Earlier this month we were sitting in New Orleans lamenting missing the 2016 edition of the Meridian Texas National Championship Barbecue Cook Off.
Unlike in Texas where you can walk into any one of over two thousand smoked meat houses, New Orleans is a tough place to find expertly cooked brisket.
That’s why we keep our antique Webber smoker loaded down with choice steer and hot guts, it’s easier to just do it ourselves.
After learning that Randy Valentine of Crist Propane cook team had won the brisket portion of the championship we reached out to the old barbecue cook and asked him a few questions about his methods.
It’s part of our continuing education program in the 9th Ward of the Crescent City.
1) What makes the difference between your champion-level brisket and a “really good brisket” from a backyard cook?
Valentine: Choice of beef. The first thing to consider in a competition cookoff is what grade of brisket you are looking for. You have prime, choice, or select. Prime would be the best to choose as it offers more marbling and will have a better overall tenderness when finished.
Seasonings: Competition brisket has a certain flavor profile the judges are looking for. There are 100’s of different dry rubs and injections on the market that are specially formulated to help you achieve the moisture and flavor of the brisket.
Wood: This is just as important to the overall flavor of the brisket and must be used very strategically. You don’t want to give your brisket a bitter flavor. The quality of wood is important for a winning brisket. The smoke ring on the brisket slices is often the first thing that a judge will look for in the turn in box at a competition. It is key to the eye appeal and will be given a higher score.
Technique: Of course there are a thousand different techniques used in a champion-level brisket. First there is the trimming of the brisket you choose. You want just the right amount of fat left on so the brisket is moist and tender but not fatty. There’s the huge question…cook fast and hot, or cook slow and low. This is a technique that is win win either way. Do you wrap your brisket in foil, or achieve that bark from no wrapping; it’s all in your own personal technique. Thermometers are a big role in getting that just right tenderness. Knowing when to pull the brisket so it’s tender, but not mushy or tough, is all in temperature control.
2) What’s the most important technique or method that backyard cooks don’t employ-and if they did would allow them to be champion pit bosses too?
Valentine: The price of a prime brisket used in competition is much more than what a backyard cook is most likely going to purchase.
The backyard cook probably will not have the commercial type seasonings and injections as most competitors are using.
Probing temperature is key to knowing the tenderness of the end product.
Season the meat the night before cooking.
Use good wood to smoke with.
Watch your wood constantly to achieve and maintain the correct temperature during the cooking process. Use a thermometer that gives instant readings to get the internal temperature you are wanting to reach.
3) How long have you been cooking barbecue and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned during your time as a barbecue cook?
I started cooking about 7 years ago.
Do not be afraid of asking questions
Keep a bbq diary of what works for you
Maintain a consistent temperature
Learn your internal meat temperatures
The brisket champion closes with “Have fun and make it a family event”