Chuck Hayes, Newborn, Georgia - [email protected]
Have you ever wanted to do something, and when you finished it was not exactly what you had expected? Not so much a true failure in the strictest sense of the word, but if you are expecting a supreme example of the “Best of the best”, and it doesn’t turn out perfect then you have failed. This is just such a case of “I’m a loser syndrome”.
I had been reading about beef brisket for years, but living in Georgia brisket is more of an anomaly than anything else. I knew that this BBQ was prized in the area from Texas west, and just because the Pig Is King here in Georgia doesn’t mean that it is the end all be all as far as BBQ is concerned. I HAD to conquer other BBQ traditions. And since I had done fairly well with my home state animal it was time to move on.
One of my bosses (from Texas) swore that his beef brisket was worthy of restaurant status, and as an aside he had considered opening a little joint and serving it because it was THAT GOOD! Since I was in the market for some strange “Q” I asked him for his can’t miss recipe. This along with some internet research on how to cook the famed brisket was all that I needed to venture into foreign territory. I threw aside my internet research and relied on what he told me would be the best brisket that I had put my lips around. Here is where it becomes subject to scrutiny.
The instructions were to cook the meat at 250 degrees for an hour and a half (He said that I could even raise the temp up to 325° because I would be dropping it down for the remainder of the 4.5 hour cook time). When I quizzed him about the seasoning and/or dry rub he said that none was needed because the hickory or mesquite smoke was all that was needed to season the meat properly. Now this is where at least one of my eyebrows got raised. I know from my previous BBQ experiences that either a good dry rub or a good sopping after the fact ads something to “Proper Q”. He mentioned neither. So, taking his lead I ventured on into unknown, and yet familiar, territory.
I purchased two small briskets (neither of which is what I really wanted----I was looking for that long and wide, fat covered chunk but what I had to settle for was a mass marketed short hunk of meat with a thin (very thin) coating of fat on top----probably should have skipped it all from there). I did coat the best looking brisket with a dusting of commercial dry rub (just for comparison sake). After getting my coals banked to the side and after my temperature had stabilized at 275° I put the meat on the grates fat side up and waited for the first hour and a half stint. I was tempted to peak at it---which I know is a “no no”---just to see if the magic smoke was doing its thing, but I resisted. After the first hour and a half I gently repositioned the meat to ensure proper and even heat coverage; added a chunk or two of mesquite charcoal; took a whiff of the sensual scents emanating from my experiment, and popped the lid back on.
Now my boss had said that the cooking time lasted for about 4.5 hours, but from previous reading I was under the assumption that brisket is notoriously tough until around the 12 hour mark of the “low and slow” school of meat cookery. But, being the trusting soul that I am I took his HIGHLY touted recommendation of 4.5 hours. Well being the busy family man that I am I got sidetracked and didn’t take the meat off until around the 6 hour mark (I figured that it would be better this way anyway). I lifted the lid in anticipation as I plated the food and let it rest. After about 30 minutes I trimmed off one of the edges to ensure that my rosy pink smoke ring was present, and to “sample” the goodness that I was sure awaited me. The taste was in a word OK. Not bad, but certainly not the eyes rolling back in the head experience that I expected especially since I was told this was restaurant quality grub that I would find myself sampling. The texture……………….chewy. And not a good chewy; just chewy. I KNEW IT, I KNEW IT, I KNEW IT! The flavor was great (both for the seasoned and unseasoned), but what I had done was made a “newbie” mistake by not following what I know to be true about tougher cuts of meat---especially the infamous brisket---the longer and slower you cook it at a low temperature the better the finished product is going to be!
Now is the time I - 1) Curse my boss for all he is worth or 2) Blame myself for not following my instincts. Either way I lose. The meat was edible, but not sublime. Nourishing and tasty, but not memorable (at least not the way I wanted to remember it). Filling, but not to the point where you want to take a nap and bask in gustatory delight at such a revelation of protein that came off of a grill that has been touched by the heavens. Nope, none of that. I feel like such a failure. It is not that I am a gifted cook, but usually whatever I make whether it came from range top, oven or grill is usually better than the average human can produce; but not this time.
I do not waste, and therefore I knew that four and a half pounds of cooked brisket were in my future. Thankfully I used the meats best attributes to my advantage----made lemonade out of lemons. The texture wasn’t tough, but chewy as I had said. So, I made a very large batch of my stuffed jalapenos to capture the “meaty” texture and smoke that the brisket did posses. I diced up some of it for omelets and topped it off with some pepper jack cheese. Yummy one and all. The rest I gave to my good friend and fellow taster Eric. He wrote me an e-mail a few days later stating that he grilled thin slices of it; put the slices in some pita bread and added a goodly dose of roasted red pepper hummus into each pocket stuffing the rest of space with romaine lettuce and tomatoes. He described it as “Exquisite”. I sure am glad that I could please a buddy from what had started as a cooking failure.