Brisket is the national food of the Republic of Texas and a whole brisket is a great excuse for a party. A whole barbecue beef brisket is a huge clod of cow that can come off the pit almost black, looking more like a meteorite than a meal. But it is not burnt, and beneath the crust is the most tender, juicy, smoky meat. If you cook it right. And that’s a BIG IF. Like a Clint Eastwood cowboy, brisket is unforgiving. Cook it right and Texas barbecue brisket is tender, juicy, and flavorful. Cook it wrong and it is like a wrangler’s leather chaps. Don’t let it scare you. Brisket mastery is possible, even on a gas grill. Briskets are the pectoral muscles from the chest area of the steer between the forelegs. There are two per animal, and because cattle have no collarbones these boneless muscles get a lot of work, so there isn’t much fat marbling within the muscle and there’s a lot of springy connective tissue in and around the muscle fibers. That’s why they are so tough. Much of the world’s brisket is made into corned beef, pastrami, or pot roast, but it is also a fine cut for barbecue, and it is required in Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) cooking contests (about 500 across the nation) along with pork ribs, pulled or chopped pork, and chicken.
FOR THE BARBECUE SAUCE
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
500 ml/ 18 fl oz tomato ketchup
100 ml/ 3½ fl oz Worcestershire sauce
75 ml/ 2½ fl oz lemon juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp malt vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp crushed chilli flakes
1 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp dried thyme
FOR THE RUB
2 tbsp each chilli powder and mustard powder
1 tbsp each paprika, ground cumin, garlic powder, ground black pepper, caster sugar
1 bay leaf, crushed
To make the barbecue sauce, heat the oil in a frying pan, then cook onion and garlic for a few mins until soft. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients to the pan with a good pinch of salt and simmer for 20 mins. Use a hand blender or food processor to whizz to a smooth purée. Heat oven to 150C/130C fan/gas 2. Make the rub by mixing all the ingredients together with a pinch of salt. Rub the mix all over the beef and set aside.
In a large roasting tin, mix the beef stock and ½ the barbecue sauce. Add the brisket to the tin, cover tightly with foil, then cook for 4-5 hrs until the meat is really tender when you push a fork into it. The beef can be prepared the night before – just leave it to cool in the tin covered with foil, but don’t refrigerate.
To finish the beef, get a barbecue fired up and wait until the coals are completely ashen – you want a low, not fierce, heat. Lift the beef out of the roasting tin and place on the barbecue to char. If your barbecue has a lid, close it now. Cook for about 20 mins, turning it carefully with tongs, until lightly charred all over and heated through. Lift onto a board and serve Texas barbecue brisket sliced with the remaining barbecue sauce on the side.