The “brisket,” according to television writer and producer Kevin Biegel’s tweet, was formed with a mix of “jackfruit, seitan, miso, beer, Franklin BBQ sauce made w extra sugar so it carmalized [sic] to a crust.” Biegel smoked the slab for 18 hours over oak on the Big Green Egg that he received one Christmas from some staffers on “Cougar Town,” which he co-created for ABC in 2009.
“Vegan brisket experiment was a success!” Biegel tweeted Sept. 10, dispensing with the standard social-media formality known as the humblebrag. “18 hour smoke over oak. Is it beef? Nope. But the taste/texture are pretty great . . . Plus I don’t feel gross after eating it!”
The hate flowed toward Biegel as surely as the Mississippi River flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Critics, Biegel writes via Twitter DM, suggested that he was “low . . . on testosterone” (I guess that’s an insult in the highly masculine world of barbecue) and suggested that he should banish himself to a certain warm underworld. One person went so far as to say that he wanted Biegel’s head on a platter. The writer blocked the worst offenders, he says, but found others amusing enough to retweet, notably @MrinconSiderate, who said of Biegel’s experiment: “This Tha Bread They Give You At Outback.”
“I don’t like engaging anger w anger,” Biegel wrote me. “Life is too short. I guess I’m a big ol California hippie, haha.”
Some responses to Biegel’s “Franklinstein Monster” were so cliched (“My ancestors didn’t fight to get to the top of the food chain to eat jackfruit and miso!”) that their rants were predicted by Twitter’s more savvier satirists, with @KissMyGravitas contributing a 25-square “Defensive Omnivore Bingo” card.
Biegel’s vegan brisket underscores how barbecue divided our country long before Russian trolls decided to sow political discontent among Americans on the right and the left. In his book “Cooked,” author and journalist Michael Pollan recounts that the most common phrase he heard among pitmasters was, “Okay, but that’s not barbecue.” Many, it seems, have an unyielding definition of barbecue — perhaps the most elusive term in all of cooking — and one of them is this simple equation:
Barbecue = meat.
A corollary to that equation is this: Vegan barbecue (especially one named for a cut of meat) = 0.
The thing is, Biegel is not a vegan. Nor is he a vegetarian. In response to a health crisis a decade ago, he has adopted a flexitarian diet. “I had a heart attack ten years ago,” he writes, “and figured staying alive was more important that eating all that meat, so I adjusted the diet.”
Biegel is also a serious barbecue hound. He owns not only a Big Green Egg but also an ancient New Braunfels smoker that he rebuilt himself. He has posted some mouthwatering photos of brisket (real beef brisket, that is), beef ribs and a pork butt. He can probably smoke most of you under the table.
“I’m pretty good at real bbq for a big dumb white boy in California,” he writes. “And I love making it for people/giving it to people.”
On Sept. 15, Biegel tweeted a seven-second video of a slice of brisket oozing juice with this comment: “This is what good brisket looks like. I know because I made it.”
For his vegan brisket, Biegel modified the Texas BBQ brisket recipe from Linda Meyer’s “Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill,” a title that he says “will make purists’ heads explode, but it’s a great, well-researched book.” He smoked the seitan/jackfruit on the Big Green Egg at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, with a water pan filled to the brim. He didn’t intend to smoke it for 18 hours, he confesses, as if the mock meat were a 20-pound hunk of beef.
“I feel asleep!” he writes. “I’m pretty sure it didn’t need to be that long.”
If the vegan brisket turned out better than expected, so did another vegetarian dish that he placed in the Big Green Egg: a head of cauliflower in a marinade of tomato, lemon and garlic. After the accidental overnight cooking, says Biegel, the cauliflower was hideous, but he still decided to chop it up loosely and throw it on the griddle.
“In tacos, it was great,” he writes. “It didn’t have that weird irony thick cauliflower taste. Was just smoke and texture. Now if I post a ‘smoked cauliflower pulled pork’ recipe, THEN everyone is allowed to report me to the FBI.”