Coleslaw isn’t what most people would call a delicacy – but it was treated that way in Wes Alexander’s family. His grandparents were Oklahoma wheat farmers during the Great Depression, and their coleslaw recipe of choice had apples in it. Apples weren’t an everyday food for them. They were treats for special occasions. When Alexander was a boy, his grandmother taught him how to cook chicken fried steak with all the fixings, including coleslaw. He likes to prepare it with brisket. Check out the recipe for both below.
Brisket and Slaw
Certified Angus brisket (choice or prime)
Head Country Barbecue Rub
6 ounces Head Country Primer Marinade
6 ounces Marshall Brewery Company’s McNellie’s Pub Ale
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 head cabbage
1 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 Granny Smith apples
1. Rub the brisket with a mix of canola oil and Head Country Barbecue Rub. Place the rubbed down brisket in a pan in the fridge. Marinate for 6 hours, enough time for the salt in the rub to suck up some of the meat’s moisture and get the rub’s flavor soaked into the meat. (The canola oil helps the rub stay put.)
2. Pull the brisket from the fridge, and build a fire in a smoker, using cherry and pecan wood. (Logs, if you can find them. You’ll need a lot of wood.) Put the meat into the smoker on top of the grill rack and cook for 4 hours.
4. Test meat with a temperature probe until it feels like it’s moving through soft butter. The meat is “cooked” at 165 degrees. Start testing with the thermometer at 195 degrees and don’t go past 205.
3. Take the brisket out of the smoker and place in a foil pan. Pour 6 oz. of Head Country Prime Marinade and 6 oz. Pub Ale onto the meat in the pan and cover with tinfoil. Let it sit for 3 hours until the meat is tender.
5. Chop cabbage and apples into chunks and toss in a bowl with the mayonnaise and mustard until well blended.
6. Serve the brisket and slaw with a loaf of Wonder Bread, Head Country Barbecue Sauce, pickles and a pile of napkins and paper plates.
Wes Alexander: You’ll find especially in this part of the country that people have their own coleslaw. You know, is it mustard-based? Is it mayonnaise-based? Do you use Miracle Whip? For god’s sakes I hate Miracle Whip. And they’re loyal to it like people are loyal to football teams.
My name is Wes Alexander. And today’s Okie dish is smoked brisket along with Grandma Mermon’s coleslaw. Mmmm…[laughs]
My earliest memories with my grandmother are, you know, from her telling me things about how to specifically prepare food. Both of my parents were teachers. And so what that meant to me was I had to get up early while they went to school and then I had to go school too early. And then I got home at 3:30 while they got home at 3:30, 4:00, which is fantastic, but their whole day has been focused around school, they’re hungry, they want to relax, we would always eat an early supper. And so mom got into – probably because she’s a product of the ‘50s – casseroles and all of these things. Well, on the weekends I would get to go spend time with my grandparents. And so, on the weekends there would be fried bacon and eggs. And grandma, she would do chicken fried steak and what she called skillet fried potatoes, all these wonderful, wonderful things. But I would come home weekend after weekend after weekend and say, “Mom, it’s time for fried chicken. What’s going on?” She’s like, “Eat your tuna noodle surprise,” whatever it is. My mom is a wonderful cook, she’s not going to appreciate any of this, but ultimately I had asked too many times for chicken fried steak or something that was grandmother’s specialty and she said, “Fine. Get in the car. We’re going.” And we went over there and I stood at my grandmother’s, you know, apron strings and learned to do all of these things. And she showed me how to fry chicken and chicken fried steak and all the things that I always wanted. And so at 11, 12, 13 years old I kind of took over the duties in the house of cooking dinner.
Coleslaw is one of those things that she’d always just made it and I’d always just enjoyed it. But, as I started to get older, you know, and I got interested in barbecue, there was some things that just go with barbecue. Coleslaw, of course, was part of that. And the significance of the coleslaw or the interesting part of it, if you will, is there’s apples in this coleslaw. You know, my grandparents would’ve lived through the Depression and, you know, apples were expensive and still, you know – still are expensive and revered. And that was not something you were just going to have every day. You weren’t going to chop up a couple of, you know, high dollar apples and throw them into a salad and that wasn’t going to be part of your subsistence. Your subsistence was going to be, you know, whatever was hanging around that day. Did we have some eggs from the chicken? You know, do we kill the chicken on Monday?
This coleslaw belongs to certain holidays where, you know, it’s typically tied to events that were centered around family gatherings. Like my dad would make a request on his birthday for maybe an apple pie or something and there would be chicken fried steak and there would be these skillet fried potatoes and there would this coleslaw. You know, all of this type of food, this is family food. You put it in a big bowl. You put it in the middle of the table, you pass it around. And that’s, you know, really, that’s where I get all this love of food is that it was really a way that my family, you know, cared about each other.