Critic's Notebook

Cooking Brisket for the Barbecue King of Texas

Seattle Brisket Experience’s Jack Timmons is doing that this Thursday. He’s, uh…nervous.

By Kathryn Robinson May 6, 2013

Jack and the brisket: wowing the neighbors.

Daniel Vaughn, whose longtime blog Full Custom Gospel BBQ  has made him the most famous barbecue expert in Texas, and thus perhaps the world—he’s even just been named barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, which makes me think Seattle Met needs an oyster editor—anyway, he’s coming to Seattle this week. He’ll be promoting his new book The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue, the first title in Anthony Bourdain’s new publishing venture, at a Seattle Brisket Experience event Thursday, May 9.

What is Seattle Brisket Experience? It’s the monthly project of former Microsoftie Jack Timmons, whose current consulting gig gives him the flexibility to do things like, last June, attend Texas A and M’s Department of Meat Sciences Barbecue Summer Camp in Austin.

Yup, Barbecue Summer Camp. “You say ‘Barbecue Summer Camp,’ and every single guy in the room turns around and says, ‘What’d you say?’” Timmons hoots.

Timmons, a Dallas native who’s never met a G he couldn’t drop, grew up well aware that barbecue was one of the food groups, but had never become a connoisseur. Until Barbecue Summer Camp. There, food historians and food science geeks and food critics and “old-fashioned people who do things like make sorghum molasses from scratch” gathered to celebrate all styles of Texas barbecue.

The brisket joints of central Texas in particular seized Timmons’ palate. “It’s a style that was started by German and Czech butchers in the late 1800’s,” he explains. “There’s no sauce. The brisket is smoked over a wood fire, no charcoal, and the meat…it’s just the most exquisite meat, flavored by the wood. Nobody was making it like this in Dallas, and certainly not in Seattle.”

Beams Timmons, “I came back home like Moses comin’ down off the mountain!” And Seattle Brisket Experience was born.

He started up with a website, an old-school offset smoker, and a bunch of imported wood, mesquite (“strong and good for brisket”) to post oak (“smooth and delicious”). “The first time I used the smoker I asked a friend, who’s a fireman, if he’d mind if I brought him and his guys a bunch of smoked meat,” Timmons recalls. They didn’t mind.

He threw his first SBX event in the fall of 2012; he sold out in 48 hours. Now he operates off a list of nearly 600 people, many of them Texan, sometimes surprising them with Northwest twists, like smoked scallops (“shockingly delicious,”) and always including side-orders—Texas black-eyed pea “caviar,” remoulade cole-slaw—masterminded by his wife, filmmaker Deirdre Allen Timmons. Is a restaurant of his own in the cards? “It’s starting to shape up,” he smiles.

This Thursday’s event will be his fifth. Because Vaughn will be there, Amazon and ABC/Yahoo will be filming. But no pressure, Jack. “Honestly, every time I cook this stuff I’m nervous," he confides. "Each brisket is so different. The cut involves two overlapping muscles, and some cook faster than others. Wind can screw it up! It’s really the hardest thing to barbecue consistently. I worry all the time about the brisket.”

And what about the reaction of the guy Timmons regards "the number one barbecue reviewer on the planet"? “Oh, he’ll say somethin’ polite,” Timmons smiles. “Then personally he'll tell me what he thinks is goin’ on.”

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