It’s the best time of the year.
Football is on, the leaves are changing and hoodie-weather is in full swing. Work and the constant tumult of the High Holy Days make my off-time all the more special. This is one of the reasons I prefer this time of year for barbecuing; even more so than in the summer.
Granted, nothing says summer like firing up the grill, throwing a few burgers and hot dogs on the flames and drinking yourself into oblivion. The emphasis with summer barbecuing is typically on the social aspect, with the food you grill being simple enough for a drunk person to handle. With the onset of autumn, the chillier weather combined with the need to sustain oneself through 4 to 16 hours of football watching over the course weekend create a perfect storm for big-project grilling scenarios.
The NFL Kickoff earlier this month happened to be a matchup between the New York Football Giants of East Rutherford, New Jersey and the Dallas Cowboys (SPOILER ALERT! It was probably the best game Dallas will have all year). Because I am an unapolgetic slurper of all things Texas (that don’t come from Houston) and a lifelong Cowboys fan I hosted a party for the viewing of said game.
For this party I decided to smoke some meat. Texas style.
Central Texas barbecue is very specific regional style notable for its Bohemian origins, spartan side dishes and an aversion to spoiling good meat with cloying sauces. Throughout Texas, beef is king, but in Central Texas the most popular cuts are shoulder (or Clod) and that cut beloved to Jews and Texans alike- the brisket.
This required a great deal of preparation, planning and a a fair amount of good luck. I used a Webber charcoal grill that’s older than I am and a few handfuls of charcoal briquettes. The only temperature gauge I had was a meat thermometer that topped at 190°, so most of the cooking I had to do between 225° and 250° involved me guessing based on time spent in front of ovens.
The result was the juciest, best tasting meat I’ve ever cooked. The 20 odd people who watched the game with me agreed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First of all I had a great recipe to work with. It’s from my dog-eared copy of Saveur’s Texas issue. I’d already read that recipe a few times before I attempted it. I’d cooked plenty of brisket in the meantime, mostly oven-braised for various Jewish holidays, but never attempted smoking anything more time-consuming than a three-hour chicken.
With this attempt I re-read that recipe three or four times in the week leading up to the party and constantly referred back to it during the process. Part of that was due to the steady stream of alcohol I began imbibing the morning of the party when I was up early stoking the grill; tailgating the television. The recipe seems simple with its nine steps, but it’s essentially a 20 hour process that requires a lot more guesswork and improvisation then is immediately apparent. Getting really familiar on paper with what you’re doing is recommended.
I bought two 3.25 lb briskets because I expected to feed a lot of people. It wasn’t cheap, but this is NFL Kickoff. And a Cowboys game. I mean… c’mon. Anyway, the night before the party I mixed up a dry rub of certain proportions and ingredients which I am not interested in sharing with you. I will tell you what kinds of things I put in it, and trust you’ll have the good judgement to formulate your own blend.
In no particular order:
- Brown or Raw Sugar
- Salt (Kosher or Seasoned)
- Dry Mustard Powder
- Paprika (Sweet, Smoked, Hot)
- Black Pepper
- Ground Chile Peppers (Cayenne, Pequin, Chipotle)
After rinsing the meat under cold water and patting it dry with paper towells; I rubbed the meat down with a solid coat of dry rub and left them covered in the fridge all night.
While the fat-soluable chile powders soaked into the meat I poured three quarters of a bottle of Everclear into a large mason jar and threw eight black tea bags into the jar. After an hour I strained the dark-brown concentrate back into the original Everclear bottle.
The next day mixed 1 part Black Tea Everclear with 4 parts good Lemonade over lots of ice. It was a taste sensation. I should know; I drank four of them that day.
So, 10 in the morning the day of the party I start a football-size pile of charcoal in one corner of my grill. After about an hour (once the coals had burned down to gray) I topped them with two cups of soaked mesquite chips and let them burn down until they produced white smoke.
I placed a pan of water next to them and set the briskets over the water and as far away from the heat as possible, covering with both vents oven and the top vent over the meat.
I pretty much followed the Saveur recipe as it’s written for the rest of the afternoon, substituting my own judgement for the temps in the grill and the meat. I recommend you get a good digital thermometer for your first attempt at any barbecuing. You might not be as lucky as I was and end up with, at best, something resembling jerky.
In order to pad people’s stomachs I made a bunch of sides. A homemade barbecue sauce to be added only as a condiment for cooked meat. In the Central Texas style, it was a vinegar and ketchup-based sauce with Dr. Pepper for a touch of sweetness. I made a pot of vegetarian pinto beans disguised as chili. I braised and pulled apart a bunch of chicken thighs in a sauce made mostly of reconstituted, pureed chipotle chiles, garlic and chicken stock.
For the brisket I put out the classic sides of Bimbo white bread and saltine crackers (I think I was too drunk to open the sweet pickle jar at this point). Close to the end of the first quarter; I pulled the foil-wrapped briskets off the cold grill they had been resting on for the last hour.
When I took my first slice (AGAINST THE GRAIN!) I had a moment of panic, as it appeared a little dry to me. As I continued slicing away, the grayish end closest to the heat gave way to perfect, pink-ringed slices of juicy smoked meat.
It was unbelievable. People devoured it. I threw a few choice (read: gristly and fatty) pieces in a white bread taco and switched to beer for the remainder of the game. I ended up not really getting to pig out on it until I finished the leftovers the following day; this time with all the proper accouterments.
I can’t describe how good it was. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted barbecue brisket this good outside of Texas, and yet I did it with minimal experience and tools and a head full of pure grain alchohol. You could do it too. Heck, you don’t even have to be watching a Cowboys game.
Take it through the fire; for a chance to brisket all. You’ll be happy you did.