- Ohio State Buckeyes = Barbecued Beef Brisket
We don’t have to think too hard about this one. The Buckeyes have carried the flag for the Big Ten for well, for a long time. They are the glamour muscle of the B1G, the glistening pecs of the conference. Other programs see them and wonder what the secret to their success is, and tend to write off any chance of ever reaching that level, as not everyone can bench press 500 hundreds pounds.
Cows also have impressive pecs. Unlike humans, though, cows use their pecs to support most of their weight, all of the time. These muscles, which have become known as the brisket, are some real powerhouses. They are also killer on the BBQ scene - the brisket is the crown jewel of the competition scene. Backyard chefs often shy away them, thinking them as something that only real experts should attempt.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Brisket is one of the easiest things you can barbecue. You don’t need fancy equipment - no pellet smokers or automatic beeper alarms or special butcher paper. Here’s what you need:
- A brisket - these tend to be pretty large, about 13 to 14 pounds. I find mine at Costco or Kroger. Note - sometimes they sell the brisket as a point or flat - that’s the two parts of the whole brisket. The flat is leaner and flatter and the point is fattier and, uh, fatter. I will be referring to the whole brisket in this article, so buyer beware on the smaller cuts.
- Salt and pepper - Brisket is nice and beefy but needs some extra flavor. There are all sorts of rubs out there you can try, but the bare minimum is salt and you probably have pepper on hand so add that too.
- A grill - Preferably charcoal. I use a pretty standard Weber kettle grill. These are nice because you can put your charcoal on one side and the brisket on the other. You can use a gas grill, or really any grill that has enough space where the brisket isn’t right over the heat.
- Wood - A few chunks of hickory or whatever you can find. Easy on the charcoal grill - just throw the chunks on the coals. Gas grills require something more complicated - the easiest way is to wrap the wood loosely in foil and poke a few holes on top, then throw that over the heat.
- Foil - Get the wide heavy duty stuff - it’s a heck of lot easier to work with.
- An oven - You could fool around and try to do the whole thing on your grill, but heat on the grill can be unreliable and hard to control. Your oven generates heat pretty reliably and you just turn the dial or press a button to control the heat. Don’t overthink this. Throw the ball to the good players.
- A thermometer - Technically optional, but cooking is a heck of a lot easier when you know how hot your food is
- A knife - To trim the brisket if you like, and also to slice it later
- A cooler - Also optional, but do you really not have a cooler?
- Trim your brisket - Brisket has a large amount of fat on the outside and inside (that’s the solid feeling white stuff). As best you can, slice a bunch of that off. Don’t worry about getting it all, and skip this step entirely if you are lazy, like me.
- Season your brisket - Throw your salt and pepper all over your brisket. If you are planning in advance, you can wrap and let it sit in your fridge. If not, don’t sweat it.
- Light your grill - remember, you don’t want your brisket on top of the heat. Put the coals to one side and your brisket on the other. Or your gas on one half and your brisket on the other.
- Get your smoke - Throw your wood on the coals or make your little gas grill smoking pocket.
- Cook your brisket - Throw your brisket on the side of your grill that doesn’t have heat under it. If using charcoal, throw a couple more wood chunks on there after a while.
- Relax - Go watch some sports. Comment on your favorite OTE article, perhaps one written by yours truly. In a few hours the coals will be done or you can take it off your soulless gas grill.
- Wrap your brisket - Get the foil out, and put down plenty, crimp it together and stuff, so that it is as waterproof a seal as you can do. It’s going to do some more cooking and you don’t want any of those delicious beef juices to leak out.
- Throw it in the oven - Have your oven on at about 300 degrees, and put your brisket in there. You’ll probably want it on a pan or cookie sheet, because your foil probably isn’t quite waterproof.
- Cook a few more hours - If you have a thermometer, you are aiming for around 200 degrees. If you don’t, well, two or three hours should be sufficient.
- Throw it in your cooler - and leave it there until you are ready to eat. Not like next Tuesday, but within the next few hours.
- Unwrap your brisket - Try to save the juices if you can by pouring them in a bowl, and throw your brisket in a hot oven, say 450 degrees, for about ten minutes. That will crisp up the exterior.
- Slice your brisket - This is important - slice your brisket against the grain. Look closely at your brisket and you will see strands of meat running in one direction (well, two, the point and flat run in different directions). Cut through these grains, not with them.
- Eat your brisket - it should taste pretty danged good and be pretty danged tender. Throw those juices you saved in the fridge for a bit until the fat rises to the top. Remove the fat and then pour the juice over the brisket. You will like the juice.
- Was that overly complicated? No. Neither are the Buckeyes. As Gordon Gee put it, “we hired the best coach and went out and got the best kids so get a life.”
2. Wisconsin Badgers = St. Louis Style Spare Ribs
It’s not close. While Northwestern periodically punches through, Penn State has some good seasons, and Michigan lives in constant delusion, Wisconsin is pretty clearly the runner up program in the B1G and the class of the West. Their stability, year in and year out, is something to behold, and only their lack of constant top end talent keeps them from the top spot. You can’t go wrong with a little Badger football.
Similarly, you can’t go wrong with ribs. Everyone likes ribs. A tasty morsel of food that comes with its own stick. Ribs are even easier to cook than brisket, and while the the end result may not be quite as showstopping, no one is going to complain. Here’s what you need.
- Ribs - Tough to make ribs without this ingredient. I go with St. Louis style cuts from Costco. You will generally see three cuts - spare ribs, baby back ribs, and St. Louis style. Spare ribs have a lot of extra meat and cartilage that no one wants when you say you are serving ribs. A St. Louis cut is basically these, except they chop off that extra part. Baby backs are fine, but smaller. The St. Louis cut will give you the meatiest ribs, so find them if you can, but don’t obsess over it.
- A rub - Salt, pepper, and sugar are great. Ribs can benefit from even more flavoring, if you wish. A simple rub I use is two parts paprika, one part chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, salt, and pepper.
- A grill - You should be able to do these entirely on the grill. I have a pretty generic charcoal grill where I can throw the coals on one side and a couple racks on the other. The only real requirement is that the ribs aren’t over direct heat.
- Smoke - Same as the brisket. A few chunks on the coals, or a little foil basket for your gas grill.
- Trim your ribs - There is a clear membrane on the bottom of your rack. You can use a butter knife and slip it in there and rip it off. If this is too big a pain don’t sweat it. The membrane gets a little tough during the cook but you’ve probably eaten it before and didn’t notice.
- Season your ribs - You know, with the rub. Let them sit in the fridge for a bit or not, that’s up to you.
- Cook your ribs - Light that grill. You’ll want a gentle heat, maybe around 250 degrees or so if you can measure it. Remember your heat should be on one side, and your ribs on the other. Cook them, probably rotating them periodically, until they are done. This should take a few hours, and if you have a thermometer you are looking for around 200 degrees in a juicy part of your rack.
- Slice your ribs - Take those off the grill, let them rest a bit, then slice them up. Slice with the bone, not against it.
- Eat your ribs - Use some sauce if you like, or not. They will be good either way.
Barry Alvarez once said about the Badger faithful, “they better get season tickets right now, because before long, they probably won’t be able to.” Any old sucker can throw on some hamburgers and hot dogs and call it a day. Your neighbors will truly be wowed when you put out a a few racks of ribs. Maybe not the BBQ king, like the guy down the street who has a $2000 fancypants grill, but the one who churns out really good food, every time. You can be the Wisconsin Badgers of your neighborhood.
Up next - Even More rankings and foods. What will Rutgers be? A boiled raccoon?