Category Archives: Barbecue

The Day the Brisket Came to Stay

Readers of this blog may recall that my husband and I used a hard suitcase to bring back barbeque beef brisket from our last trip to Texas.  Well, no more, my friends!

As an early birthday present, my husband gave me a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and we used it this weekend to smoke an incredibly delicious beef brisket.  Of course, the lack of a smoker was not the only reason we smuggled Texas style barbeque in a meatcase.  We also had not yet found a decent supply of large briskets at a reasonable price.  After some diligent research, my husband found a local supplier and MeatFest 2 was born.  We invited some friends over to try our first homemade smoked brisket.

We started the fire at 6 am on Saturday morning in preparation for an almost 10 hour smoke.  A liberal sprinkling on both sides of kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper, and garlic powder was all the meat required.

It was placed on the grill of the smoker, fat side up, covered, and left alone with the smoke to work its flavorful magic.

Once the meat was done, it was so tender it was hard to remove from the grill.  The smell was so wonderful.  Words cannot do it justice.

I immediately regretted inviting others to share it.  I wanted the brisket all to myself.

As you can imagine, there were no leftovers at all.  Nary a crumble of beef was left on the platter after our feast…

I’m almost sad that there is no brisket left.  I can’t wait to smoke another just for the two of us…We have ambitious plans for future smoked briskets.

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Suitcase Meat

On our trip to Texas in April, my husband and I decided to bring back some of the foodstuffs that we can’t get here in DC.  The most important item for us was barbeque beef brisket.  Not only can we not get large beef briskets at good prices, but we also don’t have a smoker.  We had a craving as we had not had good barbeque since our wedding in October, and our friends were clamoring for us to bring some barbeque back.

So, on the first day of our trip, we purchased a 12 pound beef brisket at HEB.  My dad seasoned it and smoked it for several hours over mesquite wood.

Then, we wrapped the cooked brisket carefully and placed it in the freezer it for the remainder of our trip.  The next step was insuring safe passage and TSA allowance.  After several hours of research and a call to the airline, we decided that we would wrap the brisket in plastic, pad it with styrofoam, and pack it in a hard-sided suitcase.  With a trip to Goodwill, we scored a large American Tourister suitcase for 9 bucks.

We made sure it was frozen solid before packing and well insulated and padded for travel.  I was a nervous wreck for the entire trip home.  We decided to check the hard-sided meat suitcase.  I was sure that TSA was going to have a problem with this large mass of aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and our brisket was going to be confiscated.  We didn’t get called back from the gate, so once we boarded the plane I focused my anxiety on the thoughts that the meat suitcase wasn’t going to make the connecting flight and our plans for a barbeque feast would be crushed.

Well, I’m thrilled to report that the brisket made it safe and sound.  With all the insulation, it stayed frozen through our extended trip to our great relief.  We popped it in our freezer and began planning the special feast in which we would share the brisket with our friends.

We hosted a small dinner for a few friends this weekend to serve the special suitcase meat.  I’d never frozen barbeque before, so I wasn’t quite sure how to reheat it.  We knew we would use the oven to warm it, but we wanted to be careful not to dry out the meat.  It was fully cooked, we just wanted it warm for serving.  After a bit of debate, we landed on a strategy.

We defrosted the large brisket for two days in the refrigerator.  About two hours before we wanted to eat, we unwrapped the brisket and put in a roasting pan.

It smelled absolutely wonderful with spice and mesquite smoke, and I had dogs pacing at my feet as I unwrapped it.  I combined two cups of beef broth with some of the secret spices I would have put on a brisket to barbeque, and poured it over the meat and let it pool in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Then, I covered it with foil, making sure that it was tightly covering the ends so that they would not dry out too much.  I put it in a 225 degree F oven for almost two hours.  When it was warm enough for us, my husband carved the meat and my brother started grabbing before I could take a picture.  They didn’t give me a chance to take a composed picture, but I think it looks darn good.  And, it was very tasty. 



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Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Our tour of the whiskey distillery got me thinking about wood.  No, not that kind of wood.  I mean, how wood instead of peat can be burned so smoke flavors the malt and wood chips are used to age and flavor the spirits.  It reminded me of the importance of smoke in barbeque. 
Even though barbeque meat is seasoned with spice rubs, basted or mopped with liquids, and plunged in sauce, its dominant flavor is smoke.  Depending on the wood burned, the smoke can be sweet or acrid, fruity or resinous.  The word barbeque even comes from the Spanish word barbacoa, which means a grid of green (fire resistant) sticks on which food is placed high above a fire to smoke.
Hardwoods have sugar molecules that produce aromas and proteins which contribute to roasted flavors.  Most softwoods, like pines and firs, have significant quantities of resin that produce a harsh tasting soot when burned.  This is not preferential for smoking food.  So, don’t use your Christmas tree in the barbeque pit.  Since different species of trees have different amounts of these sugars and proteins, they impart different flavors to food.  The temperature at which wood burns can also impact cooking with smoke.  The ideal is low, smoldering temperatures for wood in your barbeque cooker.  Because some hardwoods burn so hot, pitmasters sometimes choose to lower the combustion temperature by soaking wood chunks in water before placing them on a fire.
Some common woods used in smoking are:
  • Alder – light, aromatic smoke; preferred for salmon
  • Apple and Cherry – sweet, fruity smoke; great with poultry and pork
  • Hickory – strong, full-flavored smoke; popular with ribs, pork shoulder, bacon, and turkey
  • Maple – sweet and fragrant smoke; goes well with chicken and full-flavored fish
  • Mesquite – heavy smoke with a pungent flavor; works best with beef and sausage
  • Oak – good all-purpose smoky flavor, not as strong as hickory or mesquite and never bitter
  • Pecan – rich, fragrant, mellow smoke; won’t overpower delicate seafood
 Mesquite is my favorite wood for barbeque and it imparts a very strong flavor to meat.  Because of that, it works best with meats that have an equally strong flavor, like beef or wild game, but I like it with everything.  I find it bit sweet and very aromatic.  It is also the most common wood used in Texas barbeque. 
My dad uses mesquite in his cooking.  When my brother and I were kids, we regularly helped him scrounge pieces from nearby ranches before our barbeques because the trees are considered a nuisance.  Ranchers aren’t too fond of mesquite trees because they compete with grass for moisture, and cattle need grass.  Right now, my dad has a plentiful supply since Hurricane Dolly knocked out several mesquite trees and he was able to chop them up and stash them my his barbeque cooker.

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Grilling is Not Barbeque

In case you can’t tell I’m a huge fan of Texas barbeque.  I’ve decided it is both a science and an art.  I figure if I can better understand the science behind good tasting meat, I can begin to cultivate the art of great tasting barbeque.
Real Texas barbeque can’t happen on a gas grill.  Grilling is fast cooking over high heat, while barbequing is slow cooking over low heat.  Typically, gas grills cannot maintain a low enough temperature for proper slow cooked barbeque. 
Smoke is the key.  
A gas grill cannot match the flavor imparted to food from wood or charcoal smoke.  During grilling, the meat is exposed to air, but during barbequing or smoking the BBQ lid or smoker door is closed, enveloping the meat in a thick cloud of smoke.   Mmmm…can’t you just smell it?  Many barbeque pits have a system of vents that can be opened or closed to control the amount of heat and smoke that contact the food.  The smoke must be able to move freely around the meat and out of the top of the smoker/cooker/pit quickly so that creosote will not build up on the meat and give it a bitter flavor.  Sometimes a pan of water in also placed in the cooking chamber to provide steam.

Smoked meats such as Texas barbeque usually still have a red tinge to them, even when completely cooked and will have what is known as a smoke ring – a thin pink layer around the edges.  This coloring of the meat is caused by a reaction between the carbon monoxide of the smoke binding with the iron in the myoglobin of the meat.  How about that word, huh?  Myoglobin, in case you were wondering, is the oxygen-binding protein in muscle.
Tender cuts of meat are best for grilling, but they require close attention. Vegetables and fruits can also be grilled because they don’t need a long cooking time either.  The quick cooking and the high heat work to seal in the juices, but if you leave the meat on too long it can dry out.  This can happen with any dry cooking method, however, it is best not to walk away from your grill. Sauces can be used, but with such high heat, it is better when added near the end of the cooking time, so they won’t burn.
Tougher cuts of meats, such as beef brisket (my favorite) or pork ribs, are usually used in barbeque. These meats benefit from the long, slow cooking process that softens the thick connective tissue surrounding the muscle fibers.   The meat can become so tender it can fall off the bone. Since the heat is not as high as grilling, barbeque sauce can be brushed onto the meat throughout the cooking process, if desired.
This is the first of several installments about Texas barbeque.  Stay tuned for an entry on wood smoke – the flavor of barbeque.


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Wedding Brisket

We had an amazing wedding near my folks’ house in South Texas. The ceremony and reception took place in a citrus grove on property owned by family friends who grow oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, limes, avocados, mangoes, and papayas. All of which were served to our guests.

In order to highlight the local cuisine (and our favorite food), we had a delicious barbeque buffet with smoked brisket and chicken from the charming Mr. Galvan. This was served with tortillas, grilled vegetables, charro beans. My mom baked six varieties of cakes from scratch that everyone enjoyed after BBQ. Everything was just perfect.
Instead of cutting and sharing a wedding cake, the hubby and I decided to ceremoniously cut the brisket and kick-off the buffet line. The even hooked up the electric carving knife for us!
Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and several friends testified to eating themselves sick. We are grateful to everyone who made the trip to Texas and joined the celebration. We count ourselves very lucky to have people to share this wonderful memory with us.

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