I don’t know what got into me one night a couple weeks ago but I suddenly had one of those primal caveman urges to eat Texas BBQ beef brisket. Spring fever? Some food show on television that had me yearning for something to eat? One thing led to another and I went on an obsessive hunt for how to move beyond merely cooking outside in the March rain to a whole new level of OCD cooking. In the past it was smoking bluefish or trying to make some impossible French sausage thing called a “galatine,” now I need to get back to my Houston roots and figure out barbecue.
I kept hitting two names — Franklins of Austin and the Pit Barrel Cooker — Franklin is the savant of brisket and the PBC is like the most highly rated, recommended backyard barbecue pit on the market consisting of basically an oil drum, a couple pieces of rebar, a charcoal basket, lid and stand. Franklin has a cookbook, so that went on the Kindle. The man is into the best beef so I ordered a pair of black angus brisket flats from Creekstone Farms (forget about finding decent brisket on Cape Cod, especially around St. Patrick’s Day when everything is corned beef brisket for the odious traditional boiled cabbage dinner that makes the house smell like a diaper pail).
The barrel arrived, required zero assembly and went out behind the boat shop. Couple bags of regular Kingsford charcoal, a “chimney starter” and a pair of big cheap roaster chickens and I was ready to season the thing. Split the two birds down the middle, cut out their backbones for stock, rubbed them with the usual mixture of stuff to turn them red and hung them on hooks from the rebar, put on the lid, and went away for 90 minutes. When the digital thermometer read 165 I fished them out, brought them inside and made the house smell like the real deal. Total success. Like best chicken ever.
For Easter I sucked it up and hung a beef rib roast in the barrel — two hours later with a temp of 135 I had the best hunk of cowboy ribeyes ever. This was too easy. I mean you light the charcoal, give the coals 15 minutes to get going, hang the meat (there is a grill option, but hanging lets one cram a lot of meat into the barrel at once), slap on the lid, pay heed to the rule “if you’re lookin’ you’re not cookin'”, set a timer and walk away. There’s one adjustable vent at the bottom, you crack it about 25% if you’re at sea level, and that’s that.
Now brisket is a different deal. The things take a long time to cook. Pull too soon and they are tough as sneakers. Too long and they turn into expensive pot roast. So Franklin is the prophet and I am getting ready by reading his OCD instructions of trimming and rubbing and phenomena such as the “Texas Crutch” (wrapping with foil or butcher paper after six hours), the “Stall” (the point where the internal temperature levels off and doesn’t move while some meat science involving evaporation, cooling, collagens and the Maillard Reaction happens. This coming weekend is the test when the daughter comes home with her Austin-born boyfriend and I try to impress them.
Anyway — if you’re getting ready to drag the grill out for the spring and are thinking about yet another Weber, get the Pit Barrel cooker. So simple a caveman could do it.