Smoked Brisket Sandwiches with Queso & Onion Straws
Reaching the point in my barbecue know-how where I can pretty consistently churn out a really great brisket feels like a crescendo. For many years now I've been very content to be in this spot and bask in it as I've smoked up many briskets in Texas fashion and then just served them as-is, only developing new recipes out of the leftovers. Being at this peak still feels satisfying to me, but I know there has to be more greatness on the other side of the mountain, so when I smoked up a brisket this past Memorial Day, I immediately turned it into these sandwiches that were topped with barbecue sauce, queso, pickled jalapeños, and onion straws, and boy did they deliver!
I included the brisket cooking here because it's how I made it, but while the brisket accounts for the majority of the time in the end recipe, it's also mostly down time that you can be doing other things—I got in a good night's sleep while my brisket smoked. However, you can simplify your life a lot by picking up some smoked brisket if you have a trusted source for it, and I ensure you that your guests will be just as impressed with the sandwiches whether you made the brisket or not.
If you are smoking your own brisket though, my method for repeat success has been to slow smoke the massive chunk of meat until the thickest part of the cut hits north of 180°F. This can take a good 8 to 10 hours, but once it gets there, the brisket gets wrapped in butcher paper and continues to cook, and the temperature tends to rise much faster from here on out. I pull the brisket off the smoker once is hits 203°F, and then let it rest in a cooler for a minimum of one hour—the rest is a pretty crucial part of a triumphant brisket in my experience.
If you're making your own brisket, this rest period is a great time to make the onion straws. These actually present the most active effort in this recipe, but I find it to be well worth it because these homemade tender and crunchy onions are pretty incredible and very addictive. I start the process with thin slices of yellow or sweet onion that are soaked in buttermilk.
The buttermilk provides a way for the breading to adhere to the onion once they're dredged in the flour mixture. Then into hot oil the onions go, and they fry up pretty quickly. I find I have just enough time to bread the next batch of onions while the current batch fry, and this keeps the whole process constantly moving at a good clip so it only takes about 30 minutes or so to get through frying up two large onions.
You'll find me using potato buns pretty consistently in my recipes, but I very purposefully went with brioche rolls here because I wanted their added sweetness in order to contrast with the peppery brisket and spicy jalapeños. To deliver the best sandwiches possible, I buttered and toasted the buns. I had two grills going on this day, and that gave me a lot of surface area to work with to toast a few dozen buns quickly. You don't need to get a grill going for this though and you can still toast the buns en masse in an oven.
When I made the first slices into the brisket I knew I had one of my best specimens I've cooked to date on hand. I judged this on the flat section of the brisket, which was juicer than usual, and I decided to start assembling the sandwiches with these slices because they passed my quality test.
To assemble, I piled brisket slices on each bun and then topped those with barbecue sauce, warmed chile con queso, pickled jalapeño slices, and a handful of onion straws. You can use your favorite barbecue sauce here, although I think the sweetness of a tomato-based sauce fits into the flavor profile best—I personally used a new recipe I was working on for a cherry-jalapeño barbecue sauce.
As much as I enjoyed my sampling of brisket slices while constructing the sandwiches, I have to admit that when put altogether, the brisket was taken to a whole new level. While its the simplicity of salt, pepper, and meat that makes brisket a favorite barbecue cut of mine, it was the complexity in these sandwiches that was really incredible. The brisket was a powerhouse still, but so was each individual element and you could taste the sweetness of the barbecue sauce, the richness of the queso, the tangy heat of the peppers, and crunch of the onions in way that no one thing really dominated, even though all were pretty heavy hitters. I rarely choose a sandwich at a barbecue joint because I'm so into the meats on the their own, but I felt like if I went to place with particular sandwich on the menu and I didn't order it, I would have been missing out.
Smoked Brisket Sandwiches with Queso & Onion Straws
- Yield 16 servings
- Prep 1 Hour
- Inactive 1 Hour
- Cook 14 Hours
- Total 16 Hours
- For the Brisket
- 1/2 cup coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup Kosher salt
- 1 12-14lb full packer brisket, fat cap trimmed to 1/4" thickness
- 3 chunks of a medium smoking wood, such as oak or hickory
- For the Onion Straws
- 2 large yellow onion, cut into thin slices
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 to 3 cups canola oil
- For the Sandwiches
- 16 brioche rolls
- 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups barbecue sauce
- 2 cups chile con queso, warmed
- 1/2 cup pickled jalapeño slices
- To make the brisket: In a small bowl combine pepper and salt to make the rub. Season brisket all over liberally with the rub.
- Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood chunks when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, place brisket in the smoker or grill, fat side up, and smoke until an instant read thermometer registers around 180°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Wrap brisket butcher paper, place back on smoker or grill, and continue to cook until an instant read thermometer registers 203°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Place brisket in a cooler or oven and let rest for at least 1 hour and up to 3.
- To make the onion straws: Place onion slices in a large bowl and cover with buttermilk. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, dutch oven, or wok over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F. Adjust flame to maintain temperature. Working in batches, remove onion slices from buttermilk, transfer to flour mixture, and gently toss to evenly coat. Transfer flour-coated onions to hot oil and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer cooked onions to a paper towel lined tray and season with salt to taste. Repeat with remaining onion slices. Set aside until ready to use.
- To make the sandwiches: Spread a layer of butter on each cut side of roll. Toast rolls on a grill, in a 350°F oven, or in a cast iron pan set over medium heat until the butter has melted and edges of the rolls begin to brown. Set toasted rolls aside.
- Remove brisket from butcher paper and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices against the grain. Place slices of brisket on bottom half of each roll and top each with spoonfuls of barbecue sauce, queso, a few jalapeño slices, and a handful of onion straws. Set top halves of buns in place and serve sandwiches immediately.
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Mike Just wow. The onions turned out just perfect!