Sunday, May 25, 2014

Brisket in Cali with Friends

brisket mop
I visited a friend in California a few weeks back on the way to my trip to Vegas with the Char-broil folks (my next post!). The night before my arrival my friend said her boyfriend Ray had bought a big ol' brisket and was excited to cook it with me.

Oh. Yay, I thought. I get to cook barbecue on my vacation.

But then I arrived to sunny California. Birds were chirping, hummingbirds buzzing, a rooster crowed from afar...and a giant brisket and wood pile beckoned.
smoker with wood pile

I couldn't remember when I'd stayed up all night nursing a brisket. When you own a barbecue restaurant, smoking a whole brisket involves simply saying, "Hey, we got an extra brisket I can take?" But smoking a brisket on your own is an experience. Should be an experience. More than any other barbecue, because of the time it takes to wrangle that meat into tenderness, a brisket forces you to stop and truly take time. I've said it before, but this is one of the reasons I like barbecue: it forces me, Tasmanian She-Devil, to slow down.

We had blast. Ray took the late shift, I took the early morning shift. I'd also just purchased my new camera (a Nikon D5200) and had fun learning the photo ropes while documenting the process.

Ray bought a beautiful 15.5 pound brisket from Corralitos market, well-known for their sausages (he bought those too). It was a perfect example of what Plato meant when he said, "The beginning is the most important part of the work." Starting with quality meat makes all the difference.

Once we got the fire started, Ray rubbed the brisket. It was part Mansmith's BBQ Rub, part spices from their pantry (salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, garlic powder & brown sugar). This was the photo where I discovered the "food" auto setting on my camera. Nice huh?
brisket spice rub

We loaded the smoke box with charcoal and wood. I like the burn consistency of charcoal and frankly wanted a little bit of sleep. Straight wood requires more attention. Ray then did the most important step of the process:

He donned his home state of Texas apron. Now we were ready. 

Later, much later, when the brisket was almost done, and we'd had a few cocktails, the shirt under that apron came off. There was a trucking hat too, but I think I accidentally erased that photo.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First that deliciously rubbed 15.5 pound brisket was placed lovingly on a trusty, well-used offset smoker, at about 11:30 pm. The wood was, naturally, local chunks of white oak. He put a drip pan with some beer underneath and closed the lid.

Ray stoked the fires, maintaining a nice 200-225 degrees, until about 3 am. I'd gone to bed long before as I was on 6 am (ish) duty. Right before he went to bed, he loaded  up the wood and charcoal to sustain it on the longer stretch. It's fine for a cook temperature to get a little high or a little low here and there as long as overall you maintain a consistent heat.

When I woke up, the dial was at about 175 and easily got back up to 225 once I loaded it back up. I turned the brisket around (not over) to put the other side closer to the firebox. 
Smoker temperature dial

The birds were chirping, the roosters crowing, and red-tailed hawks started their first hunt of the day. Such a different scent than the Pacific NW, too. Not quite tropical, but a hint of the tropics. While Seattle is fresh in a ferny-rainy-woody-mushroomy way, California carries the scent of exotic flowers, tall dense grasses, and ocean breezes. And of course this morning mixed in the scent of wood smoke and slow-cooked meat drippings.

Once everyone was up, coffee in hand, the moppin' began. Party guests were coming over at about 2pm, so that put us at the sweet spot of 14-16 hours. 

When folks arrived, Ray started making his Rockin' Rooster Sauce, which is a secret, but had a really nice balance of sweet and hot. After about an hour of sauce cooking and getting sauced, with an appetizer of smoked sausages that disappeared the moment they were sliced, the brisket was ready. With oohs and ahs, we all dug in.

And then? Well by then Julie was a little very shnockered and what photos she took were about as blurry as she was. It was also California, y'all, and so there might have been a really long series of what was left after we'd all eaten. Twenty shots of this. Dude.
all that's left of the brisket
brisket with BBQ sauce

The brisket was perfect. Tender, tender, tender. Smoke ring. Deckle melted like butter. Battle-worthy bark. And most importantly, laughs and stories with friends. We hit all the brisket buttons.


  1. Awesome Jules! Sorry to make you bbq on vacation, but Thank God you were there to help!! Nice pics, too bad about the trucker hat :). xo Kath

    1. Actually, I just found my "lost" photos! May have to edit the post and pop it in! So great seeing you!

  2. Sounds like a great day with friends. You're right about straight wood is tougher to maintain, I lost my coal base twice Friday night because I was running such a lean fire.

    LOL about the later pictures. Check that 5200 for a Schnockered mode ;)

    1. See, now you know. I'm sure at competitions, it's a badge to burn all sticks, but at's really about the end product that you're going to eat! And check, Scnockered mode. Maybe the "pet portrait" setting aka "party animal" mode?!

  3. Fantastic story and photos Julie. You are a master (mistress? lol) and the brisket is the proof!!

    1. Aw, shucks! Yes, my next book will be the BBQ Mistress: How to Make Your Grill Behave!

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