I was born and raised in Cattle Country Texas. Ever since I can remember, I loved eating real Texas Pit Barbeque. There was a BBQ joint in Amarillo called “Underwoods”. It was good stuff. I saw the real “pit” they kept the meats in…. brick lined hole in the ground, and a part of it where they would load the wood. When the wood would get down to embers, they would cover the pit, and hours later, remove the smoked meats. It was always kind of a mystery how to cook BBQ. You needed a lot of equipment I guess.
When I got married, I discovered that I loved to cook. I could follow a recipe, and the resulting dish usually wasn’t half bad. I would cook Italian, Mexican, and of course American food. We bought a little backyard grill, and it was great for cooking hamburgers and hot dogs.
The Brinkman Smoke N Grill (AKA the R2D2 Smoker)
In the mid 80’s, there were some commercials on TV and magazines for a backyard magical device where you could cook incredible BBQ. It was made by a company called Brinkman. They were sold at places like SEARS and other places that sold similar items. I had to have one. I can’t remember how much it cost, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to be able to create the tasty BBQ brisket I had become addicted to. When I got it home, the instruction book had a recipe for cooking brisket. I was so excited. I went out and bought a 12 pound brisket, sauce, charcoal, and some hickory wood chunks. The instructions said to put the fire pan in the bottom, then a big metal bowl had water (or beer), and then the meat on top. I followed the instructions to a “T”. Four hours later, (like the instructions said) I took the meat out and in the house. I cut into it with my butcher knife….. and…. I could barely cut it. It was tough like shoe leather. The whole brisket was like that. You could barely chew it.
There *MUST* have been something wrong with that brisket. Maybe I’ll buy a better cut from a better meat market. I went to a fine meat market, and bought their finest trimmed brisket. It was more expensive than the first. I made sure to follow the instructions perfectly. After all, that was the key with other recipes right? I cooked it for the proper amount of time, took the meat inside, and I had a 13 lb slab of shoe leather. It was ruined. Briskets were expensive even back then… it hurt to throw out that much money.
Third, Fourth, Fifth Through Ninth Attempt
Remember that expression, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again”? If you fail three times, most people give up, right? Not this guy. I like to fail a LOT. The meat guy at the supermarket began giving me the look. My wife at the time said something like “Maybe Barbecue just isn’t your forte’ ” That hurt. But after wasting a few hundred dollars on briskets I decided to admit defeat and call it a day. Then one day I had a talk with a co-worker named Joe H.
Joe H. takes his BBQ seriously. He’s a competition Pitmaster. He travels literally all over the Southwest part of the US competing in BBQ Cook-Offs. He has a Pit Smoker on a huge trailer. He has invested a huge wad of money on his equipment. One day, he let me sample a plate of his brisket. It was juicy, and fell apart tender. You could cut it with a plastic fork. It melted in my mouth, with smoky flavor that just made me melt. If it’s possible to have a sexual experience from eating….. never mind, I won’t go there. It was good. It was THAT good. He told me that he has a competition cook-off coming up in a few weeks. I asked him if I could tag along, and help. While he was thinking about it, I told him that I would PAY him to train me. He just smiled and said bring some beer.
Part of the Team
I got to wear one of his team t-shirts. We set up Friday evening, and got registered for the cook-off. We got the trailer set-up, and started the fire. He had a great collection of wood. Hickory, Cherry, and Apple Wood. The wood goes in the firebox. The smoke and heat travel lengthwise through the rig, over the cooking area, and out the smoke stack. The Pit Smoker rig had four areas where you could open vents to allow more or less air to the fire. In the center of the rig was a huge Temperature gauge. Joe got out his ‘rub’ and began to sprinkle it on the meat. Joe’s rub was pretty simple. Black pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion flakes, paprika, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar. Once we put the meat inside the smoker, we cracked open a few beers, and he gave me the SECRET of TEXAS BRISKET.
The SECRET of BRISKET
“The secret, is not really a secret at all. It’s science” Brisket is a tough cut of meat. Most butchers used to throw away the brisket as a piece of meat that was too tough for people to eat. Lots of muscle fibers makes it tough. The fibers in the meat and held together by collagen, a protein. Collagen breaks down at 200 degrees. We adjusted the air flow until the temp gauge showed 225 degrees. “It’s time, and temperature” The perfect temperature in Joe’s opinion was 225. “If the temp gets upward of 300, the meat dries out, and won’t be tender”. The amount of time can be estimated at one hour and 10 minutes per pound of meat. So if the brisket weighs 10 pounds, expect to have it on the pit for 11 hours and 40 minutes. It’s perfect and done when the temp inside the brisket hits 190 degrees by using a meat probe.
All those times when I ruined the meat, I was trying to cook it too fast, and probably too high a temperature. My Brinkman smoker had the meat directly over the heat. For the perfect brisket, you need INDIRECT heat. In other words, you need the fire in a different area than the meat, and let the smoke carry the heat over the meat.
The REST of the Story
As you can probably guess, that weekend was a real eye-opener. I went out and bought a smoker with an off-set firebox. My first brisket came out perfect. Once I figured out the secret of time and temperature, it became easy. The only way to mess it up is if your pit doesn’t keep the temperature constant. If the temperature goes up and down, it won’t cook properly. You have to deny the fire the oxygen it craves…. without much oxygen, the wood will slowly smolder at a constant temperature. Spend a little money on a good BBQ Pit Smoker, and you’ll thank me later.
Here’s the type of Pit Smoker I like: Oklahoma Joe Highland Smoker