RECIPE: Texan-style barbecued brisket… even without a barbecue

Living in a big city like London, you’re often lucky to have outside space of your own. We’re fortunate enough to have a balcony with nothing above us, which means we can barbecue, although I suspect the building insurers may have an opinion on that.

I’ve been thinking about things that we miss most whilst in lockdown and couldn’t help but feel for all those other apartment dwellers who live all around us who can’t (to paraphrase Alf Stewart) sling a few snags on the barbie when the sun comes out.

This is our take on the Texan BBQ brisket, but the best thing about it is the barbecuing element is optional. Whilst it does of course add to the finished product, this still works without the smoke and flames.

Brisket is a tricky customer. It’s cut from the lower chest which can be chewy and has a lot of connective tissue. It needs to be cooked low and slow to relax the muscle and make it tender, and in the absence of a large barbecue or smoker, that means overnight. You will need a meat thermometer.

The quality of meat is also important here. You’re not going to get much out low-welfare industrially farmed cattle so don’t bother trying. Spend that little bit extra and buy the best you can afford. We got ours from our friends at Wild Beef (at Borough Market and Broadway Market) who farm free-range, rare-breed beef in Devon and it was exquisite. Peckover Butchers on the Roman Road is a great, local option for us.

For the dry rub:
Sea salt mix in some smoked if you have it
Sugar dark, ideally
Smoked paprika
Garlic powder
Black peppercorns
Coriander seeds
Chilli flakes or a whole dried chilli (Arbol work well)
Cayenne pepper
Oregano dried

The brisket:
Serves a large family
Beef brisket at least 1.5kg, rolled tends to work best
2-3 white
White vinegar a few splashes
100g at room temperature

You’ll notice I haven’t put measurements on the dry rub. This is really because you just have to go with your gut on this. And it’s definitely not because I forgot to write down what I did last time.

The key points to remember are:
– Salt and sugar should make up the bulk of it, and in roughly equal quantities
– Garlic powder, smoked paprika and pepper are the next most important
– If you want to go all out, toast the peppercorns, coriander seeds and chilli in a dry pan over a medium heat for a few minutes until they become fragrant.
– Go easy on the cumin because it can be overpowering

Whack it all in a blender or spice/coffee grinder and blitz to a powder. Splash a few drops of olive oil on the meat and rub all over. Apply the rub generously in the same way and press it into the meat. This is a good opportunity to use all those surgical gloves you bought off eBay.

Set your oven to the lowest it can go. This is usually about 65-70’C. Chop the onions into half rounds and place them in the bottom of a heavy-based ovenproof dish. Squirt in a few dashes of vinegar. Rest the meat on the onions and stick the thermometer into the thickest part. Place in the oven. Leave overnight.

Check the temperature in the morning. You’re looking for the meat to reach about 60’C. It will probably still be around the 45-55’C mark. Keep it in there until about an hour before whatever time you want to eat. Whack the heat up to about 150’C and watch the temperature on the thermometer rise until it gets to 65’C.

At this point I would usually take it out of the oven and give it a quick blast in direct heat on the barbecue, followed by 15-20 minutes or so of indirect heat/smoking with the lid on, and as far away from the hot coals as you can be.

If you don’t have BBQ access, heat a heavy frying pan (ideally cast iron) until it’s smoking hot and open the windows. Take the meat out and slather it all over in the butter. Fry on all sides, pushing the meat into the metal so the butter burns and you get a nice charred crust to the surface.

Let it rest for a few minutes and then slice. Brisket is made up of two muscles and because it can be chewy, it’s very important you cut against the grain.

Serve with mash, slaw and BBQ sauce.

We’ll post recipes for them soon.

Probably not the mash though.