A couple years back, I remember asking my buddy Skinny what he did with his leftover brisket. Skinny is sort of my good ol’ boy ‘cue mentor and has routinely smoked 6-8 briskets for every Longhorn tailgate since he was about 2 years old. He knows his shit. And his beef. And I figured there would be times when he had more beef than eaters and needed to get a little creative with it.
Rather gamely, and rather unhelpfully, Skinny told me. “Well… I don’t know… I never have leftovers. People like to eat my brisket… Now just take it easy and run over to that cooler with my name on it and grab me a coldbeer.”
And so it was—make brisket so good that everybody eats all of it every time. Sure, no problem thanks for the help.
Eventually I did figure that out. I screwed up a fair number of briskets. Got more creative with the leftovers. Cooked giant slabs of meat just for myself in the name of practice. Tinkered with my rub. Sat silently by the sides of masters breathing smoke, fetching Lone Stars and playing washers. Learned how to read beef. Learned how to read a fire. Learned how to not open the pit. Fetched more Lone Stars. Played more washers. Ate more beef. Breathed more oak smoke… And then after awhile I made briskets and the leftovers were no longer the issue. Getting a few slices for myself was the issue.
In the ensuing years my brisket making became somewhat note-worthy. In part because I had gotten better and in part because we had moved to Southern California where it seemed like no one had experienced real barbecue. Sheepish neighbors would hang around my back gate in the wee hours of the morning as my smoker belched out oak and beef smells. People got feral looks in their eyes at block parties. 30lb offerings were attacked and taken down by guests who gorged like African Siafu. I think there were a couple of fork stabbings in my backyard lines. And I know for sure there was more than one brisket fat sandwich consumed by desperate late comers or beef-drunk revelers. My brisket had come into it’s own.
A funny thing happened though. As pleased as I was with my beefly progress. As much as I knew there was no comparison for the perfect fatty, well crusted beast sliced and devoured fresh off the pit, I missed some of my old leftovers preparations. One in particular stood out like a lonesome old flame that was never really given a chance to flourish: the brisket burger.
The gist of the brisket burger is a patty that’s a 50/50 mix of chopped smoked brisket and ground beef. If you cook the burger to barely medium you get an amazing textural and flavorful dalliance between crusty, smoky, salty, toothsome brisket and just-cooked ground. When done properly, it’s almost like Japanese scientists screwed with the DNA of some backyard chow, creating a deadly super burger. And brisket burgers are pretty damn deadly, at times reaching sizes large enough to crush a small Japanese city. When stoking the pit and putting on some beef, I look forward to the ensuing brisket burger nearly as much as brisket itself. And to ensure myself of an adequate haul of brisket burgers, I hide some of my finished brisket and save it to the side. I say hide because that’s literally what I have to do, on more than one occasion people have gotten a little presumptive in seeking out any last specs of brisket toward the end of the night. I don’t want anybody coming between me and burgerzilla.
Brisket burger accouterments are a matter of personal preference but I usually opt for a specific mix—sharp cheddar cheese, homemade bacon, a relish of roasted Serrano and Poblano peppers, pickled red onions, butter lettuce, mustard and homemade mayo. If you put it on a homemade bun you’re really onto something special (I like the recipe in Bread Baker’s Apprentice). But even if you’re feeling lazy or just doing the fridge grab-bag of jars and squeeze bottles, the brisket burger is an accommodating host.
I can’t claim to have invented the brisket burger, they used to serve a similar beast out at the now defunct Salt Lick 360 in Westlake. At the time, it was my favorite burger in Austin. And now it’s my favorite burger in my backyard.
I usually like to grill them but I made this batch in an iron skillet because it was raining outside. The result was still outstanding and smoky from the inclusion of the brisket. Also, if you’re one of those unfortunate types without a smoker or brisket skills, I’m sure this would work with some takeout brisket—just get the fatty stuff.
Equal parts chopped leftover brisket and 85/15 ground chuck
Salt and Pepper
Roasted pepper relish
Pickled red onions
Cheese, lettuce, mayo and whatever else you like
Several slices of bacon
Homemade buns or challah rolls
If you’re making buns start them in the morning and bake them before you start your burgers, otherwise you’ll be eating a dripping, cheesy piece of hot beef with your bare hand—which, admittedly, may not be an entirely bad thing.
Cook your bacon and set aside, save the rendered fat. Heat your grill or skillet. Mix the brisket and ground beef with enough egg to bind it together and a good bit of onion flakes. Form into thick 1/2lb patties. Season the patties on both sides with salt and pepper. If you’re cooking on a grill, rub the patties with the rendered bacon fat (if you’re using a skillet, just cook the burgers in the same pan you cooked your bacon in). Cook them on high heat to get crusty on the outside while holding at medium pink at the interior. Add a few very thick slices of cheddar to each patty and let it begin to melt. Rest the burgers while putting together your set-up: mayo and pepper relish on the bottom bun. Mustard, lettuce, bacon and pickled onions on the top. Eat the burgers with some homemade fries or grilled veg. Eat and imagine your burger battling Mothra and shooting lasers out of it’s eyes.
Rub several poblanos and serranos with oil and grill over fire till they’re black on all sides (you can use a broiler but it doesn’t taste as good). Put the peppers in a paper bag till they’re cool enough to handle. Remove the skins, stems and most of the seeds. Chop everything into a small dice. Season with a little salt and pepper.