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Tastes of Texas: A Discussion on Mop Sauce

Join us with our continued brisket discussion as we learn how to make our own mop sauce.

Welcome to the second installment of Tastes of Texas. I would like to thank all the people who joined the conversation last week. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with all of you, and I hope we can continue these great discussions throughout the series. This week, we're going to continue with and expand upon our brisket theme. Let's talk sauce.

While I only lightly touched on sauces last week, I noticed in the comments that y'all had quite a bit of interest in the topic. Furthermore, when I was called upon to cite my mop sauce recipe, I was, embarrassingly, unable to do so with any sort of precision. In response to this, while smoking a brisket this weekend I actually measured sauce ingredients for the first time in my life. This resulted in a delicious concoction that imparted loads of flavor into my brisket, and I'm proud to share it with y'all.

Before we get into the specifics of the recipe, let's talk about the purpose behind a mop sauce. There are a lot of people out there that believe no mop sauce should ever touch their brisket for any reason. Some of the reasons behind this approach are legitimate, others, not so much. Sometime in your life you'll likely encounter a BBQ "purist" who will tell you that no sauce ever touches his meat "cuz it don't need it (sic)" and "that ain't pure Texas BBQ." This person is wrong. I've noticed that most "purists" are only purists insomuch as it justifies their methods. Cook on an open pit with your meat on rotating spits, and then come talk to me about purity. Other reasons, however, are much more pragmatic. First, some people don't mop their brisket because the liquid can soften up the bark that the rub forms on the meat. While legitimate, this concern is mostly alleviated with the proper mopping method. Second, when you mop the meat, you have to constantly open the pit which can make temperature control a nightmare. I believe this is the biggest concern with the mopping method, but the benefits greatly outweigh the concerns.

The first benefit of mopping is clearly the additional flavor it adds to the brisket. The rub adds one level of flavor, but it doesn't penetrate into the meat. This is where the mop sauce comes in. It adds a depth to your flavor that the rub alone can't achieve, and the constant mopping allows the brisket to pull in some of those flavors during the cooking process. Second, the sauce helps keep the brisket moist. As the brisket pulls in that liquid, keeping your brisket from drying out becomes considerably easier. Finally, if done properly, the mop sauce can actually help with crust formation. Essentially: (flavor + moist brisket + better crust) > temperature concerns.

Now that we've decided that the mopping is way to go, what exactly are we mopping with?

What you'll need.
1 Stick of butter

¼ Cup of apple cider vinegar

¼ Cup of ketchup

¼ Cup of yellow mustard

¼ Cup of Worcestershire sauce

2-5 Dashes of hot sauce (I use Valentina)

2-3 Dashes of steak sauce or bottled BBQ sauce

1-2 Dashes of lime juice

1 Can of beer

1 Can of chicken or beef broth

1½ Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp black pepper

1 Tbsp chicken or beef boullion)

½ Tbsp onion powder

½ Tbsp chili powder

½ Tbsp chile pequin or cayenne pepper

1 Tsp powdered mustard

1 Tsp oregano

4-5 Tbsp brown sugar

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once butter is melted, stir in apple cider vinegar. After thoroughly mixing butter and vinegar, add mustard and ketchup and stir vigorously until all ingredients are well blended. Then, add Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, hot sauce, and lime and continue to stir. Once blended, add broth and beer. Finally, stir in dry spices. Bring the liquid to a low boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes.

The sauce should be very thin. This is not meant to be a thick BBQ sauce that you serve with your brisket, but rather, a thin watery mixture that will penetrate the meat during the cooking process; if the sauce is too thick it won't penetrate the meat and can burn on the outside of your brisket. I find this recipe has a good mixture of spiciness with a little bit of sweetness to counter the bite. If any flavors seems out of balance, another few dashes of bottle BBQ sauce usually helps to even things out. Adjust all spices according to your personal taste.

I mentioned earlier that the mop sauce won't affect your bark with the proper technique. First, you'll need a brush. Most grocery stores sell silicon BBQ brushes, but an unused (clearly) paint brush works just as well. Hell, my granddad used to make a sop by tying a piece of cotton to a stick. The point is, almost anything will work, so don't go spend an unnecessary amount of money. Second, do not mop the brisket for about the first two hours of smoking. This time allows the rub to adhere to the meat and begin to form your bark. Mopping any earlier than that will wash all of your delicious spices off the meat. Third, when you mop, dab the brisket, don't brush. Even though the crust is starting to form, the addition of liquid is going to soften it up. Dabbing the sauce onto the meat keeps your spices intact and allows the crust to reform after the mop.

How often should you mop? The general rule is that you should not add more mop sauce until your previous batch has hardened on the outside. This is how the mop sauce actually helps to form your bark because the liquid that doesn't penetrate the brisket dries on the outside. Mopping too often will leave you with a liquid mess, so be patient. I, admittedly, get a little over zealous with my mopping and put on a fresh batch about every half hour. This lets me get in a couple more mops before I wrap the brisket, but my crust isn't as firm as it could be. Forty-five minutes should be a good target for you, with a 15 minute cushion on either side to adjust for temperature and the amount of smoke in your pit. Before you wrap your brisket be sure to give it one last heavy mop for an extra kick of flavor.

I hope this recipe and discussion helps to take your BBQ experience to the next level. In a future post we'll talk about how to move beyond store bought BBQ sauces, and I'll teach you how to turn your leftover mop sauce and brisket drippings into a killer serving sauce. Better hope Switzer has taken some singing lessons.

For Part 1 of our brisket discussion go here.