Introduction: Kansas City Brisket & Burnt Ends
Best BBQ city in the country, ranked:
1. Kansas City
Kansas City BBQ has a long, delicious history, and a major turning point was the introduction of burnt ends. Burnt ends started in Kansas City when pit masters would cut off the "scrap meat" of a smoked brisket and put it on the counter so waiting customers could grab a snack. These scraps quickly grew in popularity until customers were asking to order just the burnt ends. Local pit masters soon started chopping up that same "scrap meat" into bite sized cubes and smoking them even longer in more seasoning. Thus, the burnt ends were born.
Despite their long cook time, burnt ends aren't really burnt; they get their name from the "bark", the combination of rendered fat and spices that turns dark brown/ black in the presence of smoke. This smoked bark packs a ton of flavor without any of the carbon/ burnt flavor the color would suggest.
This Instructable takes you through the process of buying a whole brisket, how to trim and cook it, how to separate the two parts of the brisket, and how to finish with the "meat candy" burnt ends!
Step 1: Ingredients
Brisket & Burnt End Ingredients:
- (1) 10-12 lb whole "packer trim" beef brisket
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup salt
- 3 TBSP chili powder
- 2 TBSP paprika
- 3 TBSP black pepper
- 2 TBSP ground cumin
- 2 TBSP garlic powder
- 2 TBSP onion powder
- 1/2 TBSP cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp cocoa powder
- BBQ sauce, molasses-based (if you can't get a Joe's, Jackstack, or other Kansas City-based BBQ sauce, Sweet Baby Ray's is "comparable")
- Kaiser rolls
- Onion rings
- Smoker & fuel (pellets/wood/etc)
- Aluminum foil
- Knife (sharp)
- Meat thermometer
- Small pan
Step 2: Selection & Anatomy
How to choose a brisket is a skill every aspiring Pit Master should learn! Things to consider: How many people are you cooking for? Do you want leftovers? (Yes, you do). These two questions will help you determine how big of a brisket to buy. Assuming you'll lose 40% of the weight to trimming and shrinking in the cooking stage, you want to have a pound of cooked meat per guest. So if you have 6 people eating total that would be a 8 lb 7 oz brisket. 6lbs + (6lbs x 0.4) = 8 lbs 7 oz. However, this doesn't leave much for leftovers, and doesn't produce very many burnt ends. The best burnt ends will come from bigger points (see below). We were feeding four people (4+(4*.4)= 5.6 lbs) and we bought a 10 lb brisket, and ended up with 6 extra servings. As mentioned in the ingredients you want to choose a "Packer Trim" or "Packer Cut" beef brisket, as this is the only cut that has the burnt end producing meat (the point).
TLDR: a pound per person plus a couple pounds.
There are two main parts to a brisket, the flat and the point. The flat is, well flat, while the point - you guessed it - comes to a point. See the picture above where the line "cuts" the brisket into two sections. The flat is where the brisket cuts come from, and the point is where the ooey-gooey burnt end magic happens. These two parts are connected by a thick layer of fat that will be discarded after smoking. On top of the brisket is mostly "Hard fat". Hard fat doesn't render down when cooking and just creates a barrier that your rub spices can't penetrate. We'll remove all of the hard fat we can find when it comes to trimming. On the bottom of your brisket is another layer of fat, called "soft fat". This layer will render down and help enhance the flavor of the brisket and burnt ends, but it may need trimming as well. Any and all resemblance to the House Stark Crest is purely coincidental. No copyright infringement is intended.
Step 3: Trimming
Trimming is a very important step to getting phenomenal brisket and burnt ends. Having a sharp knife makes this step go by so much easier and faster, so if possible, start by sharpening your knife. With the point on your left and the flat on the right, start by trimming the hard fat off the top and sides of your brisket. Anything that looks less than desirable on the uncooked brisket can, and should, be removed. Try to cut by slicing where the hard fat and the meat intersect, then pulling away the fat, cutting along the junction where fat and meat connect. Don't worry if you have some deep cuts or accidentally slice too deep somewhere, it shouldn't be a problem as we will score the meat later before we add the rub.
Note: Do NOT separate the flat from the point.
Once the top is relatively clear of fat and the sides have been trimmed back, flip your brisket over to the soft fat. We had a very fatty brisket on the bottom. While you can leave all the soft fat that is present, I recommend that you trim this down to a 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick layer. This will give great flavor without a lot of stringy, chewiness of too much fat. To cut this layer down, start at one corner of the flat and begin cutting parallel to the flat, leaving 1/4" of the fat behind. If possible, keep running that cut all the way across the top and trim in as few pieces a possible. If you cut down to meat on the bottom. stop cutting, flap back what fat you can, and trim around.
Trimming is a very important step, and like anything requires practice. After just one brisket you'll know what you need to improve on for the next time, and each brisket after will only get better and better.
Step 4: Rub
Before we make the rub, now is the time to start your smoker and get it warming up to an initial temperature of 220°F/104°C. To make the rub, simply combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl. I know it seems weird, but the cocoa powder and cinnamon really help to give the brisket an extra punch of flavor.
Before seasoning, use the knife to score the bottom of the flat and point on the soft fat no more than an 1/8" of an inch deep. This helps us establish a thick, flavorful bark. Next, rinse the whole cut of meat and pat dry with paper towels. Then, using a spoon or just your hands, sprinkle a generous amount of rub on all sides including the bottom. Literally rub it in as you go. If you are cautious and keep anything that touched the beef out of the rub, you can save the leftover rub and use it on all kinds of other cuts and meat, like burgers. Make sure to keep some rub for the burnt ends later.
Step 5: Smoke - Part 1
After you've completely rubbed everything down its time to get smokin'! Our smoker is outside, so we transferred our cut of meat to a baking tray to carry it outside.After the smoker is stabilized at 220°F / 104°C place your meat in the center, fat side down insuring the meat doesn't touch the sides of the smoker. By placing it fat side down you get a great bark and protect the meat from drying out too fast. This is against usual protocol, I know, but I promise there will be enough fat later on that will render over the brisket. You'll smoke the brisket like this until an instant thermometer reads 170-180°F / 76-82°C, about an hour per pound. Note: Thin brisket (1 inch/ 2.5 cm or less) should be smoked at a lower temperature to achieve the same cook time. We suggest 180°F / 82°C. We used the Davy Crockett Green Mountain Grill's built in food thermometer to check the temperature without having to open the door as shown in our pic. Check your internal meat temperature periodically and adjust your smoker if you're cooking too fast. Too slow of a cook time is only a problem when you're trying to have dinner ready. Too fast of a cook time will result in less tender brisket, but this can be mitigated somewhat in the next step. The best brisket and burnt ends are cooked low and slow!
Step 6: Smoke - Part 2
After you bring the brisket up to the 170-180°F / 76-82°C temp, its time to wrap that bad boy up and seal in the flavors! Wrap the brisket in foil with the shiny side in, which keeps in heat. Then, place the brisket back in the smoker fat side up this time, and smoke around 180 degrees for 3-4 hours. If your brisket is small and already to temperature, smoke as low as your smoker will go. (At one point we were smoking on 150 degrees). We tried to keep our internal temp under 200°F / 93°C this whole time. Again, low and slow! This step WILL help your brisket tenderize. After time is up, or you just can't wait any longer, remove the brisket from the smoker and transport it back to a clean prep station.
Step 7: Separate Point & Flat
Now its time to separate the boys from the men, the girls from the women, and the point from the flat. Now that everything has a lovely layer of bark on it, it might be hard to distinguish where the flat ends and the point begins. However, there is a trick to easily spot the dividing line. Simply poke the flat and give it a wiggle; the flat will move as one solid piece, the fat will shake, and the point will stay still. The fat that separates the point and flat can compress and expand so the point stays relatively still when you're jostling the flat. Take a long sharp knife and start to separate the jiggling flat as necessary. Note: be careful as the brisket will be very hot. You can kind of feel when you hit meat; the fat is really easy to cut, almost like gelatin.
After you cut the flat off, wrap it back in the foil and place on a cooling rack in a cooler. The cooling rack just keeps the side of you cooler from melting if you have a thin walled cooler. There are two reasons for wrapping in foil and storing in the cooler; the first reason is to let the brisket rest, but the main reason is to keep the brisket hot enough to be served hot along with the burnt ends.Try and work quickly and efficiently to keep the flat as warm as possible.
Step 8: Burnt Ends
Now for the time you've all been waiting for: the burnt ends! There are several different ways you can make burnt ends. Originally, the point was just thrown back in the smoker to for a couple more hours until the Pit Master deemed it ready to serve and chopped it up. Our favorite thing to do is to chop up the point into bite-sized pieces removing all but a 1/4" of fat from all pieces that have fat. We then add a layer of the rub we made earlier and give a light toss to coat evenly. Throw the meat into a metal tin or pie pan or anything that can go in the smoker. Next, we drizzle a little of our favorite KC BBQ sauce on top like icing on a meat cake. Then, wrap the top in foil, shiny side up, to keep from burning. Finally, take this back to the smoker and cook on 225°F / 107°C for around 45 minutes or until the internal temp is 200-210°F / 93-99°C.
Step 9: Slice Brisket
Twenty to thirty minutes after the burnt ends have been in the smoker we can start to cut our brisket. Orient the cut of meat so it is fat side down, the point - if still on - would be on the left, and the flat would be on your right. The grain will run almost parallel to the right edge. Start from the bottom right and make the first couple slices.
Note: As the Pit Master you must sample these first piece to check quality. You are not allowed to share. If someone questions this please refer them to this step.
Continue cutting. Once you get to 3 - 4 inch / 7.5-10.5 cm long pieces, start cutting your pieces 1/4 inch (6 mm) wide, or about the width of a pencil. Again: A long sharp knife is your friend. You should be able to pull apart a slice of brisket very easily and see a decently consistent fat line on the bottom with a really nice smoke ring on every slice.
If you've timed everything right, your burnt ends should be done at the same time and everything will be hot!
Step 10: Enjoy!
A staple sandwich in Kansas City is the to pile the brisket on a kaiser roll, top with provolone cheese and an onion ring, and pour over a little Joe's KC, Jackstack, Arthur Bryant's, or Gates BBQ sauce! Have a side of "meat candy" burnt ends and wash down with a Kansas City Boulevard Wheat beer.
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