Making Burnt Ends | History + Walkthough

BURNT ENDS AND PIECES FEATURED IMAGE
Burnt ends are known for their crisp texture and endless BBQ flavors. In this article, we take a brief look at the history and then move onto our favorite ways to make burnt ends.

History, an origin story

Standing in line at famed Bryant’s barbecue joint, Kansas City, late sixties, just ordered your brisket sandwich and watching it get made. The line men put up a dish of little beefy nuggets that are dark, crispy, maybe coated with barbecue sauce, but ridiculously flavorful, rich and chewy.history of burnt endsWelcome to the origin story of burnt ends and pieces.

Like so much of barbecue, it begins on the trash heap. Brisket and ribs were often discarded way back in the day because they were tough and not worth cooking. The pioneers of barbecue as we know it grabbed these cheap cuts, applied slow smoking science and seasoning to develop the culinary treasures of American home grown cuisine. These oft discarded crispy tips, burnt ends and pieces, barely avoided a similar fate in the garbage.

Spotlight on flavor

In 1972 Calvin Trillin, Playboy Magazine writer and Kansas City native, proclaimed Arthur Bryant’s the best restaurant in the country, and burnt ends and pieces as the pinnacle dish.

“The main course at Bryant’s, as far as I’m concerned, is something that is given away free – the burned edges of the brisket. The counterman just pushes them over to the side and anyone who wants them helps himself. I dream of those burned edges. Sometimes, when I’m in some awful, overpriced restaurant in some strange town, trying to choke down some three-dollar hamburger that tastes like a burned sponge, a blank look comes over me: I have just realized that at that very moment, someone in Kansas City is being given those burned edges for free.” – Calvin Trillin

magazine article 1972

1972 Playboy article by Calvin Trillin, click the image to read the article. Here’s a little more on where we obtained this article.

To an extent, that was then, this is now. As the dish has been formalized it has migrated in a different direction. More about that later.

The crispy nuggets at the end of the brisket, called brownies by some, had likely been crew chow and staff food for decades before being ‘discovered’. The national attention certainly helped. Food this good was not going to stay hidden, nor is it likely they were only getting eaten at Bryant’s. Remember, the history of barbecue is taking discards and making them heavenly, so any astute barbecue chef would recognize the intense flavors of the ends and make sure they get enjoyed.

Forks in the road

Beef brisket has two distinct sections, the flat and the point. The purist says that burnt ends and pieces only come from the point. For some barbecue joints that is true of what they serve. This side road forks with the view that the whole thing is brisket, ends and pieces qualify as any end section.

Places like Bryant’s have such a high demand for burnt ends and pieces that they are cooking whole briskets just to use them for ends and pieces. It is still truth in advertising, they have all the ‘ends’ and they are cut into ‘pieces’. After being cubed, the meat is tossed in more rub and cooked longer. Another fork in this road, and throughout the world of barbecue is; sauce or no sauce.

Our take on making burnt ends

hero shot of brisket burnt ends
Most places will toss the cubes in sauce for the additional cooking step. This makes a lot of sense. Properly cut all the pieces will have some bark on them, but they will also have some non-bark surfaces. Tossing them in sauce gives a coating that will caramelize quickly, offering 360 degrees of flavor. This basting sauce usually has an increased sweetness, also to help caramelization, and some butter…because it is butter and that’s good.

Slow roasted brisket cross cut with and against the grain yields the best results. We like a purpose cooked brisket for burnt ends and pieces. Here is our version.

Beef Vs Pork

If you want to get in a fight with a KC barbecue die hard, tell them burnt ends and pieces came from a different city or state. If that doesn’t work, tell them you can make burnt ends and pieces with other meats. The purist says it must be beef brisket. Technically they are not wrong. Although there is some wiggle room because burnt ends and pieces done properly with other meats, are incredibly tasty and actually appear on menus in KC itself.

Leader of the pack is pork belly. Similarly to brisket, pork belly has a high fat content which makes it conducive to long slow cooking techniques. Here’s our take on a recipe to make your own tasty burnt ends and pieces of pork belly. In particular they do well being cubed at the beginning of the process.

Along the same vein, a well marbled piece of chuck cut beef makes a tasty version of burnt ends. Where the pork is really juicy and moist because of the fat content, the chuck give you a meaty, almost candied like flavor and texture with hints of jerky on the exterior. See our walkthrough recipe below.

Other Meats

Turkey, ham, bacon wrapped pork…the source list for burnt ends and pieces is getting extensive with numerous permutations. If some of the joints in KC can serve them, so can you. What it really speaks to is just how good the original idea is, in our opinion. Like most great food ideas, allowing for multiple variations is a testament to a good solid base item.

Like any aspect of smoking meats and barbecue, the beauty is in the mouth of the beholder. If it tastes great keep doing it. If you think is sounds good, give it a try. We all have the rare fail or a dish that is only okay, but that is how we learn. Even with a few hundred years of history, there is probably room for something new and tasty under the smoky sun that is barbecue. Hopefully these ideas for burnt ends and pieces will be excellent additions to your repertoire of delicious smoked meats.

Our Favorite Recipes

Burnt ends Brisket served in plate 2

BRISKET BURNT ENDS AND PIECES RECIPE

Purpose Cooked
Doing brisket at home you probably won’t get enough ends and pieces for a decent snack much less a meal. So we are going to make a batch of brisket that is purposely prepared to become burnt ends and pieces.
First off you have to slow cook a decent piece of brisket. Tip or flat is purely a question of personal preference. Getting a reasonably fatty piece is always a better way to go for moistness and flavor. Then we’ll convert it to a classic pile of burnt ends and pieces.
Prep Time 3 hrs
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Main Course
Cuisine American

Equipment

  • Plastic film
  • Smoker
  • Pan
  • Aluminum foil
  • Bowl

Ingredients
  

  • Favorite rub
  • 1-2 cup Barbecue sauce
  • ¼ cup Melted butter
  • ¼ cup Maple syrup

Instructions
 

  • Season 2-3# brisket piece on all surfaces with your favorite rub
    applying rub on Brisket 1
  • Wrap tightly in plastic film and refrigerate overnight
    applying rub on Brisket 2
  • Preheat smoker to 225 degrees
    Cooking Brisket on smoker 2
  • Place brisket in open are on smoker. If possible, use a temperature monitoring system with two probes in different areas of the brisket
    Cooking Brisket on smoker 1
  • Cook to an internal temperature of at least 190, not over 200 degrees
    cooked burnt ends Brisket whole 1
  • Slice into approximately one inch slabs
    cooked and sliced Brisket burnt ends
  • Cross cut into cubes
    cooked cubed Brisket burnt ends 1
  • Mix in a bowl; 1 cup barbecue sauce, ¼ cup melted butter, ¼ cup maple syrup
  • Increase smoker temp to 250 degrees
  • Toss cubes in sauce
    cooked cubes sauced Brisket burnt ends close up 1
  • Place in pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil, cook for 60 minutes
    sauced and cooked Brisket burnt ends in pan 1
  • Remove foil and stir, return to smoker for 30 minutes
    fully cooked and sauced Brisket burnt ends in pan 1
  • Remove from pan and transfer to a bowl
    fully cooked Brisket burnt ends close up 1
  • Toss gently with ½ cup barbecue sauce
    fully cooked last sauce Brisket burnt ends close up 1
  • Serve up on white bread like a classic barbecue joint, or however you want to enjoy a real smoked meat experience.
    served Brisket burnt ends 1
Keyword brikset

cooked chuck BEnP cubes served with picks 2

Pork Belly Burnt Ends and Pieces Recipe

Making this work requires the most fatty and marbled piece of chuck steak/roast that you can find. The results will be worth it. Use your favorite rub recipe or commercial product. We like balanced barbecue sauce for this recipe, but if you lean piquant with vinegar or heavy with mustard, you be you and use what you like
Prep Time 4 hrs
Cook Time 3 hrs
Course Main Course
Cuisine American

Equipment

  • Smoker
  • Bowl
  • aluminum pan
  • toothpick

Ingredients
  

  • 1-2 tablespoons oil 
  • ½ cup dry rub
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 cup barbecue Sauce

Instructions
 

  • Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees.
  • Cut into 1 to 1-1/2” cubes and put in a bowl; 2-3 pounds fatty chuck roast or steak
    raw chuck BEnP cubes1
  • Drizzle with, and stir until well coated; 1-2 tablespoons oil or lard
  • Add and toss or mix by hand until coated; ½ cup dry rub
    raw chuck BEnP cubes seasoned 1
  • Place the seasoned cubes on your smoker’s racks.
    chuck BEnP raw cubes on smoker1
  • Close and cook for 3 hours.
    cooked chuck BEnP cubes on smoker1
  • Mix together in a bowl; 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, 1 cup barbecue Sauce
    cooked chuck BEnP cubes dry close up
  • Pull the cubes from the smoker, toss in the sauce and transfer to a pan.
    cooked chuck BEnP cubes sauced close up
  • We recommend using a disposable aluminum pan for easy clean up or lining with parchment.
    cooked chuck BEnP cubes sauced in pan1
  • Increase smoker temp to 250 degrees
  • Cover with aluminum foil and place on smoker for 60 minutes.
  • Remove the foil, stir, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until a toothpick slides easily into the meat.
    cooked chuck BEnP cubes served with picks 1
  • These candied meat nuggets serve up great as an appetizer, on top of mac and cheese, or any way you can think of.
Keyword brikset

cooked Pork Belly burnt ends cubes in sauce 2

Pork Belly Burnt Ends and Pieces Recipe

Visiting your favorite barbecue joint and ordering up their burnt ends and pieces is a great way to get an intense burst of their flavors. Not all places offer it, because it is usually only from brisket, and that means there is a very limited amount available. Sometimes it can even get too well done and not be as enjoyable as we might like.
Enter smoked pork belly burnt ends and pieces. Pork Belly, from bacon on down, is a gift that keeps on giving. This variation is going to be one of the favorites among your guests and family. Even better, it shows how a rub and a barbecue sauce can be complimentary flavors when made to go together like our Memphis Rub and Memphis Barbecue sauce.
Prep Time 7 hrs
Cook Time 4 hrs 30 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine American

Equipment

  • Smoker
  • Aluminum foil
  • Bowl
  • aluminum pan

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 pounds skinless pork belly
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup memphis Rub
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 cup memphis Barbecue Sauce

Instructions
 

  • Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees.
  • Cut into one inch cubes and put in a bowl; 3-4 pounds of skinless pork belly
    raw Pork Belly burnt ends cubes
  • Drizzle with, and stir until well coated; 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Add and toss or mix by hand until coated; ½ cup Memphis Rub
    seasoning Pork Belly burnt ends raw cubes
  • Place the seasoned cubes on wire racks, and then place those on your smoker’s racks. Although you can certainly place the cubes directly in the smoker if that is easier for you
    racked Pork Belly burnt ends cubes 2
  • Close and cook for 3 hours.
    raw Pork Belly burnt ends cubes in smoker 2
  • Mix together in a bowl; 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, 1 cup Memphis Barbecue Sauce
  • Pull the cubes from the smoker and toss in the sauce and transfer to a pan. We recommend using a disposable aluminum pan for easy clean up or lining with parchment.
    smoked Pork Belly burnt ends cubes in sauce 1
  • Cover with aluminum foil and place on smoker for 60 minutes.
  • Remove the foil, stir, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until a toothpick slides easily into the meat.
    cooked Pork Belly burnt ends cubes in sauce 1
  • Serve as an appetizer, in a bun, on top of nachos, or just as a delicious rich meal.
    served Pork Belly burnt ends with slaw
Keyword brikset
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