I have never had a baby. But now I understand.
I have spent the last several months of my life looking after a small, constantly needy child — actually, it has only been a few hours, but it feels like several months.
It is a healthy 6 1/2-pounder, and I have been tending to its every need, worrying about it, checking on it every few minutes to make sure it is doing fine. I don't want its temperature to rise above 200 degrees.
I am speaking here about a beef brisket. I thought that was obvious.
As I have mentioned previously, I indulged myself for a recent significant, round-number birthday by purchasing one of those expensive kamado outdoor grills that do everything for you except walk your dog. It's even bright red. I don't know anything that says Late Middle-Age Crisis like an expensive toy that is bright red.
One reason for getting it is that I wanted to use it to smoke a brisket. I lived in Texas for three years and, along with accumulating many friends, I acquired a permanent hankering for barbecued beef brisket. Brisket is easy to find now at just about every barbecue restaurant in the country, but I wanted to make my own.
This is not to say I had not tried in the past. On at least two occasions, I had smoked briskets on my old Weber grill. They were fine. A little tough, perhaps. But not notable enough to try it more than twice.
And that is why I wanted to cook a brisket on a grill that cost as much as a bad used car. This grill can cook at a low temperature all day long without adding more coals and, best of all, can maintain a desired temperature just as long.
Actually, I have not had any problems getting the grill to keep a steady 425 degrees for as long as I have needed it, though that has not been much more than an hour. But getting it to stay at a steady 225 degrees for eight hours is something else.
If I blinked, the temperature shot up to 250 degrees. So I adjusted the vents in the top and bottom just a tad, a mere sliver of a tad, and then the temperature dropped down to 200 degrees.
But I'm not worried. At least the thermometer works.
It was this see-sawing, this yo-yoing that had me dashing out to the grill every 10 minutes to check on the temperature, like a nervous new father.
Not that the process had been smooth even aside from the fluctuating heat. I was frustrated from the very beginning because I did not have the wood I wanted to use for smoking.
In the south-central part of western east Texas, which is where I lived, the only wood used for barbecue is post oak, a smallish and unusually straight type of oak tree that grows all over the place there. It produces just the right flavor of smoke that makes an excellent beef barbecue.
But I could not find any post oak wood chips, so I ended up using mesquite — another very Texan wood, though it has a distinctly different flavor. Only after I had been smoking my brisket for a couple of hours did I discover that the store where I bought my grill also sells chunks of post oak.
And then there is the problem with the cracked heat deflector. My grill came with a heat deflector shield that keeps whatever it is you are grilling from scorching or burning on the bottom. One month after I bought the grill, the heat deflector cracked from the heat.
I wrote to the company — it was just a month old, the deflector was still under warranty — and they said they would happily send a replacement.
I waited. And waited. And waited. OK, I only waited for a month, but I was eager to make my beef brisket. I wrote to them again (and then again), and finally they said they they would deliver the new one on a specific day. As it happens, that day — today, as I write this — was the very day I had planned to make the brisket.
If the heat deflector had arrived in the morning, everything would have been fine and I could have used it. It arrived in the afternoon.
Still, somehow, the brisket was cooked. I lovingly, if not obsessively, checked the temperature of the grill every 10 or 20 or 30 minutes for eight hours. And finally it was done.
I let it rest for another 45 minutes, then sliced it and ate it.
My little boy was delicious.
Barbecued Beef Brisket
Yield: 15 to 24 servings
1 brisket flat, 5 to 8 pounds
1/4 cup salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons dry mustard, divided
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried basil
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 medium onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 rib celery, cut into a few pieces
1 bottle lager beer
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
Juice from 1 lemon wedge
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Note: Begin this recipe the day before cooking. A heat deflector or the ability to set up a grill for indirect heat is necessary for this recipe.
1. Trim the fat from the brisket until it is 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick. Remove any of the tough silver skin from the beef. Place 2 (2- or 3-inch) chunks of oak, hickory, pecan or mesquite wood in water to soak, or put a handful of the wood chips in water.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of the dry mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, coriander, 1 teaspoon of the black pepper and cumin. Reserve 1/4 cup of this mixture and rub the rest over brisket. Store brisket well sealed overnight in a shallow pan or large bowl.
3. The next day, fill the firebox on a kamado grill. (If you do not have a heat deflector, arrange the charcoal for indirect heat). Place 1 wood chunk in the middle and the other about halfway between that one and the opposite side of the grill. If using wood chips, scatter them evenly on top of the charcoal.
4. Light a fire in one place only, along the side of the grill closest to you. Be sure to use a heat deflector if you have one. If you have the option of different levels for your grate, place it on the highest level. Bring the grill to a temperature of 225 degrees. Meanwhile, bring the beef to room temperature.
5. Place the brisket on the grate fat-side up, close the lid and keep it closed for 2 hours — remember, "if you're lookin', it ain't cookin'."
6. Meanwhile, in a small pot mix together the bay leaf, the reserved brisket rub, onion, garlic, celery, beer, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, zest, lemon juice, soy sauce and cider vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook about 30 minutes.
7. After the meat has been cooking for 2 hours, brush it liberally with some of the beer mixture. Cook for another 2 hours and brush it again.
8. At about 150 degrees or so, the rising internal temperature of the meat will stall. Don't panic; this is natural. The temperature will rise again. When the beef reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees — after a total cooking time of 4 to 5 hours or more, depending on the size of the brisket — double wrap it in aluminum foil and return it to the grill.
9. Cook until beef reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees, an additional 1 to 2 hours. Remove from grill and rest, still wrapped in its foil, for 45 minutes before serving. Slice against the grain in 1/4-inch slices and do not cut more than you will be serving at a time.
Per serving: 396 calories; 29 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 103 mg cholesterol; 28 g protein; 2 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 1,297 mg sodium; 17 mg calcium
Adapted from recipes by Jack McDavid and Jeff Stehney, both via Food Network