What could be more Australian than a BBQ on Xmas day. Being brought up in the southern regions of the globe, we as children were inundated with a very confusing image of the traditional white Xmas. The media assaulting us with scenes of family gathered by a roaring fire, scoffing down 7000 calories of whatever abomination the gaudy housewife in her horrific Xmas smock had slapped down on the table, all the while it’s snowing away graciously outside. Kids are outside making snowmen and ice skating, all the while back in the real world it’s 36 degrees outside and the mere thought of pounding down ½ a kilo of mums stodgy turkey with candied yams is enough to make you break out into a sweat.
Even more confusing was the misguided attempts to align the media with our own winter season, thus we were subjected to the oddity of Xmas specials in July, cruelly filling our young minds with Xmas cheer when we still have to wait 5 more months for that fat bastard in the red suit to arrive!
Apart from being extremely confusing for us kids, it was also a tad traumatic. Because we never got our white Xmas, it’s always felt as though we were missing out on some integral part of the whole occasion, namely snow. Many years later I actually got to experience the snow first hand (in the middle of July of course) and after the initial 10-20 minutes of fawn-like frolicking I decided that snow was actually cold, wet, and to be frank, a little bit shit. And so it was that I came to the conclusion after many years of feeling cheated out of a true Xmas experience, that frozen water falling from the sky does not a holiday make. I grew a wondrous new appreciation for our antipodean holiday season, where we spent most of our Xmas holidays BBQing, at the beach, playing outside until late; in short I figured out that having Xmas in summer fucken rules!
In light of this staggering revelation, when we starting organizing Xmas gatherings in our adult years, we seized the opportunity to start our own Xmas tradition, namely we BBQ the shit out of Jesus’s birthday.
Now every Kiwi/Ozzy bloke worth his salt knows his way around a BBQ, but it’s safe to say that after moving to Melbourne, cooking with fire has become something of an obsession. One fateful trip to Bluebonnet BBQ and I was hooked! I went there in search of smoky meat treats, but what I came away with after meeting Loretta, their 3 meter long off-set smoker, was a burning desire (pun intended) to cook with fire.
The next weekend I went straight out and bought a kettle BBQ. After my first slightly miserable attempt at cooking with it I decided I needed to do a substantial amount of reading before I could claim pit boss status. That’s when I discovered amazingribs.com and my life was forever changed. Straight after reading this (AFTER READING THIS) I highly recommend all aspiring BBQ chefs to gaze upon this holy almanac of information, and gain an appreciation for the science of fire!
The first thing that website will tell you however is that practice makes perfect, and so I practiced, and I practiced, until eventually I was producing some great, if not amazing meals on my cheap little Bunnings BBQ. The time had come to attempt Everest, the holy grail of BBQ culture, the almighty brisket! It would of course be the centerpiece of our Xmas feast and in my mind the final, formerly unassailable slope up the mountain of BBQ success.
Brisket ordered, brined and rubbed, ready to go. BBQ scrubbed, de ashed and primed, ready to go. But it was not to be. My best laid plans for BBQ glory were hopelessly dashed by a cruel twist of fate. As the big day approached the temperature in the long Melbourne summer soared, we anxiously hovered over the Victorian fire department website for the inevitable decision. In three words my hopes and dreams were shattered, TOTAL FIRE BAN! I couldn’t believe it, all my hard work, preparation and research for naught! We considered risking it but no amount of smoky glory is worth a $10,000 fine or burning down half the western suburbs. My moment of glory would have to wait.
This is the story of the brisket that almost wasn’t, my first and only BBQ brisket to date, but certainly not the last. I assembled this recipe the way I quite often do, a little bit of research, a lot of luck, and a good helping of common sense and I hold it as one of my top 5 cooking achievements. I hope you enjoy it, if not…… eh!?
- 1 x 3-4kg good quality beef brisket
- 8 cups hot water
- 8 cups iced water
- ½ cup white sugar
- the zest of one lemon
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 star anise
- 1 tsp celery seeds
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 8 cloves
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
Toast all your spices in a dry fry pan and then combine everything except the iced water in a pot and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Next dump the iced water into the pot to crash cool the brine allowing you to use it straight away.
For this recipe you’ll want to get yourself what is known as a ‘Whole Packer Brisket’, which is, you guessed it, whole! There are two distinct muscle groups on a whole packer brisket. The main muscle is long, flat, and rectangular, and generally comes to a point. This is known as the ‘flat’. The other is a thicker, narrower muscle with a thick cap of fat on top and is generally oval shaped. This is called the point. So to summarize, the flat is pointy, and the point is oval, simple right?
I highly recommend separating these two muscles as the grain runs in different directions, and because of the different thickness of the meat, they will have different cooking times. Most blogs will tell you to trim all the fat from these two cuts, but personally I like the richness and moisture the fat gives the meat and so have thrown health and caution to the wind and left a uniform 2cm layer of fat on each, which I have scored with a sharp knife to allow our rub to penetrate.
Retain the off cuts of fat for what we call a ‘Burnt Offering.’ Once you have separated the point from the flat, trim away any sinew or connective tissue on the surface of the beef and then submerge in the cold brine for at least 2 days. I used a large syringe (I think I got it from the pet store, it was for horses, and then I got some really funny looks when I went into the chemist and asked for the largest hypodermic needle they had!) and injected as much of the brine into the meat as it would take. This allows the brine to penetrate deep into the muscle fiber and help to moisturize and tenderize the meat. Next we need to take the meat out of the brine and apply our rub!
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 2 Tblsp sea salt
- 2 Tblsp fennel seeds
- 2 Tblsp black peppercorns
- 2 Tblsp chilli flakes
- 2 Tblsp coriander seeds
- 1 Tblsp ginger powder
- 1 Tblsp onion powder
- 1 Tblsp Garlic powder
- 2 tsp celery seeds
- 2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Toast all of your seeds in a dry fry pan then grind into a fine powder. Combine everything and mix well. Rub the rub into your meat vigorously, packing as much of the spice mix onto the meat as it will hold and reserve any excess for later packing. Wrap the rubbed meat in cling film and allow it to marinate overnight.
In the morning (early in the morning, this bitch takes a solid 8-12 hours to cook!) rub the rest of the rub into the brisket and start your fire. Set up your fire on one side of the BBQ and on the other side sit a roasting pan full of hot water. This is called the ‘2 zone indirect heat method’; it allows the meat to slow cook without drying out and is absolutely crucial to consistent BBQ conquest! Allow the fire to heat your BBQ to a very mild 135°c and chuck your meat on the rack, over the top of the water pan.
Now the skill and practice comes into play. You have to maintain a constant temperature of 135° throughout the cooking of this beast. Low and slow is the name of the game here, the slower you cook her, the more tender she’ll be. Using the vents on the top and bottom of your BBQ, I even wedged a piece of wood in the side of the lid to allow heat to escape. This is also where the love comes into play. I recommend the use of a spray bottle with water or beef stock (I actually used dashi as I remember) to moisten the surface of your meat. This slows the cooking and prevents the surface from drying out too much while you are trying to get the heat into the center. Flip and turn the meat every 30 minutes or so to ensure even cooking.
I like to have some hickory wood chips soaking in a bucket of water, so every 30 minutes or so I would religiously add one or two lumps of coal to the pile, turn my meat, and drop a handful of wet wood chips into the coals keeping the cooking chamber nice and smoky! After roughly 3 hours we will make our burnt offering. Take all that beef trim and fat you saved from before and sit it directly above the direct heat of the fire. The fat will render out and create a delicious smoke, flavoring the brisket even further.
After roughly 6-8 hours of careful turning, spraying, smoking and stoking, the surface of your meat should hit about 150°c (the times depend on the size of your meat). Use a digital thermometer to test this, it will save you the guess work and more than likely it will save your dinner. Now we apply something called a ‘Texas Crutch’. The Texas Crutch will hold the moisture in the meat more effectively and tends to shave a couple of hours off the total cooking time. Once the surface of the meat has hit 150°c, we wrap it in tin foil and continue to cook the beast slowly until the internal temperature reaches 95°c.
At this point remove the meat from the BBQ and rest in an insulated container (I used an Esky/Chilly Bin) for at least 1 hour. After the meat has rested, stoke your fire up nice and hot and drop the brisket over the direct heat from the fire to crisp up the crust. Turn, turn, turn; never let that sucker sit too long over the flame in the same spot, otherwise it will just burn and you just wasted about 4 days of work! Keep turning and charring until the surface is nice and crispy and then, finally, eat that bitch!
Carve the meat across the grain, don’t be a pussy and trim the fat off now, you worked hard for that fat, that shit tastes good! Hit it with some pickles, mustard, bread, or just on its own but don’t attempt to eat this on your own, BBQ is a social process and should be shared with the people you least hate in this world. Enjoy.
Now that you have somehow miraculously sat through 5 pages of my rambling, I highly recommend you check out amazingribs.com. It is by far the most comprehensive instruction manual on all things BBQ, and delves deep into the science behind BBQ, meat, and cooking in general. Happy BBQ y’all!