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Jul 23, 2008
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Wine With Texas Hill-Country Barbequed Beef Brisket

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

One of our very favorite cook books is Taming the Flame by Elizabeth Karmel.  It tells you everything you need to know about grilling and barbecuing, and all the Taming recipes we've tried have been terrific.  Elizabeth is especially good when providing recipes and explaining the techniques for genuine slow-cooked barbecue, and our most recent foray into her backyard gastronomy was her Texas Hill Country Brisket (recipe follows). 

This recipe feeds a crowd, so we invited our veteran "Wine With" friend, Lisa, to help us select the best wines to pair with the dish from the dozen bottles or so we opened.  Then we roped in Charles and Lee as well.  They enjoy drinking wine, but are complete neophytes when it comes to marathon tastings such as this.  One of the most interesting results of assembling these disparate palates was that both the more experienced tasters and the new-comers independently made the same choices for 'Favorite Wine' and 'Least Favorite.'  At the bottom of the list was a California rosé which, by itself, was perfectly fine, but was way too light in taste and texture to stand up to the brisket's beautifully intense fusion of sweet, spice, fat and meatiness.  At the top end of the selections our unanimous choice was a plump Merlot saturated with intense fruit flavors.  But in truth, none of the eleven reds we tried was a bad match.  Some just worked better than others-usually because they offered enough full fruit flavor to hold their own with this very robust dish.

In addition to the wines that got votes from everyone at the table and so are recommended below, three of the five of us loved a big ole' Zinfandel.  It too tasted rich and fruity.  A different three also voted for a Chianti and a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, but for different reasons, since these two wines had enticing elements of spice and leather, with less overt fruity sweetness.  What this broad range of opinion really demonstrated was that, so long as the wine has some measure of ripe fruit to connect with the sweet elements in the meat's crisp crust, plus plenty of body to compete with its mouth-watering richness, chances are good that it will be a fine partner for brisket.

Elizabeth Karmel's Texas Hill Country Market-Style Brisket (with a few changes)

Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium-Low Heat

1 9 to 12 pound whole beef brisket, untrimmed  (Ours was closer to 7 pounds; it fed five hungry eaters with lots left for next day snacking.)
Brisket rub (recipe below)
1 bottle beer such as a Lone Star or Heineken (Since we're wine folks, we used a bottle of sparkling wine, a cava from Penedes in Spain.)
Wood chips, hickory or mesquite soaked in water for 30 minutes

Brisket Rub:
¼ cup smoked Spanish paprika*  (We didn't have this so used regular paprika.)
1/8 cup Kosher salt
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cumin
1 ½ tablespoons ground ancho chile powder*
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic granules or granulated garlic

Combine paprika, salt, sugar, cumin, ancho powder, pepper, cayenne, onion powder and garlic granules in bowl; mix well. Store rub in airtight container.

*Note: Purchase smoked paprika in a Spanish food store or online at www.thespicehouse.com . If ground chili powder is not available, buy dried ancho chiles and grind them in a food processor or spice grinder.

To make the Brisket:

Prepare either a charcoal or gas grill for indirect cooking.

Remove brisket from wrapper and pat dry. Do not trim any excess fat off the meat, this fat will naturally baste the meat and keep it moist during the long cooking time.

Using your hands or a shaker top jar, sprinkle brisket liberally with Brisket Rub (recipe follows). Let sit about 5 minutes and pat spices into meat but do not rub-this mixture will form a dark savory crust on the meat, often referred to as the sought-after "burnt ends." Set aside on a clean tray until ready to cook.
If using a charcoal grill, place a drip pan between the two piles of white-gray ashed briquettes (on the charcoal grate). Pour beer into drip pan. Before placing the meat on the grill, add wood chips. Place soaked wood chips directly on the coals. Place brisket (fat side up) in center of the cooking grate over drip pan filled with beer. Note: You will need to add charcoal every hour to maintain the heat.

If using a gas grill, place a drip pan with the beer on the upper left corner of the gas grill directly on top of the flavorizer bars or ceramic rock. Place soaked wood chips in a smoker box in a gas grill.

Place brisket in the center of the cooking grate fat-side up. Cook slowly for 4 to 5 hours at 325-350 F, or until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the brisket registers 190 F-200 F. The meat should be very tender and falling apart. It will feel like the consistency of butter when you insert it with the probe of the thermometer. Remember -- do not turn the meat during the entire cooking time. 

(We used a gas grill, and cooked the meat for nearly six hours.)

Let meat rest for 20 minutes or until cool enough to handle. The recipe can be made in advance up to this point and once it is cool, wrapped in three layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. To re-heat the brisket, leave in foil packet and re-heat for about 1 hour at 250 F. For a crispier crust, remove foil and put back into oven for another 15 minutes.



Approx. Price



Andeluna, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 'Reserve' 2005

(Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange)





A very soft, silky rendition of Argentinean Malbec, with fruit, spice, and chocolate-tinged flavors that meshed seamlessly with the spicy crust on the brisket, this wine had just enough tannin to prevent it from seeming flabby or diffuse.




Chaddsford, Pennsylvania (United States) Chambourcin 'Jansen Estate Vineyard' 2006






A French-American hybrid grape, Chambourcin can yield full-fruited red wines with appealing secondary notes of leather and spice.  This one, from a pioneering Pennsylvania winery, seemed a bit gamey when tasted on its own, but then gained both complexity and power when sipped with the brisket. 




Penfolds, Coonawarra (Australia) Shiraz 'Bin 128' 2004

(Imported by Foster's Wine Estates)





A very solid Australian Shiraz, without any of the excessive heat or exuberance that sometimes characterizes Down Under wines, 'Bin 128' was one of the clear stars of the evening precisely because it did not try to take center stage.  Instead, it was content to complement the assertive flavors of the slow-cooked barbecue, adding to the experience but not dominating it.




Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2005






By contrast with 'Bin 128,' this wine insisted on making a statement.  It's an intense but also very ripe Cabernet, reflecting its mountain origin as well as a very contemporary winemaking style.  It paired very nicely with both the deeply flavored meat and the spicy crust, but one sensed that the food was matching it rather than the reverse.





Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2005




This is a full-flavored, deep and very long Merlot, marked more by black than by red fruit flavors, with appealing sweet notes of cocoa and dark chocolate in the finish.  Those secondary flavors proved especially engaging when the wine was enjoyed with the brisket-so much so that at the end of the evening, this was the lone completely empty bottle on the table.