The month of March here in the Pacific Northwest can be gorgeously warm and sunny one day, then cold, wet and dreary the next twenty.
Springtime, unfortunately, isn’t suitable weather for outdoor grilling, although on occasion neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night has kept me from firing up the old barbecue, despite the fact that cooking outdoors in raingear and thermal underwear doesn’t seem to attract much of an audience of friends and neighbors.
That’s why a recent article purporting to explain how to achieve the ultimate in barbecuing proficiency — beef brisket — in the warmth and comfort of a heated kitchen immediately caught my attention.
Even Jeff Balke, the author of an article in the Houston Post titled, “Delicious Oven-Cooked Barbecue Brisket ... Seriously,” acknowledged that most guys believe “real brisket is smoked by manly men with manly intentions.” He noted that his own father considered his smoker one of his prized possessions, and that he made “one of the most incredible briskets in the history of cattle.”
Nevertheless, like many other seemingly impossible tasks undertaken by intrepid adventurers, the quest to prepare brisket indoors, sans smoker, was about to proceed.
“What I am about to detail is not a brisket designed to satisfy the purist barbecue eater (seemingly an oxymoronic concept to begin with),” the article continued, “but rather a damn fine alternative when you ... don't have access to a grill or a smoker but want some tasty barbecued meat.”
So far, I’m hanging on every paragraph of the story, since it’s 39 degrees and sleeting outside right now. Even the writer’s wholly unnecessary admission that his brisket epiphany occurred during a Fourth of July holiday in south Texas didn’t deter my interest in finding out how this miracle of outdoor smokitude was accomplished in an ordinary oven.
The genesis of the Apartment Dweller’s Brisket was apparently a recipe in Cooks Illustrated magazine. But even the CI recipe called for some use of a grill, however, which forced Balke to “get creative.”
Here’s his revised recipe, which he modestly suggested produces results that are “pleasantly surprising” and “remarkably consistent.”
Start with 7 to 10 pounds lean beef brisket (trimmed to ¼-inch cover fat), a cup of barbecue spice rub and 2½ ounces of barbecue sauce — preferably sweet sauce, according to the article. Rinse the brisket, pat dry, then thoroughly coat it with the spice rub. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of three hours — even better if it can be left overnight or up to 36 hours in advance.
After the brisket has had time to marinate, remove it from the refrigerator, let it return to room temperature and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Wrap the brisket in heavy duty foil, sealing it as tightly as possible, fat side up to allow the fat to baste the meat during cooking. Place the sealed, seasoned brisket in a roasting pan and bake for 45 minutes per pound. According to the writer, many brisket recipes call for a cooking time of one hour per pound, but because additional cooking will be done later, a 45-minute-per-pound ratio works best.
Now here comes the part that, as a guy, I totally relate to: “Check [the brisket] about three-quarters of the way through,” which gives me the perfect retort next time I feel the need to open the oven door and poke around at whatever’s baking inside, and my spouse asks me, “What are you doing?”
I can now reply, “I’m just following the recipe.”
Of course, the purpose of checking the brisket is to determine the level of tenderness. When the thick “plank end” of the brisket is fork-tender, remove the brisket from the oven, discard the foil and place the meat on a cutting board to rest for 20 minutes.
Then, carve off as much of the fat as preferred, slice the beef against the grain and place the pieces in a baking dish. Pour a half cup of drippings over the sliced meat and then cover them with the barbecue sauce. Cover the baking dish with foil and return to the oven at the same temperature for another hour, after which the oven is turned down to its lowest setting to keep the brisket warm until it’s ready to be served.
“The key step in the process that turns this from average baked brisket into delicious ‘meat candy’ is the addition of the sauce,” the writer declared. “Instead of trying to mimic the ‘smokiness’ from a grill I didn't have, the barbecue sauce gave it a wonderful flavor that complemented the spice rub and kept everyone so distracted with how good it was, no one had time to ponder ‘real’ barbecue.”
Personally, I can’t wait to try this recipe, since it will be months in this town before the sun makes an appearance longer than 15 minutes at a time.
But of course, I was curious how Balke’s brisket sans grill was received by what one would assume were Texans with highly refined tastes when it comes to the entire barbecue genre.
“Each time I’ve made this brisket,” he wrote, “the entire baking dish was picked clean before anyone could say ‘leftovers.’ “
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, veteran journalist and commentator