I love being a restaurant critic – it’s the best job in the world. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: A handful of the finest meals I have ever eaten have been prepared in the kitchen of a fabulous home cook. Culinary chops can be found in many places, and a talented home chef is every bit as dedicated to (did I say obsessed with?) his craft as a restaurant chef.
That point was driven home to me recently, when I had the great luck to be invited (okay, I invited myself) to my friend Alicia’s house for dinner. I had heard enough drool-inducing stories of her husband Hernan’s extraordinary barbecuing skills that I wanted me some. No, I’ll be honest: I wanted a lot.
Hernan proudly and effortlessly delivered. In spades. His brisket was so tender, so smoky, so damned flavorful that I felt like crying when I sank my teeth into it. And his ribs - ridiculously juicy, fall-off-the-bone good, were the best I’ve devoured in years. A Texas native, Hernan has strong opinions about barbecuing technique – and he agreed to share some of them with us:
1.) Always start with great quality meat. Find a local butcher (Hernan prefers Allen’s Custom Meat in Auburn , http://allenscustommeats.com
) – I think they provide the freshest meats with high standards of cut and cleanliness, and they do custom cuts. I used to go to a local butcher only for special occasions, but now I find myself going there for pretty much everything.
2.) Don’t be afraid to season it the way you like it, and don’t skimp. I like the flavor of cumin, and use a ton of it. The meat is going to be in a smoker for hours with wood flavor, so using a generous amount of seasoning will augment the flavor of the smoke.
3.) All the great pit masters say…”low and slow”. I try to keep a consistent temp of 250 degrees and use ONLY mesquite. I’m from Texas…go figure.
I discovered that Hernan’s 8-pound brisket was in the smoker for 12 hours – and the ribs for 9 hours -before we ravaged the meats like desperate cave people. As you might imagine, we spent the rest of the evening trying to convince Hernan – who has a lucrative, satisfying job in tech sales – to pitch in his career and start a barbecue food truck. He seems to like the idea. I’ll keep you posted.