Home Team Takes on Texas

htbrisketHome Team BBQ this weekend unveiled the fruits of owner Aaron Siegel and executive chef Taylor Garrigan’s recent study trip to Austin, Tex: Brisket, beautifully fatty, smoky and tender — if a cut below what the pair likely encountered in Hill Country.

The brisket I sampled at The Alley on Saturday night was the unfortunate victim of inexpert slicing, a problem all-too-common even in the Lone Star state, as my friend Daniel Vaughn’s recent Texas Monthly blog post attests.  As Vaughn, the magazine’s barbecue editor, points out, there are several ways to slice a brisket, but none of them involve slicing with the grain. A brisket sliced with the grain acquires an unappealing, stringy pull, and is tougher than brisket sliced against the grain.

“That’s one of the things we’re dealing with,” Siegel says of the extensive staff training required to produce a perfect brisket plate. “We’re schooling everyone on how to serve it.”

If you’ve never stared down a brisket, slicing in the right direction sounds relatively easy. But what complicates the process is the construction of the cut: A standard brisket comprises two different chest muscles with opposing grains. Slicers have to adjust their technique to account for the point and the flat; I wonder if I might have scored a sliced-against-the-grain serving had I shown up earlier in the evening (although the kitchen should be commended for leaving a good amount of fat on the meat: As veterans of high-end kitchens, Home Team’s honchos appreciate the correlation between fat and flavor.)

Still, slicing is merely a matter of practice: Home Team did an admirable job with the hard stuff. The meat, while a tad under-seasoned – I’ve never before looked for a salt shaker while eating brisket – was thick with clean, robust red oak smoke, and impressively moist.

“I think we’ve pretty much got it exactly like we want to,” Siegel says of the brisket, which has undergone a number of trial runs at the restaurant’s West Ashley location. “We’re wrapping it in butcher paper about halfway through, and it turns out perfect.”

Siegel says the culinary team had toyed with butcher paper prior to its Texas trip, but their experiences there persuaded them to wrap on a regular basis. As Siegel concluded his blog chronicling the eating expedition, “We traveled there for inspiration and experience and that’s what we got.”

Although brisket at The Alley was a one-off special, Siegel says Home Team plans to soon add the cut to the West Ashley location’s standing Friday and Saturday menu.

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