Last night, the folks at Lost Forty organized another wonderful event…all to showcase the most important piece of meat to ever hit the smoker: brisket. Sad but true…this Texas staple has yet to reach its full potential in Arkansas, but hopefully, after last night’s event, and others like it in the future, folks in these parts will begin to see the light when it comes to the glory of barbecued beef.
The 3 Briskets Dinner was a ticketed event (that sold out very quickly) which featured three prominent chefs in the Little Rock area, Scott McGehee of Yellow Rocket Concepts, Ken Dempsey, and Matt Bell of South on Main. The three chefs were all tasked with displaying their best brisket efforts, offering a few slices each to the hungry masses gathered at Lost Forty last night. Each chef also prepared a few sides to accompany their beef…and they were, honestly, no less impressive. (Let’s hope we see McGehee’s “Mac Crack” on a menu somewhere soon.)
Most avid barbecue fans will agree that brisket is the most difficult meat to conquer. The patience required can be exhausting and there is very little room for error in smoke times. Too much smoke and heat and the beef comes out dry, too little smoke and it’s tough and chewy. I’ve eaten more bad brisket in my life than any other form of meat available. Great brisket is the sign of a truly talented pit master…someone who’s carefully studied and perfected their craft.
“In general, I think brisket is underrated in Arkansas because pork is king here,” says Dempsey. “I fell in love with beef during a trip to Austin several years ago, and I’ve been on a journey to perfect it ever since.”
Scott McGehee shared similar sentiments. “I’m a Franklin fanatic. So I smoke with heavy black pepper, plenty of salt, post oak, and pretty hot (250-275 degrees). Resting the meat extremely well is huge. You can never rush brisket. If you’re in a hurry buy some ribs.” He continued, “Brisket is not as big in central and east Arkansas…but hopefully with events like “3 Briskets” growing awareness, that will evolve soon.”
I could not agree more. Each chef produced some really great bites last night. And not to pull out my “former Texan” card, but I can honestly say this brisket was up there with some of the best I’ve eaten in the Lone Star State. Arkansas still struggles to draw national attention to its barbecue scene. Perhaps we’ve failed to forge a clear identity with our smoked meats…unlike what’s being done in Memphis, Kansas City, North Carolina, or Texas. Or perhaps there’s just not that many barbecue joints around here to get excited about.
I firmly believe that a restaurant that manages to produce truly exceptional brisket could pave the way towards barbecue greatness for our state. The best barbecue, and brisket especially, also requires commitment on the part of the consumer. It often involves waiting in lines, sometimes hours before opening. It means only selling meat until it runs out…often by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. But great brisket is an experience…one I hope we’ll all get to enjoy in Arkansas a bit more often in the near future.
(Disclosure: As a Rock City Eats sponsored event, all Rock City staff were provided complimentary tickets. All photos by Steve Shuler)