A break in the tension: brisket-blogging

| August 11, 2006

[UPDATED BELOW as of Saturday, 9:41 pm – final update]
(Friday morning, 10:30 am) Sandra and I have somewhere between 50 and 80 people coming over for a potluck BBQ late Saturday afternoon. And I’m in charge of the meat. After two weeks of intense work on a case with a short deadine, not to mention the 24-minute news cycle (Reutersgate! Netroots! Terrorists!), I’m ready to relax for a day or two.

And, yes, I find doing all this cooking to be very relaxing, especially given where we live. I’m sure there is a lovelier place on God’s good earth to smoke 20 lbs of beef brisket, but I’ll be darned if I know where:

Heck with West Virginia -- this is almost heaven

If you look at the smoker’s chimney and then follow the top edge of the smoker a little to the left, you’ll see a faint outline of a mountain peak. That’s Pikes Peak, 50 miles to the south. It’s in the mid-80s out, dry, with a bit of wind. And all I have to do is cook. Oh, yes, and go buy everything else; Sandra’s bugging me to get away from the computer and head out. The dog is Deacon, one of our MinPins. He likes it when I smoke or grill; he knows that he’s going to eat very, very well. More after the jump.
Here’s the menu I’ve put together:

  • smoked beef brisket (20 lbs now, though that will shrink)
  • smoked whole bone-in turkey breast
  • smoked boneless leg of lamb
  • smoked pork sirloin roasts
  • grilled sweet peppers and (in honor of Bruce Henderson’s birthday) grilled asparagus
  • Grandpa Jack’s Mexican beans (70-year-old family recipe)
  • grilled chicken breasts, marinated in Tabasco sauce (either green or chipotle)
  • grilled hot dogs (only Hebrew National, natch)
  • grilled hamburgers (I miss BJ’s Superstore back east — they had the best pre-made 1/4 lb fresh patties)
  • grilled pineapple and peaches

I’ll smoke the brisket today; I’ll smoke the pork, lamb, and turkey tomorrow; and grill everything else after people start arriving. Look for updates here; in the meantime, feel free to look around the blog. Also, if you live in the Denver area and would like to come to the BBQ, drop me a line.

Speaking of the brisket, here it is:


That’s about 20 lbs of brisket. It’s been marinading for 48 hours and now has been blotted off and a dry rub applied. (The one on the bottom is using a different dry rub than the others, which is why it has a dishtowel on top. I’m going to smoke these briskets for about 8 hours, double-wrap them in heavy duty aluminum foil, then let them sit in the oven at 180 degrees for about another 24 hours. More to come — stay tuned.

(Friday Afternoon, 4:41 pm) Well, all that took a long longer than expected — both the shopping, then the business call I had. Colorado, in the meantime, is busy being Colorado in the summertime:

Denver summer afternoon - thunderstorm lottery

The briskets seem to be doing fine, though. You may have noticed the bacon in the picture above. When I’m doing several briskets like this, I like to lay the bacon down on the part of the grill nearest the firebox, to help protect the brisket that’s over there:

This stuff is really good after the brisket has been smoked

And here’s what the briskets looked like when I first laid them out on the grill this morning:

Have I mentioned that I like brisket?

Now I need to run out again to pick up marinade fixings for the leg o’ lamb. More later.

[Friday, 5:41 pm] But before I go…I need to move the briskets around, so that the one farthest from the heat is closest, and so on. Lifting up the one closest to the heat, I find the bacon that I put under it:

BLT sandwich, anyone? No, seriously -- it's really great...

This bacon has been smoked for hours, sitting under a brisket that’s dripping fat. It has got to be the least healthy food you could imagine.

It tastes wonderful.

Here are the rearranged briskets. They haven’t shrunk that much because the smoker has been running a little cool. It may be the lump charcoal I picked up; it’s a different brand than I’ve used before. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter, because when I’m done with them here, they’ll spend another 24 hours in the oven:

They'v still got quite a ways to go...

OK, now I’m really running out.

[Friday, 7:51 pm] Back from my errands; that took longer than I expected. Had a hard time finding a good turkey breast. I’m going to go start marinading both the leg of lamb and the turkey breast, then I’ll take the briskets out of the smoker and put them into the oven. Back in a while with photos.

[Friday, 9:06 pm] OK, I’ve wrapped up my cooking for the day. With the briskets done, here are the cuts of meat I plan to smoke tomorrow:

The more the merrier....

That’s a boneless leg of lamb on the left, some pre-seasoned pork sirloin roasts in the middle, and a bone-in turkey breast on the right. I included the Hefty 2.5 gallon bags in the photo because they’re very useful for marinading meats. Just be sure to double-bag everything — they have a tendency to leak along the zipper.

OK, now here’s the leg of lamb, out of its packaging and out of the string net that holds it together:

OK, explain to me again why I want to eat this...

That little piece in the upper right corner has actually been cut off. You see, my mother-in-law, the lovely Nora Hopkins, loves lamb, but she cannot stand garlic. So I cut off a small piece, which I shall grill just for her tomorrow. The rest of the lamb goes into one of the large bags along with red wine, garlic, chopped onions, some olive oil, crumbled bay leaves, salt and pepper. Here’s what it looks like:

This looks a lot better...

That’s going to sit all night in the fridge.

In the meanwhile, here’s the bone-in turkey breast. It’s being marinaded in white wine and Williams Sonoma Organic Turkey Herbs (some friends gave them as a gift, and I’ve found them quite useful for this):

It, too, will marinade in the fridge until early tomorrow afternoon. Both the lamb and the turkey will take about 4-5 hours to cook.

Now to get back to the briskets, which have been sitting in the smoker since mid-morning. Here they are, topped off by the very-well-smoked-cooked-and-dripped-on bacon:

Not quite done yet...except for the bacon...

As mentioned, I double-wrap each one in heavy duty aluminum foil, then put them in the oven (on oven liners). The oven is set to 190 degrees F. I’ll leave these in the oven, cooking, until I serve them some time after 6 pm tomorrow:

Step 1

First wrapping….

Step 2

Second wrapping…

Step 3

And into the oven. So, everything is either cooking or marinading, which leaves me just with…


The Bacon O’ Doom! Sadly, I can do little more than nibble. I suffer from occasion bouts of gout, and bacon, alas, in on the proscribed list as having moderate to high levels of purines — and turkey is, too. Sigh. Imagine: I’m from San Diego and can’t even indulge (at least, not often) in the other great cultural advantage of California: the turkey-bacon-and-avocado-with-sprouts-on-whole-grain-bread sandwich.

Did I mention I bought buffalo franks?

More in the morning. ..bruce..

(Saturday, 8:22 am) Off to help two families move; should be back in a few hours to fire up the smoker once more. I also have to go retrieve the weather cover for the BBQ grill; the winds last night blew it off the grill, off the deck, and down onto the lawn. More later. ..bruce..

(Saturday, 2:15 pm) OK, the moves took longer than expected, but then everything takes longer than expected. I’m back, have the smoker fired up again, and put the remaining meats-to-be-smoked on:

The turkey breast is on the left, nearest the firebox, because it usually takes longest to cook. I’ve got thick-sliced, peppered bacon fastened on via toothpicks to help baste the turkey while it’s cooking; I’ll take the bacon off near the end to let a bit more of the smoke flavor in. I’ve got two pork sirloin roasts in the middle, preseasoned. On the right is the leg of lamb; I’ve saved the marinade in a container so that I can basted it while it cooks.

And, of source, I haven’t forgotten the soft drinks:

I believe that the best way to drink soda is ice cold out of a glass bottle. The ice chest itself was a Father’s Day gift from Sandra, so that I would no longer have big, ugly plastic tubs or chests out on the deck when we were having a BBQ. Right now, I’m heating up the Mexican beans and cleaning up the kitchen in advance of the next wave of preparation. More later. ..bruce..

(Saturday, 3:16 pm) It’s been getting gray all day, but the forecast was only for a 20% chance of rain, so I wasn’t terribly worried. However, about 45 minutes ago, a squall front swept through with high winds and heavy rain; based on how water was pouring off the roof, I would guess that we got at least 0.5″ of rain in about 20 minutes. I was running around, closing windows all through the house where the wind was blowing water in. Given the strong winds, I didn’t dare take a picture of the smoker until things had let up a bit:

Not to put a damper on things, but...

Even though the rain has now stopped, and there are patches of blue sky, with sun shining through, I’ve been through this enough to figure that I probably just lost half of our potential attendees. The sad thing is that the forecast all week has been for clear weather today, and even as of last night, it was only (as noted) 20%. Ah, well.

In the meantime, here’s a pot of my Grandpa Jack’s Mexican Beans:

Been eatin' these all my life...

My grandfather, John Silas “Jack” Fickes, worked in LA law enforcement for many years during the 1920s and 30s. He had a catering business on the side; his partner was Juan Ramos, foreman of the Sepulveda Ranch in LA County. They could cater to political rallies, 4th of July picnics, and the like. Grandpa Jack ultimately retired, and he and Grandma Dolly moved to a ranch in Vista, California (northern San Diego County). When Grandma Dolly died in 1958, Grandpa Jack moved in with us and lived with us until he died in 1971. Here he is in his younger days:

The name is Fickes. John Fickes.

Quite dapper, eh?

Anyway, even after he came to live with us, he still liked to cook, and this was one of his recipes from his catering days. The wooden paddle on the counter there was his as well; I remember him using it all the years he lived with us. I used to help him cook; his eyesight was largely gone, though he had special glasses that would allow him to read large-print books. We always had his home-made salsa on the dinner table as a condiment; he called it “sarsi” (his family background was Pennsylvania Dutch, not CalMex). And whenever we had a BBQ, he’d make a batch of his beans.

The recipe is simple. Here’s the basic proportion of ingredients (you can scale up as much as you’d like) [note: I’ve made some modification here since I first posted it]:

  • 1 lb dried beans (I prefer pink or pinto, but feel free to experiment)
  • 1 lb meat: ground beef, ground pork, finely diced stew meat, finely diced pork, etc. (I sometimes double the meat)
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt.
  • 1 lb Mexican chorizo (either beef or pork, or both) (note that chorizo tends to come in 10 or 12 oz packages these days, down from 16 oz)

Rinse the beans; put in a heavy pot, cover with a few inches of water, bring to a boil, then set aside for an hour.  Bring to a gentle boil; add the salt and pepper. Let cook until the beans are tender; add water if necessary. Add the meat.  Cook for an hour or two more, adding water if necessary. Add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its packaging into the beans; it will dissolve in a little while; stir. Keep at a very low boil for at least a few hours, stirring often; your goal here is to reduce the liquid. If the beans still seem watery, feel free to make a cornstarch slurry and add it in. 

In all this, stir the beans on a regular basis and take care not to let the beans burn on the bottom of the pot; if that does happen, do not scrape the bottom of the pot. Instead, pour the beans into another container, then scape off the bottom of the pot (into the trash), clean the pot thoroughly, put the beans back in, and continue. The goal is to neither add too much nor too little water, so that the beans have a nice, thick consistency when you are ready to serve them. They freeze well and reheat even better.

Freezing is what I did with the beans above; this is from a very large batch I made some weeks back.

Gotta go; we’re in to the “final two hours” before everyone shows up. I’ll try to post more pictures later. ..bruce..

(Saturday, 5:10 pm) Sandra would probably whack me if she knew I was down here blogging. But here’s how the turkey turned out:

Turkey AND bacon!

As you can see, I didn’t get the bacon off before the turkey was done. Aw, shucks.

And here’s how the leg of lamb turned out:

Little lamb, I love thee...

Of course, neither picture does justice to how either one smells.

Uh-oh. I think Sandra saw me. I’m outta here. ..bruce..

(Saturday, 7:44 pm) Well, the BBQ is a success. The weather cleared up for a while (though it’s rained a few times since everyone got here), and we have a lot of people eating a lot of food. I took some more pictures, but they won’t be a nice — I discovered that my flash attachment isn’t working, and so I’ve had to use the pop-up flash (yuk) or take higher ISO photos (which tend to blur).

The lamb was just a wee bit rare, but that hasn’t stopped people from eating it. The turkey was perfect–still very moist and tender. The pork was, well, pork. And the brisket? Very nice indeed. We’ve gone through about 2.5 of the 4 briskets so far. Photos later. ..bruce..

(Saturday, 9:41 pm) OK, everyone’s gone, and everything is mostly cleaned up. The turkey is all gone, we went through most of the pork, we still have some lamb, and we about about 1/2 of one brisket left (plus some cooked hot dogs and hamburgers). I thought I might have gone overboard on the soda, but we have less of that left ofter than I thought we would.

Here’s out the brisket turned out:

Such nice food from such a cheap cut of beef

Here are pictures of people enjoying the food (my estimate from name tags used is that we had about 70 people):

And here’s the last thing I cooked: the unmarinated piece of lamb for my mother-in-law:

A splendid time was had by all. Break’s over; back on my head. ..bruce..

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Category: BBQ, Cooking, Main, Personal

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

Comments (21)

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  1. You are making me hungry.

  2. Man I love brisket. I think it is my favorite cut of beef – plus anything made from it: pastrami (!) corned beef . . .

    Never tried it on the grill though, sounds most yummy indeed.

  3. Evil Bruce says:

    Wow, I remember the last VLSB (Very Large Scale BBQ) that I attended in DC. Bruce, do NOT forget to grill the Asparagus!

  4. bfwebster says:

    Well, I was just planning to do the small sweet peppers — but in honor of your birthday, I’ll pick up some asparagus tomorrow and grill it as well. ..bruce..

  5. Abraham says:

    Why oh why did you leave DC! we miss the bbqs….and you too

  6. Adam says:

    Bruce, you are mean. Why do you insist on taunting us with that which we cannot have? It looks awesome.

  7. Bruce Hoult says:

    Hmm .. I don’t think there’s quite time to get there from New Zealand…

  8. bfwebster says:

    Bruce — great to hear from you. What are you doing down in KiwiLand? ..bruce..

  9. Kenny says:

    I am in awe with the work of a true bbq artist.

  10. Evil Bruce says:

    Bah! More Bruces? What is this blog coming to?

  11. Bruce Hoult says:

    Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
    Who was very rarely stable.

    Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
    Who could think you under the table.

    David Hume could out-consume
    Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

    And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
    Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.

    There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya
    ‘Bout the raising of the wrist.
    Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.

    John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
    On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.

    Plato, they say, could stick it away–
    Half a crate of whisky every day.

    Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle.
    Hobbes was fond of his dram,

    And René Descartes was a drunken fart.
    ‘I drink, therefore I am.’

    Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed,
    A lovely little thinker,
    But a bugger when he’s pissed.

  12. Carol B says:

    bruce, bruce, bruce, bruce,
    bruce, bruce, bruce, bruce,
    spam spam spam spam…this all just reminded me of something – give me a minute.

    Happiest Birthday to you Evil Bruce, congratulations on the brisket Virtuous Bruce and lovely poetry to the Bruce I do not know.

  13. Bruce Hoult says:

    Why thank you Carol 🙂

    Off for some spam, spam, spam, eggs and spam.

    p.s. I am not, contrary to some misinformed opinion, Australian.

  14. robin says:

    man oh man how sad am i that i don’t live in colorado to feast with you!!! all that amazing meat and fancy bottle drinks!!! i really miss you guys… and your grilled asparagus and corn and peppers!!!

  15. Beth says:

    Why, oh why, didn’t you give me a little notice. I would fly around the world twice to attend one of your BBQ’s! I’d even volunteer to clean up. MISS YOU TWO LOTS!!!

  16. robert says:

    Worthy of a Texan! I agree that, with a little more notice, I’d come up to chew the fat a bit!