Look at this thing. Just look at it. It won’t even fit on one cutting board. Brisket has just wore out the Chicks in Charge over the years. Call us the Chicks in Despair. Beef brisket is one of the four categories you have to cook in a Kansas City Barbecue Society contest. For some reason, the rules don’t really allow you to cook brisket like you should – until it’s falling apart and tender and actually tastes good. Noooo. You have to cook it so you can make slices that shouldn’t be any thicker than a pencil, cook it so the slices pull apart but don’t fall apart when picked up by some stupid judge, cook it like 18 hours until you just want to throw the damn thing against a wall.
I am also a stupid judge. Most judges are not totally besotted with brisket. It comes at the end of a two-hour contest during which no matter how little you nibble on during the three other categories (chicken, ribs and butt) you are absolutely bloated by the time the brisket arrives. Which actually makes it easier to judge good brisket because it really stands out.
Eating it is one thing. Cooking it is another. Every time I hear a judge make some insensitive comment about shoe leather and the like, I want to say: “Do you know how friggin’ hard it is to cook this beast?” The Chicks have been at it for about six years and we haven’t even come close to great brisket.
Here’s the first problem. There’s all kind of fat layers running through a brisket and you don’t know they’re there until you slice it. Here’s the second problem. A whole brisket is really big. Sometimes the four of us have to lock arms just to get the thing on the smoker. That’s actually a joke, but I’m not far off. Then it takes anywhere from 15 to 18 hours to cook it. That really cuts into our drinking time, not to mention sleep.
When the Chicks first got together we all took one of the four categories and poor Mary Ann ended up with brisket. That girl is a trooper. She’d worry over that hunk of meat, rubbing it down with all manner of spices like the $65 special at the spa. She’d sit up with the darn thing all night, trying to get a little shuteye in a lawn chair for goodness sake. But for the most part the brisket has beaten us down, through no fault of M.A.’s. It’s just that hard to cook, by far the hardest category. You’ll notice that none of the rest of team has stepped up to claim brisket as their category. We are cowards.
So, now the Chicks are getting set to cook in Gallatin, Tennessee, in a few weeks. Mary Ann can’t make the trip because she’s got some charity barbecue thing in her hometown and is just throwing away her chance to stay up all night in a lawn chair to raise money for people who have fallen on bad times. O.K., good for you, M.A. However. That means that I have to cook the brisket. Oh, Lord.
So last weekend, I gave it a go. I found this injection recipe from a guy named Dr. BBQ (not his real name, of course) who is a friend of mine and a very accomplished BBQ cook and a really nice fellow to boot. And then I found this paste recipe from Adam Perry Lang, who is an actual trained chef who for some reason likes sleeping in lawn chairs as well. And I got a few other tips from some cooks at a contest a few weeks ago who were slightly over-served Friday night and let a few things slip. I’m not ashamed.
Mark and Noah exclaimed it was the best brisket they’d ever eaten. This, of course, breeds false hope because your closest relatives always say something like that in your kitchen when the proof of the pudding is when you’re cooking the damn thing in a driving rainstorm with six inches of mud under your feet.
I am going to do one thing different from Mary Ann. I love the girl but I’m not sleeping in a friggin’ lawn chair. I am going to attempt the “power cook” in which you smoke the brisket for about five hours instead of all night long. A girl needs her beauty sleep and I don’t have that much beauty in the bank anymore so I’m not taking any shortcuts there.