Q: I recently relocated to the Dallas area from the D.C. area with the company where I’ve worked for the last four years. My new office, which consists of about fifty employees, is going to have a barbecue-themed potluck party and I’ve signed up to bring three smoked briskets. The thing is, I’m thinking about bringing ones that are professionally cooked and then claiming them as my own. I don’t yet know any of my new coworkers very well and figure nobody will be the wiser. I’m sure I will also earn more cred than if I were to attempt to cook the briskets myself. How big of an offense would I be committing if I were to go through with this plan?
Name Withheld, Dallas
A: Let the Texanist begin by saying that this is a terrible idea and you know it. You say so right there in your note: “How big of an offense would I be committing if I were to go through with this plan?” Frankly, the Texanist is surprised that you would bring him such a query. He’s also a little insulted. Were you expecting a thoughtful response filled with folksy charm and a blessing to go on about your nefarious business? The Texanist is a dispenser of fine advice, not a greenlighter of dirty doings. That said, he’s glad you reached out before the actual deed got done.
The plot you have hatched is downright dastardly and actually boils down to a twofold transgression. The first fold is one of plain and simple deceit—misleading your coworkers by telling them you did something when you did not, by a very long shot, do that thing. But, really, who amongst us hasn’t told a food-related whopper? The Texanist, for example, has, on more occasions than he cares to admit, failed to fully disclose to the wife and daughter that his “homemade” spaghetti sauce’s “secret” ingredient—also kind of the main ingredient—is actually store-bought spaghetti sauce. In his defense, the Texanist does add signature touches by way of spicy Italian sausage, plenty of garlic, sundry spices, and healthy splashes of red wine, which, if he does say so himself, ends up making a pretty delicious concoction. That transgression is a little less egregious than what you have cooked up, but egregious still. The Texanist admits it. If it weren’t so damn delizioso (the food, not the deceit), he’d probably feel worse about it than he does. But not nearly as bad as you should feel about doing what you’re thinking of doing.
The second and more serious fold of your aberrant plot involves the purloining of credit properly due the hardworking pitmaster responsible for the briskets. This is about as low as it gets. Lower than a doodlebug’s ding-dong. In a wagon rut! Pitmastering isn’t easy. These revered heroes of Texas cuisine produce toothsome and succulent briskets with little more than salt, pepper, garlic, and wood fire. It’s no simple task. The Texanist has done it, with quite edible results and knows of what he speaks. Stealing hard-earned glory from its rightful recipient, the pitmaster, is an unforgivable offense. Is this type of behavior acceptable in Washington, D.C., the place from whence you hail? You know what? The Texanist reads the newspapers and is informed enough to not require you to answer that. Needless to say (the Texanist is going to say it anyway), it is not at all acceptable here in Texas. In fact, were your new colleagues to find out about your smokey subterfuge, trouble would surely ensue. Inumerable cans of whupass have been opened for far less. You’d be finished—if not finished off.
For these reasons, the Texanist must insist that you abandon your plan in toto. Instead, why not give brisket smoking a try? It’s not easy to do it really well, but it’s not that hard to do it pretty well. And passable brisket is better than no brisket. Your coworkers will appreciate both the effort and the fact that you are making a good faith attempt to assimilate to your new home. A few pro tips: The mantra here is “low and slow.” Keep the temperature a constant (Constant as possible, anyway. Pit fires can be finicky devils.) 250 to 325 degrees (low) and cook, according to the customary rule of thumb, for 60 to 90 minutes per pound of brisket (slow). Peeking lets the heat out. Resist the urge.
If, though, you don’t feel up to the task, go ahead and spring for some professional-grade briskets. There are plenty of good barbecue purveyors in Dallas from which to choose. Texas Monthly’s latest list of the Top 50 joints in the state contains three Dallas spots: Cattleack Barbecue, Lockhart Smokehouse, and Pecan Lodge. Hey, why not pick up one brisket from each of these places? The Texanist can think of few things that would serve to ingratiate a person with a potluck crowd more than a trio of high-quality briskets. You and your colleagues can sample and compare. Maybe you can even officiate a blind taste test and tally up the results. Wait, you could invite the Texanist as a guest referee and he could help with the tasting. That’s a plan the Texanist can get behind. He hopes, for your sake, that you will consider it carefully.
And by the way, let’s keep the spaghetti sauce business between us.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available at [email protected] Write to him there and be sure to tell him where you’re from.