If you’ve ever been handed the crusty bits of smoked brisket from the cutting board of a benevolent pitmaster, then you’ve tried burnt ends, a style of barbecue that originated in Kansas City in the 1900s. In the realm of American barbecue, burnt ends have the most texture of any regional style, a higher ratio of salty crust to smoky meat that amplifies its flavour and gives it a deeply satisfying chew.
This post: How to make burnt ends
Pitmaster Matt Horn calls these little flavour bombs “meat candy.” The self-taught cook and 2021 F&W Best New Chef draws a line of hungry customers every day at his Oakland joint, Horn Barbecue. Horn isn’t wedded to any barbecue genre—he’s an equal opportunity pleaser—and his burnt ends reflect his restless culinary innovation. After smoking brisket for hours and forming the bark, he cubes the meat to create more surface area. Then he tosses the cubes with a bourbon-laced sauce and puts them back in the smoker for a couple of hours to further concentrate their flavour. As the collagen melts, the sugary crust begins to caramelise.
“You’re looking for that candied texture on the burnt ends,” Horn says. “I eat them with white bread and maybe a pickle and am good to go.”
But to ignore the panoply of scratch-made sides at Horn’s eponymous restaurant would shortchange your barbecue experience. Some of them, like Nina’s Potato Salad (named for Horn’s wife) and Classic Slaw, are as transcendent as his burnt ends or his legendarily juicy, wobbly brisket. The sides strike a balance; they’re neither too rich nor too light. Together with the burnt ends, they make a balanced, delicious menu for a summer holiday barbecue, perfectly suited for the coal-fired cook-out holidays of Father’s Day, and Independence Day that punctuates the summer.
Horn taught himself how to barbecue during his restless 20s in the backyard of his grandmother’s house in Fresno, California, before taking his craft to farmers’ markets and eventually opening a brick-and-mortar location in Oakland. He’s recently added the Southern chicken concept Kowbird to his portfolio as well as a new cookbook, called Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ. The book conveys his passion and distils his hard-won lessons. “It’s for every weekend-barbecue-enthusiast [sitting] in the backyard with a beer,” Horn says. “Before I started selling my product at a farmers’ market, that backyard was my spiritual place. I was one with nature and one with fire.”
Here’s how you can make delicious burnt ends
1. Season brisket
Sprinkle brisket point evenly with salt and a barbeque rub, gently massaging seasonings into the meat. Let brisket stand, and preheat smoker.
2. Smoke brisket
Smoke brisket over charcoal and oak chunks at 121 degrees Celsius until a meat thermometer inserted in the centre registers 65 degrees Celsius.
3. Wrap and cook to target temp
Remove brisket from smoker, and wrap tightly in aluminium foil. Continue smoking until a meat thermometer registers 85 degrees Celcius, about 2 hours.
4. Chop and trim
Remove brisket from smoker, and unwrap. Cut meat into 3-by-4 inch cubes, discarding any large pieces of fat.
5. Toss with sauce
Stir together brisket cubes and bourbon sauce until well coated. Transfer to a 13-by-9 inch aluminium baking pan, and drizzle evenly with honey.
6. Smoke and caramelise
Add hot coals to the smoker to increase the temperature to 135 degrees Celsius. Smoke cubed brisket in baking pan until caramelised and glazed, 2 to 3 hours.
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