Two tickets to paradise
So far as most people see it, a proponent of grilling has to choose one of two camps - charcoal or gas. The gas users say that charcoal is inconvenient and can provide inconsistent heat. The charcoal users say that gas doesn't get quite as hot and doesn't impart that distinctive charcoal aroma. Meanwhile, the guys who cook over hardwood just laugh, take a slug of whiskey from the bottle, and call both of them pussies. And not wanting to be called such, I've always wanted to try my hand at smoking. Which brings us to today's recipe, a tangy, smoky brisket inspired largely by Mike Mills' excellent Peace, Love and BBQ.
At it's heart, the practice of grilling is about taking something ordinary and making it excellent through skill, practice, and sheer force of will. Nowhere is that more evident than with brisket. You take a tough, fat-covered cut that most meat departments don't even stock, and you turn it badass - much like Mr. Miyagi did to Daniel Russo. Except, you know, Miyagi didn't end up eating him. But if it helps you to put on some badass '80s music in hope of a montage, you go right ahead, sport.
1 beef brisket ~7 lbs.
1 c apple juice
1/4 c yellow mustard
1/4 c Dijon mustard
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1/4 c beer
1 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar, dried
1/3 c seasoned salt
1/3 c celery salt
1/3 c paprika
3 tbsp ancho chile powder
2 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp lemon pepper
2 tsp ground sage
2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp thyme
- First thing's first - if you want to smoke, you're going to have to come to terms with the fact that you're going to need an entire day. And probably half of the previous evening. If this is unacceptable, then go get yourself a chicken caesar wrap from Applebees, Sally Mae.
- For this job, you're going to need a smoker. I know that a lot of BBQ cookbooks try to throw grill-owners a bone and say that you can use indirect fire and wood chips, but that's not going to work. You most likely won't have a side door to drop in fresh coals on your kettle grill, and you don't want to be lifting the lid every time you need to add heat. Just get a smoker. You can snag one for about $65.
When starting coals, make sure you've got a friend nearby in Chuck Taylors. You know, for atmosphere.
- You're also going to need a metal bucket, or a chimney starter with a stone or metal sheet under it to keep prepared coals ready. When you're cooking low and slow, you can't be throwing on unlit coals and hope they'll catch at 230 degrees.
- Get a pair of comfortable tongs. You're going to be transferring a lot of lit coals. A lot. You don't want to end up with some sort of clawed hand, like you're a 13 year old boy 48 hours after the new Victoria's Secret catalog comes in the mail.
- Also good? Suede grilling gloves. As you may imagine, a bucket of coals is hot as fuck.
- Keep a probe thermometer on hand to keep an eye on the smoker temperature and check the brisket when it's nearly done. Also keep a spray bottle to spritz the brisket when you have to turn it.
- The type of hardwood you use (apple, mesquite, hickory, etc.) depends on your preference, but make sure it's small enough to fit in your smoker. Unless you've got a wood shop, or are some kind of unholy urban lumberjack, you're not going to be able to split it at home.
The Night Before
1. Combine dry rub ingredients in a large bowl. If the brown sugar isn't dry, spread it out on a plate, microwave 15 seconds, break up the clumps, and repeat until dry. Sift to take out any remaining chunks.
2. Reserve ~1/2 c of the rub, storing the rest in a tightly-sealed jar for future use.
3. Whisk together mustard, vinegar, and beer until smooth. Set aside.
4. Place the brisket, fat side up, onto your cutting board. Trim the layer of fat until it's 1/4" thick.
5. Cover brisket with mustard slather. Just use your hands. Or a pastry brush if you're French.
6. Season the brisket well on all sides with the reserved rub. Don't be stingy, or the horrified looks of your guests will forever haunt your soul.
7. Place into a plastic bag or container, and let marinate overnight, if possible.
1. Get up early to start the fire. Earlier than you think you need. Resent those still warm in their beds. Consider how early is too early to begin drinking.
2. Use a chimney starter to get a batch of hardwood coals started. Place them in the smoker, along with some smaller pieces of the wood. Continue to burn coals and wood until you have a consistent heat of 230-250 degrees.
3. As the fire builds, take the brisket out of the refrigerator to let it come closer to room temperature.
4. Light another batch of coals in the chimney starter, and either keep them in the starter, or place them into a metal bucket. This is what you're going to use to regulate the heat.
5. Place the brisket on the grill, making sure that it's fat side up. That quarter-inch of fat is going to melt through the meat in a way that's going to make you love life.
6. Keep the temperature between 230-250 for 1 1/2 - 2 hours for each pound.
7. Give the brisket a 90 degree turn at each halfway point in the cooking process. So if you're cooking for 12 hours, turn with 6 hours left, then 3 hours left, then an hour and a half left, etc.
I wish there were a manlier word to use than "spritz." I'd consider the term "Man Spray," but that sounds even worse.
8. When you turn the brisket, spritz the top of the meat with the bottled apple juice.
9. When you think that your delicious slab of meat is done, check for an internal temperature of 185 degrees. If it's finished, wrap it in aluminum foil and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.
10. Slice thin and eat it. You eat the hell out of it.
- J.B. Mays