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BBQ brisket is smoke-cooked beef with succulent red-meat flavor and tenderness beyond compare.
Well into the late 20th century, America’s food explorers associated brisket only with the Southwest, Texas in particular. Plus Oklahoma and as far as Arizona. Once a Lone Star icon, brisket today is nearly everywhere. BBQ parlors around the country feature it along with ribs, pulled pork, even chicken or fish.
To this day, the best brisket still is in the Southwest. It originally was created by small-town butchers there as a way to extend the life of unsold cuts of beef. They set up makeshift dining tables in the back rooms of their meat markets. They sold the cooked meat by the pound, wrapped in butcher paper. Plates, utensils, and side dishes were extraneous. Maybe you’d get half a loaf of white bread to help sop the juices. Sauce was a rarity. Meat was all that mattered.
The answer is: where it cooks in the pit. While many chefs add spice rubs and baste their brisket as it cooks, Wayne Mueller (Louie’s grandson) uses nothing more than salt and pepper. He says the secret of his magnificent meat is knowing how to move it around in the pit to take advantage of cool spots, hot spots, and drafts. While brisket begins as a fairly tough cut of beef, basking in the smoke of smoldering coals transforms it. The meat becomes ridiculously tender, closer to butter than beefsteak. The exterior, blackened and crusty from its time in the pit, delivers concentrated flavor; interior fibers that are still laced with fat literally melt on your tongue.
Today, most BBQ parlors around the country have softened the primitive style of original Texas BBQ by adding such amenities as plates, forks, and napkins. Many offer potato salad, corn pudding, and fried okra on the side. You’ll even find different BBQ sauces to add outsourced flavors to the meat.