Baby backs, brisket, lollipop chicken – they’re all buzzwords in the barbecuing community, but should we be looking outside of the US trends for Aussie BBQ? Jess Pryles aka BurgerMary offers her opinion on the “mis-steak” of cooking with the wrong proteins.
This article was inspired by a passionate discussion on Facebook from a smoking enthusiast seeking advice about his tasty but dry brisket. All sorts of suggestions were being made – use a water pan, foil the brisket, inject a marinade, even inject phosphates…
When you start with the wrong type of protein, you will end up with poor results. And there is no sense in flogging a dead horse (or cow?) when it comes to this. Why prod, poke, smother and inject the poor beast? Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating the flavour of the meat instead of manipulating it within an inch of it’s original form?
As a fan of Texas style barbecue, I prefer my brisket to be purely salt and pepper rub, and so have a much more purist approach to letting the beef flavour shine through. But then I realised, it’s not the rub, or the injection, or the marinade, or the brine. It’s the raw material, and though I’ve personally spent several years studying and tasting the cuts in both Australia and the US, it occurred to me that others don’t exactly have access to the same information I am fortunate enough to now hold.
Here’s what you need to understand in order to pursue barbecue in Australia – we are not comparing apples with apples when we read US recipes and try and follow them. In general, animals in Australia are smaller, leaner and slaughtered younger. Following my recent Carnivores Ball in Austin, I was chatting to a local meat broker in Dallas who imports and sells Aussie meat. He said he can sell as much mince as he can get his hands on, but that he’d never be able to sell the Aussie secondary cuts (aka the tougher or less popular cuts of the animal) to a US market, because it’s so vastly different to what they’re used to cooking with and tasting.
Personally, I recommend and prefer grain fed beef as being the best suited to smoking, both in flavour and cooking performance. You don’t need to go to the extent of cooking wagyu (that in itself is a bit of a crutch, it comes naturally “pre injected” with fat!), but you do need to know what to look for and ask for. Brands like Rangers Valley, Castricum Brothers, Bindaree’s The Chairman and even Riverina (all grain fed) all produce product comparable to what they are using Stateside. And as many of us know, Cape Grim (grass fed) was a pioneer in providing the correct brisket to our markets. Here’s what you DO need to ask for when it comes to brisket: make sure it’s off a larger, older beast, hasn’t be trimmed of any fat, and is at least 6kg before you start out.
The thing is, instead of trying to jump through all these hoops to find a reasonable facsimile, I advocate that we start exploring cuts that we already have locally that would be perfect for the smoker. Pig knuckle, lamb rib, lamb shoulder, beef shank… go in and have a chat to your local butcher and ask ’em about the tougher, fattier secondary cuts. The good news is, these cuts are likely to be cheaper anyway. And here’s my little hot tip… beef cheek! They’re like hardworking tiny little briskets, brimming with fatty collagen just waiting to be cooked down. Also a great size and challenge for an amateur smoker.
If you still want to pursue finding the US cuts here, you also need to be aware that the supply chain of butchers and meat suppliers isn’t what it used to be. Many independent butchers are now getting in forequarters of meat as their biggest cut (rare that they get in a whole carcass or side) and often aren’t working with enough volume to get you what you need. Or, sadly, they will try to sell you what they have because it’s not financially viable for them to try and track down the exact specs of what you need without having a use for the rest of the forequarter. Additionally, many are buying in pre-trimmed and cut vacuum sealed meat direct from the boning room at the abattoirs, which also doesn’t allow you to get what you are after. Stick with it, keep asking questions and keep shopping around.
Join us on our Facebook page and continue the conversation- what do you think we should be having a crack at here in Australia?