By Daryle Thomas
There was a time when Texas beef lived and died in Texas. That concept pretty much ended in the 60s when almost all beef grown in Texas was sent up north to the feed lots to be fattened on grain. They had to be fattened because that good grass-fed marbling was worked off on the trail to the packing houses. One of the saddest days in Texas was when the beef was sent north to be processed. Brisket, once an insider’s freebie, skyrocketed to an unbelievable one dollar a pound.
Of the 40 processed muscles, read cuts, brisket ranks 39th. Probably the only thing tougher would be ankle meat … or the ankle itself. Brisket was considered in the trim category. It would be suitable for grinding, except hamburger did not really exist in Texas.
Imagine a longhorn beef cow. The brisket, located in the forward, lower chest area, is what keeps the front legs from splaying apart. That kind of responsibility produces a very muscular cut of beef. You actually know of some brisket cuts. Corned beef is one. If you fully cook, then smoke corned beef it becomes pastrami. Packer-cut brisket, sometimes called whole packer, is the point, the flat and all the fat.
Fortunately, you as a retail consumer shouldn’t be able to buy a full brisket. Nor would you want to. If you did, you would have to separate the point from the flat and trim the fat down to less than half an inch. You most likely don’t own knives capable of doing that task. A visit to your favorite retail butcher will produce a flat cut of brisket, cryovac’d. It will weigh about eight to 10 pounds and will be trimmed to a quarter inch of fat. The per pound cost will have climbed to about $8, although sale prices may be as low as $5 a pound.
The trick in cooking, or more correctly barbecuing, a brisket is to utilize a lot of time. Typically, one hour per pound is a good place to start. The smoking/cooking temperature must hold steady at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire time. It ain’t all that easy to do over a wood fire but you can cheat. It is possible to cook a brisket in the home oven. And you can make it taste fairly close to pit-smoked brisket.
You will need two items. One is a liquid smoke. You may find a few liquid smokes in your favorite grocery store; Stubb’s is my choice. The other item is smoked sea salt. I use Hickory Smoked Sea Salt from the San Francisco Salt Company.
Step One is to season the brisket. I make my own dry rub, which contains a fair amount of seasonings. I call it Daryle’s Secret, mostly because I rarely write down what I use in it. True Texas barbecue dry rub is considerably easier. Salt and pepper does it — in this case, freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper and the previously mentioned smoked salt.
First, rub on some liquid smoke, mixed with canola oil. Not too much. Then lightly salt and heavily pepper both sides of the meat. Place the brisket, uncovered, on a sheet pan midway in the oven at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the internal temperature after roasting for an hour per pound. It must read at least 205 degrees Fahrenheit. It will likely need more time. There will probably be a fair amount of liquid in the roasting pan. Use it to baste the brisket as it cooks. Letting the brisket rest for a half hour in the juices after cooking will redistribute some of the moisture.
Remember to carve across the grain, slicing up to a half inch thick. Drape a slice over your finger. It should hang down, like a reverse U, without breaking. Now pull the slice gently. It should break into two or three pieces. Will this brisket taste like it was fully pit-smoked? Of course not. But it will be surprisingly good eats!