Little known outside the area, brisket is revered in Texas.
Brisket is not quite as highly ranked as High School Football or Homecoming Mums, but it gives them both a run for their money among most Texans.
Brisket, in short, is taken *very* seriously down here. When combined with the process and ritual of Texas BBQ the combined power becomes near-nuclear. You just don’t make light of a man’s BBQ Brisket in these parts without expecting severe consequences.
Yesterday was Memorial Day, the national Day of BBQ, so our neighborhood was rich with the smells of meat and sausages in various stages of incineration. Stepping outside while hungry was an experiment in socially-acceptable self-control.
Our neighbor, Jimmy, was one of those who participated in this annual Cooking of the Meat. But Jimmy, being no ordinary guy, went the step beyond, a grade above, the realm of only the exceptional: he smoked his brisket.
Smoking meat takes time. It’s a commitment of a full day, requiring you to tend the smoker while waiting for just the right moment to pull the succulent, precisely cooked meat from the heat.
Tending the Smoker is a time-honored skill, passed from father to son, uncle to nephew down through the generations since the first smoker was invented back in the mists of pre-historic time.
Tending the Smoker involves a lot of standing around the smoker and communicating in male-speak, meaning grunts and monosyllable semi-words punctuated by swigs of long necks. With all due respect to females, it’s man’s work and has been since the first hunk of mastodon was nestled between coal and frond.
It rained here yesterday. It rained hard. Texas hard. All morning and into the early afternoon. All that time, Jimmy tended the smoker. Hour after hour he waited for the precise moment of brisket perfection.
Finally, the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the sun broke through the clouds. As the searing shafts of sunlight brightened the neighborhood, the brisket, Jimmy’s brisket, the perfect brisket, the height of a Texas male’s culinary experience, was pulled from the heat.
With due pomp and circumstance it was transported on its litter from the smoker to the Brisket Throne of Standing in the kitchen. Exalted, there it reposed, sending forth its scents and promises of coming Brisket Glory.
All of that anxiety to pick the perfect brisket, all of that time tending the smoker, all of it led up to this: the Perfect Smoked Brisket.
After the requisite stand time, the Tribute Portions were carved. Perfect slices of brisket were grouped into gifts for the neighbors.
Jimmy himself delivered them. First next door, then down the street.
When he returned to begin the Feast of the Brisket Jimmy saw something was wrong: the brisket throne was empty.
He asked around, “Did you already put up the brisket?” But no one had already put up the brisket.
He looked in the refrigerator. The fridge held no brisket.
He looked in the cupboard. The cupboard was bare.
The brisket was gone.
Jimmy was frantic. What happened to the brisket? The brisket had to be somewhere. Where could it be?
Jimmy looked out back. Out back where Jimmy’s dog was lying on her back, legs askew, tongue draped out her mouth as she drew shallow breaths of gluttony.
There, in that swollen belly, was Jimmy’s Perfect Brisket.
The wail split the thick summer air of the neighborhood. Every man rose in response. That heart-rending cry of pain, longing and loss could mean only one thing: a man without his brisket.
Every male within wailing distance shared the same, simultaneous thought:
“It was gone, all gone! No brisket! No brisket sandwiches! No brisket salad! No brisket gravy! brisket Hash! brisket a la King! Or gallons of brisket soup! Gone, ALL GONE!”
And there was Jimmy, left alone with his dog too full to move and the heavenly aroma still permeating the house, a reminder of what could have been and, now, would never be.
A moment now, of silence.
A moment now, of reverence.
A brisket has been lost.