Beef brisket is a tough cut of meat — except when it’s properly smoked by a pit master.
When it’s done right, it’s unbelievably delicious. Too bad you have to drive for hours to find it done right.
Taken from the cow’s lower breast, brisket essentially is comprised of the muscles that support most of the cow’s body weight when standing or moving. As you might expect, these muscles contain a bunch of connective tissue — tendons, ligaments, etc. — which means if you’re going to cook brisket right, you’ve got to cook it slowly in order to break down all that fibrous tissue.
I read somewhere that brisket is particularly popular on Jewish holy days like Rosh Hashanah and Passover. They braise it like a pot roast. Not surprisingly, brisket is the cut of meat we get from Jewish delis — corned beef and pastrami.
I love both, but I also love it smoked to perfection with the same dry rub I use on my steaks — salt and pepper.
I prefer the way they do it in Texas, because until recently the Lone Star State afforded me the best brisket I’d ever had. Oh, I’ve found some “good” brisket in the Peach State via the Smok’n Pig BBQ in Valdosta and Macon. Most barbecue restaurants tend to overcook brisket, however, and they make the fatal error of removing too much of the “fat cap” on top of it before cooking. That tends to dry out the meat.
Properly cooked brisket is smoked “low and slow” with the fat side up so that as the fat melts, it moistens the meat. This is what makes Texas brisket great. It’s moist and not overcooked, usually what steak lovers would consider medium to medium-rare.
I recently found some great brisket well outside Texas at Mission BBQ in Wilmington, North Carolina. When I placed my order for a brisket sandwich, the young lady asked me if I wanted my brisket “moist” or “lean.” I knew exactly what she was talking about, so I told her “moist.”
There still was a lot of fat on the outside with juices that permeated each heavenly slice they piled 4-inches high on my bun. The smoke flavor and natural meat juices were experiences beyond what my vocabulary can articulate. With each bite, I had to wipe my entire face where the meat drippings oozed onto my mustache and beard.
I was having a fine time.
No, brisket like this is not healthy, but I don’t eat brisket with my health in mind. If you want healthy, get a salad and glass of water and out-live me by six months. If you want mouth-watering deliciousness, get brisket that’s smoked over mesquite, oak, hickory or some other type of hardwood for 8-12 hours, depending on the size of the meat.
If you prefer to compromise just a little, remove the fat cap from each slice, but only after it’s cooked. It’ll be somewhat dry, which will force you to do something most self-respecting Texas pit master would never do — add barbecue sauce. If a steak is a prime cut and cooked right, you don’t need Heinz 57.
Likewise, if a brisket is cooked right, you don’t need sauce. Just bite it and moan with ecstasy.
Because I’m not used to having brisket done right, without thinking I added a touch of Texas-style sauce to my sandwich at Mission BBQ. Just a touch, though. It wasn’t enough to overwhelm the smoke flavor or fatty juices.
By the way, the folks at Mission BBQ have done their homework. They not only do a great job with Texas brisket, they do a fair job with Eastern North Carolina chopped-pork barbecue and Kansas City ribs.
On each table is a variety of sauces used in various parts of the country: Texas “Twang,” N.C. peppery vinegar-based, South Carolina mustard-based, Memphis Belle and Kansas City Classic.
One of their sandwiches is chopped brisket that incorporates the Texas-style sauce. In this case, I think they went too far. A little sauce is OK. A lot is too much.
I don’t hold it against them, though. In fact, I look forward to soon paying them another visit. It’s sorta nice to know I only have to drive seven hours, rather than 16, to get some really great brisket.
Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.