October 14, 2008
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Cooking the Deckel

The smoked-and-braised Deckel was good right away, and even better the next night. (I served it with greens — kale from the farm share, stewed with a slice of chopped bacon, an onion, a carrot, and then with 1/4c of creme fraiche added at the end — and with some boiled new potatoes.

But Greg Ibendahl points out the error in my ways:

I realize you are from the northeast and you Northerners make your brisket into weird things like pastrami ;) but the brisket is not an unpopular and throwaway cut. You just need to get to the South more to see how real cooking is done. In Texas, especially, brisket is BBQ. Here's how to cook it.  I have a similar brand smoker and it is just amazing for cooking things like brisket (a whole turkey is especially good). The key to cooking brisket though is to cook it to a much higher temperature than normal meat (190 degrees). Normally a temp this high would make a cut of meat really dry and tough as all the fat would be cooked away. With brisket though you have all this connective tissue that does not start to break down until 180 to 185 degrees. This connective tissue is what makes brisket so good. If you don't cook it to a high enough temp, the brisket will be tough and chewy. Cook it high enough and it just melts in your mouth. I've smoked 8 to 10 briskets and it is definitely a hard skill to master. I have to fight my normal urge to take the brisket out at a temperature that I normally would use for beef. If fact my best brisket resulted from a malfunctioning thermometer that had me keeping the meat in longer than I probably would have otherwise.

I didn’t mean that brisket was unpopular, but that this piece of the brisket — the point, rather than the flat — is much less popular. And it’s often sold “deckel off”. So, the grocer had a fairly challenging piece of meat to sell, and they made the sale not on price but rather on features.

On further reflection, my combination of smoking and braising has some real advantages. The hazard, when smoking on a grill, is that you go too far (and wind up with charred meat) or not far enough (and wind up with tough meat). The risk all comes toward the end. With the braise method, at the end your meat is sitting in a 350° oven bathed in tasty 190° broth -- because, with the lid off, your pot is only going to manage about 190°. So you can’t overcook the meat. You loose some crispness, but crispiness isn't really a virtue in brisket. And there's plenty of smokiness left to go around.