I love Texas. Texas is my home. And I love the way Texans barbecue beef brisket.
There is a popular saying in these parts: I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. You see it a lot on bumper stickers and T-shirts around Dallas, since so many of us were born somewhere else. Even our most famous resident– George W. Bush– was born in Connecticut. I am a transplant, too. And even though I may have grown up on the other side of the country, that doesn’t mean that I’m not a Texan now.
I grew up around the Great Lakes, and I got my first job in a restaurant at the age of 15. A few years later I spent the summer working in a barbecue joint. The speciality of the house was Kansas City barbecue, and it was OK, although the sauce was not nearly spicy enough for me. And it certainly was not enough to rescue the their disastrous beef brisket. It was dry and leathery and tasteless, but nobody seemed to care– for them, barbecue was all about the sauce.
In fact, it wasn’t until I moved to Dallas and spent a lunch hour huddled over the hood of my car, wolfing down a gargantuan portion of Sonny Bryan’s phenomenal chopped beef, that I realized that barbecue beef brisket was worth eating. Texas barbecue, it turned out, was all about the meat. The sauce was good, and it was certainly spicy enough, but that wasn’t why we were standing in a parking lot getting grease stains all over our suits. In Texas, the sauce is there to enhance the meat, and the meat of choice is beef brisket.
That was 20 years ago. My downstairs neighbor at the time was a barbecue fanatic. He had a big barrel smoker with go-faster stripes on it, and he rented a garage just to keep it in. Texas barbecue was his favorite subject matter, and he would give impromptu BBQ sermons at the drop of a Stetson. He preached the gospel of low and slow– beef brisket should be cooked at a low temperature for as close to eternity as possible.
The third leg of the Texas Barbecue Trinity is smoke. If your meat is not cooked with smoke, don’t ever let a Texan hear you call it barbecue. My neighbor used a complex combination of mesquite and oak, with maybe some pecan thrown in. Mesquite is classic Texas and it’s strong character is very popular in Big D. Mesquite can be a bit much, though, so if you are not a fan of big smoke flavor you might want to opt for oak or pecan.
The best and absolutely foolproof way to a perfectly barbecued beef brisket is to make friends with the pitmaster at your local BBQ joint and drop off your prepared brisket in the morning for him to smoke it for you. After all, they are called pitMASTERs for a reason. Or you can make it yourself. This recipe for authentic Texas barbecued beef brisket uses a gas grill because that is what I prefer to use and, absent a smoker, it is the easiest way to get it right. If you prefer charcoal, push the coals to one side and lay the wood chip packet right on top.
Texas Barbecued Beef Brisket Recipe
1 beef brisket– get one with a nice layer of fat on one side
Texas BBQ dry rub (see recipe below)
Mesquite, oak or pecan wood chips– 3 or 4 big handfuls
Heavy duty foil
7 to 10 hours worth of time (depending on size of brisket)
A cooler full of longnecks (optional)
Rub the brisket with the dry rub and wrap in at least two hours before you plan to start smoking your meat. Even better, do it the night before and let it steep overnight in the fridge. One hour before you plan to start barbecue, soak the wood chips in water.
If you have three burner grill, light the two outside burners and leave the middle burner turned off. Place the wood chips in a smoker box or make a pouch for them out of foil and punch some air holes in the top, and place them on one side of the grill right on top of one of the lit burners, not both. If you have a two burner grill, light one side and put the wood chips on top of the lit burner. Preheat the grill on high with the top down until the wood chips start to smoke.
Turn the heat down to low and once the temperature drops to 250F, unwrap the beef brisket and put it on the cool portion of the grill. Do it fast, so as little smoke escapes as possible. Cook all day over low heat; try to keep the temperature right around 225F.
When the internal temperature of the meat hits 160F (use a probe thermometer, if you have one), wrap the brisket in heavy duty foil and return it to the grill. When the internal temperature of the meat hits 190F, your barbecued beef brisket is done.
Remove the Texas barbecued brisket from the grill and let rest, wrapped, for one hour before slicing across the grain, or chop if you prefer. Serve with your favorite Texas BBQ sauce on the side, if you like.
Texas BBQ Dry Rub Recipe
Ãƒ’Ã’Â¼ cup kosher salt
2 Tablespoons black pepper
Ãƒ’Ã’Â¼ cup sweet paprika (sometimes I use smoked)
2 Tablespoons Gebhardt’s chili powder
Ãƒ’Ã’Â¼ cup ground chile, such as New Mexico chile
Ãƒ’Ã’Â¼ cup brown sugar, packed
Place all ingredients in a glass jar and shake well. Make 1 Ãƒ’Ã’Â½ cups of barbecue dry rub.