Having been born and raised in Georgia, it has always been my not-so-humble opinion that, when it comes to barbecue, pork is the one true meat. Anything else is heresy. Many times have I heard my Texan friends wax rhapsodic about the joys of beef barbecue, and many times have I lumped their reveries in with all of the other cultish sounding utterances about their home state that seem to stream endlessly from their mouths. I once had to eject a tried-and-true member of the Black Cowboys of Texas from a New Year’s Eve party at my house because he got drunk and wouldn’t shut up about how great things were back in Texas. But I digress…
A month or so ago our neighbor, April, wife to Mark D. of Tuesday Wine fame, brought up the idea of doing a barbecue cook-off in our cul-de-sac as a fundraiser for a friend of hers who is going on an around-the-world mission trip. Five of us would cook, the attendees would vote, and the winner would walk away with fabulous prizes and slightly higher self-esteem. I thought for a couple of weeks about what to cook – I am a pulled pork and rib veteran, so I assumed I would pull out one of those old standbys. However, when I contacted the other cooks to see what they were making, ribs, pulled pork, and chicken were already on the menu. Not wanting to duplicate anyone’s efforts, I decided to try smoking a beef brisket. A risky move, no doubt, as the only possible outcomes were either extreme shame and embarrassment or the undying adulation of legions (twenty or so) of barbecue fans cul-de-sac wide. I decided to chance it.
The first step was acquiring a suitable piece of meat. My buddy Muss, co-owner and executive chef at Smyrna’s Muss & Turner’s, hooked me up with a beautiful twelve pound brisket from his refrigerator. Now to figure out what to do with it. I wore out my Googler searching for cooking times, temperatures, and appropriate seasonings. Equal parts chagrined and intrigued, I found that the recommended cooking time for a low and slow smoke on a brisket is 1.5 to 2 hours per pound – in my case, up to twenty-four hours. Wow. In terms of seasoning, my original suppositions were confirmed – discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to seasoning just about any cut of beef. So, the night before I intended to start cooking, I rubbed this impressive hunk of bovine wonder with a combo of kosher sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika. I probably added a few other things, but those were the main ingredients of the rub. I wrapped the meat tightly and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
Cut to the next day. I rushed home from work early so that I could light the grill (Primo Oval XL Ceramic Cooker) and get the brisket on in time to meet my 5:30 Saturday deadline. I dumped an eight pound bag of lump charcoal into the firebox, laid hickory chunks all over the top of it, and lit ‘er up. While the grill was warming to the 250 degree cooking temperature, I prepared a mixture of two liters of Coca-Cola and half a bottle of Evan Williams bourbon (don’t ask me why I had Evan Williams) in a disposable roasting pan. This would sit under the meat and keep it moist over its day-long odyssey. When the grill was ready, I put on the meat, stuck the temperature probe in it, and drank a beer. Nothing to do now but keep an eye on the dome temperature on the grill and wait. And drink more beer.
I decided to wake up every couple of hours that night to check the meat and mop it with a mixture of beer, apple cider vinegar, and various other things I found in the spice cabinet. I was surprised to find, when I woke up at 2 am, that the temperature of the meat was much higher than I had expected it to be after only six hours of cooking. I lowered the grill temp a little and, slightly concerned, went back to sleep. I was awakened again at 5 by my wireless meat thermometer yelling at me that, “Your entrée is ready!” Hm. I checked it, and sure enough, it was almost to the desired temperature. I decided to wrap the meat tightly in aluminum foil and put it back on for another couple of hours while the fire died down. I have to admit to sneaking a bite while wrapping it, and the taste elicited a sleepy, one word response – “Damn.” It was good. When I pulled the meat off the grill for the final time at around 8 am, I wrapped it with more aluminum foil and a thick beach towel and put it in the cooler, hopefully to stay hot until the afternoon.
Around 4 on Saturday, after a mountain bike ride, a trip to the dump, and a solid two hour nap, I pulled the miraculously still hot brisket from the cooler and unwrapped it. The smell was amazing. I sliced into it and took a bite. Juicy, tender, smoky – it was delicious. After using some of the drippings to make a vinegar based sauce (just to thumb my nose at the Texan sweet sauce purists), I was ready to present my efforts to the world. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.Contributed By A Genuine Southerner Colin Brown