Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Beef Brisket Burnt Ends

[FTC Disclaimer] This post is sponsored by the Certified Angus Beef® brand in conjunction with a social media campaign through Sunday Supper LLC. All opinions are my own.

I think that beef brisket burnt ends are the best single bite in BBQ.

How to make burnt ends on a kamado grill, such as; big green egg, primo, kong, or kamado joe

"Burnt ends" originally were the scraps left on the cutting board after slicing a whole smoked brisket.  They were a pitmaster's treat, but then word got out ever everyone started craving them.  Now the entire "point" of the brisket is used to make burnt ends.

Before I dive into how I make burnt ends, I tried something new (to me) with this brisket - wet-aging.  I haven't done much dry-aging because I don't have a fridge set up with humidity control and a fan.  But at the Certified Angus Beef® Brand Annual Conference, they had a session on Zooming in on Aging.  

Why Age Beef?

All beef is aged, it's just a matter of how long and was it wet or dry-aged.  Aging gives enzymes, specifically calpains and cathepsins, time to break down the big meat molecules into more tasty bits like amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids (McGee 144). Aging breaks down the connective tissues. This makes the beef more tender and yields a better flavor.

  • I learned that Certified Angus Beef® Brand restaurant partners age their beef at least 21 days.  
  • Retail is much different.  According to the breakout session, the time between pack date and the date sold vary widely for retail, with an average of 12.7 days. 
  • So it makes sense to take matters into your own hands and wet-age large, vacuum sealed cuts of beef.

Dry vs. Wet-Aging

In short, dry-aging is better than wet-aging, but wet aging is much more straightforward.

  • Dry-Aging - 1% of all beef is done this way
    • Stores unwrapped primal cuts of meat in 33-36°f air temperature and 70-80% humidity
    • Dehydrates the meat, concentrating the flavor of the beef
    • Requires that the rancid surface be trimmed off before serving
    • Pros - Tenderizes the meat, concentrates the flavor, gives a "nutty" or "funky" flavor profile
    • Cons - You lose more of the product (15% to shrinkage and trimming), it's more expensive, and you need a temperature, humidity, and air-flow controlled refrigerated setup. 
  • Wet-Aging - 
    • Beef is stored in airtight vacuum packages at 33-36°f air temperature.
    • Improves tenderness similar to dry-aging but has less impact on flavor and does not yield the "nutty" or "funky" taste.
    • Pros - Tenderizes the meat, does not have the 15% yield loss, doesn't require a unique set up in your refrigerator
    • Cons - It doesn't concentrate the flavor as much nor does it give
So I decided to give wet-aging a shot.  We bought a brisket that was packed on 11/30.  I put it, still in the cryovac, in the fridge until New Year's Eve.

For the New Year's weekend, fired up my grills and smokers.  I grilled the ribeye steaks and filet on our kamado grills.  I smoked 2 briskets, a pork belly, and a pair of spare ribs on my gravity fed cabinet smoker.

Separated Certified Angus Beef® Brand briskets
My Certified Angus Beef® Brand briskets weighed in at 17.64 and 15.65.  I separated the point and the flat.  Then I trimmed off most of the external fat on the point and just enough on the flat to make it aerodynamically shaped (smooth edges, no bumps or ridges). 

I used to not worry so much about "shaping" the brisket like this. I just trimmed the fat cap on the flat to 1/8 to 1/4-inch.  But I took a class from Christopher Prieto of Prime BBQ, and he discussed the importance of the smoke flowing smoothly over the brisket.  This matches what is taught in Tuffy Stone's classes and Aaron Franklin's book.  So I flip the fat cap side up and then trim down any uneven spots.  I will smoke the brisket with the fat cap facing down.

Trimmed brisket points from Certified Angus Beef® Brand
Trimming all of the exterior fat from the point takes a little more time.  Patience and small cuts are the way to go.

Certified Angus Beef® Brand brisket separated into the point and flat
About 12 hours before smoking, I inject the brisket parts.  I used 2 cups of beef stock, 1/4 cup Butcher's Prime Dust, and 1/2 teaspoon of xantham gum.  This is enough for both briskets. I wiped the excess off and then lightly oiled them with peanut oil.  I did a moderate coat of NMT Beef Rub v.2 and a lighter coat of Smoking Guns Hot.  Then I let the brisket's rest in the fridge until it's time to smoke.  The seasonings act as a dry brine.

Certified Angus Beef® Brand brisket flat after smoking for 2-3 hours.  It's the #BestAngusBeef
I then smoked the briskets at 290°f using pecan and oak woods.  I smoke them until they get as dark as I want them and then wrap them in either foil or butcher paper.  The points typically finish before the flats do, and I just put them in a warm Cambro until I'm ready to put them back on for burnt ends.

Deep South Smokers GC36 with a Flame Boss 300.  Kamado Joe and pecan wood for fuel.
I used my competition smoker for this cook, but the processes are roughly the same. The main difference is that I use racks and sheet pans for the competition smoker.  When I cook brisket on a kamado grill (Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe) or a bullet smoker (Weber Smokey Mountain), I place them directly on the grill grates using indirect heat.  But the times and temps are about the same.

The flat from the 17-lb Certified Angus Beef® Brand brisket is ready to wrap.  

The flat from the 15-lb brisket.  

For most burnt end recipes, you just cut the point up into cubes, sprinkle some more rub on them and cook them for an hour or so longer.  This works fine, but sometimes the fat wouldn't render enough.  Then I learned to add a power braise step to the process.  I learned this trick from a few KCBS competition teams, and it hasn't failed me yet.

I cut the point up into cubes and place them in a half-sized steam pan.  I add stock until it comes halfway up on the meat cubes.  Next, I seal the pan tightly and put it in the hotter part of the smoker for another hour.  This does a fantastic job rendering out the last bits of fat.  

For the final steps, I hit them with more flavor. Pour off the beef jus into a fat separator.  I re-season the burnt ends with Smoking Guns Hot.  I glaze them with a mix of:
  • 1/3 cup Head Country BBQ Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Albukirky's Duke City Sweet
  • 1/3 cup reserved and strained beef jus.
Now I kick the smoke up in the smoker.  For kamados or bullet smokers, I add wood chips directly on top of the burning spots of coal.  For a cabinet smoker, I just add a chunk or two of wood to the fire box.  

Put the burnt ends back into the smoke for 15 minutes, just to give them one last kiss of smoke.  As soon as they come out, I hit them with some Gun Powder (Smoking Guns Hot that has been finely ground into dust).  

How to make brisket burnt ends featuring Certified Angus Beef® Brand
Burnt ends coming off of the smoker for the final time.

sliced Certified Angus Beef® Brand brisket
One of the flats, sliced against the grain.  Brisket slices dry out quickly so either keep them pressed upright against each other OR give them a light glaze of the burnt end sauce, watered down with more beef jus.

If properly cooked, smoked brisket flat will drape easily over a finger without breaking or being stiff.    The pink part is called a smoke ring, and it is formed with the myoglobin in the beef permanently binds with nitrogen compounds in the smoke.

I used an electronic controller for my pit, so I have the cook data.  The yellow line is the internal temperature of the larger brisket flat.  The red line is the cooking temperature.  The green line is how much the blower fan had to run.
I pulled the flats when they were "probe tender," and a skewer punctures them like a warm knife in butter.  This differs for each brisket but in the neighborhood of 200-209°f and 7-9 hours when cooking at 290°f.  The larger flat went on at 6am and was 39°f.  It was done at 3pm when it reached 207°f.  

My thoughts on wet-aging?

  • The aged brisket was seemingly more tender than the non-aged brisket.  I did not have the equipment to perform a Warner-Bratzler shear force test, so this is just a subjective assessment.
  • Wet-aging beef does make it more tender, but I could definitely tell it was not dry-aged because it lacked the tell-tale flavor of concentrated beef.
  • For people who don't like the "funky" umami taste of dry-aged beef, wet-aging is the way to go.
  • Wet-aging is an easy way to get started aging your own beef.  
  • I will use wet-aging in the future for vacuum sealed ribeyes, strip loins, and briskets.
  • Eventually, I will change one of my refrigerators to an aging cabinet so I can get into dry-aging

How to make brisket burnt ends on a Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe
Why do I think burnt ends are the best?  Because burnt ends are smoky, beefy, succulent, and tender!
The next time that you buy a Certified Angus Beef® Brand primal ask your butcher for the pack date (it's on the case it comes in) and age it in your fridge for 21-30 days from the pack date.