[gardeners] Long winded BBQ school, Texas Style

Allen and Judy Merten (gardeners@globalgarden.com)
Tue, 06 Jul 1999 00:11:49 -0500

Hi Penny,
    One of the things that I love to do and talk about is BBQ. It's a
family tradition.
    You asked how to slow cook a brisket over coals.
    My pit is like a horizontal barrel. It has 2 vents on each end. The
vents are located at the top and bottom of the ends of the barrel. The
bottom vents control the air intake and the top vents control smoke
exhaust. The manipulation of the vents control the heat. I always have
more air coming in than smoke going out. I open the bottom vent on one
end of the barrel and partially open the top vent at the opposite end.
    The heat is from coals of oak, hickory, mesquite, or pecan wood that
I begin burning with the barrel open. Once the wood is burning well, I
close the pit and open the vents. This slows down the burning process
and starts making hard coals that will last and produce heat at a steady
    I begin preparing the brisket before I start the fire. I buy "packer
trim" brisket in heavy kripac bags. The weight is usually from 12 - 15
lb.. Some of this is fat that needs to be trimmed. (Suet for bird
feeders). I trim most but not all of the fat. I sprinkle soy sauce or
Worcestershire sauce and concentrated lemon juice over both sides of the
brisket. Next I heavily season with garlic powder, salt, paprika, onion
powder. You can substitute steak seasoning or ready mixd brisket rubs
for the other dry ingredients. I don't care that much for the steak
seasoning. It is mostly salt and not much else. You can add red or
cayenne pepper if that is your taste. I cook for mixed crowds of kids,
women and men so I go light on the pepper if I use it at all. I always
have hot peppers on the side anyway. One alternative to all of the spice
application is to use Italian dressing as a marinade. Place the brisket
in a large rectangular cake pan covered with foil, or double or triple
wrap the brisket in foil. Place it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350*.
    The fire should be just about right by now. I take the brisket out
of the pan and reserve the drippings to baste with. The fire was laid at
one end of the barrel as much as possible. I light the ends of the wood
nearest the bottom vent that will be open. Place the brisket on the
opposite end from the fire, nearest the top vent that will allow smoke
to escape. The meat will be cooked by the hot smoke passing by not by
direct heat from the coals. If you have flames flare up when the pit is
open shut the vents completely and let the flames suffocate. This
creates intense smoke inside the pit which will flavor and color the
brisket. Turn and baste the brisket every 15 to 20 minutes or sooner if
it looks dried out. I cook brisket for 2-4 hours depending on the weight
of the brisket and the heat of the fire. I cook all my BBQ using this
same method. Only the oven is omitted for lighter weight meats like
chicken, ribs, Emu, venison, etc. I use the same method to smoke
turkeys. The best BBQ chicken is split at the breast but not at the back
and cooked butterfly fashion.
    If you are going to BBQ brisket away from home and oven, triple wrap
the brisket and cook wrapped for 1-2 hours. Unwrap it and finish cooking
until done. Don't over cook brisket. If you wait till the meat is all
gray it will be tough as a boot, maybe a boot heel. Brisket is a juicy
meat. When you cut a little slice to test if it is done, you want to
quite cooking when it is still faintly pink, not rare. After the brisket
is sliced most of the juices will drain out of the meat taking that pink
color with it. Keep in mind that the smoke will color a "rind" on the
outside of the brisket. This is where the flavor is. Pecan wood will
give you a redder and deeper rind than any other wood that I have cooked
    Like Jimmie, I can cook out side in all kinds of conditions and be
just happy to be cooking outdoors. I can make homemade biscuits and
sunny side up eggs on a campfire. I shocked 3 of my sons by cooking
sausage over a open fire one rainy day using a shovel for a grill. We
were clearing dead brush and dead falls from the area for our house. I
have cooked stews, chili, beans, soup, wild game, fish, fowl, etc. on an
open campfire. I enjoy doing it. It is such a kick to have people think
you're some kind of wizard 'cause you can cook the way the old trail
drivers, hunters, pioneers, and travelers  did it.
    If you are going to cook that way you have to have cast iron. Teflon
and that fancy stuff won't get the job done.
    I have rattled on enough. I told you I enjoyed talking about BBQ.
Bastrop Co., 98* w/thunder and a rainbow, but no rain.
SE Central Tx.