The word is…BBQ
This site focuses a lot on European cuisine and their different cultures, but being an American I also need to give credit to the cuisine and culture that has separated the United States into its own, as opposed to just a meeting place of many cultures.
Probably the one greatest cuisine that is truly American is Barbecue, aka “BBQ”. Its origins date back to the 16th century, when Spanish settlers introduced the pig to the Native Americans living on the land, and cooked said pigs over an open fire. It was mainly an easier means to cook the tough meat taken from wild pigs.
Modern barbecue evolved in the 19th century Southern United States with methods such as smoking, slow cooking, and grilling. Slow cooking and smoking have become the biggest favorites of many in the US. Restaurants have popped up in almost every city serving favorites like ribs, chicken, pork chops, steaks, and brisket. Smoque BBQ in Chicago (pictured above) is one of the local favorites for me.
Brisket is a cut of beef from the lower breast of the cow. In the past, many butchers would discard the cut, as it would be too tough for normal consumption. The Jewish and Irish though have been known for a long time to slow cook and cure the meat into corned beef.
It wasn’t until Texas though that BBQ brisket became famous as a true piece of American cuisine. It was said a local butcher did not want to discard the brisket meat, so he smoked and slow cooked it for many hours. The end result was very tender cooked beef that literally fell apart upon cutting. Those very butchers turned what was thought of “poor man’s beef” into a gourmet delight.
My love of brisket began with Smoque BBQ here in Chicago, hence why I mention it. I first heard of the restaurant though none other than Guy Fieri with his show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. In the episode, owner Barry Sorkin gave me a glimpse into the process of making Texas-style BBQ Brisket, and it all starts with the rub.
Spice rubs work in the similar manner to marinades; only you don’t have to soak meat in liquids for hours. Some barbecue dishes even come without sauce and rely on the rub itself for flavor. I personally agree with Sorkin in making one rub and using it all over for barbecue. I also liked his creativity in the development of his rub, and while he gave out half the ingredients in the episode, I merely used the information as a guideline to my own rub, rather than attempt to make a copy.
Alex's Barbecue Spice Rub
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 1/4 cup pepper
- 1/4 cup garlic powder
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp coriander
- 2 tbsp lemon pepper
- 2 tbsp dried mustard
- 1 tbsp ginger
- 1 tbsp ground cloves
- 1 tbsp Italian Seasoning Mix
Simply combine all ingredients and store in a dry space.
This is for roughly three cups of rub, but I’ll usually multiply and make enough to fill a jar for future usage. We’ll use this rub today on the brisket, but you’ll see it pop up for other recipes as well.
Variate to your heart’s content. Add and remove seasonings based on your own personal tastes.
Now the secret of making a good brisket is to find an ideal cut of meat, and cooking it in the “low and slow” style. That means a low amount of heat for a long time. This is not a dish you’ll toss together quickly, so make sure you allocate plenty of time to cook and plan ahead.
You can get a cut of brisket in almost any butcher or meat section in grocery stores. Look for a nice size piece so you have plenty of “deliverable” for the time you put into it. The meat should have good marbling (meat to fat marble) and especially a layer of fat on one side. I know we’re all thinking health-conscious and believe fat is bad, but for this recipe, it’s vital.
The best way to cook brisket is to smoke it, but most of us out there do not have access to a smoker. However, you can make an amazing brisket in your oven. Here’s how:
Texas-style Barbecue Brisket
- 3-10 lbs of beef brisket
- 1/4-1 cup of olive oil
- 2-7 cups of spice rub
- 1/4-1 cup of pepper
- 1 ounce of liquid smoke
- Remove brisket from cold storage and allow it to come to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 200º.
- Pat dry the brisket with paper towels.
- Coat brisket with the olive oil.
- Coat oiled brisket with a layer of spice rub.
- Coat oiled/spiced brisket with the pepper.
- Let the brisket sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Pour the liquid smoke into a roasting pan.
- Place brisket into roasting pan fat-side up.
- Cover pan with lid or aluminum foil and place into oven.
- Slow cook brisket. You should calculate based on the idea of 1-1 1/2 hours per pound of meat. So a 5-lb brisket should slow cook for 5-7 1/2 hours.
- When you think it’s finished, remove from oven and let it sit covered for 20-30 minutes to finish.
- Uncover and check with meat thermometer to see if it’s done. If not done, then cover and slow cook more.
- Slice finished brisket against the grain. This will keep the pieces more intact.
The variating amounts in the ingredients are mostly because it all depends on what size cut of brisket you get. Use your best judgment.
Some might not agree with the idea of olive oil, but I like to coat meats with it before placing spices. It will keep the meat tender and flavorful, plus it helps the rub stick.
Having the rubbed meat sit for a short time is to make the rub work like a marinade. You want the spices to work their way into the meat and not just become an outer coating. For the brisket in the image, I ended up leaving it overnight in the refrigerator with rub on it because I miscalculated how much time I needed. It still turned out beautiful.
The extra pepper was a suggestion from Barry Sorkin from both the show and other videos he’s appeared on. It adds that classic Texas flavor and goes well with this particular dish.
The liquid smoke is a trick to add that smoked flavor to the meat. While I would not say it can replace a full-fledged smoker, it does wonders.
Placing the meat fat-side up is a trick I also picked up from Sorkin. He stated that the fat will gelatinize while cooking and soak into the meat, keeping it juicy. I will admit while I try to keep things as “trimmed” as possible, this worked very very well, and I would not recommend doing things any other way. The fat itself even was like a sauce more than anything.
You’re welcome to season brisket any way you choose as I mentioned with the rub recipe.
If a long time at 200º does not turn you on, then try playing with the temperatures. You can go up to 275º or 300º even and cook for a shorter amount of time. You might want a higher temperature if you’re dealing with a bigger piece of meat. Just don’t rush things. The end result is meat that is falling apart as you cut it, not cooked leather.
The other way to try cooking is to smoke the meat. In this case you don’t need the liquid smoke. Just follow the recipe and smoke the brisket with whatever wood and flavors you desire. The same goes if you have an oven-based smoking pan.
I generally like to hit it with my favorite barbecue sauce and go to town. It also works quite nicely on a hearty roll for a wonderful sandwich.