What were long ago considered the unwanted scraps from a finely smoked brisket have rightly become a modern-day barbecue delicacy — a rich, indulgent pile of meat and fat and bark known as burnt ends.
Legend has it, burnt ends used to practically be given away; the unattractive, fatty trimmings considered a mere byproduct. These days, it's an increasingly popular menu item at barbecue joints where, due to its obscenely indulgent flavor profile, it's often sold by the quarter-pound, meant to be a small treat rather than the meal's main event.
In short, burnt ends are made by trimming the point from brisket, chopping it up and returning it to the smoker, usually with additional seasoning. The resulting dish, when done well, is a bit sweet and salty and often has crispy charred bits. Good burnt ends fall apart easily, parts of it melting in a fatty pool in your mouth. Many places will just chop up a whole brisket and cook it in the manner of burnt ends — that is, with additional seasoning and further smoking — but the best burnt ends are naturally occurring and served with love, or perhaps even sauce.
Before no-sauce purists come at me with pitchforks, understand burnt ends' origin — and why this is one barbecue order that's perfectly acceptable to enjoy sauced. They may be made with brisket, a Texas favorite, but Kansas City deserves all the credit for this one. And in Kansas City, sauce is king.
"It's a really flavorful bite. It's kind of a litmus test for a place," said Matt Dallman, owner and pitmaster at 18th and Vine, a Kansas City-style barbecue spot that opened in Oak Lawn late last year. "They're rich. I don't really see people having it as a whole meal."
Some have called burnt ends the "bacon of barbecued meats," but Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor at Texas Monthly, loosely compared burnt ends to rich delicacies like foie gras. "A little foie gras is good, but do you want a whole lobe of it?" he asked.
In Kansas City, where the dish originated, burnt ends are tossed in sweet, molasses-y sauce and often served as a sandwich on white bread. In fact, Dallman said, that's how he can tell when a Kansas City native is dining at 18th and Vine — they always ask for bread with their burnt ends.
Of course, Texas can't help but put its own spin on any dish involving brisket, which is why you'll find burnt ends on the menus or on special at a growing number of DFW barbecue spots. If you're itching to try this indulgent little meat pile, here's where to start: