My First Time — Smoking Brisket that is: Saucing

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To sauce or not to sauce; that is the question.  The old-timer Texas brisket fans ate their brisket nekked.  The dry rub and smoke gave the flavor.  My ribs need no sauce, but I have to admit that I often slather on some Dinosaur sauce.  The problem with sauce on brisket is that most of the commercial BBQ sauces are too sweet for brisket.  For brisket, you need savory and to hold off on the excessive heat.  The sauce should compliment the meat.

Sauces are one of those items on which BBQ enthusiasts enjoy disagreeing.  I prefer traditional BBQ sauce for ribs and Eastern North Carolina BBQ sauce for pulled pork.  Don’t confuse tomato based North Carolina BBQ sauce with real Eastern North Carolina BBQ sauce.  True North Carolina BBQ sauce is simply vinegar infused with red pepper flakes. With pulled pork, add some collards, corn bread and hush puppies and you have heaven on earth.  In Western NC, they add some ketchup to the sauce and you start the slippery slope toward traditional BBQ sauce.

One of the advantages of sauce is that it moistens tough and dry brisket and brisket is difficult to make tender and moist.  To be on the safe side, I prepared some sauce.  But what sauce to prepare?

I decided to try Texas BBQ Juice.  This sauce is inspired by the sauce they make at Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que in Llano, Texas.  This sauce can be used as a mop while cooking and a BBQ sauce when eating.  I’m not mopping, but I am eating.

This is not BBQ sauce as most people think of it.  Most BBQ sauce has a heavy tomato sauce base with plenty of sugar and some spices.  This is a brown sauce which Cooper’s actually refers to as a pepper sauce.

I halved the recipe and replaced the green bell pepper with a poblano for some additional spice and used maple sugar in place of the brown sugar.  I also inadvertently did not half the beer, oh well.  The first taste before it simmered was HOT.  After simmering for 15 minutes, the flavors melded and smoothed out.  It should be even better tomorrow after aging in the frig over night.

My First Time — Smoking Brisket that is: Preparation

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I never smoked a beef brisket before.  It takes quite a bit of time and that tends to be something of which I am short.  I decided to tackle the task on Labor Day weekend.

Probably the only thing on which BBQ enthusiasts can agree is that BBQ enthusiasts can agree on nothing.  When it comes to brisket, there are devotees on both side of every issue:  whole packer, flat or point; trim the fat cap or leave it be; smoke fat up or fat down;  dry rub or not; dry rub the day before or just before slapping the meat on the smoker; mop or don’t mop; use the Texas crutch or not; sauce or nekked; and the arguments go on.  I guess the good thing is no matter what you do, someone will call it genius.  It also leaves plenty of room for experimentation and that means many good and possibly some bad meals to come.

Whole packer, flat or point was decided for me by Wegmans.  They only had flats in the case.  I probably could have ordered a whole packer, but that would have taken planning ahead and inspiration hit too late.  Trim or not:  I like the argument that leaving the fat lets it melt and baste the brisket as it cooks.  I cross hatched the fat layer down to the meat so that I could get some dry rub on that side, but left it intact this time.  Once cooked, I will trim off the fat.  My only fear is that some of that smoky goodness will disappear when I trim the fat.

I always dry rub my smoked meat.  My ribs need no sauce because the rub adds so much flavor during the cooking.  Pork and beef are different beasts so the rub should be distinct.   In particular, a beef dry rub should have less sweetness.  I lined up some popular brisket rub recipes and did some compare and contrast.  There were ingredients on which all agreed.  They went in.  There were differences that I judged on personal preference and then I added some of my own.

My rub ended up as below:

  • 2 tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Maple Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoon Black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon Onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons Garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Chipotle chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons Mustard Powder

I like my rub to have time to permeate the meat so I did it 36 hours in advance.  I rubbed the brisket with some EVOO, rubbed in the dry rub, wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.  There it sits getting happy until I fire up the smoker tomorrow morning.

Experimenting with Za’atar

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Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs, sesame and salt. The blend varies from region to region, but is widely used. One of the main ingredients is Sumac. No, no, not the poison stuff we know in the NorthEastern US. Sumac spice is the dried, ground fruit of the Elm-Leaved Sumach or Tanner’s Sumach shrub.

I found a Chicken with Za’atar recipe in the July issue of Bon Appetit (http://tiny.cc/g0sg7) and made it a couple of weeks ago. Making the Za’atar proved to be a challenge because I cannot buy sumac spice locally. I was, however, able to purchase a package of pre-made za’atar. The recipe called for oregano and the pre-made was thyme based. The recipe called for cumin and the pre-made had none. Thyme goes well with chicken so not a problem. Adding cumin to the mix was easily done.

I substituted lime for the lemon since the better half is allergic.

Making the cumin aioli was very tedious, but well worth the effort. Whisking a drop or two of oil into the emulsion at a time is a slow process, but don’t take a short-cut and simply add cumin to mayo. Aiolis should always be made from scratch. Again, lime instead of lemon.

To accompany the dish, I made a Fattoush salad (http://tiny.cc/x7y4u). Fattoush is seasoned with za’atar so the theme continued. Since fattoush is made from local, fresh vegetables, I added some grilled corn to the recipe to give it a more local feel.

I added some grilled flat bread sprinkled with, you guessed it, za’atar. I basted the bread with EVOO, sprinkled with za’atar and threw it on the grill for a couple of minutes per side.

Great meal! Flavorful chicken, a bright, fresh salad and tasty bread. I am now going to order some sumac spice and experiment with regional variations. Should be fun and tasty.