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Like most small businesses these days, barbecue joints are in a pinch when it comes to staying profitable. Over the past six months, many restaurants have raised the per-pound price of brisket to over $30 to keep pace with food inflation that’s running about 12% higher than a year ago. Magnesium L-Ascorbic Acid-2-Phosphate
Unfortunately, pitmasters are reaching the point where food costs continue to rise, but consumers are unwilling to have those costs passed on in the form of menu price increases.
Compounding the problem, the wholesale price of non-food items such as to-go containers and napkins have doubled in the past year, adding significantly to overhead costs.
Fortunately, pitmasters are some of the most resourceful restaurateurs of any cuisine.
This mindset starts with the “loss” factor unique to barbecue. When a cooked brisket lands on the chopping block ready to serve to customers, it’s less than half the size it was when the raw brisket was delivered from the meat distributor. The 16-pound raw brisket becomes eight pounds after the cooking process, thanks to all the fat that is trimmed and then rendered out of the brisket over the 18-hour cook.
In the past, when the profit margin for high-loss items like brisket was higher because the cost was lower, a lot of that loss in the form of trimmed fat ended up just getting thrown away. But now, every ounce of that raw brisket must be used in some way to create profit or at least cover costs.
Roegels Barbecue Katy 20702 Interstate 10 W.; 832-351-5135 Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.-Tues., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Burgers available on Wednesdays at both Katy and Voss locations.
The age-old way of doing this is to re-purpose the trimmings as sausage. The revolution in house-made sausage at most barbecue joints isn’t because pitmasters have extra time on their hands, it’s because the rising cost of raw ingredients and the need to efficiently deploy those ingredients makes the laborious process of sausage-making more economical.
Unfortunately, there is only so much demand for sausage. In fact, the amount of brisket trimmings usually far exceeds the amount of sausage a barbecue joint can make and sell.
So, what to do with that extra pile of trimmings? This is where the creativity and resourcefulness of pitmasters come into play. The most recent addition to barbecue menus is the humble hamburger.
Though burgers have been on many barbecue menus for years, more joints are now adding them.
Brisket trimmings are further trimmed to separate the meat scraps from the fat. The meat is turned into ground beef, but with brisket rather than the chuck steak with which most ground beef is made. The solid pieces of fat are cooked down and refined into tallow, i.e. melted beef fat.
A typical burger preparation at a barbecue joint is to form the ground brisket into patties and cold-smoke them in a smoker. Essentially, they are minimally cooked just long enough to add an appropriate amount of smoke flavor.
This is how assistant pitmaster Robert Quiroga does it at the Katy location of Roegels Barbecue Co. After cold smoking, he holds the patties in tallow to add more flavor and moisture. The patties are then seasoned and cooked-to-order on a griddle that adds a tasty sear – the all-important Maillard reaction – to the outside of the burger. It’s topped with smoked queso to create a unique barbecue-joint cheeseburger.
A native of Beaumont, J.C. Reid graduated from the University of Southern California after studying architecture and spent his early career as an architect in New York City. He returned to Texas in 1995, retiring from architecture but creating his own Internet business in Houston. As his business became self-sustaining, he began traveling Houston and the world to pursue his passion: eating barbecue.
He began blogging about food and barbecue for the Houston Chronicle in 2010 and founded the Houston Barbecue Project in 2011 to document barbecue eateries throughout the area. Just last year, Reid and others founded the Houston Barbecue Festival to showcase mom-and-pop barbecue joints in the city. The 2014 event drew 2,000 guests to sample meats from 20 restaurants.
You can view more of J.C.'s work at jcreidtx.com.
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