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Labor Day Marathon Grilling: Magic or Misery?

Posted: 08/29/08 12:28 AM ET

I am the "novice" home cook for bonappetit.com's Project Recipe. I'm cooking my way through ba.com's Top 100 Dishes.

Recently, BA asked me to spend 10 hours smoking a beef brisket. Yes. Ten.

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THE RECIPE: Barbecued Texas Beef Brisket

I told the folks at Bon Appétit that low and slow grilling makes me want to die.

I expressed that I do not like "marathon-style" grilling when we cooked the Top 100 short ribs. The thing is, this style of cooking is not practical for non-home owning young people. No offense to anyone, but spending 10 hours barbecuing meat is near impossible if you live in an apartment. Or do not own non-essential cooking devices like a smoker. Or have a life. Or any kind of grilling anxiety (I have plenty).

Luckily, I was visiting my parents at their sunny home on Balboa Island, California when I got this assignment. And it's a good thing, because it takes a village to make this brisket. Or at least an entire family. In this case, the Moloney family.

My parents have only a propane grill. (It was a mutual 39th anniversary present to each other. That is so long to be married. Mazel Tov, right?) I planned on turning it into a smoker by making a smoker pouch, but as I looked up how to do that, I became discouraged.

It was clear that a non-charcoal grill was not going to work. So I went to Lowe's, and lo and behold, they had a deeply discounted smoker! So I bought it.

An admission: My father assembled the smoker. I may be an adult, but my father is still my father. He assembled my Barbie Dream House, he assembled my smoker.

The brisket was from Bristol Farms' meat counter. They couldn't believe I wanted it untrimmed, as the recipe specified. There was a lot of fat.

My mother supervised my application of the rub. I was supposed to let the rub sit overnight, but instead it was more like two hours. Sorry Bon Appétit, but I don't think the meal suffered.


A piece of advice: You are supposed to scatter hickory or oak chips over the coals once they've heated up. Make sure the hickory or oak chips have soaked for a while, otherwise they will catch on fire and your smoker will seriously smoke and the neighbors will come over to see what is going on and then stay—captivated by the sight of the smoker. To be honest, that was fine because my parents' neighbors are lovely people.

It was easy to maintain the temperature. My fellow blogger Chris had some trouble doing so on his gas grill, but the smoker has a built in thermometer. I mopped the brisket (carefully, so as to leave the very good-looking rub on it) every time we opened the lid. We used the little door in the smoker to add more charcoal and wet hickory chips. I like miniature kitchen aids, so I liked that little door.

After six hours, I tested the meat with a fork and was shocked when it was pierced easily! And then the meat thermometer said 175! The recipe said it should read 185, so I let it smoke for another 30 minutes. Granted, it was a smaller cut of meat than called for, but it was ready in only six and a half hours.

After the brisket had a 15 minute rest, with the family dog circling in a very focused way, I sliced it. I was worried at first because it looked more done than I would have liked. The meat was barely pink in the middle, but it was still very tender.

The sauce was ready in three minutes, which after six and half hours, barely registered as a task.

There is something to be said for full-fat smoking. It was really good. REALLY, REALLY good. Super delicious, bells and whistles, out of this world. So was it worth it? For something like Labor Day weekend, I think it might be perfect. Six hours is a really long time, but it affords you an opportunity to multitask in a very relaxed way: Tackle that pile of old issues of The New Yorker you meant to read, stare at your family members, conquer your grilling anxiety. The payoff is there.

A note: It's best to go ahead and invest in the right tools. (Without that smoker, this assignment could have turned out much more like my pie disastrophe.)

I may have to change my tune about this low and slow thing. Or just encourage my parents to retire.

To see how Chris—Project Recipe's more experienced home cook—fared with the brisket, check out his report.

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