A friend alerted me to the “burnt ends” being served by a local barbecue emporium. He showed me a dark photo in which the pieces were suspiciously large and uniform. I also noticed they’re a regular menu item, always a bad sign. So I fired up the Ford and took off down the highway, wondering if I’d catch a polecat in the act.
Burnt ends as we know them in Texas are garbage, essentially. They’re pieces left over as the meat carved for serving. They usually come from the tip of the point, where the brisket is all char and smoke and delicious fat. The smaller bits might make their way into the pinto beans, while the larger pieces are saved up until you have enough to run a special. (Which is why you don’t expect to see them on a daily menu.)
When I got to my local establishment the mystery was quickly solved as I watched the meat being carved before my eyes. It’s just regular point meat, cut in chunks rather than slices to produce a good amount of outside bark. On a smaller brisket they’d use the whole point for this; the larger ones would be cut toward the tip so there would be bark on both outer edges.
The taste of this was perfectly fine, by the way. Not the best barbecue I’ve had but smoky and tender with a bit of dry heat in the bark. But they charge $2 extra per serving for the burnt end designation, which galls me because most places that sell actual burnt ends do so at a discount.
One more thing that galls me is this picture on their Yelp page, which appears to be the same as a photo in this Serious Eats article from a few years ago. Now I do smell a polecat. I’m not sure how vigorously I can defend the article, however, because it describes burnt ends as a Kansas City innovation (WTF?!) “which can contain as much lean as fat” and can “be cut from all parts of the brisket”. The article also describes resmoking these interior pieces, which I believe would create tough meat without adding the requisite char.
Real burnt ends are worth the hunt. That’s part of the fun. So ask your favorite barbecue place when they run their burnt end special, then mark your calendar and plan to get there early.