Texas cuisine spans a wide variety of flavors and tastes, but there’s one category that manages to stand head and shoulders above the rest: BBQ. With summer and the Fourth of July here, we asked local BBQ expert True Brown to give us some tips for preparing BBQ at home.
During the day, Brown is a fundraiser for the Texas A&M Foundation and the College of Engineering, and at home, he’s truly passionate about BBQ. He not only runs his own one-man catering operation, True BBQ, but his BBQ cook off team, Ring of Fire, is a two-time defending trophy winner at the 50 Men Who Can Cook fundraiser for CSISD, winning Rookie of the Year in 2019 and Best Entrée in 2020.
“I started cooking in 2012,” Brown says, “after making a trip to Snow’s BBQ in Lexington. I wasn’t really a fan of BBQ growing up, as there weren’t many good joints near my hometown. But my trip to Snow’s was transcendent. From getting up early in the morning to drive an hour to Lexington, to waiting in line for an hour, to seeing and smelling the smoke from their BBQ pits to finally getting a taste of true central Texas BBQ…the whole experience blew me away. Since then, I’ve slowly learned the ways of smoking meats through trial and error, and have developed a decent grasp on what it takes to create top-shelf bbq.”
The most important facet of BBQing at home, according to Brown, is in realizing how subjective BBQ is and being kind with yourself during the learning process. “There are many ways to go about cooking BBQ,” he says, “and don’t be disappointed if it takes you a handful of cooks to find your stride. If you put ten people in a room, you’ll probably hear ten different ideas about what the best BBQ joint in town is, what cut of meat is the best, or what they think is a perfect brisket. Once you find out what works, keep working at it until you perfect it.”
To help you find that stride, keep reading for Brown’s recommendations.
Cooking your first brisket can be pretty intimidating. Let’s be honest…it takes a long time and nobody wants to spend 10 or 12 hours cooking a $50 piece of meat only to dry it out, especially if you have company coming over and everyone will be focused on your product.
Tip # 1 Keep a notebook for jotting down details
The first step in honing your expertise is to be detailed. It’s important to pay attention and be thorough every step of the way. From buying the right piece of meat at the store, to the seasoning, to tending your fire and watching your brisket cook for ten or more hours, deviations in any part of the cook can change the final product.
When I first began cooking, I decided to record every single cook on a spiral notebook. Every 30 minutes, I jot down the time, temperature of the fire, temperature of the meat and any accompanying notes. A notebook really helps me keep everything straight, especially if you’ve got a few different types of meat on the smoker at the same time.
Tip # 2 Start off simple with the rubs
If you’re new to cooking, I recommend starting out simple with your rubs…coarse ground pepper and coarse salt form a great base. I mix all the rubs I use myself, but I rely mostly on salt and pepper to get the job done. Plus, pepper is what gives a finished brisket that nice, dark, crunchy bark that you’ll find on top-shelf bbq.
Tip # 3 Keep it hydrated
Another mistake I see people make from time to time is not cooking with a water pan inside the cooking area of your smoker. It’s really easy to dry something out when you cook it for several hours, and nobody likes dry BBQ. You can combat that by cooking with a filled water pan. I use a bread loaf pan that I can wash and reuse every cook. Keep an eye on the pan as your cook continues, because it will eventually evaporate and you’ll want to refill it.
Another trick to keeping your meat moist is to spray it occasionally with a water-based mixture. I use a 1:1 mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. On a brisket, I don’t open the cook lid for the first 4 or so hours in order to keep the temp as steady as possible. However, after hour four, I open the lid every 60 minutes to take a quick peek and give the meat a quick once-over from the spray bottle.
Tip # 4 Butcher paper and Temp
An ideal finished temp for a brisket is just north of 200 degrees. I know folks who take their brisket off when the internal temperature reaches anywhere from 200 to 205 degrees. Some folks will cook their brisket unwrapped all the way to 200, but I’m partial to wrapping mine in pink butcher paper once the temperature reaches 185. Other folks use foil and some even cook unwrapped for the duration, but there is something about the butcher paper that holds the moisture while maintaining the perfect bark texture.
True BBQ is available to cater graduation parties, Christmas parties, rehearsal dinners, or just about any special occasion. If you’re interested in hiring True to cater your next event, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.