As the name implies, Camp Brisket focuses on the quintessential component of Texas-style barbecue, the brisket, which can be the most difficult and time-consuming meat item to prepare. With an all-star roster of barbecue experts leading the course, we thought a summary of what we have learned over the past five camps would be beneficial to meat industry professionals and aspiring pit masters.
- Quality matters — Based on our unscientific taste tests at the camp and the testimony of the top-tier pit masters we work with each year, briskets from Prime, Wagyu, and Top Choice (e.g., Certified Angus Beef, Chairman’s Reserve) consistently deliver higher ratings than briskets from Choice and Select. More marbling seems to make this richly flavored cut even more buttery and delicious.
- Bark is best — In the past, briskets were cooked with all the fat still attached (packer-style briskets), and after smoking, this fat was trimmed away resulting in lean-only pieces of sliced briskets to serve. What we term “21st Century briskets” are pre-trimmed so they have about a ¼-inch-fat covering. They are seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and after smoking, the exterior transforms into “bark,” a wonderful-tasting complement to the lean. With this low level of fat remaining on the brisket, it gets properly rendered during cooking so that it becomes slightly crispy (think medium-cooked bacon) and makes great tasting brisket even better.
- Wrapping with paper — The great debate in the past about cooking briskets was whether “to wrap or not to wrap.” In this case, the “wrap” is aluminum foil. Without question, wrapping with foil will speed up the cooking process by helping prevent “the stall,” where evaporative cooling during the cooking process slows everything down. Unfortunately, roast-beefy flavors can develop with foil-wrapped brisket, which is not a preferred taste for smoked beef. The solution to this dilemma is using “peach paper,” which is an uncoated butcher paper that gets its name from its peach color. Pitmasters use peach paper to wrap briskets after the desired amount of smoke has been achieved and before the stall begins (usually around 160° F) or simply after the briskets are finished cooking as a way to protect them during the resting/holding period. Peach paper allows some escape of moisture so that steam does not build up like it does with aluminum foil.
- Resting and holding — Because briskets are finished off at fairly high internal temperatures (around 200° F), the amount of time necessary for them to be rested before slicing is quite long. It is not uncommon for cooked briskets to be rested/held for many hours (3 to 8 hours) before serving with either active or passive food warmers being used. From a food safety standpoint, it is important to follow food-holding regulations, which are usually set so that products do not go under 130° F to 140° F. Properly rested briskets just slice better, optimizing their tenderness and maintaining their juiciness, resulting in a wonderful eating experience for the customer.
For more information about Camp Brisket, Barbecue Summer Camp, and other programs related to the Texas A&M University Texas Barbecue program, please go to bbq.tamu.edu. MEAT+POULTRY’s annual barbecue issue will be published in June, including brisket research conducted at Texas A&M.