Late summer. Meat. Basic, primitive. Old worn jeans. Hard rock. Bottles of beer. What’s not to like?
I’ve been reading a lot about American barbecues and I’ve learnt that they’re a world away from the British interpretation which seems to chiefly consist of sausages and burgers blackened on the outside and often dangerously raw in the middle. Not so in the USA. I urge you to google ‘Competition Offset Barbecue” and look at the images. They look like steam trains. And rather than blasting the meat with fierce heat (and often naked flame, a big ‘No No’) these barbecues cook with indirect heat and because the temperature is low the tough cuts that they cook have hours, and sometimes days even, to gently tenderise and develop into the most delicate, juicy, fall-apart meat you can imagine. With the gentle caress of smoke, spice rubs and low consistent heat they produce the most wonderful crisp outer, called ‘The Bark’ which contrasts so perfectly with the juicy soft meat inside. Just heavenly.
This summer I performed at numerous music festivals and my highlight, (well my joint highlight with seeing Metallica at Glastonbury), was the brisket roll I had at Camp Bestival, cooked by the phenomenally good Smokestak (click here for their website, and look out for them, they’re masters). It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny – a toasted roll filled with tender juicy brisket with a smear of onion relish (I think) and some home-preserved chillies.
So I had to have it. I had to make it, or as close a version of it as I could muster. I came home and read books and articles and watch youtube videos of great people doing similar things (big thanks to DJ Barbecue who’s Food Tube video was the most helpful of them all, and who I met at Camp Bestival too. Great guy) and I came up with a bastardised amalgamation of these various methods, using the oven (I know it’s not authentic but I’m not in a position to build one of those engine-sized rigs in my garden. Well not yet.). And I was extremely pleased with the result. I’ve done it twice. Worked perfectly both times. Of course all cookers vary, as do ratios of fat to lean, conductivity of oven dishes, and the weight of the piece of meat is crucial too, so this is a guide. If you’re worried and want to adjust anything, do it. Trust your instincts. But here’s what I did…
1 big piece of brisket (about 4 lbs), unrolled
3 onions, really coarsely chopped – quartered or cut into eighths
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (or not if you like, I’ve read that this is an ingredient which divides opinion)
FOR YOUR DRY RUB
2.5 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1.5 teaspoons garlic powder
3 teaspoon dark brown sugar
0.5 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
Set your oven to 100 degrees C.
Dry the meat with a tea towel or kitchen paper. Mix together your rub ingredients and rub them into the meat getting into every nook and cranny. Really pay attention to getting it everywhere.
Get a big oven dish, or an deep oven tray. The thing I used to cook it in has a lid (damn it’s a nice piece of kit that I got at a car boot sale many years ago. It’s like a chicken brick, but metal. Very cool), but I’m sure a big oven-proof casserole dish with a lid will be just as good. Anyway, make a trivet of sorts from your chopped onions and rest the meat on top, fat side up. Cover it with a cartouche made from a sheet of greaseproof paper, or baking parchment, scrunched up, wetted, and then tucked over the meat like a blanket. Then put the lid on, or if you’ve not got a lidded pot you could cover tightly in foil. Then into the oven, for about 6 hours. The oven is so low that it doesn’t matter if you go over or under really. It won’t spoil.
After this lengthy cooking, when I took mine out it was sitting on the onions in literally A BATH of liquid. I was amazed how much there was. And there wasn’t much of a ‘bark’ on the meat (that’s the caramelised coating). So I carefully lifted the meat out and onto a clean shallow sided tray and put it back in the oven for about 30 mins on about 200 degrees. Be really careful that you don’t smudge the rub as you want that to cook on now. Oh, and this is when I spooned over a teaspoon of the liquid smoke, because I wanted it to fast like it had been in an offset barbecue. I don’t know how much difference it made though. Maybe I’ll try it without next time.
AND SAVE THAT LIQUID. LEAVE IT WHERE IT IS IN THE DEEP TRAY.
Now here’s the trick. After it’s had it’s 30 mins of bark-cooking time, take the meat out, and while it’s still hot wrap it tightly in cling film. A good three thicknesses, so it’s completely sealed in. Then wrap it in a couple of tea towels, and put it into a coolbox, or you could just wrap it in a couple of bath towels. And then I leave it in there for another 2-3 HOURS!!
Here’s why – you want the meat to rest, and because it’s so sealed in all the juices that would leak out will be sucked back in. The towels or coolbox will keep it insulated, so it’ll carry on really really slow cooking.
Now, while it’s sitting in the toolbox, put the pan with all the liquid and onions back in the oven at about 180 degrees for about an hour or so until those liquids had reduced right down to a more concentrated oily marmitey gravyish sort of slop. Nice.
Finally, after all that waiting, unwrap the meat and marvel at it. Press it a little to see the juiciness. Slice it AGAINST THE GRAIN. Because of the resting it’ll be a little firmer and therefore more sliceable (if you cut it straight away it would shred like pulled pork), but still hot, and just so juicy. Cut a load of slices, drizzle with a bit of the marmitey juice, maybe add a little more salt if like me you enjoy high blood pressure and welcome the prospect of a stroke in your fifties. And that’s it. Have it with toasted buns and pickle some chillis too. Or be more British and fill up Yorkshire puddings with slices and drizzle with a bit of horseradish.