Matt Moore, Southern Eats & Drinks Expert
I’ve long said that in the Southern Band of BBQ Brethren, ribs have always been the lead singer. Beloved by all, but quite finicky, ribs can be tricky to perfect. When they are at their best they can be prophetic, but at their worst, they can send you into a tiff — the kind where you destroy a hotel room at midnight kind of crazy.
Lately however, it seems that brisket (especially of Texas origin) has served as the lead guitarist in the band, slowly stealing more and more of the spotlight. And, of course, there is the steady pork butt, typically the backline of bass and drums that keeps everyone together. Regardless of your favorite player, solid BBQ, a great drink (see recipe below), and good conversation all serve as pillars of Southern hospitality.
But since we all love a good guitar solo, let’s dig a bit further on brisket. While brisket has always served at the forefront of Texas-style, and even Oklahoma-style, BBQ, modern pitmasters, like Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas, have ushered in more love for this cut than ever before — a love that’s spreading beyond the Lone Star State’s borders.
Nowadays, briskets are smoking well beyond Texas, and can be done just as well at establishments throughout the Southeast. Southerners welcomed the BBQ staple with open arms and regularly make room on their smokers for a whole brisket, which is best enjoyed with a Dixie Vodka cocktail, of course.
Breaking Down The Brisket.
The cut itself comes from the lower chest of the cow, making up one of the nine essential primal cuts. Devoid of collar bones, this muscle supports the majority of the body weight from the animal, meaning it is loaded with connective tissue. Cooked hot and fast, this piece of meat would be as chewy as a BF Goodrich tire. Yet when cooked low and slow, preferably over mesquite coals, this meat just might be the cure to world peace.
One of my favorite spots for brisket in its state of origin is just outside of San Antonio in the town of Helotes at B-Daddy’s BBQ. There, pitmaster B.R. Anderson is serving up as much brisket as he is shenanigans.
His method starts with just the bare essentials: coarse salt and black pepper. After that, it’s all about patience — taking the time and love necessary to gently cook the meat up to an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. In some instances, such a process can take 15 to 20 hours. Think about that for a second . . . a Michelin star chef can win worldwide praise for cooking up a sea scallop in just under a minute, yet a 20-hour masterpiece is considered to be less than haute cuisine.
While brisket can be perfected outside of Texas (like in the Southeast), I would point out that there is a matter of “terroir” involved. Wait a minute, did I just go over your head there? “Terroir” is a term widely used by the French to describe the “je ne sais quoi” as to what makes their wine taste so distinctive; it is the earth, the soil, and the minerals. That same idea can be applied to brisket (and all BBQ for that matter) — and even vodka (but we’ll get to that later).
When it comes to brisket, cattle raised on the plains of Texas are likely to taste different than those raised in Tennessee. Mesquite grown in sandy soil will have different flavors than those grown in different elements. The same cut of brisket smoked in heat and humidity will react different, even in the same smoker, when compared to a colder, drier climate.
The same is true when it comes to “terroir” and vodka — it doesn’t get more authentic and delicious than what Dixie Vodka is doing. They work with local farmers and purveyors to hand-infuse their vodka with the iconic flavors of the South — like citrus from Florida, peaches from Georgia, and more. Each regional collaboration results in a unique, distinctive flavor that embodies the pride of being made in America and raised in the South.
Let’s get back to the meat of this post (get it?). Times are changing, and while in the past, it might have been hard for me to admit brisket could be done well outside of the Lone Star State, I can now confidently say I’ve had some darn good brisket at Southern spots like Martin’s in Nashville or Heirloom in Atlanta.
My favorite brisket is sliced generously thick and served on its own, but there is a special place in my heart for the B-Daddy’s version between soft tortillas. Trust me, the brisket is heavenly on its own, but if you want to take your brisket up a notch, pair it with a Dixie Vodka-rita (recipe below) — it takes on a whole new level of deliciousness.
You guys hungry? Thirsty? I am.
So there you have it; where do you find the best brisket in the South?
- 2 oz. Dixie Southern Vodka
- 0.5 oz triple sec
- 0.5 oz simple syrup (or agave nectar)
- 1 oz lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain to a fresh ice in Collins glass (with or without salt rim).