Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Barbeque

One cannot be a Texan without having a close relationship with barbeque.  I don’t know the official statistics on the barbeque restaurant density as compared to the population mass, but I would not be surprised to discover that it is a ratio of 10:1 with the restaurants representing the larger number.

Fort Worth (my point of origin) was known for its stockyards, and consequently the local restaurants served a lot of beef.  Much of this beef was/is in the form of barbequed or grilled meats.  But almost anywhere in the state barbeque is readily available.

I traveled the country for several years for my employer, and I always sought out barbeque.  Most of the time I was out of Texas, so I decided to sample my way through the different approaches to preparing it in other states.  Was I ever surprised?  But I found out chicken, pork, turkey, mutton, and a few other things can also fit into a smoker, and be worth eating—usually.

To me grilling is not barbequing; however, any number of barbeque restaurants around the country use only a grill.  But to them it is barbeque.  Okay.  They just don’t know what they are missing.  I’ve been invited to homes in Texas where a weekend barbeque is just grilled hamburgers or hotdogs, so I guess the terms barbeque and grill are somewhat interchangeable, but to me there is a distinct difference.

Then there are barbeque sauces.  I’m not much of a sauce person.  When I do have it, I prefer something a bit thin with a peppery/vinegary bite to it.  Unless I’m eating barbeque from somewhere outside of Texas.  That’s when I want a thick sauce, even a sweet sauce.  Maybe I’m trying to mask the taste a little, but that doesn’t stop me from eating it.

The reality is barbeque is where you find it.  Everyone has a regional preference, me included, but I’ll never turn down some else’s preference, especially if they are buying.  And by opening myself to other barbeque sources, I can say what my preferences are based on knowledge rather than regional pride.

With this said, my preference for barbeque is the central Texas style.  There is something called the Barbeque Trail around Austin, and this is a great place to start if one wants good central Texas barbeque.  There are, however, many places that are not listed on the Barbeque Trail, and I have yet to find one that should be avoided.  Then again, never in my travels have I found a barbeque restaurant to avoid, although some may not be my preference, but as I said, barbeque is where you find it.

When I am having a barbeque at my own home, I tend to make brisket.  When I was growing up, the brisket was a cheap cut of beef, and easy to find, and it has a very beefy flavor.  But brisket isn’t the only thing I’ll put on the rack.  Sausages, pork, chicken, turkey, venison, even beans or mac and cheese have been known to spend time in my smoker.  But I’ll take a good smoked brisket before just about anything else.  Here is one of the many ways I handle brisket.  Warning:  It’s not fast food.


Smoked Brisket

    1 whole beef brisket (10 to 12 pounds), untrimmed
    ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
    ½ cup coarse salt
    ½ cup coarse ground black pepper
    ½ cup ancho chile powder

Score the exposed fat on the brisket with a sharp knife to make a ½-inch crosshatch pattern.  Using a pastry brush, apply the balsamic vinegar to the fat, covering evenly.  Cover the brisket with plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Mix together the salt, ground pepper, and chile powder to make a rub.  Remove the brisket from the refrigerator, uncover, and pat the dry rub onto all surfaces of the meat and fat.  If there is any left over, just apply to the fat.  Recover and place back into the refrigerator overnight.

Early (very early) the next morning, remove the brisket from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature while preparing the smoker with an oak and/or pecan wood fire.  (Alternatively, prepare a charcoal fire and add oak and/or pecan chunks that have been soaked in water about 1 hour.  Replenish the wood chunks each time additional charcoal is added to the smoker.)  When the smoker has reached about 225F, unwrap the brisket and place on the grill rack, fat side up, as far from the heat source as possible.  Maintain a temperature of 220F to 230F for about 8 to 9 hours.  Remove the brisket, wrap in aluminum foil, and place back into the smoker for another 3 to 4 hours, maintaining the 220F to 230F temperature.

Again remove the brisket from the smoker, unwrap and separate the top and bottom layers.  Rewrap the individual layers in foil and return the top layer to the smoker for an additional 2 hours allowing the fire to die down.  The bottom layer should remain wrapped in foil, and wrapped again in a thick towel, and allowed to rest at room temperature about 30 to 45 minutes before slicing and serving.

When the remaining top portion of the brisket is finished, remove from the smoker, wrap in a thick towel, and allow to rest about ½ hour before unwrapping, thinly slicing across the grain and serving.

Enough said.  Time to eat.

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