Low & slow

They say that good things take time and patience is a virtue. 

The art of smoking meats is a hobby, way of life, and adventure among barbecue lovers galore. Residing in the beef state, Nebraskans are no strangers to agriculture and using natural resources – after all, the state ranks as one of the top five with the most beef cows. A desirable piece of meat comes in many forms, but one cut reigns king and continues to dominate the barbecue industry across the state.

Packed with flavor and tender to the touch, smoked brisket is a beautiful concept that keeps people coming back again and again. Take it from Wayne Dinges, owner and cook at Smokin Barrel BBQ in Omaha. Previously residing in Texas, Dinges took his passion for barbecue and launched a food trailer in 2014 to give people the experience of a different region’s barbecue without traveling the distance. Seven years later, Dinges continues to smoke his meats inside the trailer, only now it sits behind Smokin Barrel’s brick-and-mortar location.

Dinges said he credits his love for brisket as the only reason he started the company. “I felt there was a niche that people needed my brisket,” he said. “I wanted brisket, I couldn’t find any I liked, so I made it myself.” Taking a simplistic approach, Smokin Barrel only uses salt and pepper to ensure each bite of brisket finishes with a smoky beef flavor. With many wood types to choose from, Dinges started his meat-smoking journey with mesquite before moving into hickory. Now, the establishment only operates on oak wood, as Dinges’ love for the flavor overrules the previous ones. 

With numerous barbecue options available, beef brisket remains king at Smokin Barrel. While these smoked meats can be sliced, chopped, plain, or sauced, Dinges said he is a strong believer in not using sauces. Smoking his briskets for 16 to 18 hours, Dinges said his goal is to give his customers the best dining experience possible to guarantee every flavor and texture is retained. “It is a craft; that’s what it all comes down to,” he said. “Take pride in what you do and do it to the best of your ability.” 

In small-town Nebraska lies BBQ Mann: one of four eateries in Yutan that was born after a catering concept turned into a restaurant to serve barbecue lovers everywhere. Running a restaurant was a new escapade for Owner Scott Mann, who purchased an old café in a building over 100 years old. Creating a unique atmosphere for customers to indulge in quality food was crucial for Mann when opening his restaurant. “The environment you’re eating in and who you’re having it with plays a great part in how good you think the food is,” he said. “If you’re out with friends and having a great time, meals taste better.” 

The restaurant’s approach consists of three straightforward ingredients: salt, pepper, and garlic. Mann said he feels these seasonings accentuate the already strong flavor that brisket offers. As the establishment’s most popular menu item, Mann said he requires his brisket to be on the smoker for a minimum of 12 hours to ensure connective tissues are broken down, the product is tender, and natural juices are retained. “No piece of meat is going to act the same; you just have to trust the process,” he said. “Because it’s such an expensive and difficult piece of meat to cook, we pay a lot of attention to it.” 

Mann said living in an agriculture-based scene causes people to feel that beef is the premium product, especially brisket. “Every piece of brisket that comes out of here has had an awful lot of time, effort, and attention given to it,” he said. “I think low and slow is the best approach, and we really care a lot about what we’re doing here.” 

Nearly 20 years ago, a dream to open a restaurant turned into a reality when Perry Viers founded Boyd and Charlies BBQ. Named after his sons, Viers purchased the rustic space in historic downtown Elkhorn with former manager Nate Ruffino by his side. Now co-owners, the business partners have turned Boyd and Charlies into a destination spot for Olde Towne Elkhorn residents and barbecue fanatics by the dozen. 

What started as a limited menu has now turned into a wide variety of meat cuts, mouthwatering sandwiches, and barbecue specialties straight from the smoker. Boyd and Charlies is no stranger to brisket as it incorporates this delicacy into Philly sandwiches, French dips, and even beans. “We like our meat to be the hero,” Ruffino said. “Brisket has been our staple throughout the years because it goes so well with so many different things.” Known for its sauceless meat, the restaurant places sauce on the side to allow customers to choose how they would like to enhance their flavor – if at all. “We want to show our product and not cover it,” Ruffino added. 

Always looking to improve its offerings, Boyd and Charlies has upgraded its smokers five times to land on the “homerun” rotisserie smoker used today. With brisket, Ruffino said a nice bark on the outside and a red smoke ring will signify its juiciness and level of smoke. Dubbing brisket as “the toughest thing to master,” Ruffino and Viers ventured into the world of barbecue together through trial and error and a willingness to learn. Through the support from his family, customers, and staff, Ruffino said his livelihood will always be barbecue. “You don’t have to go to Kansas City to get good barbecue; there is a lot of great barbecue in Nebraska,” Ruffino said. “We are family to the extreme. What goes better with family than barbecue?”

It’s no wonder brisket is one of the most popular cuts of meat among barbecue. The smoky smell that emerges from the smoker allows for an indulgent experience. Trusting and not rushing the process is key, but the incomparable and flavorful result will always leave folks hungry for more.

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