Beef Brisket – The Tragedy and the Drama
Coals ready in ten minutes!
I’m born and raised from Houston, Texas, USA, and I know a good brisket when I taste one. A lot of southerners and BBQ fans love to wax poetic on a good slab of ribs, I find them something decent to eat, but lacking in the most exciting categories of BBQ, mainly, the category of taste. I do like a good slab, but they are desperately lacking in the one thing that can impress a true connoisseur of meat, and that is massive chunks of dripping flavor. A good brisket not only feeds 12, but can set a poor family up with one of the most exotic and filling meals they will ever know, and for much less than the lowly pork ribs. I learned to cook these massive chunks of beef chest with hands on teaching, first, I was just there to make sure the coals did not flame, but eventually I was left with the entire brisket, from beginning to end product, steaming and smoked just right, with no sauce on it, and a tender and lovely texture that only comes from slow steady cooking in a 55 gallon drum. I eventually learned of the idea behind cooking a brisket over low heat for a long period of time, and that is that the collagen inside the brisket must be turned soft with time, basically turning hard tough strings of connective tissue into gelatinous flavor holders, and the tough muscle relaxes into a dreamy state of taste and fat. I have cooked several briskets over family get-togethers, and sometimes it was an exercise in patience, as you cook for hours, to keep the more excited members from cutting all the tasty bits off the ends. A good brisket is beautiful thing, and I have found that it is almost nonexistent at higher elevations, where low humidity and low air pressure make it impossible to do without a large wet smoker. Oh, and as a add on note for you would be doers of the god of BBQ, do NOT cut off the fat, oh Jesus wept.
This brings me to the tragedy of my endeavors, I live in the mile high city of Denver, and pork is the supreme meat of the BBQ. I totally understand, it is much easier to cook, it does not have the problems of collagen and is usually easier to cook in smaller portions, so it all makes sense for me, but it does not replace my savory beef god. I was at a total loss for ever finding the taste of my homeland, the song of my people, until I found a little place reviewed in my local rag called Jabo’s. Jabo is from northern Louisiana, and that makes him kin in cooking, the more creole side, the less cajun side, more like Houston, less like New Orleans, as far as cooking is concerned. I was excited, I put 100 US in my pocket and cajoled my eating companion that this would be the place to go, that here we would find my search ended.
Let me put in exactly why I had this seemingly psychic ability as to the beautiful food of my soon to be host. All over Denver, and in other cities other than Houston, I keep finding sauce the important ingredient in BBQ, covering, hiding, curtailing the great flavor of a good pit man. We never had much to do with it, and it is one of the reasons I railed against the ribs earlier, you see, on my family’s table sauce was purely a condiment, something only added if the meat was bit to dry, or we were killing off the last of the left overs. Brisket is very temperamental, and it sometimes is cut from a cow that is a bit to old and tough, or maybe the humidity is very low that day you cooked, so sauce is always made, usually a home secret, but still a condiment. Jabo’s had several sauces, but I could see, they were added after the fact, he first made his cooking great, then added amazing sauces to help it along. I could understand this, it is a restaurant after all, and in a town that worships stupid condiments, so he needed the extra help of some sauces to get word out. I also knew from the review, he was from my part of the woods, so to speak, that northeastern corner of the gulf that worships the meat first, then adds sauce later as a little zing. I also knew that being from those piney woods, he would not be so base as to wet marinade his meat, but with those big smokers, would put the emphasis on the wood he smoked with, and the cooking process itself.
The place is in a strip mall, the setting is underwhelming, and it is obvious to any who frequent restaurants that the interior is nothing to get excited about. It actually looks like someone set up an auction at a closed down stripper bar, because the vinyl of the seats is just that kind of red. Empty glass windows look on nothing, the view is of a vacant lot across the road and the parking lot. Our server was polite, but had no clue what he was doing, getting the order wrong twice in a row, before even leaving the table. No music, no setting, and no service, it was looking hard on Jabo when we walked in. Ordering took forever, and trying to get the idea across that I did not want sauce on my brisket seemed almost futile, but eventually, the order went in, and we waited. I wasn’t sure about it all, because apparently we had to try the sauce first, and then choose what sauce we were gonna have before we had anything to go on. I am not a fan of the whole idea of any of the service, the sauce, or the setting, again, it was looking bad.
I was not disappointed in the least. I got my plate of beef, sauce on the side please, and cut a big fatty piece of brisket, stuck it in my mouth, which immediately took me home. The fat melted on my tongue immediately, moisturizing and flavoring the beautiful cut of beef to an insane high, and I ended up ordering enough brisket for five people. Later when it was cold, it was still the magical BBQ of my youth. The service, well, he hires family folks we say back home, and they were not the best servers I ever had. The prolonged ordeal of trying sauces annoyed me, and the prices are a wee bit high for my employment to pay for all the time. When I left however, I talked with Jabo for almost fifteen minutes, and it was damned hard not to give him every cent I had to take as much as I could back home and to share with my workmates. He was as sweet as sweet potato pie, and I probably could have busted out some plaster of paris to sculpt his beautiful head, so I could worship something other than the idea of perfect brisket. I will always go back to his place, I will always give him to much money, and I will never complain about his service, because the man knows his brisket, and he knows exactly how to please my palate.
9682 E. Arapahoe
Englewood, CO 80112
PS- Basically, a homage to my favorite reviewer ever, Jason Sheehan.