Burnt Ends

June 2016 · Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA

There is something very special about the charred end cuts of a smoked brisket. Burnt ends are the misshapen pieces left after properly carving pristine, fatty slices with a deep bark and red smoke ring. The ends are generally left over and used for other things, like flavoring beans or morsels for the kitchen crew. These cuts of the brisket are, in many cases, disrespected and discarded-but now, they’re an art form for many a smoke house. There is a whole group of my associates who travel just to test the wares of the pit master by the quality of their burnt ends. If you don’t know the details, it sounds kind of creepy! So make sure you make a trip to KC and try some of the best burnt ends on the planet. Q39 is one of my favorites for burnt ends and other offerings from a BBQ champion. Also try Joe’s Kansas City and Woodyard Bar-B-Que. I have Franklin BBQ in Texas on my bucket list as well.

Burnt Ends

The idea of using the scraps from a plated entrée is not new, but it was never seen as something that could shine on its own. On a first read, the words “burnt” and “end” have a very finite picture of doneness! Burnt usually means overcooked, and end is the end of the line. However, when perfected, they are far from that mental image established from the name. Like certain things in the world, I don’t think someone intentionally went around and said, “Let’s take the center of the brisket and put it aside and only sell the ends.”

Over 35 years ago when I was in culinary school, living in a run-down dorm on the west side of the Providence, we had the privilege of residing near a small smoke house serving something called “scraps.” This was an off-the-menu special that only the learned or locals knew about. It was a New England-style side-cut hot dog bun filled with trim from the ribs, pork shoulder or whatever was left on the cutting board. It was smothered in BBQ sauce-and it was delicious. Aside from the amazing flavor, they set a precedent about the way I think of food. Sometimes, imperfection has a far greater impact than striving for perfection. Why would a run-down (now probably out of business) smoke house in a corner of the world not known for BBQ be such a pivotal part of my culinary thinking?

It was not the fact they were cheap, filling or an ingenious way to make a buck; it was the understanding that some of the best-tasting items are not the best cuts but rather something left behind. Think of deglazing a pan to get all of the fond off the bottom. I always remember those “scrap” sandwiches, as it was a simply stupid concept, but how many people take that bold move? Using what you have is a necessity of life. You have to look at every aspect of the ingredients you have and make the most of them.

It is this idea I love-the “whole hog” mentality. This is nothing new! Hipster and celebrity chefs didn’t start this trend, they just picked it up and made it sexy and trendy! Getting the most out of the products you have is the whole idea of Charcuterie and the Salumi kitchen. Headcheese, coppa, salami and French andouillette are not made with the primal cuts of an animal but from the trim. Just like the burnt ends of today, we look to get the most out of what we have. See, it always comes back to sausage. Even in the beer world, German brewers made Maibock with the remaining stores of grains and hops, as they couldn’t use them over the summer. They chucked everything in the pool, so to speak. Lambic brewers of Belgian even opened the windows and used naturally occurring bacteria carried in on the breeze to ferment instead of adding cultured yeast. That is why those beers are some of the most unique in the world.

Just like pit masters and salumi masters, look at what you have in front of you instead of running to the store to get something else. It is much more rewarding to make do and use what resources we have in the now instead of grabbing items off the shelf that are designed to sit there for a while.

So grab a sour beer and a plate of burnt ends and enjoy the best things in life, not the most obvious.


Here are a Couple of My Favorite Sours

Duchess de Bourgogne

Duchess de Bourgogne

Anything from Cantillion


Allagash Brewing Company

Allagash Brewing Company

Download June Newsletter

John Reed
Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA
John Reed is a professional chef with over 30 years experience. John has extensive knowledge of culinary techniques, ethnic cuisines, food history and more!

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