Last week I wrote a post advising people to not order brisket at BBQ joints unless you were going to spots which specialize in brisket. Brisket is without question the insensitive douchebag of BBQ meats. As a protein, it’s a high risk/high reward type of meat.
What do we mean when we say high risk/high reward? Well the risk of failure is very high and the payoff is really high. When brisket is good, it’s REALLY good. A low risk/low reward thing would be something like chicken where it’s pretty difficult to screw up chicken and really difficult to shoot for the stars with it. This accounts for why so many people ordering brisket in various BBQ joints are overwhelmingly disappointed.
Interesting enough it’s not a regional thing either. Where do you think of when you think of BBQ brisket? Texas right? The Texas imagery is pretty well engrained when it comes to BBQ even though the folks in Kansas City probably do just as much brisket. The Carolinas got pulled pork, Memphis got the ribs and the Lone Star State got the beef.
I decided to do some numbers research based off of one writer’s eating through Texas brisket. Daniel Vaugh is a BBQ blogger who’s eating through Texas. His is the single most extensive site covering every little shack currently smoking meat in the state. Now given that he’s had more Texas BBQ than most and was even featured in a Travel Channel episode, I decided to go over the last 100 places he has visited to gauge how brisket is fairing in Texas.
As you can see from the chart up top, it doesn’t look too well. In the last 100 meals he’s eaten, over 20% of the brisket as basically inedible. 47% of the briskets he ate just sucked. So that adds up into a 68% failure rate!! 19% was decent brisket and only 13% were meats he really enjoyed.
Some of the reviews are pretty funny to read. I’m not sure if it’s just because of Vaugh’s flair but it really does seem that some the briskets he has eaten had offended him in a deep spiritual level. It does seem odd that for a state known for a food item to perform so poorly. It’s not likely you’ll find an almost 70% failure rate on tacos in Mexico or pasta in Italy.
The culprit largely is the meat itself. Brisket is largely made of collagen wrapping it around muscles which are heavily used on the cow. This is not a recipe for success. As far as I know, we’re the only culture that cooks brisket without a liquid element. The liquid is there to maintain an illusion of moisture. Keep that in mind – it is indeed an illusion. Try this test, the next time someone gives you some brisket pot roast, leave the sliced meat out in the open without any of the braising liquid. Come back in an hour and you’ll notice that it “dried” out. It did not dry out, it was always like this, and the liquid just provided the illusion.
Texas brisket depends on the natural melted collagen and fat to create the illusion of juiciness. You’ll notice that when they first cut into the meat that it’s just gushing liquid. Well that isn’t from that one spot, that’s basically pricking a hole in the balloon. All the juice is leaving the brisket and leaving fast!!
Now in a BBQ restaurant setting you have to figure that 1 brisket = about 8lbs. Assuming each person gets a 1/2lb of meat you’ll need to serve 16 people all at once to make sure that everyone gets an optimal brisket. Not likely to happen given that not everyone eats at the same time and not everyone gets the brisket. If people are given a choice of getting it either fatty or lean and people are all ordering the fatty portion, well that lean’s just sitting there drying out waiting for the poor guy who orders the lean.
Again my goal is not to say brisket can’t be good. There are people who really specialize at making brisket. The problem is that they are few and far between and even really good guys need to deal with the horrible logistics of how a brisket acts and fitting that in a restaurant environment. So the next time you go to a BBQ joint and the brisket is dry, don’t get mad get the ribs instead. Or you could just take my advice, when going to BBQ joint avoid the brisket. It is afterall the insensitive douchebag of BBQ meats.