Thursday, June 9, 2011

Baby's first brisket.

Baby. © Ryan Schierling
When I was eight years old, our family moved from a tiny town in Kansas to a little bit bigger town in Kansas. There would be a new house and a new school, new friends and new adventures. I was riding in the moving truck with my dad, and when he pulled into the cul-de-sac I remember wondering which house was going to be ours, what my new bedroom was going to be like, and how fast we could get my bike out of the back so I could explore the neighborhood – all very important stuff when you're eight.

He pulled the truck to the curb in front of a yellow, split-level house with brown garage doors, right at the shoulder of the court. Coronado Court. That was my new address… I'd gone from E. 8th Street to Coronado Court. It was a lot to take in.

My mom and sister got out of the car behind us, and once the front door was unlocked, I bolted upstairs to see which room I was going to get.

A few minutes later, I heard my mother yell for my dad, and then I heard her crying. I ran from my new room to the kitchen and saw her standing with the refrigerator door open, holding a green bottle with a red ribbon tied around it.

A solitary bottle of champagne in an otherwise empty refrigerator, left by the previous owners of the house, for the new owners of the house.

I didn't completely grasp the significance of this gesture at the age of eight.

Some years later, early into my adult life, it made infinitely more sense. Moving is a trying time – it usually accompanies a new job, a new environment, a new social climate, a new learning curve – and the stress and uncertainty of uprooting yourself and your family can make for difficult transitions and trying times.

That bottle of champagne made a tremendous impression on my mother, and on me. I've done my best to leave a bottle of bubbly behind, every time I've moved on, because someone else is just as stressed and scared and exhausted as you were when you moved in.

When Julie and I arrived in Austin, our house, our wee suburban cabin, had a small barrel smoker parked off the back deck. I don't know if it was intentional or not (or if all new Texans are issued a smoker when they arrive) but it was truly appreciated. The previous owners couldn't have left behind a more appropriate housewarming gift.

After sampling phenomenal brisket at some legendary Texas barbecue joints over the last year, I finally mustered up the stones to smoke my own brisket, and I wish I could send a bottle of champers to the previous owners of the house for leaving "Baby" behind.

Baby pictures. © Ryan Schierling
It was a salt- and peppered-brisket, oak smoked for 16 hours, and it was proper.

Of course, being my first brisket, I was a little obsessive. I wandered out every ten minutes or so, adjusting the smoke-box flap a half inch this way or a quarter inch that way, until I was satisfied that an initial air/fire/smoke equilibrium had been reached. While brisket is one of the cheapest cuts you can buy, it's still a $30+ piece of meat. It is a humbling feeling, to have to tend to the wants and needs of the lowliest cut of beef for hours on end. Thankfully, after the first three hours, a little Lightening Hopkins and a six-pack of beer, I loosened up and let the smoker do its job. After 16 hours, I was drunk, smelled like a campfire, and I was ravenous.

Baby's first brisket. © Ryan Schierling
When I cut into the fatty end of the brisket, I felt like a proud papa. That coddled and tended-to ten pounds of meat were juicy, tender and had more of a smoke ring than I thought I'd get. The salt and pepper made a nice bark, and even the lean end of the meat wasn't dried out. I stood at the kitchen counter and ate right off the cutting board – no utensils, no plate, no butcher paper, no side dishes – just greasy fingers and a barbecued brisket-eatin' grin.


  1. Hey Proud Papa! Congratulations on your new one! I'm sorry I missed Baby's Shower, but I promise to smoke a "It's a Brisket!" cigar with you ASAP! where can we send gifts? I am thinking a bag of Kosher salt, some Salt Lick Sauce, and ten pounds of beef all wrapped up in cellophane to look like a stork should be appropriate...From our family to Yours, Mazel Tov! May this be the first of many(briskets).

  2. That looks astoundingly, amazingly, awesomely good!

  3. *Beaming* There are going to be more briskets, and you guys are always invited every time the oak smoke is wafting out of our backyard. Because I can't eat 10 pounds of meat. I've tried.

  4. @ Jonathan - Thank you! It was a delicious first try, and there will definitely be many, many more.

  5. So jealous. I miss leaving your house with tinfoil wrapped gifts like this. Bravo.


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