Monday, September 29, 2014

Smoking Brisket

So far I have smoked pork ribs and a pork butt. The next installment in my smoking adventures is on brisket.

Smoked brisket is king in the state of Texas. There has been even a debate if it should be the official dish of the state. I have done brisket in the electric smoker before, but it was time to try to do it the more "traditional' way. The first time I smoked a brisket I had no idea what I was doing. My thought was to cook it well-done like most cuts of beef and hit 160 degrees. Nope. It was terrible. It was really chewy and some of it was not edible. I did not give the fat time and heat to render down correctly. I have smoked a few since then so I have it "down."

I was going to smoke a brisket for my coworkers for a potluck. I normally get my brisket at Costco, but they were out of the choice grade. They had prime, but it was $3.78 a pound. I like my coworkers but not that much plus the smallest package was 15 pounds. If I was smoking it for friends, I might have reconsidered. I ended up finding choice for $2.48 a pound at H-E-B. Brisket prices have been increasing as of late. You might start to see BBQ joints charge more for it. This bad boy weighed in at 13.5 pounds. Here is an article on brisket grades and another on increasing brisket prices.

I did not trim the fat in the past. I was lazy and did not know any better. I left the thick fat cap on it. I ended up cutting a lot of it off after I smoked the brisket. There was so much fat. Yes I know I lost a good piece of the bark, and that is why I bought a boning knife to fix this. I trimmed the meat up a little bit and tried to leave a quarter inch of fat. Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue has an excellent series of videos (BBQ with Franklin) on YouTube that offers tips and pointers for us amateurs.

I was going to keep the rub real simple this time. Salt and pepper. I have also added brown sugar and cayenne pepper in the past.

The brisket I got was on the bigger size. I normally like it around 10 pounds. I put the brisket in the smoker at 8pm. This one barely fit in there. I was able to control the heat and fire a lot better than my other attempts with this smoker. The temperature only got up to 300+ degrees a couple of times for a few moments. I checked on the temperature every 30 minutes or so. I loaded more oak into the firebox throughout the night. I am not a fan of my combo grill/smoker. There is a cold spot about two thirds away from the firebox. The grill is boxy and not cylindrical so the flow is not the best. I need to get a new smoker. I had to turn the brisket for a little bit to heat the flat/lean side.

I pulled the brisket off the smoker around 7:30 am when the temperatures were around 190 degrees. I wrapped it in butcher paper first then plastic wrap and then a towel and threw it in a cooler. Lunch was 11:30 am so I hoped the meat would stay relatively warm. The meat was still at a good temperature when I pulled it out of the cooler.

I bought a long knife online just to slice brisket. It cut the meat pretty well.

The brisket was good. It was moist and had the right amount of fat. I wish I used more rub though. I wish I also got a better bark on the top side of the brisket. Yeah I do not like my smoker. It has cast iron grill plates which holds heat well but also cooks the meat faster. The bottom of the meat was a little charred because of it. I need to bring the smoke down to cooking surface as well. Overall I was satisfied with the results.

I have modified my smoker since. I put some aluminum roof flashing in the chimney to draw the smoke lower. I also added a baffle by the firebox to help with temperature control in the cooking chamber. I got a nice bark on the brisket the next time I used the smoker. I want to buy a new smoker, but I am not ready yet. I might take some welding classes so I can build my own. I have no idea what I am smoking next. Beef ribs? Make my own sausage?

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, September 22, 2014

House Park Bar-B-Que

House Park Bar-B-Que is one of the hardest places to get barbecue from for me. They are open only for lunch Monday through Friday. I have only been here once just because of that reason. Their sign on the outside reads "No need teef to eat my beef." This slogan is similar to another Austin barbecue institution. House Park is located in a shopping center and is within a stone's throw of an Austin classic, The Tavern. When I got there at 11 AM, there were a few people eating inside.

I ordered a two-meat plate with moist brisket and pork ribs with a half link of sausage. The plate also came with bean, potato salad, and coleslaw. The brisket had two stories. So the long piece on the bottom of a typical brisket is the flat (lean). The top piece that covers half of it is the point (moist). The flat was chewy, and the point was super fatty. They must have cooked it too high and fast. It had a smoke ring, but without, I would have guessed the brisket was done in an oven. There were no flavors, and it was bland. The ribs were slightly better. They were dry, but the rub had a nice spice. You had to work a little to get the meat off of the bone. The sausage is made by the Texas Sausage Company which is the same people who make the sausage for Franklin Barbecue. It is sad if that was the best thing I ate. The sausage was a beef and pork house blend. The peppercorn gave it a good kick. The sides were boring but did look homemade. More seasoning please?

Bland was the story here. I am not sure how House Park House Park Bar-B-Que is in business with the limited hours. Sure, some places in town are only open for lunch, but their line snakes around the building. A lot of the places I eat at, the smoked meats are cut in front of you. Sometimes when you watch them cut the meat, you know it is not going to be a good experience. This was one of them. Grade: Other

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 900 W 12th St, Austin, TX 78703
Phone: (512) 472-9621

Monday, September 15, 2014

TMBBQ Fest 2014

This is the second consecutive year and third all-time that I have gone to the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest. There are 25 joints at this year's event, and the two place I have yet to try are The Granary ’Cue and Brew and Cranky Frank’s Barbeque Company. They are both on my radar. I need to make a BBQ trip to San Antonio, and I am sure my wife would not mind a wine trip to Fredericksburg that includes a visit to Cranky Frank's. I have eaten at or tried the rest at last year's event. I am not sure why I even go anymore. It is probably because I am a BBQ fanatic/nut and will jump at a chance to eat some of the best barbecue in the world all at one location.

I volunteered this year to get a complimentary ticket into the festival. The two hours flew by as I was checking in guests. I was meeting up with my wife and some friends after my shift ended. The dynamics of going as a group is completely different than going by yourself. I would have probably wanted to try way more, but today, I was going to relax, enjoy myself, drink a few beers, and eat some great barbecue. We were going to hit a lot of the top spots.

Killen’s Barbecue (Pearland) - This was our first stop, and the line was relatively short. I actually kept an eye on their line all day. This should have been one of the busier tents, but it was not. Ronnie Killen cooked a ton of barbecue. Our trays included a piece of the beef rib, brisket, and pork rib. Everything was excellent. I wish Pearland was a suburb of Austin.

Pecan Lodge (Dallas)- Because we had to wait for a little bit, I was disappointed that all we got was brisket. Sure their brisket is great, but how about some sausage?

Snow’s BBQ (Lexington)- One of the longer lines netted you the Texas trinity. I ate all of the pork rib, sausage, and brisket if that means anything. I was supposed to be pacing myself. It always great to see pitmaster Tootsie doing her thing. She is the gem of barbecue.

The Granary ’Cue and Brew (San Antonio)- Their dinner menu is very eclectic, but they still serve traditional BBQ for lunch. They had some smoked pork belly at their booth. I was a not a fan which is hard because I love pork belly. It was chewy, and the rub did not help it out. I am still going to make a trip to San Antonio soon.

Opie’s Barbecue (Spicewood)- No baby back ribs? Bummed. The brisket and sausage were good. The tater tot casserole was a good change of pace.

Cranky Frank’s Barbeque Company (Fredericksburg)- I thought the brisket and pork butt was all right. It is not fair for me to judge them completely at an event like this.

La Barbecue (Austin)- This was the second longest line, but I got a chance to do a little bit of socializing. I probably should have jumped around and hit up a few other spots in the meantime. I got hooked up when I got to the stand. I basically had a three meat plate (brisket, hot guts, and beef rib) in my hand. Everything was fantastic. A line is always warranted anytime John Lewis is manning the smoker.

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (Llano)- The sausage, pork rib, and brisket were all cooked nicely. Remember they do it high and fast. The rubs were really salty though.

Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor)- I need to make a trip back to Taylor. The beef rib, sausage, and brisket were on point. Nothing needs barbecue sauce from here, but I love the sweet jalapeño sauce. I need to buy that stuff by the gallon.

Miller’s Smokehouse (Belton)- We were slowing down at this point, but it was not going to stop me to grab some meat from Miller's. The brisket and sausage were tasty. Heed my advice and stop in Belton sometime soon.

Franklin Barbecue (Austin)- No surprise this was the longest line at the event. It was longer than previous years. The line might have been longer than the one to get in. This was going to be our last stop because we were running out of time. We ended up waiting for about 50 minutes for a pile of brisket, pulled pork, and turkey. Everything was juicy and tender. Aaron Franklin was the front greeting and taking pictures. What a genuine guy!

The other BBQ joints that were there, but we did not make it around to sample:

Black’s Barbecue (Lockhart)
Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q (Kerrville)
City Meat Market (Giddings)
Cousin’s Bar-B-Q (Fort Worth)
Hatfield’s BBQ (Rockport)
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que and Catering (San Marcos)
Hutchins BBQ (McKinney)
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue (Austin)
Lockhart Smokehouse (Dallas)
Pody’s BBQ (Pecos)
Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue (Tyler)
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (Austin)
Two Bros. BBQ Market (San Antonio)
Tyler’s Barbeque (Amarillo)

It was the Super Bowl of Texas BBQ. It was better than the Super Bowl because it was not all hype. TMBBQ put on an excellent event. It was organized, and the weather worked out. It was overcast and cool which is rare for September in Austin. I was afraid with the festival being moved up a month that it was going to be blazing hot. Not this year. Killen's and La Barbecue were my favorites from the event. VIP tickets might be worth the price because trying to eat all 25 places might not be possible in three hours. The lines and crowd were longer and bigger this year. Barbecue is just a hot commodity right now, and I love it. So many great places to try and eat at.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Southside Market & Barbeque (Elgin)

After hitting up Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse, we went to Southside Market & Barbeque. Southside Market is apparently the oldest barbecue joint in Texas. They started out as a meat market back in 1882. The building is huge, and there were a lot of people there eating when we got there. Both dining rooms were almost full. There were two lines to order from so you can get your BBQ fix fast and efficiently. I saw a salad on the menu and was perplexed. Who is going to order salad from a BBQ restaurant? Not me. The chopped beef baked potato did look good tough.

I was feeling full already, but I still went for my usual. I ordered moist brisket, pork rib, and sausage. I added a pork baby back rib, and my wife got some blackberry cobbler. Brisket, brisket, brisket. It was the star of the show. Killer. I enjoyed every bite I took. It was so tender and smoky. The bark was bursting with flavor. The St. Louis style pork rib was just okay. It was dry and boring. Good smoke though. The back baby "rib" was better. I used quotations because the rib was so small. It was like eating a mini pork chop. It was juicy and had a nice smoke flavor. The all-beef sausage was good, but I think prefer Meyer's more. It was fattier, but Meyer's tasted better. The grit and pop were on point though. Nothing really needed BBQ sauce, but the bold sauce was awesome. It was sweet and spicy.

When I return back to Elgin, Southside Market & Barbeque will be my go-to. I want some of the brisket right now. I checked out the meat market before we left and bought some fresh breakfast sausage. They are opening another location in Bastrop this fall. I skipped out on the jalapeño cheddar sausage this time. I was too full. Smart decision. They even make milkshakes here. Ice cream always sounds so good with barbecue. What is in store for next year's trip? Not sure. Maybe San Antonio? Grade: B

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 1212 Hwy 290, Elgin, TX 78621
Phone: (512) 281-4650

Monday, September 1, 2014

Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse

Last year we did a group BBQ trip to Lockhart. We went to Kreuz Market, Smitty's Market, and Black's Barbecue. Most of the group was gassed after the first two stops. I could have probably gone to a fourth. This year I wanted to go somewhere people could pace themselves better. Elgin came to mind with their two joints, Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse and Southside Market & Barbeque. I had never been to either so it was the ideal trip. We left Round Rock for Elgin before 11 am so we could beat the lunch crowd. The drive to Elgin was not bad at all. I have not taken 290 in that direction ever. I normally take 71 or 183 when I am headed towards Houston.

When we got there, there was no line at all. Perfect timing. I ordered a slice of moist brisket, one pork rib, a half link of the beef sausage, and two links of the pork sausage for my wife and I to share. We also got an order of macaroni and cheese that I forgot to try. The brisket was not good at all. It was liking eating roast beef. It was chewy with a lot of unrendered fat along the edges. It needed to stay in the smoker longer. It was also missing a well-developed bark. The smoke was fine though. The pork rib was quite good. It had a deep smoke and was very tender. The rub gave it a nice texture. I could have eaten a few more, but I needed to pace myself. A link of the beef sausage was huge so we went with half of a link. I enjoyed the coarse grit and the snap from the casing. It was definitely a meaty sausage, but I wanted a little bit more of fat. Other than that, the sausage was tasty. The pork sausage was boring. It was fatty and did not have a lot of flavor. It was not as smoky as I wanted it to be. The honey mesquite BBQ sauce had a nice sweet flavor.

I thought Meyer's was so-so. Everyone on the trip shared similar opinions. I should have also tried some of jalapeño and cheese sausage. They are only served on the weekends. The beef sausage was the winner here. Meyer's also has a meat market on site. Our next stop was Southside Market & Barbeque. Grade: Other

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 188 Hwy 290, Elgin, TX 78621
Phone: (512) 281-3331