Beef brisket may be more difficult to barbecue, but masters in the area say the results are worth it. And it’s not the only cut of beef you can smoke.
Summer is upon us, and the grills and smokers all over the DMV are heating up as well. For the “Fired Up with Jake and John” series, WTOP’s Mike Jakaitis and John Domen chat with some of the area’s top pit masters about their methods, with the goal of helping you improve your barbecue game.
There isn’t much better in life than a good steak or a burger thrown on the grill. Why would you want to play with something so tried and tested?
Well, it turns out that it takes a few hours (or more) to smoke something else that tastes even better.
Any discussion of smoking beef begins with the brisket, a cut of meat that was cheap and unpopular for years until barbecue grew in popularity and people began to realize how good it can be.
Alas, the degree of difficulty is high – it is difficult to make a good breast (although it is also difficult to make a bad one).
Even if you don’t do it right, chances are it’s still good, even if for what you’ll pay for it you want it to be more than that.
Kyle Norris, owner of Big Kyle’s BBQ in Leesburg, Va., Said the brisket is his favorite and while it’s tough, it’s worth it. âIt’s kind of rewarding when a customer tells you, ‘You know I’m from Texas and this is one of the best breasts I’ve ever eaten.’ “
Most grocery stores usually offer either the point or the dish, although some stores offer a full breast, which can be over 10 pounds and a few feet wide.
The amount of fat it contains can vary as well, and while most experts say you should cut it down to about a quarter of an inch thick, Norris said he likes leaving a bit more.
âYou need that fat to blend in with the meat and keep it moist,â he said.
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After the breast has been in the smokehouse for two to three hours, he wraps it in butcher’s paper, which almost all pit masters use.
âThe foil steams it and speeds up the cooking process,â Norris said. “The butcher’s paper will let some of the steam escape and contain the juices at the same time.”
Norris prefers to cook the fat side of the brisket down because it gets better rind. World barbecue champion Myron Mixon agrees.
“You want the fat to go down because your heat in most stoves comes from the bottom up and I want it to hit the fat before it hits my skinny. [meat]”Mixon said.” Always cook the fat cap down. “
Not everyone agrees, however.
âFat side my friend, fat side up, fat side up,â says Fernando Gonzalez, owner of 2Fifty Barbecue in Riverdale. “For our smokers, they tend to develop excellent rind on the breast, and the fat side up protects the meat first.”
Norris tends to start his chest at a much lower temperature than Mixon, and Gonzalez is somewhere between them.
âOnce you’ve developed the bark you’ve been looking for and once you’ve cut that breast off, it’s nicer,â Gonzalez explained.
The spice blend that everyone uses for a rub tends to be pretty standard: they all start with salt and black pepper; some will also add garlic or spicier pepper on top.
You are aiming for an internal temperature of around 200 degrees. Depending on the quality of your smoker’s insulation, when and if you pack the meat and its size, it can take between six and 12 hours.
But once you take it out, it’s still not ready. The chest should rest for at least an hour – and this is only if you are in a hurry; if it’s really big, you can let it sit even longer.
In most cases, pit masters will use an insulated cooler, with the meat sometimes wrapped in a towel or blanket. At first, the meat will cook a little more, but the juices will start to come back and spread more evenly.
When the temperature drops to around 150 degrees, it’s time to eat.
Prime rib is another popular cut of meat to smoke, and you would cook them in much the same way as a brisket. But you have more options than that.
Prime rib roasts and New York Strip roasts are also great straight out of the smoker and cook faster than the brisket. For these, you usually need two to three hours of smoke time, and an internal temperature of around 140 gives you a perfectly cooked roast.
A chuck roast will take a little longer, but can be a cheaper alternative to the brisket with similar results and flavor. It’s even possible to put ground beef in an aluminum tray, and after an hour in a smoker, you’ve upped the flavor of the tacos or chili.
Finally, you can always take a good, thick steak – the thicker, the better – and ‘sear it upside down’.
Steven Raichlen, whose latest cookbook is titled “How to Grill Veggies” and which hosts “Project Smoke” on PBS, said reverse searing is a good way to make sure steaks thick – 2 to 4 inches thick – cook evenly.
âIf you think of a thick steak that you cook on a direct grill, you have some kind of charcoal on the outside, then a thin layer of gray, and then it can turn gray to pinkâ¦ and then you have a blood red bull’s eye in the center, âsaid Raichlen. âIn reverse entry, it’s a much more uniform process. “
Throw the steak in the smoker for about an hour, more or less depending on its thickness, until you get close to the internal temperature you are looking for. Remove it when it’s about 10 degrees from your desired result (medium-rare, medium, whatever your preference).
From there, throw it on the grill for about a minute per side, then let it sit for a few minutes and dig.
Listen to and subscribe to the “Fired Up with Jake and John” podcast on Podcast One.