About a year ago I made the pilgrimage to Lockhart, Texas for some barbeque grazing in the heart of the brisket belt. The trip really was themed around baseball in Dallas and Houston, with sightseeing and dining in Austin and San Antonio to break up the sausages and beer at ballparks (well, so I ate at Fearing’s, Feast, RDG…not exactly ballpark fare). With a drive scheduled from Austin to San Antonio around lunchtime, it was a natural to visit the “capital” of Texas barbeque, Lockhart. Even though I visited Austin, I passed on the opportunity to wait three hours in the Texas summer sun for barbeque at Franklin’s, even though the Texas Monthly named it the state’s premier barbeque spot a few months later. In Lockhart, you can visit multiple spots…without the wait. And, there’s a cool “Back to the Future”- like courthouse on the town square.
Now I’m not here to tackle the debate of who makes the best barbeque in the Lone Star State, nor am I any sort of expert on the best spices for a brisket spice rub or the best wood chips to use when slow grilling the meat. That’s literally what the Texas Monthly hired Daniel Vaughn to do earlier this year as their barbeque editor. Yes, a barbeque editor. I don’t know if I’d even want that post. Every article probably incites more debate than New York Yankees managerial decisions. With the 4th of July behind us, it’s the prime of grilling season. For the most part, grilling should be very basic. It’s hot, you’re thirsty, you’re probably entertaining. Maybe marinade some beef or add a baste to pork chop. Throw on some peppers or pineapple. Just make sure not to burn anything or have fat residue cause reckless flare-ups. Be cautious about the heat. Common sense rules: a hot fire means cooking time will probably be faster than the manual says.
Don’t be like many of the “Juicy Lucy” burger restaurant and bars I visited recently in the Minneapolis- St. Paul area where the interiors are medium well to put it gently. In other words, the meat becomes dry and tasteless. It’s not good when the best part of the barbeque is the sauce or the charred crust of the meat. Or in the Juicy Lucy case, the melted cheese center.
You want something that doesn’t require loads of attention, yet packs immense flavor. Swordfish probably isn’t right. Enter beef brisket.
Jim Shahin of The Washington Post a few years ago wrote an excellent article for beginners such as yours truly who would ever try to tackle the behemoth that is Texas smoked barbequed brisket. Shahin picked up on several of the eccentricities I picked up also while in Lockhart. No place uses sauces on their brisket, though Black’s had several barbeque sauces varying in spice levels that you could squeeze on to your heart’s content. Mostly, Black’s and Kreuz Market just used some salt and pepper. It’s the beef and the pits that matter. And the timing. While glancing at the article, do try to ignore the nutrition facts of bbq brisket on the side.
At home, we don’t exactly have the mammoth 600 degree burning pits that Kreuz Market does (they happen to have two dozen of them).
Strangely, both Lockhart spots forgo the low, slow heat method with the brisket for a more rapid fire style that might add more levels of smoke from the pits to the exterior, but certainly does the meat’s moistness no favors.
The Post‘s article gives great step by step help into trying brisket for the first time with a smoker or charcoal grill. You can be picky or not when it comes to the type of wood chips. With a charcoal grill, make sure the meat is opposite the hot charcoal side. The more smoke and the more low heat cooking time, the better.
What’s the key ingredient to Texas brisket? Smoke.
Now, the peak of summer is no time for having the oven on for five hours of the afternoon to cook brisket. Well, maybe if you’re here in San Francisco it is.
That being said, we’ve never tackled Texas brisket, but we’re pros at the classic French brisket preparation known as Brisket of Beef à la Bercy.
It doesn’t sound very Texan, does it?You’ll find the recipe below. Either way, you’ll certainly enjoy the effort and rewards of barbeque brisket with minimal additions outside of salt and pepper. It’s meat and smoke. And time. Maybe this time next year you’ll be crowned the bast barbeque in town…or even in Texas. Beef Brisket à la Bercy
2 tsp. salt
3 tbls. Brown sugar
1 cup chili sauce
1 ½ cups vinegar
2 tsp. seasoning salt
5 lb. brisket of beef
1 cup chopped celery leaves
2 sliced onions
Mix 1st 5 dry ingredients together. Pour over meat and let stand overnight*
Pour marinade over meat to moisten then cover with celery leaves and raw onions. Roast at 325 degrees for 5 hours (1 hour per pound), or until tender, basting often with the marinade. Cover with foil to keep juices for an au jus. Serves 8.