Photo Credit: Ashgrey Properties
There is barbecue, the verb, evoking images of hamburgers, hot dogs, and Americana, and then there is barbecue, the noun, a culinary tradition deeply rooted in American and southern culture. All barbecue follows the principal of cooking meat low and slow but there are numerous regional variations from the meat used to smoking styles and sauces.
Living in North Carolina, hog capital of America, barbecue is synonymous with pulled pork, and Greek style pork butt is on regular rotation in our home. However, there is another type of barbecue, beef brisket, which I have always been too intimidated to attempt at home. That is, until I got to spend an evening with the Charlotte Food Bloggers at the Texas-style barbecue restaurant, Midwood Smokehouse. During our gathering, Executive Chef Paul Cruz walked the group through their step-by-step process for making delicious brisket barbecue.
As with any good meal, the process begins by selecting quality ingredients. Having spent time in the heartland of brisket barbecue at Texas A&M's Brisket Camp, Chef Cruz recommends USDA Prime Beef. And if you're not sure where to get your hands on a good brisket, many market and grocery store butchers can accommodate requests for special orders. You can also go the route of ordering your meat on-line, which may be your only option if looking to purchase from a specific beef producer, something a neighbor recently did with good results.
The brisket cut comes from the breast of the cow and consists of two parts -- the flat and the point. The flat is made up of lean meat, while the point is fattier. Prior to seasoning, remove excess fat from the top of the cut, keeping a quarter inch layer to help moisten the meat while it cooks. Too much fat will prevent the seasoning from fully penetrating the brisket, while not enough will cause the meat to be too dry. Using a rub, season the brisket generously, massaging the meat.
Midwood Smokehouse Brisket Rub Recipe (20oz)
1 cup Kosher Salt
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup Paprika
3 tbs Chili Powder
1 tsp Dry Mustard
1 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
3 tbs Black Pepper
Once seasoned, place the brisket in a smoker. In the case of Midwood Smokehouse, the smoker was custom built to accommodate the restaurant's needs and uses 100% hickory wood. For at-home barbecue, you can turn your gas grill into a smoker (YouTube has some good instructional videos to accomplish this) or for the true barbecue enthusiast, invest in a smoker grill.
Photo Credit: Midwood Smokehouse
The goal temperature for smoking is between 185 to 190 degrees fahrenheit for 6-8 hours. Determining when the meat is done is a combined approach of temperature and touch. As the meat cooks, the muscle will separate from the fat. The emergence of a "crack" between the fat and muscle layers signals that the meat is ready.
After removing the brisket from the smoker, wrap it in butcher paper and let it rest for 45 to 60 minutes. It is important to use butcher paper as opposed to plastic, which will retain heat, causing the cooking to continue.
When cutting the meat, use a sharp knife, cutting across the grain. For those seeking lean brisket, cut from the flat, for fattier brisket, cut from the tip, or for "mixed" use a combination of both.
Following Chef Cruz's smoked brisket tutorial, our blogger group enjoyed a delicious meal of pulled pork and brisket accompanied by a mac and cheese bar with toppings such as jalapeño candied bacon. It was so good, in fact, that our family decided to order from their group-to-go menu for the 4th of July a few days later. With relatives visiting from New England for the holiday, we decided it would be best to hold off on practicing our barbecue skills until a later date.
Photo Credit: AshGrey Properties
With collard greens, coleslaw, baked beans, and mac and cheese to accompany the pulled pork and brisket, we topped off the meal with pecan cobbler and banana cream pie. Stuffed to the gills, we all agreed that it was the perfect meal to celebrate the country's birthday.
A big thanks to Chef Cruz and everyone at Midwood Smokehouse for sharing their brisket knowledge, treating the Charlotte Food Bloggers to a fun evening of delicious food, and playing a part in this year's 4th of July family celebration.