub for the mop, and then apply the remaining majority to the beef, making sure that plenty gets in between the nooks and crannies of the scored fat cap(s). Let your seasoned beef sit uncovered on a rack in the fridge (with a tray underneath obviously) overnight.
The next day, combine and integrate mop ingredients. Preheat your barbeque grill, shooting for a temperature of about 225F (and not higher than 250F). Place a drip tray under the rack the brisket's going to rest on, and fill the tray with about 12oz of water. Place the brisket on the grates with the fattiest side down first and cook for about 1.5 hours. After time has elapsed, flip the brisket over, baste liberally with the grill mop, and add any additional water to the drip pan if necessary. Continue to flip and mop every 1.5 hours until approximately 8 hours has elapsed; the brisket temperature will likely be in excess of 192F (if you care to probe). Remove the meat from the heat, and cover or wrap in foil for 45 minutes to rest before dismantling and slicing (against the grain of the muscle).
- Starting with your rub, you'll want to use whole spices and grind 'em yourself where it makes sense to do so. In this case, I used my [never ground any] coffee grinder to powder the ancho chile, and a mortar & pestle to pulverize allspice, celery seed, oregano, and black pepper (if I had whole coriander, it would have been pestlized as well).
- Rubbing the night before gives time for the meat to draw in the
seasoning. During that time that it rests open in the fridge, the
surface will dry out, and that lack of moisture will later work to
- I've done rubs with and without sugar, and I think anytime you want to promote browning, adding such an easy-burning hydrocarbon is a great way to kick that process off. Note however that we're not using much at all; and we're sure as hell not adding any additional sugar to the mop.
- I tell my butcher to leave quite a bit of fat on my cuts, 'cuz
you never know how you're gonna cook it. I left at least a half inch of
fat on the thicker parts of this roast, but if you have an aversion to
beef fat, I think you'd be ok trimming down off more, but I think I'd
leave at least a
quarter inch. Just don't trim all the fat off (unless you like brisket
- The water pan underneath the meat is there for two reasons:
Firstly as the drippings have a tendency to burn and crate a smoke
that's less than tasty, this will
prevent that from happening. Second, the evaporating liquid puts some
humidity into the cooking vessel, thus not giving your beef the
opportunity to give up its own moisture.
- A brisket is literally the "breast of beef" (it's the pectoralis
if you wanna get technical).
While most folks may know that cutting a long-fibered muscle like this
grain ensures tenderness, what you may not be aware of is that
the different groups of muscle contained therein often travel at
different angles depending on their attachment to the bone. When it's
time to slice it up, look for those natural divisions in the roast and
break it down accordingly. After locating those separate muscle groups,
use a sharp knife to slice thin and perpendicular to the muscle striae.
- I know there are some who prefer to pull a brisket
slicing, but I really think it's because they either don't have a knife
sharp enough to slice it properly, or they didn't let the beef rest
long enough. I let my brisket rest covered for 45 minutes before
slicing, giving the juices inside plenty of time to evenly
redistribute. Also, as the brisket cools a little, gelatins created
from the breakdown
of collagen begin to congeal, so slicing will only get easier. If you
don't believe me, try letting your brisket fridge overnight and
then see how easy and uniform slicing becomes. McGee
has a good sections on "Meat Juiciness" and "Meat Texture" (around page
150 in my edition) and the
latter topic is replete with a table that explains what happens to meat
heats if you want all the details.
Results: Regarding my trials with the Traeger, I learned
the one (and quite significant) difference between barbeque and a slow
cooking method such as a braise is that there is opportunity to cook
the moisture right out of the meat. Everything done to prepare the
brisket was in order to ensure that our beef stayed
basted and juicy. Properly trimming and scoring the fat cap(s) ensures
that every nook and cranny of the
beef gets drizzled with a flavorful protective layer of lipid, and the
grill mop not only adds seasoning, but keeping a thin layer of seasoned
water on the meat is valuable as a heat sink that guards against
variations in temperature. Additionally, that stick of butter in
the mop is a great bit of
insurance for covering any areas the inherent fats in the meat might
I'm actually a bit relieved (and a bit full of myself) that this brisket turned out so well on a first attempt. Oh sure, having the right cooking device always helps, but I'd like to think that the extra thought put into hand-selecting my seasonings, (as opposed to buying pre-packaged rub and mop) made the entire experience even more rewarding. I know there are a lot of BBQ purists out there that will vehemently deny the use of any sort of sauce on their 'que; and if you're one of those people, I think this method might be one for you to try. The outer ring of bark and smoke is seasoned perfectly and is heavily perfumed with the smoke it was bathed in. Likewise, a little attention to anatomy while breaking down this meat masterpiece meant that every bite was juicy, buttery, and tender.