Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Beef Brisket Experimentation

Bill Shakespeare was an avid barbecue guy, did you know that?  Why else would he sneak the phrase "Ay, there's the rub" into Hamlet's "to be or not to be" bit?

Ok, before you run screaming from that poor excuse of a joke, here's how I prepared that brisket last weekend.  I made up an injection, used a new wood product, and used a new beef rub - all of it something I have not tried before.  So it was a "brisk-speriment" of sorts. 

This doesn't follow my usual recipe format and it's not a "how to guide" for brisket by any means.  It's just a rambling of how things went.

Long story short, the brisket was tender, good flavor, and it had a good smoke flavor to it.  Alexis said it was the best brisket I've done.   The one downside was the anemic smoke ring, but more about that later.

The Brisket
I couldn't get a whole "packer" brisket so I settled for a USDA choice brisket flat.  It was 6 and a half pounds and I overpaid for it dearly.  That's what happens when you don't plan ahead and decide "I must have [fill in the blank] now and I don't feel like shopping around".  

The Injection
I used a very simple injection of 1 1/2 cups beef broth, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 tsp Tiger Seasoning.  I injected from the top and bottom about every 2 inches or so.

The Rub
I used a good coating of black pepper and Draper's new Moo'd Enhancer beef rub.  I have used Moo'd Enhancer on steaks and burgers with good results but they don't really need more than salt and pepper.  Where Draper's Moo'd Enhancer really shines is on beef brisket and beef ribs. I started with a wet base (1.5 Tbsp beef baste, 1 tsp worcestershire sauce, and a splash of oil to thin it out) and slathered it all over the brisket.  Then I seasoned heavily with black pepper and the Moo'd Enhancer. You also don't want to be shy, layer it on a good bit.  

The Wood
I used Mojobricks Baby Cubes (formerly known as Mojocubes). Mojobricks are compressed blocks of 100% pure wood.  They stick together using the lignin in wood, no binders or glues.  They are more dense than wood since they are compressed.   I did a blend of 2 cherry and 2 hickory cubes.  

The Cook
My target cooking temp (blue line) for the Big Green Egg was 250f at the dome (~225f at the grate).  As you can see the actual cooking temp (red line) had a spike at the beginning.  The plan was to foil it when it hit an internal temp of 160f but I let it hang at that temp until 4 hours.  Then I wrapped it in double foil with a cup of water (you can see where that got it out of the 160f stall) and finished it until the probe inserted easily.  I started checking that around 195f but it took until 203f to "feel right".   I left it in foil for 2 hours before slicing and it was still 153f then.
There was no sauce applied yet at this point.  This is all the wet rub and smoke working together.

The Results
I sliced it and served it with Bush's Grillin' Beans Smokehouse Tradition flavor, coleslaw, and Texas Toast.  Everyone loved it and had seconds - some thirds.  Like I said, Alexis touted it as the best brisket I've cooked and one of the top 3 she has had.  

Here's a confession:  I have the beans in a bowl just for this picture but I prefer them right on the plate, all messy.  One thing I love about Bush's Grillin' Beans is that sweet and smoky sauce, it's perfect for "sopping" the meat while you eat.  Then I finish it up with the bread.  Yeah, I'm a sloppy eater, so sue me. 

The one downside for me was the smoke ring.  It was there, just very shallow.  And the meat still had a great smoky flavor - is that a contradiction?  No.  So what gives?  

The Smoke Ring is not a function of Smoke Flavor
The pink smoke ring is not indicative of how much smoke "gets into the meat".  The smoke ring is an issue of myoglobin.  (Myo-what?  Quit taking myoglobin and get your own!)

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains that myoglobin is a RED protein in beef (and other meats to varying extents).  
  • Normally when myoglobin is heated quickly, it denatures, exchanges an oxygen molecule for a water molecule and turns BROWN.  
  • But when myoglobin is slowly heated in a smoke environment something different happens.  Nitrogen dioxide in the smoke, condenses onto the meat and is converted to nitric oxide (NO) inside the meat. At temps up to 140f, that NO reacts with the myoglobin and forms a stabilized PINK globin molecule which forms the smoke ring.  

Why explain all that?  Go back to my temp chart.  Because of the temp spike at the BEGINNING of the cook, my brisket had less time in that period when myoglobin can react with NO to form a stable pink molecule.  So my brisket could still take on smoke flavor after that point, it won't convert anymore meat to that pink smoke ring.  

Lessons Learned (or more likely, reinforced)
  • When smoking, keep the meat as cold as possible before putting it on the smoker to maximize the length of time in the "NO zone".  (As opposed to grilling, where you want to leave the meat out at room temp for a while first.)
  • Keep those temps low, especially during the first part of the cook.  The longer you keep your meat in the smoke at an internal temp of less than 140f, the better - in terms of smoke ring development.
  • Smoke ring does NOT = great smoked meat.  But it does look great, just like grill marks.  Case in point - this brisket.  The smoke ring was thin but the smoke flavor was bold.
[Standard Disclaimer] - I have a business relationship with Bush Beans but this is NOT a sponsored post and we bought these beans at the store.  I received a sample of Moo'd Enhancer from Draper's BBQ but I also buy their products and we are huge fans of their AP Rub.  I paid full price for the Mojobricks.