Thrill of the Grill
I have lived here in the Valley of the Sun for just a few weeks now, having moved here from Texas, where I grew up and spent most of my life.
As soon as I got here, I picked up the New Times and immediately turned to the Cafe section since I consider myself a "foodie."
In that section was an ad for a barbecue restaurant which read, "The Best Real BBQ Outside of Texas."
Now why would a barbecue restaurant advertisement in Arizona mention that "real" barbecue comes from Texas?
Because the Tejanos there have perfected the art of slow-cooked barbecue like no one else ever has. I would like to share with Arizona the way to cook real Texas barbecue from the comfort of your own home. This is the barbacoa of the Rio Grande Valley that the Mexicans who live and cook there taught me.
First, you need some wood. It must be either mesquite or hickory. Either will work, but each produces a different sabor, or flavor, in the meat. Do not be so naïve as to think that you can cook real Texas barbecue in your kitchen oven. Anyone who says you can doesn't know beans about barbecue and is just plain loco.
Second, you need a grill or smoker that is big enough to have the fire on one side and a big chunk of meat on the other. The meat never goes directly over the heat. It cooks by indirect heat and smoke, not flame. This is not "grilling," this is smoking. Third, you need lots of time because a 12- to 16-pound brisket takes 12 to 16 hours to cook. This is not fast food.
Next, buy a brisket. It should be covered with a thick layer of fat on one side. By the way, brisket has fat on it but not in it. The meat is not marbled.
Prepare a dry rub. To do this, simply mix together equal amounts of salt, pepper, garlic salt or garlic powder, cayenne pepper and chili powder. Use your hands to rub the spice mixture over the entire surface of the brisket. Bring your grill to 170 degrees. Place the brisket on the grill away from the heat with the fat side up. This will keep the meat moist as it cooks, because the fat juices melt downward and baste the meat. Don't, under any circumstances, put barbecue sauce or any other liquid on the meat while it's cooking.
The beauty of smoking the meat is that your fire doesn't flame up from the drippings, so the brisket doesn't burn. It doesn't matter if your wood is burned down to glowing coals or if it is just starting to burn. Either way, you must have a temperature gauge on your cooker and you must hold your heat constant at 170 degrees throughout the cooking process. Warning: cold brisket is no bueno the next day. You must time the cooking so that when it's done you eat it. Want to have a backyard cookout and eat at 4 p.m.? You have to start your brisket between 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on the morning of the meal. If you want fast food, go to McDonald's.
Many cooks wrap their brisket in foil toward the end of the cooking to keep it from drying out and to hold it until guests arrive. But I don't believe that brisket can be tastefully reheated. It never tastes the same. Don't try it. It's like remarrying a spouse after a nasty divorce. It will leave a bad taste in your mouth every time.
To serve: Place the brisket on a cutting board. Slice off all the fat from the outside. Slice down through the meat and make sure you cut against the grain.
If you want barbecue sauce, serve it on the side. The only reason to drown barbecue in sauce is if it's not very good.
Serve with thick-sliced white or purple onion, sliced pickles and jalapeños. ¡Que Bueno!
Lastly: If, after reading about real Texas barbecue, you might think it's too much trouble to do at home, here's an idea:
1) Go to Sky Harbor Airport
2) Fly to Dallas Fort Worth Airport in Texas
3) Take a cab to Anglo's BBQ on Whitesettlement Road in Fort Worth
4) Order brisket
Alternative idea: Get to be really good friends with me and I might cook it for you. I've been doing it since the 1960s. You'll like it.
Remember: 170-degree constant heat. If you have too many beers and the fire goes out -- forget it. If you add too much wood at one time and the heat shoots up -- forget it. Your heat must be constant. Good luck! It took the Tejanos at least 100 years to develop this cooking method. What's a few hours to you?
Editor's note: I am also a transplanted Texan who believes in the Zen of a slow-smoked brisket. Done right, it is some of the best meat you will ever taste. As a veteran of this method of cooking, I disagree with a couple of the author's points. He insists on a constant 170-degree fire, while I believe it can fluctuate between 180 and 220 degrees and still have good results. My contention is backed up by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, authors of the cookbook "License to Grill." But low and slow is definitely the way to go. And while brisket admittedly is never as good the next day, it can still be a great leftover, particularly if you store it in the juices from the fat. -- Kristi Dempsey
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.