Let’s talk about beef. When we think of beef, we see in our minds eye, an inch thick cut porterhouse steak with beautiful marbling and a pronounced bone and fat cap. Beef is probably my favorite protein to prepare on a regular basis. I could go on for pages about the cuts and how to prepare them, but I won’t. I do want to focus on a couple of cuts used for BBQ, not grilling! The porterhouse can wait!
Brisket, ribs, and chuck roasts are the most popular smoked cuts from the cow. They are from different sections of the animal, and require different attentions of preparation. Ribs are probably the most difficult of the three to prepare because they have a membrane that should be removed. They are also a very tough cut so tenderness is essential to an enjoyable eating experience. This cut is very popular throughout the globe, so the cultural flavors work very well here. I will focus on a rub and method that I have been using for years and has proved to be a crowd pleaser.
Beef ribs differ greatly from pork ribs. They are bigger, the flesh is tougher, and the connective tissue takes a lot longer to break down. The membrane is very thick and should be removed. Use a knife to get started and just pull it free. It should come off in one piece. At this point, you can coat each side of the ribs liberally with kosher salt. Stack them in four rib slabs and let them rest for half an hour. Rinse the ribs thoroughly under cold water. This will help tenderize the meat and it won’t be salty after rinsing. I recommend rubbing the ribs down at least two days in advance. This gives the rub time to help tenderize and penetrate the meat. Since this cut has plenty of connective tissue, we will be using the salt quite liberally without worry of drying the meat out.[table “” not found /]
Mix ingredients with wire whisk until well incorporated at least two days in advance.[table “” not found /]
Mix ingredients in a pot and boil for 2 minutes. Strain and put in a spray bottle set to mist.
Bring the smoker to 190ºF – 200ºF cook for 6 to 8 hours until internal temperature reaches 175ºF. Mop every hour to keep them glistening. I say this because the chemical reaction that happens to meat in a smoker called the smoke ring is more pronounced if the surface is moist. if you find them drying out on the surface, mop more frequently. Your times may vary due to the cut of the meat and environmental factors. When the internal temp reaches 170ºF wrap in foil and let rest for 1/2 hour before finishing on the grill or serving dry.
Smoking brisket has been at the forefront in smoking circles for a long time for a reason. This is one tough piece of meat that was once thrown into a stew pot or braised for hours and was considered a sub par cut of meat. It was extremely inexpensive and therefore reserved for the poorer communities. Throughout the last twenty to thirty years, it has become a sensation of the pit. The cadillac of the smoker, and in return, as expensive as a N.Y. strip steak if fabricated. You can purchase the brisket as a whole cut or a flat cut. The flat is just the thin end, but make sure you request it with the fat cap. This fat cap is essential in the cooking process to keep the meat moist.
Since this is a tough piece of meat, you will need to be very patient with it. You cannot rush or “push” this cut. You need to use the low heat to slowly penetrate the fibers and melt the collagen in the fat to help separate the protein fibers of the meat. This takes time and patience. Plan on a twelve to fourteen hour smoke. I am stressing this because the meat holds a lot of moisture that will stall the cooking process for hours. they call this “holding it’s cool” because it will heat up to 120ºF – 140ºF and just stay there for what seems forever. This stall actually is the most important part of the cook because it gives the meat extra time to be broken down and create that beautiful tender mouth feel we are all looking for in a brisket. So please be very patient with this cut of meat. Keep the temp even and use a mild wood such as oak, cherry, or apple.
I like to keep things simple when doing brisket because the meat has so much flavor.[table “” not found /]
Combine all ingredients in a bowl 1 day in advance.
at least two days in advance, wash the brisket under cold water and dry it. Rub generously on all sides and wrap in plastic. refrigerate for at least two days but no more than four. remove from fridge two hours prior to smoking to allow meat to warm up. preheat smoker to 200ºF for at least 1/2 hour set up with a drip pan. you can put a drip pan directly on the grate with another grate on top of it with the brisket on top. This will allow you to draw liquids from the pan and use as a mop during the cooking process. The mop is very simple, Apple juice! I just cut a hole in the cap with a knife and use that as a spray bottle. this way you can refill it with pan juices and not worry about clogging your good spray bottle. mop every hour until the meat reaches 175ºF internal temp at the thickest part. Don’t be discouraged if the thinnest part dried out a bit. This cut is reserved for the chef called “burnt ends”.
The easiest of the three is the chuck roast. This is reserved for pulled beef. Unlike pulled pork, this will be served with a sauce mixed in. The chuck is very fatty and can be purchased with or without bones. I will always opt for the bone in cuts just because the bones carry flavor. This cut has very tough muscle with plenty of that awesome connective tissue we like to break down. The drippings from this smoke will produce the sauce for the finished product. You are trying to bring flavor to this cut so a more complex rub will be needed to set the foundation layer. Paprika, cayenne, chili powder, onion, and garlic will be the supporting actors in this scene.[table “” not found /]
Combine all ingredients two days in advance. Refrigerate until used.[table “” not found /]
- 1 cup apple cider or juice
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- remaining rub or 1 cup
Wash the chuck in cold water and pat dry with a towel. Rub liberally and be sure to massage the meat to get in between all the separating tissue. Wrap in plastic film and rest in fridge for two days. Bring the meat to room temp while the smoker heats up to 200ºF. Mop every hour until the internal temp is at 175ºF. Let rest and create a sauce by reducing 1 cup of drippings by half and adding 2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce or you can make chipped beef in cream sauce. This cut is very delicious and way under appreciated.
I hope this has been helpful in getting you more acquainted with the different cuts of beef. Beef really steals the show at a BBQ dinner and there is nothing more stressful than tough brisket or dried out meat. watch for tenderness, wrap it on the rest, and keep the heat low and steady. Rushing these cuts will ensure a tough and dry final product.