Chopped Beef and Loose Meat: Barbecue For Pit-Sissies

Categories: Chewing the Fat

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This sandwich may taste good, but it's more about the sauce than the meat
Yesterday I told you about the impending Texas debut of Maid-Rite, a corporate franchise type thing selling loose meat sandwiches, shakes and chili cheese fries. While a few commenters seemed to echo my lack of enthusiasm, others expressed disdain for my statement: "watch out Texas BBQ chopped beef -- loose meat promises to be just as underwhelming."

I should have known I'd get some flack. Commenter Finnegan asked:

where exactly have you eaten underwhelming Texas BBW chopped beef?

And Sybils_Beaver wanted to know:

so you've eaten at and reviewed a restaurant location that doesnt open until 2012?

It's true I've never tasted a Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich, but I've looked at enough pictures and recipes, and also eaten enough fast food in my time. I'm fairly certain I can conjure at least the spirit of the sandwich, which lead me to draw up the correlation to the chopped beef sandwiches I've tried since coming to Texas.

To answer Finnegan's question: My first chopped beef sandwich came by way of Daniel Vaughn, the BBQ Snob. I wanted to meet Texas' most prolific smoked meat blogger, and he invited me to tag along on a two-stop barbecue tour just over a month ago. (I do love a double lunch.)

The first stop was Jesse's Place, a dilapidated building turned barbecue shack and BYOB night club. Vaughn had this to say about the chopped beef sandwich: "sloppy joe quality stuff with sweet sauce and little smokiness. Given the price it's hard to complain." The sandwich cost $0.99, so I was hardly expecting barbecue transcendence, but it got Vaughn and I talking about chopped beef.

Brisket is without a doubt the toughest cut of meat to conquer, but like anything, there are always shortcuts to be employed. Meat made tender through the dull, brute force of a cleaver instead of craftsmanship, smoke and time, makes for relatively easy cookery. And any snafus with flavor are simply masked with a dousing of sweet barbecue sauce.To put it bluntly, chopped beef is for pit-masters who still need training wheels.

Smoked, sliced brisket, on the other hand, takes a deft hand. First you have to get the temperature high enough to break down muscle fibers and connective tissue, then you've got to get the cut cooked without drying out. Next there's resting times and storage and slicing. Bungle any of these and your brisket is screwed. An entrant that recently competed in a competition I attended last weekend admitted to always throwing a pork shoulder on the smoker when he cooked brisket -- just in case. It makes for a great save if you jack up the beef.

So that's why I have a special appreciation for brisket and other forms of barbecued meats over chopped beef. I've had a few other versions at BBQ stands around town, and the the occasional trailer turned makeshift restaurant on the side of the road, but so far the biggest flavor component in each of the sandwiches has been the sauce. I'm sure there are better versions out there, and when I find them I'll eat till chopped beef grease runs down my chin.

For now, though, I'm a sliced brisket guy. And besides, I thought Texans didn't need sauce on their meat anyway?

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43 comments
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amy
amy

You are drunk. Go to Smokey John's in East Dallas and ask him for a chopped beef/chopped pork sandwich. Or, visit Pecan Lodge. Your mind will be changed. I guess I consider sliced brisket to be more of a 'sit down-and-get-full' dinner food whereas the chopped beef sammich is good BBQ on the go. 

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

B-b-b-b-but...

McRib! What about the McRib?

I hope the clown comes up with a McBrisket soon, so that we can put an end to all of this pointless bickering. 

mebiga
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todd
todd

I have got to add to this dog pile.  Chopped beef is brisket.  Why would you think it could be anything else?    IMO, it's chopped from the point end of the brisket because the fat content there is greater than the flat, which is used for slices.  It's all smoked together, slow and low until it's done.  For sauce, I'll take a few drops of Tabasco.  Ya'll can chose to ruin it with whatever sauce you like.   

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

There's a definite distinction though right? Chopped beef comes from the same cut, but it's prepared differently. Sometimes it's not even smoked. I realize they are the same cut... but they're two completely different dishes.

Lonerider
Lonerider

Different only in final prep. Usually the point off of the same brisket that the sliced (usually from the flat) came from is chopped and mixed with sauce.

todd
todd

I am no meat expert, but i believe they are both components of the same cut.  The point is at one end of the brisket, the flat at the other.  In my world, I smoke them together because the fat in the point helps keep the flat moist.  You can buy a brisket flat, if all you want to make is slices, but it's going to cost a lot more than you'd pay for a whole packer (point and flat atached).  Plus, you're going to have to figure out how to keep it moist.  I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's definitley a greater challenge. 

Lonerider
Lonerider

It is mind boggling to see people repeat the bbq misinformation that is out there. The fat in the point helps keep the flat moist. uh....um....not really but no doubt you have been told that. I hope you treat the two sections as separate entities at some point in the cook, if not you might always wonder why the flat is not worth eating.

Beda
Beda

Every time I have ordered a chopped beef sandwich, I watch the guy slice off a piece of brisket and then chop it up.  IMO, no distinction.  It's a slice of brisket that's been chopped.  That loose beef stuff you're talking about is a different animal.  I don't understand Robert's comment about being less expensive.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Scott, can you not hear the words that came out of my computer thingy?  I said the same thing that Beda said 14 effing times..Me, yep, I said the same thing a hunder times..

Daniel Vaughn
Daniel Vaughn

Please eat a few more chopped beef sandwiches from places other then Jesse's and get back to us. Try some pulled pork options around Dallas too like at Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse (special only), neither of which are of the sloppy joe variety. Most any chopped beef sandwich you get will be from the point end of the same smoked brisket where the sliced beef (from the flat) is coming from. Do not confuse barbecue (smoked meat) the pulled pork sandwiches on burger joint menus all over town.

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

OK, we're talking different things. The chopped beef I had swam it sauce. It tasted like it came from a bucket. Like pulled pork... only beef.

Robert
Robert

No one that I know of has ever claimed that chopped beef was superior to sliced beef/brisket. Chopped is just less expensive.

Chopped was and is for us poor folks who didn't grow up in a Gen-X or Generation Y lap of luxury.

@theburbanist
@theburbanist

Sauce, like good lighting, hides a multitude of sins. Take it away and oftentimes you are left with an old, dry piece of meat.

ssarkar
ssarkar

It is better than chipped beef

OLDEN DUDE
OLDEN DUDE

Someone has missed the point of this corporate creation. It's not chopper beef, it's loose fried ground meat piled on a bun. So, not Bar-B-Que, just another hamburger joint.Put away your soapboxes (for the time being)Just sayin'....

Lonerider
Lonerider

Back on the soapboxes, the OP talks about chopped beef. He says that it is for pit bosses that are on training wheels. Most places you can get sliced or chopped. It is available because people enjoy chopped bbq.

twinwillow
twinwillow

Oh, so it's the same crap that Roseanne sold in the restaurant on her TV show. I'll stick to real chopped BBQ'd brisket. With a little sauce, please.

twinwillow
twinwillow

I'll only order a chopped beef sandwich if the brisket is chopped fresh just after it's sliced. Not from the stuff that's been sitting in some "holding station" for hours. And yes, in this case, sauce is a must. Along with raw onion.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

Thats okay, Texans laugh when I mention burnt ends, a friggen delicacy in KC, where at most restaurants, you can order them as an entree.  People down here look at you like, whiy the hell would you eat that crap. 

Secondly loose meat and chopped bbq are no wher enear the same.  I consider loose meat to be like ground beef for taco and sloppy joes, an chopped bbq is always brisket.  Teh best chopped bbq sandwich is the leftover brisket my dad made, chopped and reheated the next day for lunch. 

Third, sauce defines texas bbq as much as any other place.  Ask a texan why they like a certainbbq place and they wont talk about the meat, they usualy pick their favorite by the sauce.  Thats ok, many a people are fooled into thinking the bbq wqas good bc of the sauce

Yes, in KC bbq joint favorites is an everyday argument, Jack Stack, Arthur Bryants, Gates, Oklahoma Joes.  Everyone will tell you the original gates in the hood is the best but that was based on gates original sauce.  Now the argument between the other 4 is really who cooks the most tender brisket and has the best burnt ends.  Plus the portion of ribs you get matters too

Ed D.
Ed D.

The burnt ends at Rosedale Bar-B-Q were a revelation but the best ribs I found were in KCKS at Schloegel's Woodyard Bar-B-Que. (Oklahoma Joe's were a very close second but not having to stand in line for half an hour tipped it over to the Woodyard for me.)

jon from tjs
jon from tjs

hard to argue with anything in this post.  i generally avoid sliced brisket unless i know its good. there is no "average" bbq brisket. its either awesome or inedbile to me.

Rob
Rob

"First you have to get the temperature high enough to break down muscle fibers and connective tissue, then you've got to get the cut cooked without drying out."

Huh? Breaking down the muscle fibers and connective tissue isn't about getting your temp high enough... you can put the brisket on at 600 degrees and you're going to have a crappy finished product. The brisket is 'cooked' long before it's ready to eat. It just takes time at a sustained low temp to finally breakdown the fiber, tissue and fat that makes a brisket delicious.

Lonerider
Lonerider

Not so, you need to do your homework. Cant speak to the 600 degrees but low and slow is not the only way to go. Using the high heat method works great for brisket and pork shoulder. I liked the low and slow routine especially when I was married and could hang out with my pit, beer and buddies for many hours and could not attend to much else because I had to watch out for  temperature spikes and what not.:) 

Daniel Vaughn
Daniel Vaughn

Scott R. - The chopped beef sandwich we tried at Jesse's was in no way exemplary of the standard chopped beef preparation in this area. Generally the meat is not stewed in sauce as to create a BBQ sloppy joe. Instead meat is usually placed dry on a bun and topped with sauce just before serving, or sauce is provided on the side. If you try Odom's, Pecan Lodge or even Cousin's at the airport, you'll find better chopped beef than the stuff we had that day.

Scott DFW - Agreed on sauce being ubiquitous in Texas, but it doesn't define Texas BBQ in the way it does in KC and the Carolinas. In the Carolinas it is nearly unthinkable to eat the meat without some sauce, and in KC there are arguments about your favorite joint based on its sauce rather than the meat it goes on. These things don't generally happen in Texas even though sauce is always there as an option. There are probably just as few places with a memorable sauce as there are without sauce altogether, and some of those sauces are only notable because of their subtlety like Louie Mueller. Off the Bone in Dallas, where I just had lunch today, bucks the trend and embraces their sauce as an intergral ingredient in their style and flavor, but they are an exception in Texas. God, do I love talking about BBQ.

primi - I wouldn't say I'm skeptical of chopped beef. Rather I think of it as a ringer dish. Anyone who's trying can make a decent sandwich out of a buttered bun, sweet sauce and fatty chopped beef with plenty of crust mixed in. If they can't get that right, then it's tough to expect much from the sliced. When judging meat I go straight for the sliced brisket. I also enjoy my smoked meat in bunches, so comparing meals back-to-back not only helps cover more ground, but also aids in critiquing.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Daniel,My personal thx for all of the bad barbeque from which you saved me, but more importantly , for all of the good barbeque to which you guided me.  I see your point about distinguishing between skepticism and the ringer quality of chopped barbeque.  Thinking about it I have to agree, but I still can't resist those long time memories associated with chopped barbeque,  It's almost like carne asada and guisada.  The guisada meat rarely compares with the asada, and the meat flavor of the guisada is pretty well overcome by the spicey sauces of the guisada.  But I love them both.  Same with chopped and regular brisket.  The brisket has a structure, texture and flavor all its own.  As sublijme as it can be, there is still a place for the chopped barbeque.  There may not be a good reason for it, but its been there for a long time and it has become familiar and appreciated for what it is, as less as it may be.

Scott DFW
Scott DFW

Daniel, if by "doesn't define" you mean that sauces in Texas are more varied, less susceptible to a single, simple characterization, I'd agree (though I do think there are some identifiable sauce traditions within Texas).  But wouldn't you also agree that, if you had a god's-eye view (which, not to be sacrilegious, but you kind of do when it comes to barbecue), you'd see that, at any given time, in over 90% of independently-owned Texas barbecue joints, over 90% of the meats on customers' plates will have sauce on them?  And, if that's true, isn't it accurate to say that sauce (and not the absence thereof) is as integral to Texas barbecue as it is to any other regional style?

Daniel Vaughn
Daniel Vaughn

I think this requires a distinction between urban and rural BBQ. I have felt the need to request sauce on the side at nearly every BBQ joint I've been to within a city because they'll generally ladle on the sauce, especially if African American run. When being served smoked meat in a rural setting, I find it's much more common for sauce to be offered only on the table, not at all, or on the side as a rule. I find the same dichotomy on the issue of gas pits vs. wood pits, but I sure like to think the tradition of Texas BBQ that it being kept alive by the old joints isn't about sauce covered meats cooked in a gas oven. I also admit that maybe it is just what I'd like to think.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Scott, as I stated yesterday, good BBQ joints make their chopped from the same effing brisket they would serve you slices from.  Don't know what the yankees make theirs with..but follow along here son..Me gonna talk slowly for ya little buddy.

I'm not familiar with Jesse's place..but anyone can go to Sam's and pickup a bucket of "chopped bbq"..this is not what I speak of.  Riscky's bbq over here in the town of the Cow serves a 99 cent chopped, and it sucks.

I don't know where you and Mr. BBQ stopped for part two of your little date (cause you didn't say in this post) but since you're scared to venture to the Westoplex, do yourself a favor and lookup Hard 8, I believe there's a location in Coppell..if'n it's 3/4's as good as the locations in Stephenville or Brady (Two towns in Texas, Scott) then it will suffice.  I would like for you to pay attention after you've ordered the chopped sandwich and see where it comes from.  They'll actually cut it from Brisket (the same well cooked brisket, you would be served sliced bbq from...it's MAGIC I tell ya!)...and then they'll chop it..if'n you don't want sauce you can tell the gal inside when you tell her what kind of bun you would prefer (go with Jalapeno)

You sound like a little girl that had a bad effing Whopper JR. and has now sworn off all cheeseburgers.

There's alot to see in Texas, open you mind and your ass will follow.. broski..I likey Beef ribs, Pork ribs, brisket, smoked chops, smoked japs, sausage, chopped..even a little smoked yardbird from time to time.

Sincerely, The Texanist

Scott DFW
Scott DFW

You're saying nothing of chopped beef sandwiches that couldn't also be said of North Carolina or Memphis barbecue sandwiches (where the meat is always chopped or pulled, always sauced, often with slaw added--and with pork, usually shoulders, which is as fool-proof a meat as one can find).  You're entitled to your preferences, of course.  But if you're unable to appreciate barbecue sandwiches with chopped meat and sauce, you're missing out on the broader swath of barbecue culture, not just in Texas.  

Also, maybe Daniel can do better, but I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) the number of Texas joints I've been to that don't make sauce readily available.  The exceptions are so few as to be insignificant.  Sauces are as much a part of Texas barbecue as they are of Carolina, Memphis, or Kansas City barbecue.  

Beda
Beda

I agree with Scott.  If I order a sandwich, I always have them chop it (which is the same brisket just chopped, or am I missing something?)  I think it makes for an easier sandwich to eat.  And I always add sauce.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Agreed with your fiirst and second points sir, other than in Lockhart, TX sauce is a big ass player in Texas bbq. 

Scott DFW
Scott DFW

And even in Lockhart, only one restaurant (Kreuz Market) doesn't have sauce.

twinwillow
twinwillow

So does Louie Mueller but it's mostly vinegar and tasteless.Don't need it anyway. Same go's for Smitty's.

Scott DFW
Scott DFW

Smitty's has sauce. You have to ask for it, though.

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

For a good loose meat sandwich head east to Marshall, Texas and check out Neely's.  Home of the Brown Pig and Brown Beef since 1928.  While you are there you can check out Ezell's BBQ, also in Marshall and in business since 1934.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Scott.  This was really good on a lot of levels.  First of all you got some really great info from Vaughn, namely his skepticism of chopped BBQ and the reasons for it .  Second, you got some really great info about Vaughn, that being his two stop lunch.  I always wondered how he could possibly rate all those BBQ places--of course, the double lunch.  Loved the pork shoulder story, too.  As for BBQ sauce, I wouldn't put any on a good piece of BBQ no more than I would put ketchup on a steak.  Keep it up and thx.

Lonerider
Lonerider

To each his own, good BBQ or bad is well enhanced with sauce. Just like a good rib eye with ketchup and worcestershire sauce on the side is heaven for me. Ya... I can eat all those things without sauce, but enjoy them more with my favorite condiments.  

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

Once you try North Main BBQ in Euless, it'll be hard to find a more tender and juicy brisket.

Sybils_Beaver
Sybils_Beaver

Well done sir, but I must say, my comment was towards the other commenter, Vjones, who claimed to have eaten at the Arlington location and wasnt directed towards you.  My favorite brisket to do is to smoke tha bad boy, then place said brisket in an oven safe pan, lightly bbq sauce the top and late bake on low heat for another 30 minutes, the pan wil have a nice layer of juice in the bottom, and the meat is so tender it just falls apart when you cut it.  YOu only get a light taste of the sauce but the smokey flavor from the hickory chips is just right.  Damn Im hungry

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

I don't think you'd find any Texan (or foodie) who doesn't appreciate quality barbequed brisket. But that doesn't mean a chopped beef or loose meat sandwich isn't also good and tasty in its own way.

Aren't you basically doing the equivalent of shitting on Chicago style pizza because you prefer NY style? Pizza or chopped meat sandwiches--you're dealing with cousins rather than siblings: some shared elements, some drastic differences.

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