Chef Rafael III, Executive Chef at McCamly Plaza, has brought his love and passion for food from his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia to Battle Creek. Like most chefs, Chef Rafael III has a favorite dish. We caught up with him and asked him all about it.

“If I had to pick my favorite thing to cook, it would be Beef Brisket with Smoked Vidalia Ketchup.”

He was kind enough to fork over the recipe.

  • Ketchup

  • Three large Vidalia onions julienned and smoked

  • 1 cup Worcestershire

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 1 cup molasses

  • ¼ cup organic apple cider vinegar

  • Salt & pepper to taste

According to Chef Rafael III, cooking brisket is an intricate process.

“Smoking beef brisket is an art…you don’t just throw it in the smoker and pray it will be great,” he says. “There’s a discipline and understanding for temperature, the science of the meat and smoke etc.

Then it’s time to move on to the sauce.

“This sauce is something I created in my hometown of Atlanta,” says Rafael III. “Light your smoker and add your wood–a little wood goes a long way. I julienne my onions and set them on a tray and put them in the smoker. Then, I immediately pop that can of ketchup open and pour it out onto a sheet pan to place in the smoker along with the onions. Do not place directly over heat. You only want them to get smoke heat. In an hour, the onions will be soft and the ketchup will have a black film across the top. Remove and let them cool in the fridge for 30 minutes. After they have cooled, place them in a large bowl with the rest of the other ingredients…the ACV, molasses, brown sugar, Worcestershire. Use an immersion blender on high to puree it all together and combine flavors until they are smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. This sauce is the best! Similar to bbq sauce, but with little bits of caramelized onion and fresh smoky flavor.”

Now, it’s time for the star of the show, the brisket. Chef Rafael III talked to us about how chooses and prepares his brisket.

“I buy larger average pound briskets (11-15 lbs makes for an evenly cooked product) with full deckle and not trimmed,” he says. “Brisket comes from the chest plate of a cow, so that will better help you to understand its shape. You’re gonna want to evenly trim all the fat cap away from the meat but pick a thickness. Leave either ¼ inch or ½ inch of even fat all the way around the meat. The underside will have very thin splotches of fat, but you will need to remove all of that. The underside almost looks like flank steak with the striations of meat. Trim off about the first 2 inches from the flat to square up the rectangular shape (this is very thin and will probably burn up and be super dry anyway–this is great for jerky.) Next, make your seasoning mix. Keep it simple, 1 cup kosher salt to ¼ cup cracked black pepper. Pat dry the meat with a paper towel and sprinkle evenly with the mixture, making sure to start on the underside first, then the sides, back, and top. Pat the meat with your hand to press in the seasoning–don’t rub! Rubbing only makes big salt patches (clumps) that are not very tasty. Refrigerate for an hour.”

And then there’s the smoking, which is all about timing and temperature.

“Place fat side up in smoker that has been preheated to 235 degrees. Here’s where it gets tricky,” says Rafael. “We want to ensure we get a beautiful, pink smoke ring. Some people smoke their meat and it’s a little on the strong smoke flavor side or it dries out or it has burnt outside. The hemoglobin in red meat will only absorb smoke flavor until the temperature of 140 degrees, so that’s why we chilled it before placing in the smoker. It’ll absorb more smoke for longer before it hits 140. So, now that you have your brisket smoking, it should take about 6-8 hours before it hits 140 degrees. At this point, remove and wrap with the brown paper bag or butcher paper and place back in the smoker. The paper does a few things for us:

1. Keep smoke from drying it out further

2. Keep moisture in.

3. Disperse fat drippings evenly around brisket.

4. Help maintain solid temp.

Now, we just wait until the meat hits 185- 190 degrees and is jelly-like when picked up. It should jiggle and be floppy.”

And patience plays a big role in making a successful brisket.

“This next step is absolutely crucial: let meat rest for 30 to 45 minutes before cutting into it,” says Rafael. “Cutting it open too soon will release steam and tons of moisture.”

Carving up the brisket is just as important as all of the other steps. Chef Rafael III clued us in on his carving techniques.

“Use a serrated knife, not a bread knife,” he says. “All cuts should be the thickness of a pencil or ¼ inch thick. Cut across the width at 90-degree angle against the grain. The thicker back half has a grain that runs in a different direction, so turn it 90 degrees and slice just like you did the thinner beginning piece. You will know this when you start to see a piece of fat in the center of the meat. The back half has fat in the middle like a ribeye steak. Give the brisket the “pull test” by taking a slice and gently tugging to see how it pulls apart. If you take a slice of brisket between the thumb and index finger in both hands and pull, it should come apart easily, but not fall apart. If it stretches, it isn’t done enough. If it falls apart, it’s overdone. Don’t forget the smoked ketchup. Enjoy!”