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Brisket Pictorial Revisited . . . South Carolina Style

This summer has been insanely hot. I don’t care where you live, compared to normal conditions, it is has been hot.

(When I think of heat, I think of cicadas. Just the sound of them seems to add 5 degrees to the heat index. They have been everywhere this year. If you have been married more than ten years, you will quickly recognize this as the "sex without affection" position. If you look more carefully, I think the one on the left is talking on her cell phone.)

So hot, in fact, that admittedly, outdoor activities took a back seat to conditioned comfort. This aversion to all things outdoors impacted even what has traditionally been a pastime favorite . . . grilling and/or bar-b-que-ing.

(I have to believe this guy works on a roadway construction crew during the week . . . the one in the orange vest looking down at the guy in the ditch with the shovel doing all the work. Frankly, I don’t care which sex does the grilling, but something about this photo just strikes me as wrong. Perhaps it is his loose fitting flammable shirt, or maybe it’s her inappropriately sized tongs. Where I come from, there is undoubtedly a gator in the underbrush over his shoulder. This could be his last game of grab ass (note her lean; Either she’s worried that gas contraption is about to explode or she just got goosed).

But, with fall approaching, and football banter abound, I suddenly realized I was out of outdoor shape. If I didn’t start getting acclimatized soon, I was going to absolutely melt at some point around the third quarter in a concrete stadium, where the radiant heat is at least 127 degrees. What better way to get geared up than to do some outdoor cooking. Popping the proverbial cherry on my outdoor cooking season is not something I take lightly. I needed to do something substantial . . . like bar-b-que.
I am from South Carolina. To my state, bar-b-que is synonymous with pork . . . pit smoked.

(This is a pit)

(this is the barrel . . . the rebar in the bottom holds the wood fire above the bottom. A cut out in the bottom of the barrel allows you to scrap the coals out of the bottom and then spread them under the hog)

It’s then pulled, sometimes chopped, and then doused in one of three sauces (vinegar based, mustard based, and ketchup based). Arguments abound about which sauce is best. To me, they all have merit. I’m partial to vinegar or mustard, but I don’t spurn anyone who prefers a classic red, as long as they are making it from scratch and not pouring it out of something with a bar code on it. Either way, it is traditionally served with cole slaw, pickles, hash and rice, and wonder bread. I have eaten it hundreds of times, and cooked my fair share. Cooking a pig generally begins the evening before, lasts through the night, and transforms even pedestrian back yards into a festival the next day.

When someone here says bar-b-que, no one thinks beef. Beef cooked outdoors is what we call a steak. The closest South Carolinians get to cooking Texas Style Brisket is a pot roast in the oven, complete with the potatoes and cooked carrots.

Yesterday, however, I got a hankering for good brisket. Good brisket is much like good bar-b-que pork . . . rare (a strong argument could be made that good brisket is even more rare, and that is definitely true if you live in South Carolina). You can’t get it in a store. It is rare to get it in a restaurant (and none here). Most of the time, by the time a restaurant serves it, it has been sitting out to the point that the meat has lost its succulent texture and is starting to turn the corner and harden again.

I cook a lot, but I have never tackled a brisket. But, I recall a posting a few years ago by a Barker and, except for the butter stuffed cabbage side, he made it sound so easy, and a lot of fun. So, I decided to try it on my own, with nothing but Barking Carnival as my guide. SEE Chooky’s post at THE BRISKET PICTORIAL for the original posting of how to cook a brisket correctly. I recommend it highly. It is funny, instructional, and has lots of pictures . . . .

So, I took a trip to my local butcher to get me a brisket. I took my number, 12 . . . that’s Colt’s number . . . I’m trying not to be superstitious about it, but I have to view that as a good sign. In a moment of awkwardness, the butcher watches me pull the number. I have to believe he knows what number it is. Adhering to custom, or just being silly, he stares right at me and yells, "NUMBER 12!"
"That’s me." I pause slightly and say, "I need a brisket." He walks over to what looks like a giant flank steak and pulls it out. Questioningly, as if he picked up the wrong piece of meat, I ask, "where’s the point?" I’m looking at the little sign in the case that reads "brisket," so either (1) I don’t know what a brisket looks like, (2) they have the little labels mixed up, or (3) this is a South Carolina breed of brisket.

He responds with, "What’s the point?" I can’t tell if that is a statement or a question. Slightly confused and a bit of novice, I decide that perhaps I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m losing confidence, but if this guy doesn’t know what a point is, I’m thinking he isn’t exactly my window to wisdom.

He’s holding it up . . . it’s perfectly red . . . on both sides . . . "Where’d the layer of fat go?" I ask.

"I cut it off."

"Why’d you do that?"

"Because I’m trying to sell it, and nobody is going to buy it with a big hunk of fat on it."

At this point, I’m starting to think that perhaps I should have taken Chooky’s advice and gone to Wal-Mart to get my brisket, but . . . I can’t stand Wal-Mart. I really can’t. And, just because Wal-Marts in Texas carry brisket doesn’t mean they will in South Carolina. Sam Walton may have been from Arkansas, but he is a smart dude. He isn’t going to stock the shelves with something that isn’t going to sell. I bet the Wal-Marts in South Carolina are stocked full of Boston Butt, however.

So, here it is . . . my South Carolina style brisket.

(it’s hard to tell, but this is the fatty side . . . I have my work cut out of me to keep this moist).
I’m staring at it, and I’m looking at Barking Carnival. I see the Season Salt, and some other pre-mixed shit I don’t own, and I get a little panicked. I whip up my own concoction.

(I’ve never made brisket before, but I have cooked plenty of meat. Above is my "eye-balled" concoction of sugar, paprika, chili powder, kosher salt, black pepper, a dash of cumin, coriander, thyme, oregano, garlic salt, onion powder . . . and perhaps something else; I can’t remember now).

I did like Chooky’s suggestion of a yellow mustard base, mostly because I happened to have some. So, here’s the pre cooked flat brisket.

I have to admit, I have smoker envy. Chooky’s smoker is riddled with Texas symbolism stamped into the metal and bird shit on the smoke stack. I want one. My smoker isn’t nearly as impressive, but it will do the job for my little 4.5 lb fatless, flat brisket.

(that thing on the brick ledge is a Bonsai tree that met my wife. If plantslaughter was a crime, my wife would be a serial killer . . . Also, note the fact that the brick wall is white, but the brick path is yellow . . . that’s not dirt . . . they really are a different color . . . that’s been on the "honey-do" list since 2006. I heard about it all the time . . . so I just stopped going outside with my wife . . . problemo solvedo. Maybe I should ask the guy above in the photo if he wants to come out to watch me whenever I get around to doing that).
Chooky recommends oak to smoke his brisket. I didn’t have any that is dead . . . my yard is full of oak, but it is all 100 feet above my head. I decided to use a blend of hickory and charcoal. As you can see, I used Chooky’s "how to" pictorial as a very loose guide.

(it won’t light . . . better go get the lighter fluid . . . don’t worry; it says it is odorless; now that I am looking at it, however, it doesn’t really say anywhere that it’s non-toxic. Hmmh. Well, it doesn’t say it IS toxic . . . so, I’ll go ahead and use it and deal with any side effects at a later date the good ole fashion American way . . . sue the crap out of them).

(there it goes . . . yes, my hand was in there just moments ago. . . . I should probably wait to put the brisket on).

It’s ready now. I’m ready to cook.

(because it is so thin and fatless, I put it low and over some beer to keep the temperature cooler around the meat and to prevent it from being inundated with smoke . . . I regretted this later).

(All looks good. After thirty minutes, the needle hasn’t moved. I have the temperature perfectly stabilized). In my experience, the first hour or so are generally the ones without challenge in smoking. I considered making a side. Chooky’s butter stuffed cabbage comes to mind, but for whatever reason, any time I think about that stick of butter poking halfway out of a cabbage head, I get visions of a bad prison movie. In any event, my wife is kind of bitchy, and I’m thinking the ass smell won’t go over well. And, there is no way in hell I’ll ever convince my three kids that something that looks like ass, and smells like ass, is worth eating . . . . I decide not to invest a lot of time in sides.

But, it’s still kind of hot outside. I wouldn’t risk it if it were a party, but it’s just me and the immediate family, it’s my first brisket, and I can always blame the over zealous butcher if it sucks, so I’m feeling good about this. I decide to go work out . . .

(Getting pumped for my workout).

(That’s not me in the water. I’m taking the picture. That girl’s clothes are going to get wet . . . ).
1.5 hours, and 4000 meters later . . .

(wuuupps . . . )
I get the heat back up, but I forgot I need to run to Columbia. That’s about an hour and a half away . . . Quickly I turn to my handy dandy guideline. Chooky says I can cheat. Admittedly, it isn’t so I can get drunk or sleep, but if you are allowed to throw it in the oven in Texas, I suppose it is okay.

(I would like a little more charring and smoking than this, but at this point, I really have no choice).

(originally, I put it on 230, but as I thought about it, I decided to go with 250 as Chooky suggested. When I pulled the meat off the smoker, it felt like it had a long way to go, so I upped the temperature).
I haul butt to Columbia.

(I actually passed right by the capitol on my way, so I thought I would take this snapshot. In the foreground is a cross walk signal . . . that was inadvertent. If you will note, the confederate battle flag is to the left, right in front of the statehouse steps. It used to be waaaaayyyyyy up on top, along with the American flag and the state flag, but it was offending a large segment of the population including me and anyone with half a brain, so "to be nice," the government took it off the actual capitol and stuck it right on Main Street. How sweet…. Now, I can’t even ignore it….)
Okay, so, after that 3.5 hour detour and frolic, I’m back, and wondering how the brisket is coming. I walk in the house, and it smells heavenly. I pull it out of the oven, and my pan is empty of juice . . . which means I’m gonna rumble with a butcher, or Chooky’s aluminum seal technique works. I pull it out . . .

(not bad).
I cut it . . .

(it seems to have the right blend of integrity, while being tender and falling apart with little effort. The one thing I would say is, I am a little dismayed by the lack of depth of my smoke ring. That also translated into a bit of a lack of smoky flavor. I shoot for between a quarter and a half an inch of a smoke ring, and this one misses the mark. I’m thinking the swimming and the trip to Columbia probably altered my timing and heat on the smoker. Other than that, it was pretty decent for a first effort, and it made for a damn fine taco (I improvised on how to present it since I neither had the time to do sides, nor the inclination) . . .

I’m not a Texan, but with a few tweaks, I could probably fool a few Sooners . . .