Surviving the meat stall

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What’s for dinner? Brisket! When’s dinner? When the brisket tells us it’s done…

I could spout on here for people between the ages of 20-39 to smarten up and respect social distancing guidelines, but I think most everyone has seen what has happened in the Toronto area in terms of COVID-19’s second wave.

Instead, I’ll talk about meat!

Brisket: For meat smokers, it’s the meat you love to hate.

For me, my Saturday was spent loving it, hating it and liking it.

I just wish I’d returned to the “love” level at the end.

Last week, I picked up a brisket — almost 10 pounds — from Mercato Fresh, as they were on sale

On Friday, Mary Beth and I trimmed off the excess fat. It’s best to try to get the fat cap — there’s a good deal of fat on one side of the brisket — to about a quarter inch in thickness. That’s about half a centimetre in metric terms.

We then trimmed the piece of hard fat that divides the point of the brisket from the flat.

Next up, we hummed and hawed over what to use to season the big piece of beef. After much debate, we deferred to our daughter, Brenna, who walked up, smelled the three seasoning options we’d narrowed it down to and calmly advised us to go with the Cow Lick steak spice.

So we liberally applied the rub to all sides of the brisket, wrapped it and put it in the fridge for the night.

Saturday morning arrived, and it was cooking time! I prepped the Big Green Egg by filling the bowl about three-quarters full with lump charcoal, and lit a small area in the centre. I only light one area for a slow cook because it’s easier to control the temperature that way. It does take longer to come up to temperature, but it’s a smart trade off.

We added some apple wood chips around the bowl, let it heat up, set it for indirect, and put on our brisket by just after 9 a.m.

I had a drip tray filled with water, something I always do for long cooks, under the brisket. It helps keep the meat moist and catches the drippings.

So, we went about our business Saturday morning, cutting the grass, doing chores, relaxing, and of course listening to classic rock, and the brisket cooked.

In the first 110 minutes, the temperature of the meat rose by 97 F. But I knew the stall was coming.

And it arrived shortly thereafter. For the next two hours, the meat only went up 17 degrees. We were sitting at 165 F, squarely in the middle of the stall.

For large cooks of meat on a smoker, meat tends to stall. I’ve experienced it doing pork shoulders and briskets. It’s essentially when the meat reaches a point where it is cooling itself by evaporating some of its moisture. Having a drip tray adding moisture to the Egg also contributes to the stall.

Of course, higher temperature cooking will burn right through the stall, but you wind up with a very tough cut of meat.

So we had to wait it out. And with briskets, the wait can be long indeed. I’d cooked brisket before, but just the flat, and it was a much smaller cut. I’d anticipated a cooking time of about 45 minutes per pound for this brisket, and after trimming, it was probably about eight or nine pounds. In other words, it should be done in six or seven hours.

And then we’d wrap it for an hour to let the meat settle and relax, helping to preserve the juices.

That’s how it was supposed to go.

This brisket was stubborn. By 4 p.m., it was still stalled at about 167 F. It had gone up maybe two degrees in the past three hours. The backyard smelled divine, but our dinner was taking its sweet time finishing!

We cheated. We did what is called the Texas Crutch. You pull the brisket off in the middle of the stall and wrap it in foil, all but preventing the moisture from evaporating.

Of course, when you do this, you prevent the meat from absorbing any of the smoke flavour, but our brisket had been on for nearly seven hours at this point.

It worked. In no time, the temperature started to rise.

We pulled it at about 196 F, a little early in some circles, as 200-205F is considered the temperature range at which to remove brisket from the heat.

But we wrapped it in towels and placed it in the oven (not on) to rest. The meat actually continues to cook somewhat during this resting period as well.

Mary Beth made garlic smashed potatoes and roasted vegetables, and we ate dinner by 6:30 p.m.

The brisket was bursting with flavour and was quite tender, but I admit it wasn’t quite as moist as I wanted it. Mary Beth also made some homemade barbecue sauce, so it was quite delicious.

The brisket fairy made a delivery to friends Pete and Arlene that night, and they gave it two thumbs up, so we made out all right in terms of flavour.

Brisket always scares me. It’s an unforgiving cut of meat, I’m told. And with a Big Green Egg, you can generally cook out any such unforgiveness on most any other cut of meat.

Will we cook another brisket? Most definitely.

However, there are a couple of large pieces of pork in our freezer that are ahead of it in line.

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