This morning I made the 90-minute journey from Austin to Lexington, TX to once again partake of what’s often called the world’s best barbecue. (Since each hunk of meat and chunk of wood is unique, there can be no objective and absolute winner just as there is no world champion in the marathon, but Snow’s is unquestionably in the stratosphere.)
The brisket was just as good as I remember it (Texas Monthly called it “soft and sweet as cookie dough”) but this time I was prepared for some serious eating so I sampled a rib and some melt-in-your-mouth pork shoulder (“tender and yielding”) and packed away more brisket, sausage, pork and chicken for further evaluation. After the meal I wandered back to the restroom and encountered Kerry the pit boss. He asked if my belly was comfortable and I took this as my invitation to strike up a conversation.
I complimented the wonderful saltiness of the meat and Kerry grew concerned. “Sometimes I have a heavy hand with the salt shaker,” he told me. It was now that I went for the million dollar question: does Snow’s, as I’ve long suspected, brine its meat? Kerry was puzzled, what’s that. You know, a salt solution. “No, I just give it a good salt and pepper rub. As a matter of fact, the mixture’s right there in the Tupperware on your way to the bathroom.” Terry went on to tell me that he usually does the rub on Thursday night but this week he did it Friday morning for personal schedule reasons. And then it’s left in the cooler, and you take it out and start smoking Friday night? Yes, that’s what they do.
Aha and aha. Salting the meat and refrigerating it overnight is exactly the tenderizing technique I discovered at Zuni Café in San Francisco. (Out there they cut the meat into large cubes, salt it, freeze it, then grind it into hamburger.) The salty flavor disappears as the salt penetrates and loosens the muscle fibers. And if he short-cut the curing time this week it’s natural the saltiness would be more pronounced, plus I bet he put on a little extra to compensate.
I did find the Tupperware tub and lifted it up just as a genial lady (I think Kerry’s wife) entered the room. Her intervention kept from popping the lid open and sticking my finger in to taste it (something I’ll probably regret not doing for the rest of my life) but I did see that it was mostly salt, 95% or more, with just a few visible pepper flakes. So, salt your brisket then cure it for 24 hours before smoking. Can’t wait to try this on my own.