The Seahawks love Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ, and you just might, too.
ASK JEFF KNOCH how long he cooks his brisket, and he answers, “’Til it’s done.” He pauses and smiles. “I’ve never seen a brisket wearing a wristwatch.”
By now, the owner of Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ in Marysville has seen a lot of brisket. But he was not born and raised with the ways of smoked meat. He grew up in Ohio, under the misapprehension that barbecue was chicken doused with lowest-common-denominator sauce. Later, he lived in Arizona, California and New Jersey, before moving here (“Please note that none of these states are known for their BBQ,” the Jeff’s website drolly points out). Finally, in 1995, his singer-songwriter days (“People say that James Taylor sounds like me,” he quips) took him to Texas, where a friend took him to a real barbecue joint. He doesn’t remember the place’s name, he claims, but: “It was an epiphany. It was like, ‘Where has this been my whole life?’ ”
He loved the trays lined with butcher paper; he loved the fact that barbecue done well in the Central Texas style didn’t need sauce, was just smoke-blessed meat. According to the obsessive research he embarked upon, he’d accidentally hit on the original home of the form, where barbecue got started in the mid- to late-1800s, with butchers making it in-house, using the crummier cuts of meat, rubbed (“Black pepper is like a food group in Texas,” he says) then babied into succulence. He started intensive brisket experimentation at home.
Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ
9214 State Ave., Marysville, 360-386-9489; jeffstexasstylebbq.com; Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (or until sold out).
He wasn’t very good at it at first. “Everybody said, ‘Low and slow, and you’ll be fine’ ” — meaning a slow cook at a low temperature. He tried to force the smoker to cook at the temperature he thought was perfect. He tried to push the process too fast, bringing the internal temperature of the meat up too rapidly. He tried to serve the meat too soon.
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“At some point,” Knoch says, “you just have to give up.” By the early 2000s, he was asking himself questions instead of trying, trying, trying: “What temperature does this smoker want to cook at? What do the briskets need?”
He’d had a realization: “Brisket does not want to be pushed … They need to be trimmed properly, massaged — these are ornery pieces of meat.” You must, he says, “Treat them gently, as individuals … Every cow is different, every steer is different, every brisket is different.”
He notes, “You have to have the science part of it pretty well under control.” (He could get deeper into the barbecue weeds, as many connoisseurs are wont to do, but he calls that “boring … kind of dry and nerdish.”) He moves along to “the artistic side, where you’re using your hands and your eyes” to get each brisket as good as it possibly can be.
Knoch means it about using your hands — he feels each individual brisket to let it tell him, tactile-style, when it’s done. Even the rub, he says, is a gentle, mindful, tender one.
You must respect the briskets. “Let them be what they want to be,” he says.
Knoch opened his modest place a year and a half ago. He lights the fire every morning at 6 a.m. The briskets go on around 7 a.m., and cook until about 7 at night — about. He’s encountered two briskets the same size, “practically the same shape,” and one took eight and a half hours, while the other took 16½. Once they’re out of the smoker, he gives them five or six hours for the internal temperature to come down in “a nice, gentle curve.” Around midnight or 1 a.m., the briskets, ready to serve, go into costly humidity-controlled hot-holding cabinets to await eating.
“That’s kind of the philosophy,” he says. “You just don’t ever want to rush it.” His is a philosophy of generosity, too: He’s happy to share any and all of his recipes, and he recently started teaching an occasional Brisket School (which, for thoroughness’ sake, lasts two days).
Knoch’s meat mindset is even capacious enough to allow for sauce, though at Jeff’s, it comes with an all-caps sign instructing that it’s intended to be used for dipping. His sauces are on the thinner side, but rich, tangy and peppery — “definitely not that sticky-sweet Kansas City-style,” he’s at pains to point out. They’re his tweaked versions of recipes from the 1890s, and the hot is not burning-spicy-hot. “We’re trying to accentuate the meat with the sauce, rather than cover up the taste of the barbecue,” he says.
How does it all turn out? Barbecue beauty is in the mouth of the engulfer — let’s just say you have to get yourself out to Jeff’s, in its Marysville strip mall between a Subway and the Tienda Rancho Grande, to understand. Take the Seahawks’ word-of-mouth for it: Someone in the front office ate at Jeff’s last year and asked him to do some catering for the team. The first time, he brought 40 pounds of brisket, 45 racks of ribs, turkey, sides and more; he ran out of brisket. The next time, he took 60 pounds, “And we ran out again.” The next time, he brought even more and still ran out.
“The brisket is a pretty big hit with the Seahawks,” Knoch says.