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As promised, a group of meat eaters gathered last weekend atUrban Bar-B-Que to test drive the brisket, ribs, pork, and chicken that co-owner David Calkins was pulling from his new Southern Pride smoker. I can’t speak for the rest of the crew, but from the moment I walked in the joint, I knew things were different. The entire space was perfumed with the smoke from oak logs. Frankly, I don’t know why Glade doesn’t create a Texas Pit Barbecue air freshener; personally, I’d rather live inside a place that smells like a smokehouse than an old lady’s boudoir.
But I stray. Back to the ‘cue: The chicken was more about seasoning than smoke, and the ribs were wonderfully smoky, charred, tender, pink, and tasty (but still slathered in a sticky sweet sauce). The revelation, however, was Calkins’ brisket. I’m not about to call it Kreuz quality, but in the three years since I first sampled Urban’s wares, the brisket has improved to the point where I can claim, without hesitation, that it’s the best among the metro area’s ‘cue joints.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m just damning with faint praise. You’re absolutely wrong.
Calkins has been on a ruthless campaign to turn out quality brisket, and with his new smoker, I think he’s there. The bark is among the best I’ve seen from a commercial smoker, dark and smoky and well-seasoned. There’s a nice ribbon of fat, still soft and rich, lounging on both ends of the brisket, evidence that Calkins hasn’t aggressively trimmed the meat in the name of health trends (and at the sacrifice of flavor). When I first bit into the brisket, I had a moment not unlike Anton Ego‘s in Ratatouille: I felt like I was transported back to Texas for a flash. The smoke flavor was there, the salt-and-pepper rub was simple and pure, and the meat was moist all the way through.
There were some naysayers in our group: Two eaters, Mike Bober from Capital Spice and Mike Riggs from City Paper, felt that the brisket wasn’t seasoned aggressively enough; they wanted more pepper. I wouldn’t disagree with them, but to me, that’s a matter of preference, not evidence of any serious flaw. These men are clearly in the Louie Mueller School of Brisket, even if they didn’t know it.
But would Texans recognize this brisket as one of their own? Without a doubt. Would they find flaws? Of course they would. But that’s the Texas way: No two people ever seem to agree on the best way to do brisket.
Oh, yes, here’s a snapshot of the meat lovers who made the trip to Rockville on a cold Friday. Many thanks, everyone!