Cooking: Crazy Johnny Conner’s beef brisket and other fall recipes
seems everyone is talking turkey now but for me the magic word is
brisket! A visit with Crazy Johnny Conner
led me on a
quest for a recipe and a method to cook this less than prime cut of
beef to perfection. Four briskets later, I achieved a moist,
tender, truly beefy roast.
It all began at this year's annual
Bucket Party in honor of the island’s late, beloved nurse practitioner
Carey Lesieur. In addition to long tables full
dishes, the big Conner's Supermarket cooker was there spewing tempting
aromas of, and piling huge serving dishes with, eastern North Carolina
pork barbecue and brisket.
My editor and many other islanders
love the Conner’s beef brisket, so she suggested a column on the topic
as she extracted from me a promise of samples!
Crazy Johnny was
happy to show me his technique and offer tips for home
During a visit to his well-equipped outdoor cooking area, he gave me a
tour of the different cookers, including the custom star of his
stable, a mobile barbecue grill the size of a city apartment kitchen
(and more efficient) that he and his father designed and built.
addition to a cooking area that easily accommodates a butcher shop's
supply of meat, there is a large storage compartment to carry the
product, condiments, and tools. Its cover is a huge cutting
and on the opposite side is a sink. Several propane tanks
complete the work station on wheels.
Conner explained that the
brisket is a tough, chewy cut that requires a "long and slow" cooking
procedure to extract its big flavor and eventual tenderness.
also needs generous seasoning. He coats the raw cut with
black pepper and doesn't skimp on kosher salt. In fact, he
it like you want to give someone a heart attack!"
No other seasoning allowed.
goes on the grill at 200-250 degrees for two hours to develop its
"bark," a tasty, crunchy exterior coating. Maintaining the
correct low temperature is important. Hence, the gas grills.
next step is what he calls a "Texas crunch." The brisket is
sealed, not just wrapped, in aluminum foil in which it steams on the
grill for another three hours, for a total of five hours of cooking
The last part of the process is equally important.
Open the foil packet very carefully so you don't lose the luscious
gravy that has accumulated in the bottom. Remove the brisket
cutting board and allow the meat to rest and retain its juices until
cool and then slice thinly against the grain. Serve with its
gravy, of course!
Conner cooks a whole brisket that can feed 20
people and he "always cooks enough for leftovers." Cooked,
brisket freezes well and can be reheated for a later feast.
should reheat the juice separately.
I, on the other hand, was
not prepared to feed 20 people four times in one week so I got four
pieces of brisket at about 3 to 4 pounds each.
me instructions for home cooking, but I also tried other
I wanted to try them in the oven, too, since our grill is small and it
is impossible to move the meat around to ensure it gets the right heat.
one was a disappointment and that was because I did not follow his
instructions to the letter. My confidence in my cooking
led me to believe I could adjust the directions to cook it in a Dutch
oven, but I was wrong.
It produced no juices and was bone
dry. So, I contacted Conner again to discuss my failure, got
instructions, and tried one last brisket his way, and voila!
Success -- a moist, juicy brisket that I was proud to bring to my
However, it still wasn't as delicious as Conner's.
If you want to feed a group -- not just feed, but wow them -- call
Crazy Johnny Conner and you can be sure of a superior
will cook special orders and caters full spreads, including pork and
chicken as well as brisket. He can be reached at
And keep your eye out for his family's possible
new venture to complement the catering business and Conner’s
Supermarket in Buxton. They are bouncing around the idea of a
barbecue restaurant in Buxton. We need to encourage that plan!
first recipe was one I had made before, Haina's Surefire Brisket, from
Molly O'Neal's “New York Cookbook.” It really is an easy,
reliable and flavorful one pot recipe but it isn't as purely beefy as
Crazy Johnny's. I added a few root vegetables to the pot.
3 cups ginger
Goodman’s or Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix
sweet onion, quartered
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
both sides of the brisket with the paprika. In a Dutch oven
high heat, heat the peanut oil to smoking. Add the brisket
sear on all sides. Remove from the heat.
Stir in the ginger ale and onion soup mix. Cover the pot and
place into the oven to roast for one hour.
Turn the meat over and cook for an additional hour.
Add the vegetables and return to the oven for 45-60 minutes or until
the vegetables pierce easily but are not mushy.
the brisket is tender, remove it to a cutting board and allow it to
cool slightly. Slice the brisket thinly across the
Serve, with the vegetables, on a large platter and drizzle the pan
juices over it.
Later that week I made a very spicy version,
and the recipe worked very well but it was far too fiery to enjoy and
overwhelmed the other seasonings. So I cut the amount of
and substituted chipotle for chili pepper for a bit of smokiness.
next is from About.com on barbecues and grilling and is called oven
barbecue brisket. The recipe calls for a 4-5 pound brisket
kept the quantities for the other ingredients the same, even though my
brisket was slightly smaller.
packed brown sugar
ground black pepper
everything but the brisket in a bowl. Mix well. Rub
over the surface of the brisket and wrap tightly in aluminum
foil. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 300
degrees. Place brisket in a roasting pan on a roasting rack
poke a few holes in the foil on top.
Cook for 4
hours. Carefully remove the foil so you do not lose all of
juices. Remove roast to a cutting board to cool before
Serve with potato and zucchini chips for a cool contrast.
ZUCCHINI CHIPS WITH HERBED YOGURT
1 1/2 cup
chopped fresh mint
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. (If you have a specialty
Eastern pepper like Aleppo, Urfa, or Marash, that would be perfect.)
olive oil for drizzling (optional)
a bowl, stir together the yogurt, garlic and mint, and season with salt
and pepper. Sprinkle with sumac and drizzle with olive
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
and juice of 1 lemon plus 1 lemon cut into wedges for serving
freshly ground black pepper to taste
chopped fresh Italian parsley (flat-leaf)
chopped fresh mint
a large bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, milk, lemon zest, and
juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic,
parsley, mint, and sumac, and stir the batter until well combined.
Slice the zucchini and potatoes in long thin ribbons. If you
have a mandoline slicer, this is a good use for it.
a 10-inch frying pan over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive
oil. Add the sliced zucchini to the batter and gently stir to
coat. Add one slice at a time to the hot oil, being careful
to crowd the pan. Cook until golden brown on both
Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm. Continue with the
remaining zucchini and then the potato slices. (If necessary,
remaining olive oil to the pan and allow it to heat before adding the
Serve with the dipping sauce and lemon wedges.
JOHNNY’S BRISKET COOKED AT HOME
Preheat grill or oven to 200-250 degrees.
Cover the entire brisket with plenty of kosher salt and ground black
Place directly on the pre-heated grill surface or in an aluminum
roasting pan if cooking in oven.
Cook for 2 hours.
and enclose the brisket in aluminum foil being very careful not to
pierce the foil or tightly seal the aluminum pan with foil.
Return to grill/oven for an additional 3 hours.
Carefully remove from the foil/pan, reserving the pan juices and
placing the brisket on a cutting board once it is cool.
Serve with seasonal hot buttered poppy seed noodles and Portobello
mushrooms for a warming autumnal supper.
I carton baby
Portobello mushrooms, wiped clean and thickly sliced
garlic, roughly chopped
about 1/2 cup
1 cup fresh
enough olive oil into a wide skillet to just cover the
Heat and add the scallions and mushrooms. Do not stir the
few minutes. When the mushrooms turn brown, stir in the
and 1/2 the parsley and continue cooking for a few more minutes.
the pan off the heat and pour the wine into the mixture.
the pan to the heat and cook until the juices reduce to a very thick
sauce. Add a little of the juice from the cooked brisket and
continue cooking a few moments more to meld all the luscious flavors.
Sprinkle on the rest of the parsley and serve.
next day, you can make a sandwich from the warmed over slices and gravy
on a Portuguese roll. Add horseradish to your leftover herbed
yogurt and use for dipping the sandwich. Yum!
what better finish to a fall dinner than a ripe, sweet and juicy fresh
pear poached in a spicy wine sauce? It looks very elegant but
don’t be intimidated. It is not at all complicated.
to its appeal is the availability of the perfect red wine for this
dessert. Lee Robinson’s carries a selection of very
wines from Lost Vineyards, an importer that searches out small
vineyards and bottles their wines under their own label.
the Shiraz/Cabernet blend, and it is ideal. I certainly don’t
want to add spices to an expensive wine. This was heady
stand up to the added flavorings and fruity enough to complement the
There are a few other red grapes from Iberia and South
America featured and a white from Italy. Some are
surprisingly drinkable, too, so don’t be a “wine snob” and miss out on
a great deal.
SPICED WINE PEARS
Calder’s “French Food at Home”
1 bottle red
wine (yes, the whole bottle)
3/4 cups sugar
2 star anise
Peel the pears, leaving the stem. Remove any white pith from
the back of the orange peel with a sharp knife.
a large saucepan, gently heat the wine and sugar. Once the
has dissolved, add the orange peel and the spices and bring to a boil.
a slotted spoon, slowly lower the pears, one at a time, into the wine
and simmer, turning once or twice, until tender, about 20 minutes.
the pears from the heat and let the pears cool in the syrup.
can be refrigerated and served cool or served warm.
Remove the pears to plates, cutting a sliver from the bottom so they
will stand straight.
the liquid into a wide saucepan and boil down to a light syrup, about
10 minutes. Spoon over pears and serve, garnished with small
pieces of orange zest.
As I was cooking the wine syrup, I found myself unexpectedly
transported to Europe at Christmastime!
colorful and festive Christmas markets, particularly in Germany and
Austria, always offer Glähwein to warm up freezing fingers and the
taste and aroma scream the holidays to me.
here’s a bonus recipe. Skip the pears and forget the
boiling. Just simmer the wine and spices until warm and well
blended and there you are -- Glähwein!
lives in Hatteras village with her husband, Ernie. Together they
operate The Albatross Fleet of charter boats. They actively support the
sustainable practices of the island’s commercial fishermen and the
preservation of Hatteras Island’s working waterfront. Both
to cook seafood and entertain friends, and Lynne loves to experiment
with recipes for locally caught seafood.)