Driving between barbecue joints in West Texas provides plenty of idle time on long stretches of highway. When the George Strait albums run out and I tire of podcasts, my mind began to wander. By the time I pulled into Evie Mae’s Barbecue in Wolfforth, I needed a break—and I had an idea. What if you put a whole brisket directly onto a hot griddle?
As brisket has come to dominate Texas barbecue, the good stuff has become easier to find. That’s an improvement, but the increase in quality has resulted in a sameness across the state. When many pitmasters are smoking a brisket with a similar target in mind, the result is predictable—at least, that’s what I was thinking in the driver’s seat. One bite of Evie Mae’s brisket assuaged my fears of brisket boredom, but I shared my thoughts about the flat top brisket with them anyway.
Within minutes, owner Arnis Robbins and pitmaster Nathan Pier had wiped down and heated up their propane-fueled griddle. It’s big enough for about a forty-egg omelet, so this trick might be a challenge to pull off on your home stovetop with a full brisket. Once the griddle was smoking, we unwrapped a brisket that had just been packed away in the cooler, previously destined to be cryovaced whole and sold at a discount. Importantly, it had a great fat cap and a simple rub of salt and pepper.
Aggressive sizzling and smoked brisket don’t normally mix. That sound from inside a smoker isn’t a good thing, since it generally means that it’s running too hot and the meat is getting overcooked. On this evening, with Budweisers in hand as Nathan gently laid the brisket down onto the griddle, the sizzling made for a giddy trio. With all the smoke, fat, and high heat, it smelled like bacon frying. None of us knew how long it should stay on, but we agreed that the smell of burning would be the only reason to stop the frying. After ten minutes, we figured it was time to see our creation.
Once the surface cooled just a bit, we starting tapping it. The sound on the griddle side of the brisket was like the thump on the stout crust of a large loaf of bread. The first slice, made with a serrated knife, sounded like cutting through the crisp skin of a porchetta. The anticipation was thick.
The crunch of the first bite brought smiles. The fat had compressed, amplifying whatever flavors it held. It was a rocket of saltiness and smokiness that could only be described as bacon-like. In fact, a bite from the fat was reminiscent of bacon-wrapped brisket. The next morning, we tried it with an untrimmed brisket, which had even better success, since it had more fat to compress into that crunchy layer. As a crowd of employees gathered in the pit room to take a taste, all the comments were about that crunch. It’s an unfamiliar texture when eating a slice of smoked brisket, and I wanted more.
At Evie Mae’s they use a Prime grade brisket, so even after the extra heat, it was still good and juicy. The brisket was also hot when it hit the griddle, which helped it from losing moisture. I tried the method in a cast iron skillet at home, warming up a large chunk of the fat from a barbecue joint that uses Choice beef. The crackling crust was still there, but the meat had dried out. I think it’s a trick best suited for whole briskets. I also wouldn’t recommend using a grill if you try to replicate this at home, since the beauty of this flat top brisket is the compressed fat crust, which would be hard to achieve on anything but a hot flat surface like a griddle. That’s not to mention the issues with flare-ups that would arise if you tried to grill the fat cap of a brisket just above the fire.
I don’t expect this to revolutionize the way that smoked brisket is served in Texas, although it was a fun experiment to give some texture variation to that ever-familiar bite of smoked brisket. The folks at Evie Mae’s said they may offer it as a special one of these days, but that might have been the Budweiser talking. If you’ve got a perfectly good smoked brisket at home and a large griddle, this is a good way to make your guests wonder if you’re sane. That is, until they take the first bite of that flat top brisket bark.