“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”-Billy Shakespeare
I tugged at the corpse of this fried beast. It gave no notion of movement. The meat abstaining my pull, hot, lifeless, crispy. What had I done? Time, the most precious of resources, gone. I killed a fucking brisket.
To get to the end we must begin at the beginning.
It all started out a typical Tuesday morning. Alarm clock blaring the dream ending tone, it was 5:04 AM. I would waste the next twenty minutes with an internal argument of whether to rise out of bed or to lay and fall back to sleep. Eventually, the monetary necessity to earn a paycheck would win out, I was up.
Normal routine. I was somewhat dressed, light blue FR shirt flung carelessly over my right shoulder, fumbling for change in the pocket of my jeans I had worn the day before. Out the door, into the rental. The persistent chime of the pilot, reminding me to fasten my seatbelt while seated. I would not heed his call, this was not my personal vehicle, I had not yet figured out how to turn this warning off as I had done in my truck.
Arrived at Bill’s 5:34 AM. The parking lot was already full of other early risers in search of chemicals. Nothing fancy, just coffee. One-quarter cup of ice, one-half creamer, two sugars, hot coffee, stir till satisfied. The ice makes chugging the coffee before I leave the parking lot achievable. Chemical ingestion complete. I will back out of the parking lot without looking. Race to work slightly above the speed limit.
Badge in at the gate, 5:48 AM. Sit in rental and listen to an Edward Abbey audiobook until it’s time to attend the morning safety meeting. Foot on the brake instead of placing the vehicle in park. I am establishing dominance over the pilot, still telling me to put on my seatbelt.
6:00 AM, Safety Meeting. Stand and nod. Sipping the last remnants of coffee. Spit it out. Too much damn ice! My recipe needs work.
It was now 11:43 AM when Mr. Lindsie turned in her swivel chair and said, “How would you like to try smoking a brisket?” I nodded my approval. At lunch, we would go to the butcher shop and purchase the eleven-pound elephant. Sixty-three bucks seemed high.
A series of fortunate events would allow me to leave work at 4:00 PM. The heat index was rising, the Mexicans were waning, production slowed. We were told it was too hot to work. I hurried back home and began prepping the smoker.
The Fornetto Smoker breaks apart into several pieces. I cleaned the water bowl and grates, filled the water bowl, and applied olive oil to both cooking surfaces, put them back where they were taken from. I emptied half a bag of Kingsford Briquettes into the charcoal basket. Placed about fifteen more into a chimney, lit the stack, placed the heating steel on top of the charcoal basket, and waited for it to ash over. Twenty minutes later, I spilled the white-hot briquettes onto the awaiting charcoal. Fully assembled the smoker, keeping the lid off, I would crack a beer and wait for everything to heat up.
Once I felt the temperature had risen sufficiently, I threw three pieces of dry hickory into the charcoal basket. I would let the smoke dissipate for a moment, and then place the meat.
The big bastard brisket was too large for my eighteen-inch smoker. I was not swayed, though, I would make it fit. It would not be the last fight the brisket, and I would have.
The Fornetto was humming along nicely. Top secured and fastened, exhaust vent wide open, sweet hickory smoke filled the yard, the neighborhood, maybe all of Oklahoma. The three vents below the charcoal basket were also wide open, temperatures held at a steady two hundred and twenty-eight degrees. Damn near perfect.
I consumed a few more beers. Commented continuously about how great the hickory smoke smelled. Bitched that the front yard had not been cut. Got into a heated argument about women’s soccer and the gender pay gap. The outcome of this argument left me sitting outside alone, with Mr. Fornetto as my company to speak about the smoke. Temperature still perfect.
It was now 10:00 PM. I had showered, drank more of my hop rich dinner, and was sitting back outside talking to Mr. Fornetto. I fought the urge to stare at hulking meat slab concealed beneath the lid of the smoker. Leave it alone, I thought. Off to bed. Alarm set for 1:00AM to check in on the cook.
I was awoken hurriedly by Mr. Lindsie, “Aren’t you going to check your meat?” I retorted with, “I have an alarm set!” I grabbed my phone as evidence and saw it was 1:06 AM. I had hit the snooze button and not realized it. I stumbled out of bed. Pinballed my way down the hall and placed flip flops on my feet.
Sitting down in front of the smoker, I groggily peered at the thermometer digital display. The Temperature read 150°. Perfect. Wait, 150° was not perfect, 150° was about one-hundred degrees less than what I was hoping to see. I leaped from the chair in bewilderment, donned my leather glove, turned and opened the hatch to investigate. A few small orange briquettes burned lazily from underneath the charcoal basket, I was out of fuel.
I unclasped Mr. Fornetto, exposing his heating compartment. Poured the rest of the briquettes into the charcoal basket, and repeated the steps from earlier of getting the chimney lit and the charcoal briquettes white hot again. At this time, I removed the lid and looked lovingly at the darkened but not yet ready beef flat and point. Survive, live.
Within forty minutes the derailed train was back on track, the locomotive-like smoke puffed along perfectly again. This is where I made a massive mistake. My next alarm would be at 4:30 AM. Not understanding that this was two hours away and that I had run out of fuel after eight hours, I threw three handfuls of lump charcoal into the basket. My thought was that this way I would have plenty of heat to last the night. I set everything in its place and went back to bed.
4:38 AM, disaster. I once again awoke, ricocheted down the hall, slid into my undersized flip flops, and walked to the smoker. This time the temperature read 386°! And again I sprang into action. Closing all intake grates, I opened the charcoal hatch. The basket was ablaze and alive with life. The fire was singing and working overtime. I removed the lid to find my brisket more burnt than barked. I attempted to remove it by hand and was scorched. I placed my burnt but now gloved hand onto to the black devil and lifted. The stainless grate came out with it.
I grabbed my spatula and pried, no movement. I pleaded and pulled on the rock like Goliath, it would not budge. I cursed and assaulted, again and again, trying to overtake the immovable brisket. I was thwarted in each attempt. Eventually, this crispy bitch would yield to my prying. The flesh tore, a sudden release of precious juices poured over my bare feet. I would conquer the brisket, but it would leave its mark on me first.
There we sat. 5:00AM, still dark. A foot long section of brisket bark was welded and conjoined as one with the grate. Both my feet and one hand burned, I looked at the sad excuse of a meal. The brisket lay listlessly, unapologetic, lifeless. It was never alive in my care, but nonetheless, it was now dead. I would wrap it in butcher paper, and place it in its red Rubbermaid sarcophagus. Hoping like Lazarus, my dead brisket would rise again.
I would place the coffin in the back of the rental. Head to Bills for coffee, and continue my regular everyday routine.
At approximately 8:00 AM, I would retrieve the casing of the fallen brisket, and unwrap the Hell I had brought into the world.
Unwrapping the butcher paper exposed the black beast in all its glory. I had to face what I had done. A man must own his indiscretions, accept them, and try and find a way to live with them.
In the end, it didn’t taste too bad. Some parts were pretty salvageable. I give myself an “A” for effort, and look forward to returning to the backyard barbeque battle with the big beast named brisket!
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