Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…
The earliest risin’ wrangler gets up at 3:30 A.M., puts on the coffee pot, and goes for a walk. He rounds up all the 4-legged “lawn mowers” that have been hobbled and turned loose in the pastures. The wrangler is the cowboy responsible for the riding stock as well as most other animals on a ranch. He keeps them fit and trim by feeding them correctly and looking after their medical needs. All in all, he’s a “top hand” and savvy! Very much of his work is technical and in honor of his expertise, we present this forum. It’s about the technical or specialized topics in our craft, with a few corny jokes thrown in here and there.
If a procedure or product has important specifications, reference data, particular information, or know-how n’ savvy that you don’t wish to memorize but need to refer to once in a while to “refresh your memory”, then try looking here. We’ll update the information here from time to time and try to maintain this info as a reference source for your convenience.
For instance, some of the topics include:
- How to butcher and dress your own chickens or ducks
- How to barbecue the best ribs and brisket in the West!
- How to barbecue an entire hog (with sauces)
- Info about casings and stuffers
- Info all about lamb with recipes
- How to calculate nitrate/nitrite cures
- Info all about salt
- How to taste food with your nose
- List of common sausages with descriptions
- Much, much, more!
Butchering And Cleaning Your Own Whole Chicken Or Poultry
Processing and preparing a living, cacklin’, chicken for the dinner table is not trouble-free, nor is the procedure enjoyable or pleasant, although butchering the bird is inevitably essential if folks are to enjoy eating poultry inside a secluded ranch house situated high in the backcountry. As much as people would like to avoid it, they may have to take matters into their own hands now and then – and quite frankly, there is no way to describe the processing of a chicken other than to do it bluntly. Now, take a sharp meat cleaver out into the yard, and git’ really nasty with the thing. Find a tree stump and prepare to chop a chicken’s head off. Using one quick, clean, stroke of the blade, be humane. I realize it may be just a chicken, but the thing is giving up its life to help prolong yours, so give it a little respect.
Scald the chicken, dipping it into 170-degree F. hot water containing a little dish detergent (breaks up oils in the feathers) to loosen its “pulchritudinous plumage” fer’ pluckin’! Avoid boiling water, as it will initiate the cooking process. Submerge the bird only about five seconds while agitating it, as an even scald is attained. The bird should be dipped in cold water immediately to prevent burning of the skin. Remove the feathers and note the small hairs remaining. Using any type of flame, being careful not to scorch the skin, you can easily singe these hairs to remove them.
Remove the chicken’s feet by placing a knife blade into the little divot inside the joint, and over the tendon that attaches the thigh to the foot. Applying downward pressure, cut straight through the joint then wash your hands again (and often) to maintain cleanliness.
Evisceration is a polite word for “gutting”. Do it with the least possible mess by first tying off the esophagus to prevent leakage afterward. Make a shallow cut through the skin between the drumsticks, following the slight curvature of the raised portion of the breast. Removal of the internal organs may be made through a longer lateral incision made through the skin of the abdomen extending to the area just above the anus and tail (removed later). Avoid stabbing or damaging the intestines using the knife carefully. As soon as the bird has been opened, wash everything involved using a steady stream of water, safeguarding sanitation. Inserting a hand into the cavity between the intestines and carcass, scrape out the material along the top inside (the side nearest the breast). As the bird’s shape begins to curve downward near the throat, carefully pull out the inside intestines without breaking the esophagus, allowing them to hang over the tail once outside the carcass. The bundle will now be held only by one intestine leading to the cloaca (bird anus). Sever the entire accrual using one clean cut of a knife, and then cut around the anal opening removing any undesirable tissue. Now that there’s a bit more working space, remove the trachea (windpipe).
The gizzard is the largest, firmest internal organ you’ll find while cleaning a chicken. This organ serves as the bird’s “teeth” where mechanical digestion takes place-using grit to grind up food. Folks preferring to consume the gizzard must first do a bit of prep work. Open up one end using a knife, slicing through the red meat until the cut is deep enough to see a very tough, white tissue lining protecting the gizzard muscle from the grit inside. Beneath the tissue is a yellowish sac, containing a mixture of food and gravel, which must be removed. An experienced butcher equipped with a sharp knife may skillfully cut through the first inner white layer using the precision of a surgeon, without opening or tearing the yellowish sack (which must be discarded). However, many “dudes” hurriedly split the gizzard in half lengthwise, rinse it out well, and then peel away the yellowish layer.
Remove the neck from the body for making great gravy. Many people also like to save and eat the heart. Located between the wings, it is dark and oblong shaped, and slicing away the attached blood vessels just above the layer of fat, will make it appear better dressed. Before freezing the chicken and its parts, wash and flush it thoroughly with clean, cold water.
Types Of Chicken
Chickens are usually classified according to age. Young chickens, eight weeks old, have grown to 4 pounds. They are tender and plump for broiling or frying. Roasting chickens are older and fatter. Here’s the scoop:
A “broiler-fryer” is an all-purpose chicken weighing from three to three and a half pounds and its best to purchase the whole bird allowing at least ½ pound per serving with the bones intact. Pre-cut chicken found in supermarkets offer greater convenience but will cost more per pound. As a general rule, remember “the bigger the bird, the more meat in proportion to the bone”.
A “roaster” is a chicken with a bit of age on his old hyde. A bit larger and older than the broiler-fryer, the “roaster” weighs in anywhere from four to six pounds. Its tender meat is ideal for roasting.
A “stewing chicken” is a hen, weighing from 4-1/2 to 6 pounds. This mature and less tender bird is best cooked by simmering it in stews and soups.
“Cornish Game Hens” (Rock Cornish Hens) are small, young, and specially bred chickens. Cornish hens have all white meat and only weigh from one to one and a half pounds. Allow one bird per person in your recipes.
Cutting Up Your Own Whole Chicken
Place a whole cleaned chicken upon a cutting surface with the breast side up. Remove a wing by cutting into the wing joint with a sharp boning knife, slightly rolling the blade as it finds its way through the curve of the joint. Repeat the process with the other wing. Remove the legs by cutting the skin between the thighs and the body. Slice through the meat between the tail and the hip joint on each piece. Bend a leg back until the hip joint pops out; cut around the bone and through the remaining meat and skin.
Next, locate the line of fat that runs between a drumstick and thigh. Drumsticks are separated from thighs by cutting along this line. Find the joint by flexing the leg and thigh. Pop it! Then cut through the joint.
Cut the breast from the backbone by holding the body and neck down and cutting along each side of the backbone through the rib joints. Place the breasts with their skin sides down and cut through the white cartilage at the neck to expose the keel bone. This is the dark bone at the center of the breast. Bend back both sides of the breast to pop out the keep bone, and then cut the breasts into halves with a knife or poultry scissors. Remove the skin from a whole chicken breast then place the meaty side down on a cutting board. Cut through the white cartilage to expose the keel bone then bend the breast halves back until the keel bone pops away from the meat. Place a finger along each side of the keel bone to loosen it, and then pull it out. It may come out in pieces. To remove the rib cages, insert the tip of a knife beneath the long rib bone and cut the ribs away from the meat. Cut through the shoulder joint to free the entire rib cage. To remove the wishbone, slip the knife beneath the white tendons on either side of each breast, loosen and remove the tendons. Cut the breast into two pieces.
Brining (brine soaking) meat or poultry with salt and sugar water is a procedure used to increase its moisture holding capacity. This water retention (about 20% more weight) allows a longer time for collagen to be broken down resulting in a moister product when it is cooked. Through osmosis, the salt and sugar enter the cells causing their proteins to denature or unravel. This interaction results in the formation of a moisture-capturing gelled matrix that keeps liquid from leaking out of the meat as it cooks.Normally, as meat cooks, the loss of moisture is minimal below 120 degrees F. As the temperature of 140 degrees is approached, a significant amount of water is released. The meat cells begin to break down at temperatures higher than 140 F. resulting in even more moisture loss even though the actual juices of the meat are quite safe. Scientists believe that salt and sugar placed into the cells by brining, enable the proteins to stay bonded together longer at temperatures over 140 F., while retaining moisture. Consequently, many chefs and especially BBQ’ers regard brining as a mandatory procedure inside their kitchens whenever preparing fowl. Be aware there are limitations to consider, especially using salt, whenever brining meat, as many traditional barbecue cuts, including brisket, ribs, and pork shoulders, may end up tasting like ham! To make a good barbecuing brine, add a quarter cup each of uniodized salt and sugar to a quart of water and soak meat for an hour. If you are going to grill the meat over high heat, lighten the salt and sugar by half. If you are going to bake or barbecue a turkey or a chicken, try the following brine.
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup uniodized salt
- ½ cup molasses
- 2 tblspns. minced garlic
- 2 tspns. onion powder
- ¼ cup black pepper
- 2 tspns. liquid smoke or ½ oz. maple flavoring
Brined poultry means flavor! Cover any freshly cleaned fowl completely with the brine and refrigerate it several hours or overnight. Rinse the bird completely before barbecuing or baking-smoking it. Baste the turkey, chicken, or other bird, every hour with butter and cook only until the meat is 170 degrees F. This is excellent brine for other foods also when used with less time for smaller cuts. Used with Cornish game hens, 1-1/2 hours is plenty.
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Howdy folks, I hope you are enjoyin’ your experience at our site. Be sure to check out our recipe and resource index. Please feel free to ask questions and join in the chat.
Oh yes, I must tell you about my experience the other day. I ran in to our ol’ friend “Grasshopper”. “Hey Grasshopper, where ya been?”, I asked as the colorful ol cowpoke rode in from town.
“I had to check out Big Mike’s newfangled supermarket with all those new ‘state of the art’ attention-grabbers,” he said.
What are you talkin’ about Grasshopper?” I asked.
“Well”, responded Grasshopper, reachin’ up to scratch beneath his Stetson, “There’s a new automatic water mister to keep the produce fresh. Just before it goes on, you hear the sound of distant thunder and the smell of fresh rain”.
“What’s new about that?” I asked.
“Well now when you approach the milk case, you hear cows mooing and detect the scent of fresh cut hay.” Grasshopper rubbed his chin and continued, “An’ when you approach the egg display case, you hear hens cluck and cackle and the air is filled with the pleasing aroma of bacon and eggs frying”.
“It sounds pretty nice to me ol’ pardner”, I answered.
“Well” said Grasshopper, pulling on his ear lobe, “I just ain’t- ta-gonna buy toilet paper there anymore”!
And now… And now…. This!
Rules For Men To Follow For A Happy Life
Fellas, it’s all-fired danged important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job. And land sakes! It’s catawampously important to have a woman who can make you laugh. It’s also danged-daisy, plumb important to have a woman who you can trust, and doesn’t lie to you. And sakes alive! It’s sure ’nuff as snuff, jo-fired, important to have a woman who is good in bed, and likes to be with you. But most of all… most of all… it’s very, very important (imperative, in fact), that these four women do not know each other or you could end up dead like me!
And That’s When The Trouble Started...
My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary. She said, “I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about 3 seconds.”
My wife came into the living room and asked, “What’s on the TV dear?”
“Dust”, I replied.
They say I’ll probably walk again but I’ll have a limp!
If you order just one rack of these tasty, golden-brown, smoky, ribs in a fancy restaurant, you’ll probably have to sell a kid or mortgage your house! Why would anyone want to cure a rack of ribs? Brining ribs in a curing solution allows them to retain moisture and ensure their safety in the smokehouse. In America, pork must also be heated to a minimum 138°F. (59°C.) if smoked, destroying any possible trichinae. Later, the finishing temperature will be 160°F. (71°C.). If the rack is to be slowly cooked while being smoked, it must be cured – for safety reasons.
Remember nitrites completely change the texture and flavor of meat. If you grill a fresh rack of ribs, you have great tasting roasted pork. The same fresh rack of pork ribs cured with sodium nitrite a few days, will gradually develop an entirely different texture and flavor we know as “cured ham” and it is delicious smoked and finished on the grill! Most often, large amounts of ribs are prepared for sizeable gatherings of famished folks at parties or gatherings, and clostridium botulinum should be the last thing a busy cook has to worry about. Restaurants, often cooking ribs on the spot, consistently choose to cure ribs for the convenience of storage or bulk purchasing.
Rocky Mountain western-fashion tasty barbecued ribs are first cured, then smoke-cooked, being hung inside a smokehouse several hours before being removed and grilled over indirect high heat for just a couple of minutes while a little glaze is applied. On the grill, the final temperature of the meat should be about 160°F. (71°C.). Remember, the smudge in the smoker cuts off oxygen, the meat remains moist, and with temperatures relatively low, the use of actual curing agents is critical, as a smokehouse composes perfectly correct conditions for botulinal development. The process is completely safe if a cook remembers any smoked meat must be completely cured using a precise amount of nitrite and dried to the touch before it will take in any smoke.
“Baby Backs” Pork provides four types of ribs, perfect for any barbecue party. Back ribs, sometimes called “Baby Back Ribs” or more correctly “pork loin ribs”, are those of the center rib section with the loin “end” attached. They are taken from the upper part of the piggy’s rib cage called the “chine”, adjacent to the backbone. One domestic rack of baby-backs weighs about two-and-a-half pounds, costs a little more than beef, and feeds only two hungry guests. These slightly more expensive chine ribs created the expression “eating high off the hog”.
Spareribs taken from the rib cage surrounding the sides and upper belly, are larger and longer than baby backs. Often they are called “Dinosaur Bones” in jest. Containing more connective tissue, they are a bit tougher, but the meat is actually more flavorful. The average weight is about 3-1/2 pounds and the shoulder end of the rack is wider than the other. Longer ribs are leaner than the shorter, more fatty, and more meaty ends. No matter what your pocketbook will afford, either section is great for grilling.
Rib tips are the favored, very flavorful, sections used in much Chinese cooking. Tips are taken from gristly section connecting the two racks of spareribs in the piggy’s underbelly. These ribs contain much cartilage and may be a little tough to chew, but their flavor is certainly worth every cent you may pay for them. Braised then barbecued, they are the first choice of many wranglers.
Country ribs are most often not considered ribs at all in the Rocky Mountains. They are taken from the blade-end of the loin and are much like small, meaty, “pork chops”. Although many markets trim the bones from the meat and present the cuts as “country style ribs”, you may find these tasty n’ fatty cuts ideal for grilling if they are baked first.
Preparation Instructions A little preparation is necessary for great barbecued ribs, consisting of trimming, membrane removal, application of your super-secret rub, and resting of the ribs before cooking. First, remove the tough translucent membrane located along the inside curvature of each rack of ribs allowing spice rubs and smoke flavor to penetrate the meat, making eating more pleasurable. The membrane is best removed using a blunt instrument like a screwdriver to begin the separation. Once you are able to get your fingers and thumb between the membrane and the bones, use a paper towel and your fingers to pull away the membrane. You’ll soon discover that for some unknown reason, peeling the membrane is much easier if you begin at the small end and peel toward the large end of the rack.
Trimming the excess fat from the ribs is the next step. Using a smaller boning knife, carefully remove any extraneous pieces of fat, leaving the natural fat located between the ribs. Don’t attempt to remove all the fat, as much of it is absolutely crucial for creating moist, flavorful, ribs while self-basting during the cooking process. Simply remove the larger pieces along the outside of the meat.
“Wrangler’s Rusty Rib Curing Solution” Nitrite Curing Brine For Ribs)
- 25 lbs. pork ribs
- 2-1/2 gallons ice water
- 1 lb. uniodized salt
- 8 oz. powdered dextrose (its only 75% sweet as sugar)
- 16 level tspns. (four ounces = 113.4 gr.)
- American strength 6.25% sodium nitrite Prague Powder #1.
Clean, trim, and remove the membranes from 25 pounds of pork back ribs. Mix the salt, dextrose, and the curing nitrite #1 into the water to make Wrangler’s Rusty Ribs curing solution. You may simply double the recipe for 50 pounds of ribs if you don’t intend to eat alone! Place the ribs into the brine completely submerging all the meat and bones and refrigerate them (in the brine) two days inside a non-reactive container. A food-grade cooler or plastic lug is best.
Rinse the ribs thoroughly and pat them dry. Generously apply and vigorously rub in your own super-secret, yet to be legendary, spicy rib-rub. Common ingredients of rib rubs consist of salt, sugar, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, Hungarian paprika, peppers and chilies of all types, and, whew… many more. Every self-respecting rib cook develops his own favorite seasonings through experience and better “rib rubbers” soon discover the necessity of allowing the meat to rest a bit following rubbing, while seasonings and cures work their magic. You may want to start with my recipe for “Rotten Rub”:
“Rocky Mountain Rotten Rib Rub”
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
Smoke-Cooking “Rocky Mountain Wrangler’s Ribs”
Place the cured, dried, and rubbed ribs into a preheated 120° F. (49°C.) smokehouse, start the smoking process using dampened hickory sawdust, and completely open the dampers, allowing moisture to escape. Gradually increase the heat inside the smokehouse to 160°F. (71°C.) degrees over a few hours time. The internal meat temperature must reach at least 138°F. (59°C.) although most wranglers smoke-cook ribs a little higher, until the meat just begins to separate from the bones (in about four hours). Remove the ribs and allow them to cool for later use or finish them on the grill over indirect heat with more hickory (moistened “chips” this time) at only about 200°F. (93°C.). Many old timers retain the meat’s moisture during final grilling by brushing on a little sugary glaze while the ribs finish over indirect heat, being most careful not to burn or char the sugars! Because sugar burns at 265°F. (129°C.), brush on glaze only at the very end of the grilling. The following glaze recipe is an old favorite silky-smooth blend generating a mahogany sheen that just can’t be ignored!
Ghastly Grilling Glaze For Pork Ribs
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup apple or apricot preserves
- ½ cup whiskey
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup ketchup
- ½ stick butter
- 1 tspn. garlic powder
- 2 tblspns. lemon juice
*Simmer all the ingredients five minutes then brush the mixture over the ribs just before removing them from the grill.
Careful now. Smoked ribs simply do not need the extremely lengthy cooking periods, as do briskets, shoulders and whole hogs. Never cook ribs, or any meat being barbecued, over a direct heat source. Use indirect heat by turning off the middle burners of a gas grill, or by scraping hot coals to the edge inside a covered charcoal grill. If you have the luxury of a larger offset smoker, you’ll find plenty of room to place the ribs and won’t have to worry about them drying out or over-cooking. If at all possible, rotate the ribs at intervals providing uniform heating. One perfectly ideal method of barbecuing ribs is to use a rotisserie, slowly cooking either several dry or wet rubbed racks, taking advantage of the utensil’s self-basting capabilities.
A few old “coots” like myself, prefer a simple glazing solution of vinegar, butter, and limejuice! Remember, glazing ribs with any mixture containing sugar, should be done just before serving them to avoid charring.
When the finishing temperature of the meat reaches 160°F. (71°C.) serve the ribs with plenty of “finishing sauce”. My favorite is “Rocky Mountain Red”. Some of the ingredients are not readily available in Poland so I’ve posted this recipe in another column previously with recipes for making your own 57 Sauce, ketchup, etc.
Rocky Mountain “Red” (Barbecue Sauce)
- 4 cups ketchup
- 2 bottles (10 oz. ea.) Heinz 57 Sauce
- 1 bottle (10 oz.) A.1. Steak Sauce
- 1/3 cup Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1-1/2 cups apple cider
- 1/3 cup dark corn syrup
- 1/3 cup honey
- ¼ cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tblspns. Frank’s Hot Sauce
Directions: Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy, Dutch oven or non-reactive saucepan and cook the sauce, stirring it frequently, over medium heat, five minutes to develop flavors. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the mixture, covered, until it reduces to the consistency of a thickened sauce – in about 90 minutes. Be sure to stir the mixture frequently. Start with a half cup of vinegar, then as the mixture simmers, add more a little at a time, until it suits your taste. The best way to serve the sauce is piping hot in small bowls. Be sure to serve an unlimited supply of moistened finger towels. Cool leftover sauce and pour it into jars. Cover and refrigerate. This sauce will keep several months when refrigerated.
The ribs are usually cut in pairs as to include lots of meat between the two bones as well as half on the sides. At a party, I often serve the entire rack in one piece – slathered with this sauce… and let the guests cut their own ribs. I hope you give this recipe a try. People will think you are a culinary expert!
“Bandit’s Brisket” (Barbecued Brisket)
Between a steer’s front legs are muscles mostly used for walking. This “brisket”, cut from the chest of a steer (or cow), is naturally tough but naturally delicious when carefully prepared. Called “London Broil” by butchers desiring to boost sales, most folks in London have never heard of the stuff! Most cooks, even the pros, have few clues how to slowly roast brisket that is both tender and flavorful – not overly smoked, bitter, or tough. Being naturally sturdy, the brisket contains two distinct muscles separated by a layer of fat that will not render. Worse, the meat absorbs smoke like a sponge, and may easily become bitter to the palate of many folks. It is also so large, it requires a longer period of cooking time, and most chefs and cooks consider its preparation without drying the meat, a legitimate challenge. The brisket may very well be the most difficult piece of beef of all to barbecue, and the process of selecting, preparing, and barbecue-cooking brisket in many parts of the United States is truly an art form, remaining in a culinary class by itself – often chosen only to display the skills of a good chef. Inside a working ranch barbecue pit, properly cooked brisket habitually becomes a matter of economy, using all the parts of a steer. Allow me to share a few sourdough secrets I’ve learned along the trail to turn this “tough stuff” into a delicious meal.
Selecting And Trimming A Brisket For The Barbecue
Selecting the best brisket from a butcher’s cold case is almost a combination of skill and luck and cookin’ the ominous article may seem as if a miracle were needed. On the range, you may choose and cut an eight to ten pound brisket from a medium size beef, having checked the cut for flexibility – and the brand on the steer! Place your hand vertically beneath the center of the butchered brisket and let the brisket “flop” over the edges of your hand. As with the selection of tenderloin, find a pliable cut with a natural bend. If it is tough coming from the meat locker or butcher shop, it will be difficult to make it more tender upon the barbecue grill.
The large end of the brisket is called the “point”. Place the brisket upon a cutting board and remove the outside fat from the brisket’s backside with a boning knife. This layer will not render drippings and is hard, tough, and often slightly yellow in color. With a boning knife, cut the thing almost to the muscle so there is only a slight amount of fat remaining. It will look mostly red with just a bit of fat remaining. Yes, there is much waste in preparing a good brisket.
The fat at the front of the brisket is handled a little differently. Notice two things. First, how deeply you must cut into the fat layer of the brisket in order to remove the maximum amount of fat separating the two muscles. This fat layer invariably remains in the center traveling the length of the brisket, separating the two muscles. Second, note the inch thick layer of fat along the bottom of the brisket. This layer will vary anywhere from 1/4 inch to about 1 inch in thickness. If you select a brisket with the 1/4-inch of fat trimmed along this side, you must thank your butcher, as it certainly did not come that way. Be sure to send him a Christmas card and shop at his market often. The goal is to trim this fat edge to about 1/4 inch in thickness, offering a protective layer during the long period of cooking. Although this hardened fat will not render, it will help keep the meat moist while preventing it from absorbing too much strong smoke smudge, becoming overly bitter or having too strong a smoke flavor.
Seasoning The Derned Thing
Now that you’ve selected the best brisket and have trimmed it to perfection, it’s time to season the meat. Some folks choose to marinate the brisket, being aware the process only penetrates the meat to a depth of about 1/4 inch and won’t penetrate fat at all. Whenever cooking a hefty piece of meat this robust, marinating is not all that effective, although I use marinade to introduce as much garlic flavor as possible, prior to sprinkling the meat with a spice mix called a “dry rub”.
Folks in the southern and eastern United States apply a thick coating of ordinary prepared yellow mustard to the meat by “painting” it with a pastry brush before the dry rub seasoning is applied. Some of these brisket-bakin’ barbecuers are the finest in the country and their plain ol’ yellow prepared mustard helps keep the meat moist, keeps the dry rub on the brisket, and seals the meat by developing a tender crust. The vinegar within the mustard will also help tenderize the meat to a slight degree. The mustard flavor dissipates entirely during the cooking process. Believe me, those southerners definitely have a great secret. However, in the Rocky Mountains, by tradition, most ranch cooks simply skip the mustard for some reason, usually preferring to “smoke-cook” briskets for hours inside low-temperature smoke houses using light smoke for only a short period of time. Rocky Mountain briskets are mopped infrequently using a garlic-oil, oregano, vinegar, and mildly sweet citrus combination sauce much like a Cuban “mojo sauce”. I can’t explain the reason for not spreading on the mustard; it’s just not done often here in the mountains, and to be absolutely truthful, most brisket (having been marinated overnight) is cooked within a matter of minutes as high heat is applied from both sides of the cut simultaneously. It is then cut on the bias, thinly across the grain. Hmmm… perhaps this is London broil style?
More experienced barbecue cooks, wishing to have meat they may cut with a fork, tend to slowly cook brisket overnight. First, they liberally sprinkle a “rub” onto the meat. Here are two of my favorite recipes:
“Tenderfoot’s Brisket Dust” (Basic Brisket Rub)
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 3 tblspns. garlic powder
- 2 tblspns. onion powder
“Noble ‘No Bull’ Brisket Rub” (Beef Brisket Rub With A Little More “Velocity”)
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 3 tblspns. chili powder
- 2 tblspns. ground black pepper
- 1 tblspn. ground cumin
- 1 tblspn. ground oregano
- 1-1/2 tblspns. garlic powder
- 1/2 tspn. cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tspn. powdered mustard
Now pay attention cowboys! Beef brisket cannot be cooked in the same manner as pork and can withstand very little smoke during the cooking process. It simply becomes bitter with too much smoke. Pork is quite “forgiving” when it comes to the use of excessive smoke. Pork ribs, butts, and sausage, retain their unique flavor very nicely with lots of hickory smoke. Not true with beef brisket! Lightly smoke brisket using charcoal briquettes rather than real wood as your fire source and you can’t go wrong. If you desire a little extra smoke flavor, you may occasionally place a few hardwood chips on top of the coals, but this is done sparingly and cautiously.
Barbecued beef briskets need long and slow cooking with frequent basting to prevent an over dried “bark”. We prefer a smoker using lower heat. If you use a grill or a pit, the thermometer, (located at the same level in the pit as the meat), should be reading no more than 225° F. for great barbecuing. Using the indirect method of cooking, place the meat as far away from the source of the heat as possible. If you are using a gas grill, turn off the middle burners and heat the chamber using the side burners. This practice provides even cooking temperatures and consistent tenderness. It also dries out the meat! Allowing ten hours cooking time for a ten-pound brisket is fine – if the brisket is contained in tightly sealed foil during the final eight or nine hours (after smoking). Left alone these last hours of cooking without containing the meat’s natural moisture, will only produce a blackened cinder. In times before the innovation of handy aluminum foil, the meat was “sealed” with a heavy sugar or honey based mop sauce applied liberally and often. Today it is perfectly acceptable to inject flavorful liquids into a brisket while using a probe type thermometer to constantly monitor the meat’s internal temperature as it cooks. Be sure to mop the meat often using your favorite mopping concoction. A brisket cooked “low n’ slow” (eight to ten hours at 225° F.), is well done when the internal meat temperature registers 170°. A pink center is not desired in this particular cut of meat.
If you have a smaller pit or kettle type barbecue, rake glowing charcoal briquettes to one side of the pit and cook the meat using indirect heat, turning it every 30 minutes or so, as you baste. Keep the cooking temperatures consistent as possible. If you are using a vertical cooker, try using some type of pan beneath the meat to catch the juices, preventing flare-ups, and to act as a diffuser for even low-temperature cooking. A water pan with 1/4 inch of water will keep juices from flaring up and scorching the meat, producing a bitter, burned taste.
To baste or not to baste – that is the question. The only method known by horse ridin’ scientists to barbecue tender brisket, is to cook it slowly. Do not baste it at first, allowing the rub to thicken and dry a bit. Later, periodically raise the lid and begin basting the brisket with the liquid or marinade of your choice to intensify flavor. Basting a brisket is usually done with a barbecue mop – a twelve-inch wooden handle with cotton tassels on one end. It’s great for soaking up liquid then quickly and gently “moping” sauce onto the meat. Usually, moisture – holding thicker sauces are applied, containing all types of seasonings, crushed garlic, onions, carrots, celery, and the like. Sometimes, a hand held spray bottle is preferred, containing pure liquid juices without pulp. Many ol’ pros use straight apple juice only. Another sourdough’s old secret here – and a mighty important one: never use a tomato-based basting sauce on a brisket as it will burn and become bitter long before the meat is ready to be eaten.
I’ve heard a few “experienced” cooks say thermometers are for newbys. Don’t you dare believe it! Use a baby-dial thermometer and carry it inside your shirt pocket. This tool is vital to good ranch cooking and great ranch cooks are constantly aware of the internal temperature of the meat they are cooking. As not all meats cook at the same rate, constant monitoring is essential to perfectly cooked meat – easily accomplished using an inexpensive meat thermometer – usually $10 or less. Newer models constantly monitor the meat’s internal temperature without ever lifting the lid, and the latest on the market are read using remote sensors. By the way… there are many arrogant and overconfident cooks out there who claim they don’t need a thermometer because they “can sense when its ready”. These guys are usually looking for respect and recognition and indeed are the easiest individuals to bluff in a good poker game! Although you may be filling an inside straight, or even holding four aces, always beware of the guy with a thermometer clipped to his shirt pocket! Especially if he raises the stakes in the pot!
A good brisket-broiling bronco-buster should constantly be aware of the temperature inside any cooking vessel. Charcoal briquettes and lava rocks are affected by wind and weather. I’ve seen barbecue pits employ several thermometers to register proper temperatures; not a bad idea at all used to prevent underdone or overcooked meat. Without the knowledge of the cooking utensil temperature, a panjangler has no idea when the meat will be done. Use charcoal briquettes only when they have burned to gray ash. If you use wood as a fuel while cooking a brisket, use it only when it has been reduced to red-hot coals – not as raw wood pieces placed into the pit. Always use the cleanest fuel available. Professional brisket cooks using wood, often burn the fuel into coals using a separate fuel fire, avoiding the placement of raw wood directly into a barbecue pit. The pros never use a petroleum based lighter fluid or fluid-soaked charcoals to start their pit fires.
Anytime any cut of meat is overcooked, it will become dry. Although brisket does not contain a bone, it is still good to know that if a roast contains a bone, overcooked meat will release itself from that bone. Never overcook any meat trying to make it “falling off the bone” tender! If meat is tender, it simply stands to reason, it has not dried out and has become toughened by overcooking the cut.
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