Over the past year, I've found myself becoming more sentimental when it comes to barbecue. My earliest memories of eating Q are centered around East Texas and always involved ordering a chopped brisket sandwich, often served on simple wax paper. As I'm exposed to more & more BBQ, I'm coming full circle and ending up where it all began.
A great chopped brisket sandwich is one of the simple pleasures in life. You can eat one East Texas style, the brisket is chopped & sauced and served with slices of white bread, like Pat Gee's in Tyler or MeShack's in Garland. Central Texas purists might prefer their chop piled high on a toasted bun and served without sauce. I'm good either way.
I decided to reach out to members of the Posse to gather their thoughts on the subject. Here's an email string debating the greatness of the chopped brisket sandwich, enjoy......
Chris Wilkins: Hello friends. . .Hope everyone is well, I'm looking for a few thoughts on the almighty chopped brisket sandwich. I grew up eating chopped beef at Stanley's washing it down with a Big Red or a cream soda. I've been eating them more & more lately, getting back to my East Texas roots.
I'm thinking of putting together a little ode to the chopped brisket sandwich for the Posse website. Does anyone have memories of a great chop sandwich you can share?
Ahna Hubnik: Yes. Steve's BBQ was probably the first chopped beef sandwich I ever ate. It was a tiny building on the corner of Bell and Hickory in Denton. The whole place was like one big smoke pit. It was dark, small and the chairs and tables were cut off tree stumps. Steve ran the register. He had no patience for lollygagging customers. Order or get out.
The sandwich itself soaked through the buttery bun and the wrapper. I ordered mine with pickles and thin sliced onions (my father taught me that) and a bag of regular Lays potato chips. The sauce was a vinegar base and spicy. We would pick up my dad from work at Moore's and head there.
Sadly, Steve's fell victim to an overnight fire about 15 years ago. It was Easter and he was smoking hams for customers. Damn, now I'm real sad. Such a good memory. Thank you for asking!!
Jim Rossman: I can honestly say I haven’t had one chopped beef sandwich since I discovered good barbecue. Maybe I’m just not old enough. 😉
Chris: Jim, I'll bet you'd have been all in on this bad boy we had at Bodacious on Mobberly last Saturday, the Marshall Cooper Special!
Marshall Cooper: Come to think of it, we haven’t been shown the photos taken by Mr. Wilkins of the chopped beef sandwich he was served (which would make mine look like a slider!) on that same glorious chopped beef day! There’s nothing better off of the block than a well intentioned chopped beef. Taking a whole brisket with plenty of thick bark edges and chopping it makes for some mighty fine sandwiches.
Gary Jacobson: When I think of the words brisket and sandwich together, I always return to our first visit to Snow's.
"Seated outside near the pits, watching owner Kerry Bexley and pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz work, we ate what has become our standard brisket breakfast there, a slice of moist beef with just a couple drops of sauce, surrounded by a slice of folded white bread."
You can chop the beef it you want, and put it on a fancy bun, but you can't beat the simplicity and taste of that improvised brisket sandwich at Snow's.
Gary Barber: Wow, what a memory indeed. Definitely when I had my brisket awakening on the cool damp morning with the stock trailers passing by.
When I think chopped brisket it’s Baby Back Shack. Unfortunately, it’s the only way I can eat their brisket. They chop it so fine that you don’t even know it is tough and hasn’t quite broken down yet. The best part of that one for me is loading the scraps that fall of the sandwich onto an order of Shak beans.
Bruce Tomaso: I wasn't a fan of the chopped beef sandwich -- until last week. There are just too many better choices at a top-of-the-heap BBQ joint. (That said, on visits to Stanley's in Tyler, I've occasionally enjoyed the Brother-In-Law, a sandwich made of chopped brisket, a grilled hot link, cheese and sauce.)
I became a chopped convert on our latest visit to Bodacious BBQ in Longview. Chris, Marshall and I all ordered chopped brisket sandwiches, and they were marvelous. The chop came from the fatty end of a perfectly cooked brisket. These were the first cuts from a whole brisket, the picture-perfect slices normally served as a sliced beef platter. (As Marshall noted, most joints make their chopped from the scraps of their whole briskets.)
The flavorful bark folded into the moist, tender meat, the lightly toasted bun, the dollop of sauce and a few jalapeno slices (or, if you prefer, sliced pickles) just made for a superb lunch. And while brisket slices dry out and are never nearly as good as leftovers, I continued to make delicious chopped sandwiches for days from the pound of brisket I got to-go from Bodacious.)
I think of a chopped beef sandwich -- unlike 'craft' BBQ -- as a comfort food, like fried chicken or mac and cheese or a plump hot dog on steamed bun or a BLT packed to the rafters with bacon. Comfort foods remind us of a good time, maybe a better time. And they make us want to come back. I'll be back to Bodacious, and I know already what I'll order.
Marshall: Damn that’s worded so well I’m hungry for one again. Anyone else? Chris? G, Gary? Anyone?
Chris: Good stuff everyone, thanks for your help. Now if we can just get Rossman to try one! And speaking of Mr Barber, here's a true classic from 2010
Jim: I mean no disrespect to the chopped beef sandwich. The sandwich from Bodacious looks to be on a much higher level than your typical Dickey's chopped beef sandwich. I’m sure a chopped beef sandwich from Franklin or Louie Mueller or Cattleack would be great as well, but when I get to the front of the line, my brain isn’t telling me to order the sandwich. It seems lower down the list of what I want for lunch.
Mike Gibson: Mine would have to be going to Angelo's in Fort Worth with my family as a kid. Sawdust on the floor, pushing open the sliding lid RC Cola bottle coolers that lined the walls and were already vintage in the late 70's and early 80's. Passing the two full size stuffed black bears that were in the hallway at the entrance (they're still there and wear Angelo's BBQ t-shirts), to step up to the counter that I couldn't see over and order the chopped. Lots of great memories there for me, and have been thinking about that in the last few weeks since I heard that Skeet George passed away in late December.
As much as we are all into the bespoke BBQ that is de rigeur these days, there is something about the original and natural simplicity of that that brings it all back for me. It's where my love of BBQ started.
Marshall: The chopped beef sandwich is unfortunately misunderstood. The late Dickey’s chopped beef is not the standard. When fixed right, they’re unbeatable. It should be a rough at least 3/4 of a pound of coarsely chopped first-cut brisket that includes fatty, lean and the true burnt ends (not the sauced versions of the young generation) served on a toasted buttered bun (or fresh white bread) with onions, pickles, tabasco, homemade bbq sauce (no liquid smoke) and an ice-cold Bud long neck or two.
I am from Texas and the authentic chopped beef sandwich has been a mainstay in my BBQ life. We should make some chopped beef sandwiches at the next backyard cook to better define it so everyone gets what the acceptable conditions are.
Darrell Byers: What Marshall said.
Jim: In honor of the Posse, I had a chopped brisket sandwich at Hutchins in McKinney tonight. It was pretty great. I’d get it again.
Chris: Well played Mr Rossman!