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The Food Guy: Brisket tips, refreshing frescas to up your cookout game

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Weeks and months have passed, yet I still can’t get the thought of the amazing brisket at Lem’s Meat Varnish out of my mind.

It was not only the best item I sampled during my review of the small joint steps from the South Charleston Mound, but also one of the best meats I’ve tasted in a very long time.

I need to ask Chris Lemon, Lem’s owner and chief pit master, what his secret is. But in the meantime, I did run across these tips in case you’re planning to throw some brisket on the grill (or in the smoker) for any Fourth of July festivities this weekend.

National BBQ expert Rocky Stubblefield says making authentic Texas brisket is not as difficult as you think. And the results make a delicious filling for tacos, sliders and more — or perhaps a topping for the best nachos ever.

His tips?

Get a good crust: One of the best parts of a brisket is its flavorful crust. Be sure the rub the entire brisket generously with spices 15-20 minutes before the meat goes on the grill or in the smoker.

Fat side up: Whether using a smoker or a charcoal grill, place the brisket fat-side up so that the fat drips down into the meat to keep it moist and flavorful while cooking.

Slicing is important: Be sure to cut against or across the grain of the brisket for tender slices. Not sure where the grain is? It’s easier to see on the raw meat before it’s rubbed, so cut a notch when prepping to help guide you once it’s cooked.

Add the sauce: As they say in Texas, it’s not done till you add the sauce! Serve it on the side for dipping or, better yet, just pour that liquid love right over the top.

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With Memorial Day recently behind us, the Fourth of July coming up and summer grilling in full effect, you’re going to be outside sipping a frosty beverage or three over for the next few months.

When you need a break from something that packs an alcoholic punch, you should try this week’s recipe for Brick Salt Bar + Kitchen’s refreshing Peach & Wildflower Honey Agua Fresca.

You may remember that I and my partner in crime judging the Taste-of-ALL Charleston (former Gazette-Mail food writer Judy Grigoraci) praised this tasty unleaded drink during last month’s event — and Judy was able to snag us the recipe.

Featuring fresh West Virginia peaches, wildflower honey, limes, spring water and crushed ice, this easy-sipping concoction will be a staple at my summer soirees.

Peach & Wildflower Honey Agua Fresca

Makes 1 gallon.

5 pounds fresh West Virginia peaches

1 cup West Virginia wildflower honey

½ cup lime juice

4 limes, sliced

5 pounds crushed ice

2 quarts West Virginia spring water

Peel and stone peaches and place in blender with honey, lime juice, one pound of crushed ice, water and honey.

Puree until smooth and place in a fine mesh strainer. Let drain refrigerated for two hours without forcing through strainer.

Serve the resulting liquid over remaining crushed ice with a lime slice.

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Speaking of cookouts, I’m sure you’re on pins and needles wondering what America’s favorite burger is. In the totally non-shocking “Burger Report” recently released by ground beef purveyor Schweid & Son’s, the most popular burger in the U.S. once again this year is ... the bacon cheeseburger.

No surprise there, but here are a few other burger favorites you may not know. According to the results of this year’s study, other American burger favorites are:

n Bun: brioche

n Cheese: American

n Veggies: lettuce, tomato

n Protein: bacon

n Sauce: ketchup

n Weight: 8 ounces

n Classification: Angus

n Meat type: Chuck

But right behind those favorites are these up-trending ingredients that may crack the top next year: pretzel buns, brisket meat, blue cheese, pulled pork, fried eggs, red onions and onion rings.

I’d argue some of those options have already “made it,” since you’re hard-pressed not to find a burger with a glistening, oozing egg on it these days.

And what’s on the way out? These options, they say, are all losing ground: Kaiser buns, pepper jack cheese, jalapeños, chili and aioli.

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and an occasional food blog at He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or by email at You can also follow him on Facebook as “WV Food Guy” and on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WVFoodGuy.”

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