Jack Timmons is pursuing perfection. In barbecue.
Monday morning, 9 a.m., unknown number calling my cell. I pick up and a dulcet male voice begins a mouthwatering conversation: “Hi, Jonathan. It’s Jack, the barbecue guy.”
The title might be self-designated, but it’s well earned. Jack Timmons launched the Seattle Brisket Experience last November, a private dining series in which the Texas native has served hundreds of pounds of smoked meat to hungry audiences at venues across the city. Chicken and sausage are on the menu, but Timmons is obsessed with brisket. Specifically, central Texas-style brisket, slow smoked and served as the Lord intended, naked and pure.
Along with the five ticketed events he’s hosted, Timmons has donated barbecue to a men’s homeless shelter and to members of the Seattle Fire Department. We spoke about the thing he loves the most.
How did the Brisket Experience come about?
It’s an outcome of my enthusiasm that I got when I went to the Barbecue Summer Camp last June.
Wait—Barbecue Summer Camp? That’s a thing?
It’s part of the Meat Sciences department at Texas A&M University. They have guys with PhDs in meat or beef, and they teach barbecue. Lots of people in the beef industry go.
I’ve been a barbecue aficionado all my life. I grew up in Texas and it was one of the main food groups. It’s a unique barbecue they do there, started by Czechs and Germans in the 1800s. I’ve lived in Seattle for 20 years with a small smoker. I went to Barbecue Summer Camp, toured the super-famous temples of barbecue that have been in Texas for dozens of years. I came back to Seattle like Moses coming down from Sinai with the tablets. I bought a big smoker and thought, I’m gonna start cooking.
So you’re a traditionalist?
The brisket is what I’m chasing. It’s where I’m trying to achieve perfection. And it’s hard because it’s a tough cut of meat. The guys in Texas who do it well, they have it down to a science and an art form. They’ve been tending fire for 15, 20 years. A lot of it is about fire management, controlling temperature and humidity.
How do you mean?
The difference is cooking over wood. The perfect temperature coming off a clean-burning wood fire is 750 degrees, so the smoker pit stays around 250. That’s what provides the maximum flavor to the meat, the invisible gases that come off the wood. You don’t want it smoldering, you don’t wanna dial the fire down to lower the temperature. When you do that you get creosote flavors. You get perfect flavors off a clean fire. But different wood has different moisture levels, and the weather makes a difference. I get imported wood: post oak and hickory and mesquite and pecan from Texas. There’s lots of kinds of oak, but post oak is traditional. It’s consistent with the old-school way of doing things. Authentic is the word I’m looking for.
I cook for two days when I do these events. If I’m serving Sunday, I’ll start smoking Saturday morning. I get the meat from Bob’s Meats in Columbia City—all-natural, choice brisket—and I trim ’em. I smoke from noon to around midnight. I’ll wrap them in foil and put them in a big ice chest. They don’t lose any temperature overnight and I wake up in the morning and cook them another seven, eight hours.
Is this a full-time pursuit for you?
Not yet. I’m a high-tech marketing consultant for companies like Microsoft. But I’m having great success with the barbecue stuff and I’m looking for a space to do a restaurant—I just need a place to smoke for 20 hours a day. If I had a little place in SoDo where I could put my big smoker, I could set up a restaurant on Capitol Hill. I make a big batch of it and then take it places; it travels well. You could have a pop-up or satellite, like a hub-and-spoke model. Capitol Hill is the only neighborhood that doesn’t have a barbecue place!
I’m itching to do it and I have investors ready. My day job is keeping me too busy right now. [Laughs.] I want a documentary made of me in 30 years, like Jiro Dreams of Sushi, 85 years old and still working on it. I want “Jack Dreams of Brisket.”
The next Seattle Brisket Experience is on July 4 outside Chungee’s on Capitol Hill. Sign up at join.seattlebrisketexperience.com.
Illustration by Sam Alden