When prepared correctly, smoked brisket can be sublime. A nudge of the fork pushes juices to the surface. The outer crust looks glossy and black, with a pink ring from the smoke just below the surface. If you’re lucky, the pitmaster will slice pieces from the fattier part of the brisket.
Achieving a perfect smoked brisket is so tricky, even the most skilled pitmasters can flub it. It’s universally known in the barbecue world as the most difficult piece of meat to get right. That’s why I recommend visiting a barbecue restaurant at least twice before making a pronouncement.
A limited number of Pierce County restaurants serve smoked brisket. Here are a few of my favorites in all corners of the county, starting with a recently opened brisket newcomer in Eatonville.
THE LANDMARK RESTAURANT
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138 Mashell Ave. N., Eatonville; 360-832-7519, landmarkeatonville.com.
The Landmark Restaurant opened in February in Eatonville in the former home of Jebino’s. It’s a long drive for anyone in Tacoma (just keep reading for options closer to you, Tacomans), but a promising addition to that edge of the county.
Landmark is more of an all-purpose family restaurant than a bonafide barbecue joint. Beyond barbecue, the menu offers steaks (dressed with chimichurri), burgers, seafood and more.
You’ll find the smoker out back behind a fence, belching smoke from a combination of cherry and apple woods (or alder when those aren’t available). Geraldo Salgado is the pitmaster. He and wife Brenda Salgado, the restaurant’s manager, previously served Texas-style smoked meats around Lewis County for 10 years. Rich and Ruthie Williams own the restaurant.
“The brisket takes 10, 12 hours or even longer,” said Brenda Salgado when I talked to her by phone. The result was a glossy black exterior with tender, juicy meat. The same didn’t hold true for the restaurant’s pork ribs, with meat that clung stubbornly to the bone. They needed more time on the smoker. Soupy chopped chicken drenched in sauce didn’t hold my interest much.
But that brisket? It was good stuff.
Brisket lowdown: Juicy, supple, beautifully grained meat on visit one; slightly dryer meat, but with just as robust smoky flavor on visit two. Served with a small drizzle of sweet-and-vinegary barbecue sauce.
Barbecue dinner plates: Brisket ($15.99); chopped boneless chicken ($13.99); pulled pork ($13.99); half rack ribs ($15.99). With two sides, and soup or salad.
Sides: Potato salad tasted eggy; coleslaw was soupy; the baked potato was plainly dressed with butter. Get the baked beans or creamy mac and cheese.
Also serving: Burgers, steaks, sandwiches, seafood, pasta and pizza. Breakfast coming soon.
Atmosphere: Historical photos tell the story of Eatonville. Be sure to watch the scrolling Eatonville slideshow on the television screens. The digs were downright attractive, and tableside service was attentive.
WARTHOG BARBEQUE PIT
4921 20th St. E., Fife, 253-896-5091; and 11811 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma, 253-426-1980; warthogbbq.com.
Brisket rating: Juicy, thick-cut portions, with a glossy black coating. A few of the fatty end pieces were thrown in, along with broadly sliced pieces. The meat was nearly fall-apart perfect, and sported plenty of smoke flavor. The brisket was served sauced.
Barbecue dinner plates: Brisket ($14.95); pork ribs ($14.25); barbecue chicken ($12.95); turkey breast ($12.95); honey ham ($10.95). Served with beans, cornbread and potato salad or slaw (or other sides).
Sides: Cornbread was sweet with honey butter and more cakey than crumbly. Baked beans tasted like a chili hybrid. Potato salad was dressed sweetly.
Also serving: Burgers and barbecue sandwiches. Weekend breakfasts in Parkland.
Atmosphere: Woodsy lodge, with a herd of deer heads keeping watch over the dining room in the Parkland location. The Fife location is a sprawling complex with outdoor seating when the weather warms. Order at the counter; serve yourself from the soda fountain and barbecue sauce bar.
BRANK’S BBQ AND CATERING
13701 24th St. E., Sumner; 253-891-1789, branksbbq.com.
Brisket rating:A bit on the dry side, except for the pieces that were fatty edged. I really needed sauce to help with the dry texture. Smoked over cherry wood. Extra points, always, because the meat here never arrives sauced. Sweet or spicy sauce is available by request. Check out the mammoth smoker and wood collection out front.
Barbecue dinner plates: Brisket ($15.69-$19.29); baby back ribs ($17.99 half ,$25.79 whole); St. Louis ribs ($13.49 four, $17.79 six bones); hand-rubbed chicken ($13.79 half, $17.59 whole). With two sides, cornbread and dessert.
Sides: Fresh-cut fries are a must order; the potato salad came with a sweet mayonnaise dressing; finely chopped coleslaw also carried a sweet dressing.
Also serving: Sandwiches, salads, appetizers. All-you-can-eat buffet 4-8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Atmosphere: Pleasant, clean, family friendly. Service is tableside.
15019 Meridian Ave., E., Puyallup; 253-848-8548, facebook.com/PuyallupPoBoys.
Brisket rating: Supple, extra thick-cut pieces that were smoky and quite tender. The brisket tasted as if it had been held in a steamer or finished in the oven, the texture was something like a very smoky pot roast. Served with a heavy helping of sauce, but only on the top layer of meat (to get it sauce free, just ask). Smoker is located out front.
Barbecue dinner plates: Brisket special ($12.50); beef rib platter ($12.99); pork rib platter ($12.50); split chicken plate ($11.50); ham platter ($9.99). With beans and one side.
Sides: Crumbly cornbread muffin was more savory than sweet; baked beans tasted tangy.
Also serving: Sandwiches.
Atmosphere: The smoke-stained ceiling lent an air of authenticity for this hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint. Order at the counter, take a seat.