It was one of the more Texas things I’ve seen. The big guy walked into the place and took off his jacket, exposing the holstered pistol on his hip. He joined his two friends, each of whom were working on an $80 prime-rib steak. The big guy sat down to a rib that looked like it had come off of a T-Rex rather than a cow.
I’ve seen plenty of guns before. I’ve used guns before. I have family members who walk around their own houses with guns in their pockets. I’m okay with guns. But I kept stealing glances at this one.
Because I wasn’t in Texas. And the guy wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat. The big guy and his friends were all wearing yarmulkes.
After over a decade of attending and planning and participating in panel discussions, I’d become pretty convinced that a) panel discussions suck and b) there’s no reason for them to ever go longer than 25 minutes. But last night I sat through a panel that ran a little over two hours and I didn’t want it to end.
The topic was brisket. Yes. That’s right. Two hours about brisket.
This isn’t exactly a fair comparison to my panels of the past. Most of the panels I’ve dealt with over the years have been marketing, advertising and media related. And something happens to even interesting people when they get on a stage with talking points from a PR team and some message to sell.
Behold, the brisket. A beefy beauty, but not the easiest cut of meat to tame. That one there is moist, succulent. It is sporting a sexy little smoke ring and a glossy black bark. But appearances can be deceiving. I’m not going to complain (too much). The brisket was perhaps the juiciest one I’ve ever done. But it wasn’t smoky enough. Neither was it seasoned enough for my liking.
The amount of smoke — or lack thereof — wasn’t a surprise. I was experimenting. I use charcoal plus wood chunks. Even if I wanted to use logs, the practicalities of New York living would make it prohibitively expensive (though I did order some sticks from Smoak). I used a lot less wood this time around to see what would happen — and what happened was perfectly fine barbecue that I wish had gotten a little more wood smoke on it. I also expected it might be on the milder side since the turkey and chops I’d pulled off earlier didn’t get very much smoke on them.
The Short Version Before I get into the details, some of you might just want to know the answer to the following question: If I only have time to hit one place in Kansas City, what should it be? That’s an easy answer. Joe’s Kansas City. Some people might say it’s touristy or mainstream, but these are the sort of people who start hating a band simply because it becomes popular. Joe’s is popular for a reason. It’s got perhaps the best ribs I’ve ever eaten, the pulled pork was delicious and the beans weren’t sickly sweet like they were at a lot of places.
My son Nicholas and I are celebrating his graduation from high school with a barbecue tour. Three years ago for his birthday, we did the Austin area. I wrote about that in fairly exhaustive detail shortly after the trip. Short version: Blacks, Stiles Switch, Franklin (where he fainted), Louie Mueller, and Salt Lick. (I’ve sense been back to Austin and tried Lambert’s, Freedmen’s and Iron Works.)
Last year, for his birthday, we went to Memphis. I didn’t write about that. It wasn’t because I prefer Texas cue to Memphis cue, though I do. It wasn’t because we didn’t have a good time or didn’t have interesting stories. We did. I just had a circus going on at work last year and the thought of looking at a computer during my off hours was more than I could stand.
But long story short, between Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum and one non-barbecue detour to Gus’s Fried Chicken, we hit Tom’s Bar-B-Q and Deli, Central BBQ, A&R Bar-B-Cue, Germantown Commissary, Payne’s and Rendezvous. We went to Cozy Corner, but it was closed because someone broke into the place the night before and stole all of the meat. Sad!
Anyway, I just wanted to mention Memphis in hopes that it’ll prompt me to write up the current trip. We made the 11-hour drive from Opelousas, Louisiana today and walked over to Fiorella’s Jack Stack and availed ourself of burnt ends, ribs, sliced beef, sliced pork and some of the sweetest baked beans you’ll ever eat.
In the course of getting married, Cara brought up the subject of wedding gifts for each other. I’m sure most men out there could spend a good half an hour ranting about this need women have to exchange gifts for every occasion, and often multiple times for the same occasion. This can get particularly crazy when the Wedding Industrial Complex is involved. Many a man might even think of saying, “Isn’t getting married to me gift enough?”
It was time again for me to host the annual company barbecue. That meant 30 or more people coming over to the apartment in Brooklyn. That meant pounds and pound of meat. It meant bags and bags of charcoal. It meant hours and hours of work.
All of which is to say I was excited! And agitated. And nervous. A lot could go wrong, starting with the annual prediction of 60% chance of rain. I have a back yard just big enough for 30-some-odd people. I have an apartment that is smaller than the back yard. So, you do the math. But the chance of rain diminished throughout the week until the weather on the day of the actual event looked like it was supposed to be sunshine and lollipops. The day of cooking, on the other hand, looked to be a steady fall of rain.
Oh, yes. This is a two-day cooking affair. Three days if you include shopping. But it was all under control. I’ve done this before. Even if I haven’t mastered my brisket (shut up) just yet, I have the process down to a science.