The Ultimate Guide to Burnt Ends: Everything You Need to Know

The Ultimate Guide to Burnt Ends: Everything You Need to Know

Ben
BenPublished: May 16, 2024
The Ultimate Guide to Burnt Ends: Everything You Need to Know

Burnt ends are a beloved delicacy in the barbecue industry, often referred to as "meat candy" due to their rich, smoky flavor and tender texture. 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love this tender and smoky treat, so it goes to say there’s always a good time to whip them together.

Origins and history of burnt ends.

Burnt ends originated in Kansas City, Missouri, and have become a staple in American barbecue culture.

Initially, they were considered scraps or discards — tough, dry, and awkwardly formed end pieces of brisket that pitmasters would set aside. From there, they might’ve ended up in the trash or been tossed to the dogs.

Over time, these pieces were recognized for their unique flavor and texture, leading to their popularity as a barbecue dish.

So, what exactly are burnt ends?

Burnt ends are typically made from the point end of a brisket, which is the fattier part of the brisket.

This cut comes from the pectoral muscle of the cow, which is well-marbled with fat and connective tissue. This is the area that is just below the neck of the cow; think of it as the chest.

When cooked low and slow, the fat renders out, and the connective tissues break down, resulting in tender, flavorful pieces of meat with a crispy, caramelized exterior.

Traditional burnt ends.

While we typically look at burnt ends as a specific BBQ dish, there are actually a few variations. The most common variation that you’ll see in most barbeque joints is the traditional-style.

  • Cut. Point end of a brisket (also called the deckle).
  • Cooking method. Slow-smoked over a wood fire or in a pellet smoker.
  • Texture. Tender and juicy with a crispy, smoky bark.
  • Flavor. Rich, smoky, and often sweet due to the caramelization of the meat and sauce.

That’s all there is to most burnt ends. All it takes is some time, but we’ll get into the specifics of the recipe in just a moment.

Poor man's burnt ends.

Poor Mans Burnt Ends on a Table with Cornbread

For a more economical version, chuck roast can be used instead of brisket. This method involves cubing the chuck roast, seasoning it, and smoking it until tender.

The process is similar to traditional burnt ends but uses a less expensive cut of meat.  In the end, it tastes just about the same as a genuine platter of burnt ends but costs about 50% of that of the point end brisket.

Other variations.

Burnt ends can also be made from other meats, including pork belly, hot dogs, smoked sausage, Spam, bologna, and even tofu.

These variations follow the same basic process — cube the meat, season it, smoke it, and then sauce it to create a flavorful, crispy exterior.

There are no exact rules for what you’d call a “burnt end”; instead, it’s whatever you’d typically discard. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be discarded meat. You can make them all the same way.

Cooking process for basic burnt ends.

Slapping together one of the most delicious meals you’ll ever taste is extremely simple. This recipe is what most casual barbequers, as well as the pros, use. You can put your own spin on it anywhere in the recipe.

Ingredients

  • Meat. Brisket point or chuck roast.
  • Seasoning. BBQ rub (salt, pepper, garlic powder, or a specialized BBQ seasoning).
  • Sauce. Kansas City-style BBQ sauce is traditional, but other sauces like Memphis-style, Carolina Gold, or even fusion sauces can be used.

Steps

  1. Preheat Smoker. Set your smoker to 225-275°F, using wood like oak or hickory for added flavor. The lower, the better.
  2. Season Meat. Generously season the meat on all sides with your chosen BBQ rub.
  3. Smoke Meat. Place the meat in the smoker and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of around 165°F.
  4. Cube Meat. Remove the meat, cube it into bite-sized pieces, and place it in a foil pan.
  5. Sauce and Smoke Again. Toss the cubes in BBQ sauce, cover the pan with foil, and return to the smoker. Cook until the meat is tender and the sauce has caramelized, usually another 2-3 hours.

Serving and pairing.

Burnt End Sandwich with Hush Puppies

Burnt ends are often served as an appetizer or main course; really, the choice is up to you.

They can be enjoyed on their own, in sandwiches, or with side dishes like baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, hush puppies, French fries, cornbread, and mac and cheese.

Since we often smoke entire briskets for other dishes, we usually keep the ends together for a specific platter of burnt ends later on.

Reheating and storage.

One of the best things about burnt ends is that they’re resilient. With a quick reheating, you’ll have the same great flavor from when they came out of the smoker.

  • Reheating. Burnt ends can be reheated in a smoker, oven, or microwave. For the best results, reheat in a smoker at 225°F for about 30 minutes or in a vacuum-sealed bag in boiling water for 15 minutes. However, a quick option is to toss them in the microwave for 45 seconds or so on high.
  • Storage. Store leftover burnt ends in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. If you go too far beyond this, you’ll risk the meat spoiling, but the smokiness does a good job of drying out the meat and allowing it to be preserved for quite a while.

Popularity and cultural significance of burnt ends.

Burnt ends have transcended their humble beginnings in Kansas City to become a celebrated dish in barbecue culture that’s not bound by the norms of KC BBQ.

Sure, they are a hallmark of Kansas City-style BBQ and are featured in many barbecue restaurants across the United States, but you can dress them up however you want.

If you weren’t aware, there is a National Burnt Ends Day. This glorious day is celebrated on September 1st, highlighting their significance in American cuisine. Many times you can find a good deal on burnt ends on this day, so keep a look out.

By understanding the origins, preparation methods, and variations of burnt ends, it’s easy to appreciate why they are a favorite among barbecue enthusiasts and how to make them yourself.

Whether using traditional brisket or experimenting with other meats, burnt ends are sure to be a hit at any cookout.

Ben

Ben

Nutritionist

Ben is a certified nutritionist with a special interest in sustainable cooking. He has a master’s degree in Environmental Studies, which gives him a unique understanding of the connection between food and the environment. With years of experience working in organic kitchens and writing about sustainable food practices, Ben brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. His insights guide readers on how to make their outdoor cooking experiences more eco-friendly.