Monday, September 13, 2010

Sustainable Meat or Good BBQ? You Choose.

The BBQ competition in Oak Cliff over the weekend was a huge success. The cookers all had a great time (although they averaged about 3 hours of sleep), and the crowds were numerous. If they were lucky, those in the crowd got a wristband which allowed them to sample various meats from the cookers. In fact these folks were better off than any of the 11 judges, which included KERA's Jeff Wittington, Andrea Grimes and Jessie Hughey of the Observer, Tim Rogers of D Magazine, and Melissa from Edible DFW Magazine. We judges had to suffer through tough, tasteless meat from grass-fed livestock (okay, the chicken and sausage were pretty good), while those in the crowd were sampling the non-entry corn-fed briskets and ribs that the cookers prepared alongside their competition entries. I grabbed a few samples of the corn-fed stuff early on, and they were incredible.

Back at the judges’ table, I and my four judge table mates were unanimous in our meat fatigue as the entries came pouring in. It wasn't from the amount of the meat or how it was prepared, but the quality of the raw product. The grass-fed beef and pork had so little fat that every bite was tougher and chewier than the last, and wasn't the least bit enjoyable. From the dozens of competition entries we sampled, I came to the conclusion that this form of sustainable meat just isn't conducive to good BBQ.

Judge's Table

Ribs, Looks can be deceiving

I look forward to hearing from anyone out there who knows of a joint using these products, and getting a good result, as I’d be happy to learn that it’s possible, but from what our group saw yesterday, feedlots are required to make good BBQ.

One glimmer from the day was the brisket that Luckie's was putting out. This joint from a dead zone along I-30 is moving to some news digs in the Cliff, and they were there to provide samples of their product. With a great crust and nicely rendered fat, these slices were world's away from my first review of the joint. I look forwarding to giving them another shot when the open in the new spot.

Luckie's new location on Davis St.

Luckie's moist brisket

This great event was covered by a number of sources over the past two days. Please check out the wrap-up straight from the organizers at Go Oak Cliff, see a firsthand account from the Texas BBQ Posse cooking team, and check out some great slideshows from Pegasus News and the Observer. Other coverage from DMN, D Magazine, and the Observer article that's getting some interesting comments.

Texas BBQ Posse

Pecan Lodge

Rig from Lucia's David Ugyur

Blue Lodge team

Big Red Chicken from Heavy Metal Cookers

Leftovers at Lagarto Catering Rig

For a complete rundown of the winners, please refer to Go Oak Cliff for a great wrap-up.

- BBQ Snob


extramsg said...

I think your analysis of why the corn fed BBQ was better than the grass fed is probably wrong-headed. I've used a wide range of product, from shitty beef from Wal-Mart to wagyu to local/sustainable grass fed. When it comes to BBQ, I think the quality of the raw product is much less important than the quality of the preparation. I suspect you'd have a hard time distinguishing which is which given equally adept execution.

BBQ Snob said...

I would make the same conclusion had I not tasted the corn-fed stuff that each team was giving out for samples. It had been cooked on the same equipment by the same team, but was vastly superior. I really wanted to like it, but the grass-fed meat was just leathery tough.

Chris Wilkins said...

I have to agree 100-percent Daniel. We did five test cooks on the sustainable grass fed brisket before the competition & ended up winning second place. Our lead cook Marshall Cooper has cooked thousands of briskets over the past 25 years & had never seen anything like this.

We cooked traditional & organics side-by-side for comparison & the grass fed just does not taste near as good. It doesn't absorb the smoke, tastes slightly gamey & has to cook 1 and 1/2 times longer.

The bottom line is this: I'm sure there are great ways to cook sustainable grass fed beef, but on a smoker ain't one of them!

PS: The organic chicken rocks though......

Rob Shearer said...

I agree with Chris. I also was in charge of our team's brisket at this event and was amazed at how different grass fed turned out. I knew the second I cut into it that it didn't cook the way I had intended. The smoke ring was nearly invisible and the color of the meat was more pot roast than brisket.

Even more interesting was the fat - which I suspect is at the heart of the problem. I was pleasantly surprised when we got our competition brisket to see a nice fat cap in place. But after what I would call a nearly perfect smoke (14 hours at 200 degrees in a Big Green Egg) the fat hadn't rendered at all. When cutting it the fat actually appeared ribbon-like and was sitting on top of the meat as if I had only cooked it for a few hours.

My conclusion is that there is a chemical difference in the fat. It's the equivalent of putting butter on a piece of toast or dipping it in olive oil. Two perfectly nice ways to treat a piece of bread, but two completely different taste profiles.

I'm looking for some hard science to back this up, but I suspect that grass fed fat has a mighty different make-up that makes brisket smoking infinitely more complicated. If you can't get the fat to "melt", it's going to be tough to achieve a truly great brisket.

extramsg said...

Actually, you guys are proving my point. You keep talking about how it was "unexpected". Exactly. It takes special concern and experience. I'm not saying that they needed the same treatment. I'm saying that they needed to be treated in such a way that they resulted in a similarly tender, etc, product.

And as to it being gamey.... You mean, um, it tasted beefy? Normally, you age beef to get that sort of thing. I mean, was this Piedmontese beef or something or just organic, grass-fed stuff?

Doug Zedler said...

I think extramsg has a point. It sounds like Chris' team did their due diligence with five test smokes. But grass-fed beef is a whole nother animal. It might just need more testing. And I, too, believe that with grass-fed beef, gamey = beefy. It's good. I just recently started cooking grass-fed beef (ground beef and steak, no brisket), and I enjoy the flavor bonus over feed-lot beef.

And, Rob, you are right. Grass-fed beef fat is very different from beef from the feed lot. The fat in grass-fed beef is actually good for you (much like wild salmon fat).

Next time I order some grass-fed beef, I'm gonna get a brisket and try smoking it. I'll let y'all know how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

The event supplied grass fed brisket definitely cooked tender. We proved that with 3 supplied briskets. All of our test cooks cooked consistently but our event meat cooked tender faster due to the presence of more fat. Chris & I can attest to that after several test cooks. All the briskets we smoked appeared to be supplied from the same farm. But what was missing were the familiar deep rich flavors. The supplied grass fed brisket as well as the ribs had a gamey (or gamely!) taste that was just unpleasant at best. Squab like. No matter what type of wood was used, how much smoke was allowed, and how strong of a rub was used that now familiar gamey taste kept on coming back. I'm no expert in the area of processing beef and pork but perhaps the issue might be in the meat source's processing methods.....


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.