When Steven Raichlen’s newest cookbook, “The Brisket Chronicles — How to Barbecue, Braise, Smoke, and Cure the World’s Most Epic Cut of Meat,” hit my desk, I had to wonder: How does he keep coming up with such big promises for seemingly little topics? I mean, “Chronicles?” “Epic?”
But Raichlen has given us 32 cookbooks, including his award-winning “The Barbecue Bible,” which all have been translated into 17 languages. And after reading this new tome and testing several of its recipes, I have to say “The Brisket Chronicles” is another winner. It’s jam-packed with brisket history (the “chronicles”), butchering details, and cooking and serving techniques — which, in the end, convinced me the lowly brisket can be “epic.”
Raichlen already proved this point at his recent Barbecue University at The Broadmoor when he smoked an A5 Japanese wagyu brisket in one of the classes. The 15-pound hunk of beef cost a whopping $1,200.
It came from Crowd Cow, a Seattle-based online meat delivery company that offers its customers grass-fed beef from small farms and ranches.
“The wagyu used in today’s class came from the Kuroge-washyu breed,” said Faith Deutschle, Crowd Cow brand marketing manager, “which contains more omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, as well as more monounsaturated fatty acids than other kinds of beef.
“In fact, the unique composition of A5 wagyu means that fat melts at room temperature, so it’s no exaggeration when we say it ‘melts in your mouth.’ Just another reason why Japanese A5 Wagyu is considered the pinnacle of the beef world.”
The letter represents yield quality, which essentially means how much usable meat was on the animal. “A” is superior, “B” is average and “C” is inferior.
According to Raichlen’s new cookbook, “American Wagyu beef is rated by its BMS (beef marble score), with 3 being the lowest and 12 being the highest.”
Digits between 1 and 5 represent where the quality falls on a number of characteristics, including marbling. But marbling isn’t the only thing that counts. The number awarded to the animal also considers the color of the meat, the fat and how evenly its distribution is.
The important numbers are “5,” which means “superior,” and “3 to 4,” which means “conforming to standards.”
“I was born in Japan,” Raichlen said at his cooking class, “but this is the first time I’ve ever tasted this quality of wagyu. An A5.”
The meat for the class had sat overnight in a Big Green Egg smoker over natural lump charcoal.
“There are three ways to test for doneness,” he told us. “Temperature. It should be 200 to 205 degrees. The shake test — it should shimmy like bovine jelly. Or the chopstick test. A chopstick should easily slide through the meat.”
His deep brown, crusty-looking slab of meat passed all tests with flying colors.
As he took a taste of a little browned end, he said it was “like eating the richest brisket fat with meat holding it together. Trimming the fat from this quality of meat would a sacrilege.”
As he sliced the meat for serving, he stole another nibble.
“This is the breakfast of champions,” he said. “We should be eating this meat with our heads bowed in reverence.”
As the meat was plated and served, Raichlen explained that the class’s menu would end with a smoked kale recipe.
“Here at Barbecue U, we harden up your arteries with brisket fat, and we give you kale as a remedy,” he said.
By the end of the class, Raichlen had delivered on his promise by giving us an epic chronicle of brisket education.
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