Burnt ends are considered a delicacy in the barbecue world. These tasty, tough pieces of beef brisket are served up in all kinds of dishes. Or, they are drenched in barbecue sauce and served just the way they are. Many barbecue joints across the United States will serve up a burnt ends plate, and let you decide what to do with it. They are a frequent feature on Kansas City barbecue menus.
Where Burnt Ends Come From
Burnt ends are trimmings from a smoked brisket. A beef brisket is a strangely shaped cut of meat and, when smoked, pieces around the edge tend to dry out and get very smoky in flavor. These parts are trimmed off. That allows the rest of the brisket to be easily sliced for serving, without the odd bits that have a different shape and texture. Sometimes the fattiest portions of the brisket are trimmed for making burnt ends.
Instead of being discarded, the burnt ends are served up in everything from sandwiches to barbecue gumbo. They have an intense smoke flavor and, though generally on the tough and chewy side, are very popular with the barbecue crowd.
You get burnt ends either because the brisket you've smoked ended up with them or because you have taken parts of a smoked brisket and returned them to the smoker to finish off. Yes, people actually intend to make dried-out burnt ends, and there is a very good reason. Burnt ends are a key ingredient in dishes like baked beans. The intense flavor makes burnt ends the perfect meat for stews and beans. The meat gets tender in the liquid and passes on that great smoky flavor to whatever you add them.
If you want a good source of burnt ends, try trimming the thin point from your smoked brisket and returning it to the smoker for a few more hours. This will drain off the last of the fat and intensify the smoke flavor.
Simply cutting up brisket and tossing it with barbecue sauce without returning it to the smoker will produce inferior burnt ends. They simply won't have the intense flavor of true burnt ends, which comes from the caramelization process and rendering of the fat in the brisket. This captures the smoke as well as the sweetness and the flavors you will find in the bark of the brisket. If you order them at a restaurant and the flavor isn't intense, they have likely taken this shortcut.
Burnt ends were sometimes given away, served as an appetizer, or used in other dishes to add smoky sweetness and a depth of flavor.
Burnt ends might be something of an acquired taste for some, and if you find regular smoked meats a little too smoky you might want to steer clear of them. You will also need to enjoy the sweet/smoke combination.
But if you can never get too much smoke, try fixing a pile of burnt ends to enjoy.