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From the Checkered Pig Fan Page

Amazing Brisket is a Rare and Beautiful Thing

Brisket is easily my favorite food ever, and I take it upon myself to seek it out anywhere I go in the United States. From New York to South Carolina and all the way out to Chicago, the nation is falling in love with barbecue, and I am both an evangelist and critic of this slow-cooked succulent style of preparing meat. Without hashing out the history and minutia of barbecue,  it involves smoking meat and cooking it over low heat (except in the North, where it is generally cooked with direct heat) producing a smoky, juicy product that is more tender and delicious than the particular cut could otherwise be.

With brisket, the process is especially important because the cut comes from the breast of the cow and it is full of connective tissue and dense muscle. However, connective tissue results in big flavor when it breaks down with fats and saturates the surrounding meat. As a result, what starts as the toughest part between the hoofs and horns can transform into a truly magnificent piece of beef. The very nature of the cut is such that good and mediocre preparations are miles apart. In my experience, most barbecue restaurants don’t make very good brisket. Either they rush it, over- or under- season it, cut corners in smoking or preparation, or at times they just don’t understand the cut, and then in the end the brisket will be dry, tough, and flavorless.

The Pig is King

As I mentioned, when I travel I make a point of eating at barbecue restaurants whenever I come across them. So far I haven’t had the pleasure of testing the barbecue in either Oklahoma or Texas, which is a problem I hope to remedy. Brisket was originally a cowboy cut,  and I imagine it is very good in Texas. That being said, the best barbecue places I have found are a Texas style barbecue restaurant in Kentucky (the name of which I now forget), and surprisingly (for me, anyway) a small place in my home town. On a trip to visit my family over the summer I discovered the Checkered Pig, and my life has changed. Well, at least my standards in good brisket have changed.

Dinner

Checkered Pig is apparently named for, and equally well known for ,their pork shoulder – but who cares when the brisket is this good. Don’t get me wrong, the pork is great, and they win awards for that as well, but the brisket is so good I will literally eat it all day. In fact, last week I did eat Checkered Pig’s brisket all day. I went to the Danville location for lunch and settled up to a New Castle, a brisket sandwich, and fries. The Brown Ale is great with brisket, but that’s beside the point. The sandwich is cheap and piled high with brisket in a regular bun with a bit of sauce. It is strictly a no-frills affair, and for good reason. Even with a slosh of the excellent house-made hot sauce and BBQ sauce, I could easily bite cleanly through the sandwich without losing brisket on either end, a rare feat for a dish like this.

The ease with which I ate my meal speaks to the tenderness and texture and quality of the meat. The texture is perfect – just a little spring on the tooth and then it melts on the tongue. The taste is buttery, smoky, spicy, and beefy. Looking at a slice of the meat you can see a distinct thick pink smoke ring all the way around, and you can taste the time and effort that went into creating that marker of good smoked meat. The bark (or ‘crust’ for the non-barbecue-aficionados) is crunchy, subtle, and full of flavor. You can easily detect paprika, onion, garlic, sugar, molasses (likely from brown sugar,) and many other spices. It is beefy perfection between bread.

The Numbers

Taste 5 of 5

Appearance 5 of 5

Texture 5 of 5

Then I Went Back For More…

The brisket is so good, in fact, that after it settled I got back in my car and went to their drive-through for dinner. Yes, it is so popular, they need a drive-through window in addition to the main restaurant. Sadly, state law prohibited them from passing me a six-pack through the window along with my dinner. The above photo was my dinner – well, there were also fries, a sweet potato, and hush puppies, all delicious in their own right –  but who wants to hear about starch when there’s a steaming delicious pound of meat on the plate. In short, if you’re ever in Martinsville or Danville, VA,  GO TO CHECKERED PIG. If you live in Greensboro, NC, just hop on 29 N, and Checkered Pig is less than an hour away.

For more information (and barbecue worship) check them out on Facebook. The previous post on The Garlic Press is a video of the guys from the Checkered Pig in competition.

Checkered Pig on Urbanspoon

Checkered Pig has a restaurant in my home town, and it’s amazing! I’m re-posting this video from a 2008 competition they won in the run up to a review of their brisket that I’m writing.