Is Fat the Real Secret to Great Barbecue?

A Texas pit master’s unconventional technique for brisket could change the game.

By Casey Cheek & Leah ScarpelliSeptember 1, 2016 11:04 am| ,

If you ask most Texans, the secret to making good barbecue is the choice of wood, the rub, or the cook time.

But what if someone told you that instead, you should consider how much fat to use and what kind?

Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn joined the Standard to talk fuel for the fire.

“It’s funny, so many pit masters out there who wrap their barbecue in butcher paper – they take that fat-soaked butcher paper and they use it to light the fire the next morning,” Vaughn says. “But I found one barbecue joint in Mathis, Texas, that goes a few steps further. They actually throw whole chunks of brisket fat into the firebox.”

Sound unconventional? That’s because it is. Vaughn says the technique was developed after the owner realized how much time and money he was spending on the traditional process.

“I met with Mike Smolik who owns Smolik’s Smokehouse in Mathis, and he said when they first opened they were using the same cooking methods as his ancestors had – which was cooking beef, and really all their barbecue, directly over coals,” he says. “It became kind of an onerous process not only financially but just time-wise.”

Smolik decided to switch up his routine by using a rotisserie method instead – but he found the results underwhelming.

“What he was really missing was all that fat from the meat, dripping down into those coals and vaporizing back up into the meat– it creates this really unique flavor, this direct-heat cooking,” he says.

What you’ll hear in this segment: 

– How Smolik remedied the lack of flavor in his rotisserie-style brisket

– Vaughn’s blind taste test of Smolik’s new brisket

– The trend of Texas pit masters trying out new techniques