- Wyatt Williams For the AJC
As the barbecue purist picked up a thick slice of glistening, fatty brisket from the platter with his fingers, he said, “And this is what we call the ‘accordion test.’” From the bottom of the dangling slice, he tugged gently and the moist meat stretched just a little bit before giving up a bite that drenched his fingers in fat.
The accordion test, he explained to me, was a kind of texture and tenderness verification sometimes used in competitions. Overcooked brisket will fall apart into dry strands of pot roast. Undercooked brisket will be tough and need a knife, like a well-done steak. But a slice of fatty brisket that can both stretch and pull apart with a gentle touch, whose fat will liquefy on your tongue, well, that is a technically impressive slice of meat.
We were sitting on the patio of DAS BBQ, surrounded by platters of meat, but the only one we really wanted to talk about was the brisket. That’s no surprise. DAS belongs to what we might as well call the post-Franklin Barbecue era. You know the place in Austin, Texas, with the line that stretches for hours every day? Perhaps you even picked up a copy of Franklin’s best-selling cookbook, a brisket-obsessed manifesto that advocates a DIY welding and engineering approach to smoking meat that would impress even a custom motorcycle gearhead. Smoked brisket has long been the national dish of Texas. Franklin made it the official barbecue obsession of the world.
The menu at DAS is short and to the point. There are four meats — brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs and beef sausage — that can be ordered by the half pound, full pound, sandwich or plate with two sides. True to Texas form, the standouts here are the beef options. Though not listed, you’re free to order the brisket from either the fatty or lean side of the cut. The fatty side of the brisket is as decadent as described, but the lean side is impressive, too, yielding firm, thinner slices topped with a trimmed quarter-inch touch of rich fat.
The bark tastes of a simple, not overpowering rub of salt and pepper. The sausages, shipped in from Meyer’s Smokehouse in Texas, are a no-brainer. They’re exactly as should be: snappy and juicy and just a touch spicy. There’s just one catch. The barbecue at DAS just isn’t that smoky.
This is an odd problem, because smoke is an essential element of great barbecue. The low temperature, wood-fired cooking and the resulting smoky flavor are what make barbecue distinct from, say, roasting meat in an oven. Yet, the difficult nature of cooking a notoriously tough cut like brisket inspires solutions and methods that sometimes prioritize tenderness and moisture over pure smoke intensity. I was rather confused about the lack of smokiness for such otherwise impressive brisket at DAS until, after my meal with the barbecue purist, the owner Stephen Franklin waved us both over to tour the smokehouse after our meal. (Franklin is not related to the Franklin Barbecue folks in Austin.)
At DAS, they’re using a two-step process. The meats first go into one of two heavy-duty, off-set smokers custom-fabricated in South Georgia, not far from the pecan grove where the restaurant sources some of the wood that fires them. These are beautiful, impressive pieces of welding. I’m sure Aaron Franklin would approve. The briskets stay in them for about five hours before being wrapped and put into a gas-powered Southern Pride rotisserie, which, unlike those fickle, wood-powered, custom smokers, can be dialed into a temperature left to finish the brisket overnight unattended. No doubt, the wrapping and consistency of the Southern Pride are what help DAS nail the luxurious texture and moisture on the brisket, but it comes at the cost of some smoke flavor.
For the pulled pork and ribs, though, this method can be a bit overkill. Now, you might be a “fall off the bone” fan, but the barbecue purist is not. For the pork ribs, he demonstrated another test: pinching the rib meat while tugging at the bone. The soft meat slipped entirely from the bone as he shook his head in disapproval. I’m not such a stickler, but I like my pork to be tender and firm, not mushy. All the pork I’ve sampled at DAS has leaned unfortunately toward the latter.
On the side, your best option is the collard greens, which have a deep savory touch to them, and the pinto beans, which are studded with bits of chopped brisket. I’m a little confused by the vinegar slaw, which seems to have so little vinegar in it that it tastes like raw sliced cabbage. There are two sauces on the table: One is tomato-based and the other is flavored with Georgia peaches. Both are sweet.
In any case, this is all a distraction from the beef. Do yourself a favor and order a pound, half from the fatty side, half from the lean. Get a few links of sausage and sides of collards and beans. A glass of iced tea might be nice, too. Then dig your fingers into that meat. Even the barbecue purist admits it is pretty good.