225 degrees for 14 hours – the old pitmaster says – it is the only possible way to make a beef brisket moist and tender –I nod, soaking in every last word. He is talking fact, and every pitmaster I have sought out before has said as much. To question this is pure lunacy, but it just feels wrong.
I have a slight tingle in the back of my mind crying for attention, but I ignore it. Convention is, after all, convention. I push the tingle aside and try to focus.
Briskets are tough and unforgiving, slow cooking is the only way to unlock their full potential.
No! I know this can’t be true. Why can’t anyone else see it? Why do I have to stay up all night to produce a perfect brisket? There has to be a better way.
Low and slow is the only way. It has been that way for years.
A hard knock on the door awakens me from my reverie.
A woman is at the door. A white rabbit tattoo is plainly visible on her neck. My pulse quickens and my mouth goes dry. The white rabbit, the antithesis of low and slow. A rabbit tattoo. White. Hot. Fast.
Follow me, she says.
I quickly grab my Gateway Drum hoodie and follow her out the door.
Time shifts. I don’t remember the trip, but all of a sudden we are there. Inside an old apartment. The rain is falling hard. There he is. My voice catches in my throat.
Are you him? I ask, sounding small and hollow.
At last, welcome, please, come, sit. The man says to me.
I take a seat.
I imagine, that right now you are feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit-hole. I nod my head slowly in acquiescence. I was once just like you, a slave to BBQ dogma. Low and slow was all I knew, but I found the answer… Hot and fast.
Hot and fast? I ask? Breathing deeply in a vain attempt to slow my pulse. His steel blue eyes lock onto mine.
After this, there is no turning back. He holds up his hands, a pill in each. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe that the only way to produce a tender, juicy brisket is to cook it all night… low and slow. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
I reach out my hand and grab.. the red pill.
What do I do? I ask.
I’ll show you.
We are outside. The rain has stopped. A perfectly marbled beef brisket is out on the table in front of me.
Why wagyu? I question in ignorance.
Dryness is the enemy. Injections and salt will help us in this battle, but it will take the moisture that only fat can provide to truly win the war.
I nod my head, soaking it all in.
He hands me a knife.
Here, gently separate the two muscles by cutting out the hard fat between them.
In a panic, I drop the knife. Aren’t you going to show me how?
There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. He says as he hands me another knife. It will be OK. Follow the fat line and make small cuts. you don’t need to cut it in two, just expose some of that point muscle to seasoning and smoke.
I do as instructed, completely removing the fat off the top of the exposed point muscle as I go.
Kosmos Injections? I inquire.
Yes. Kosmos. Butcher makes a fine product too, but the more money you make for Kosmos, the more of his beer you can drink at your next competition.
Finally. Something that makes sense! I mix up my injection per the manufacturer’s instructions because not even the old pitmaster will argue with Darian when it comes to phosphate ratios. I give it a good stir and go to work with the injector.
Now rub, orders the pitmaster, taking my attention away from the now plump-with-liquid brisket.
Which rub should I use?
It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter? I pry incredulously.
It doesn’t matter.
I feel cheated. wronged. I thought you were going to tell me everything?
I am telling you everything.
Isn’t a good rub the most important part?
Cooking your brisket right is the most important part. Any commercial beef rub will work.
I turn away in anger and disbelief. He grabs my arm firmly. I’m trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. Grab a beef rub, any beef rub, and lay it on heavy.
My shoulders slump, defeated. He is the master. Who am I to question? I grab a shaker of Smokin’ Guns Hot and lay down a thick even coat.
My Gateway drum fueled with Blues Hog lump charcoal is running at a perfect 300 degrees. Straight up and down on the dial.
Put on a chunk or two of pecan wood for flavor and place the brisket on the cooker.
Only a chunk or two? That can’t be enough wood.
We want the smoke to flavor the meat, not take it over.
I do as I’m told laying the brisket fat side down on the top rack, the fat serves as protection from the direct heat of our fire. Now what?
Now we wait.
Three hours and a 12 pack of beer go by.
Now it is time to wrap.
wrapping our meat tightly with foil in a flavorful liquid will produce a tender juicy brisket.
I rip off 3 large sheets of foil and mix a can of beef consomme with some allegro beef marinade.
Any marinade will do, we just want to add beef flavor and salt to our liquid.
I place my brisket in the center of the foil, dump the liquid over the top, wrap tightly in the foil and place back on my drum.
We will start checking for proper tenderness in an hour and a half.
another six pack of beer and an hour and a half are gone, never to be recovered.
What temperature am I looking for? I tentatively ask.
Briskets are judged by feel, not temperature. When your probe goes into the flat like a warm stick of creamy butter, it is done.
How do I know what butter feels like? I query while poking my brisket in the thickest part of the flat.
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the “butter feel” is. You have to probe it for yourself.
The brisket is still tight. Probing more like a block of cheddar cheese than butter. I put the lid back on the drum.
We will check again in 30 minutes and every 30 minutes until it is done. It is always better to go long than to leave it underdone.
One hour later, I probe my brisket. It feels like… butter. It’s done, master! I exalt in a loud voice.
Pull it off and place it in that warm cooler.
But it’s done!
It is done cooking, yes, but it isn’t done. We have been hammering it with direct heat for 5 hours, it needs an hour or two to rest while the temperature slowly comes down. This keeps it from drying out and tightening up when we slice it.
I lay a clean towel on the bottom of the cooler and gently place the still wrapped brisket on top shutting the lid tight.
Unwrap your brisket and separate the point from the flat. The master tells me two hours later. The fat will offer little resistance if you cooked it right.
I do as I’m told setting the two distinct muscles on my cutting board making sure to save all of the juices in the foil. I cube up the point and cut the flat into long even slices against the grain laying the pieces back in the foil juice as I go to keep them warm until it is time to serve.
Perfect. You did it. Now you are ready. Go out and spread your knowledge to the hungry masses.
That is my story. That is how I broke my low and slow chains. I know you are out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… You’re afraid of hot and fast. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how your brisket cook is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. Light up your Gateway Drum and find a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where you go from there is a choice I leave to you.