This led to the final task I’d be permitted to do: rotate the briskets, which involved leaning into the smoker. The intense smoke, coupled with the heat, made my eyes water immediately, and led to a headache shortly thereafter. I somehow persevered (okay, it wasn’t that bad of a headache) as Ramos patiently worked me through the logic of rotating the briskets, showing me how to look for pooling liquid up top and tipping it off to give the brisket a better look and consistency.
He also showed me how to space the meat for proper airflow to get each one smoky. Despite watery eyes and pounding temples, the hard work was paying off. At this point, the pitmaster looked at the photographer and I and decided we’d probably had enough. On the way out, we got an economics lesson: with brisket prices at over $4/pound, the restaurant recently raised prices. Said Ramos: “You buy a 20lb. brisket for around $80, but 60-65% of it cooks off over the day. So the meat actually costs us about $12 before labor and rent for every pound we serve to customers.” I was glad he hadn’t told me that before; knowing I was working with pure gold would not have done wonders for steadying my hands.