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Bob Lyon, Sage of the Sasquatch, retired from teaching English and reclaimed his youth in outdoor cooking. Debuting in a chili contest in Terlingua, TX, he discovered barbecue. He went back home to Seattle and co-founded the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association, which he serves as executive secretary and, among other activities, is the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
He became intrigued, fixated even, on the ritual of the brisket. He even challenged the Commissioner of the International Barbecue Society, hill country resident, John Raven, to a brisket ‘mano a mano' in Terlingua. Bob says, "Every brisket is an adventure."
Bob's cooking team, Beaver Castors, has competed and won in national and international cooking contests. Jim Erickson, chief cook of the Beaver Castors, has won first place in several prestigious state and international contests in brisket - using borrowed grills. He attributes his successes to choosing the brisket, using good technique and cooking several to choose from.
Choosing the Better Brisket
The brisket comes from the chest/breast area of a cow - the roping end. It is two alternating layers of muscle and fat. The two layers of meat are separate, but not equal: one is thicker and wider. Observed with the fat layer on the bottom, the upper layer of meat is interspersed with strings of fat which do not render out during cooking. In restaurants, this layer is normally chopped with a little of the trimmings of the lower layer for chopped sandwiches. The lower layer, although less fatty, also has streaks of fat - the size and shape of which offer some indication of how it will cook. Thick, ropy strands of marbling will probably yield a tougher product from a cut already fabled for toughness. Choose instead, briskets with more slender, consistent streaks of marbling fat.
There seems to be a consensus that, all things being equal, flexibility is an indication of potential for tenderness. The exercise goes this way: Pick up the brisket, grasping it in the center. The more the ends droop, the more tender it is likely to be. Remember that tenderness, in the case of brisket, is a relative term. Do not for one moment, delude yourself into thinking that a limber brisket is a tender brisket. Compare briskets of similar size and temperature for the closest approximation of accuracy. Don't bet the ranch on any of them.
Jim Erickson rightfully points out, "Don't pay extra for prime grade." Prime only means that there is more fat marbled in. The brisket is already overly endowed with interspersed fat. Jim does advocate using a ‘certified' beef and his success lends credence to that belief. Charlie McMurrey, Jr., pitmaster as well as web master of Barbecue'n On The Internet, believes that buying at a butcher shop rather than a supermarket gives him an edge in finding a less tough brisket.
If you are serious, which is in itself a fault and likely to make the meat tougher, get more than one brisket. After they are done, choose the most tender for contests and guests whom you wish to impress. You can chop the other for sandwiches or grease the axles on the chuck wagon.
The shape of the brisket is more an indicator of cooking time than weight. A chunky 8 lb. brisket 5" thick will take longer to cook than a long, slender 10 pounder. Select a 10-12 pounder with a good ½" minimum layer of fat on the bottom side.
Remember, "Each brisket is an adventure." After you have selected what appears to be the best available, it's trimming time. Trim the hump of fat from the pointy, ‘nose' end. This side will be on the bottom during cooking; the external fat will not do any basting and may actually interfere with seasoning. Don't bother with the fat layer on the other side. Tidy up by trimming off the thinnest parts and trim the fat off the sides.
Bring to meat to room temperature, regardless of what the beef people's representatives say. The meat will absorb flavor more readily and it will reduce the cooking time. Check the internal temperature and record it in the rare chance that you may want to do this again.
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Smoky's 5th basic position for really great barbecue'n.
'According to Smoky' is © by C. Clark Hale
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