Monday, January 26, 2009

BBQ 801 - Meat Preparation

Last time we talked about the cuts of meat used in classic Texas BBQ. How to prepare your meat (with a focus on brisket) before cooking is the subject of this session. A basic method often used when preparing large cuts of meat like pork loins, turkeys and whole fish is called brining. To brine, your meat needs to be submersed in a mixture of water, salt, and sugar for several hours. This process promotes juicy flavorful meat by adding salt and sugar deep into the meat through diffusion (natural flow of elements from an area of high concentration to one of low concentration) and moisture through osmosis (diffusion of water) which also carries the diluted salt and sugar into the meat.

So should we use brining in barbeque? Not exactly. Unlike pork loin, turkey, and fish, beef (especially brisket) is naturally juicy because of the amount of fat, so extra moisture from a brine is not required. Although brining is not neccessarily beneficial, brisket can benefit from basic diffusion. Covering a brisket with a simple rub of salt alone will promote this. You see, salt is a solute which draws water out of moist objects that it comes in contact with. Salt on a brisket promotes diffusion while also acting as a solute which forces water and salt to continuously travel through the meat, depositing some of the salt along the way.

Any rub recipe you will find contains salt, spices (maybe herbs) and some form of sugar. All they really need for diffusion to occur is the salt, but what else can we successfully add to a rub? To a limited degree, diffusion will occur with brown or white sugar, and they will also promote carmelization and a good crust on the meat during the smoking process. Sugar is a keeper.

Spices are often used as well, but a tasting from Cook's Illustrated reveals some tips about which spices to use, and when to apply them so they don't become bitter. Spices on the "good" list include allspice, ground chiles, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin and mustard seed. Absent from this list are the popular paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder which were judged "putrid" when placed over direct heat. What also promotes bitterness is leaving the rub on for too long. Two hours is considered the maximum amount of time, while rubbing just before cooking is also successful.

Lastly, what temperature should the meat be before it's placed in your smoker? Well the point is to get your brisket up to 185-195 degrees, so starting it at 40 degrees (straight from the fridge) is counter productive, so let it set out on the counter for about 20-30 minutes before cooking.

To recap, rub your brisket with a salt and sugar, and refrigerate for anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Take it out of the fridge and rub with your favorite spices from the "good" list, and let it sit while you prepare your fire (about 30 minutes). Now you'll have a brisket that is salted deep into the meat, with a god spice rub that's not too cold. Next time we'll work on that fire you've got to build.

- BBQ Snob

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.