Seeking Brisket Nirvana at Charcoal

Jeremy Zimmerman combines Kansas City know-how and French technique at Silver Lake’s new barbecue spot

“For the first three weeks we were open, I was battling the brisket pretty hardcore,” says Jeremy Zimmerman.

A native of Kansas City and formerly the executive sous chef at Sunset Marquis, Zimmerman is serious about the brisket he’s serving at Charcoal, the new (Kansas City-style, of course) barbecue joint that he recently partnered with Anat Escher (Barberella, Bugatta) to open in Silver Lake. Despite the time and care he puts into each batch–he’s been known to stay in the kitchen until 3 a.m. to ensure an ideal cook–the perfectionist yet humble chef still isn’t convinced he’s reached “brisket nirvana,” even if a customer used those exact words to describe his specialty just a few days ago.

“Well, now I have to make sure it’s that good every single time,” he says. “Brisket is the hardest thing to cook. It’s such a large piece of meat, and it’s two different sizes–half of it has a lot of fat content, and the other is lean. It’s tricky to get it to cook evenly. I learn every single day.”

The entire process, from setting up his kitchen to the daily preparation of a meat-focused menu that, in addition to brisket, includes slabs of pork back ribs, braised lamb, and hand-made sausages, has been packed with learning experiences and obstacles to surmount. Even just getting the smoker from Arizona to L.A. was an ordeal involving multiple U-Haul upgrades, a forklift, meals at Chili’s, a double-booked hotel room, and getting stuck behind a massive drug bust on the highway. However, Zimmerman seems to be taking in all in stride and relishing an opportunity he’s been working toward for years.

It was in high school that Zimmerman and a friend connected with some guys on the barbecue competition circuit. From the age of 16 and for almost a decade, he spent time honing his skills at popular barbecue throwdowns like the American Royal in Kansas City. He still does his brisket “competition-style,” individually wrapping each piece before smoking it and then–after it’s developed “the right kind of crust”–transferring it to an Alto-Shaam closed-box device that maintains a steady, “slow and low” temperature and features trays at the bottom, which are filled with hard apple cider for steaming. The entire process takes about 12 to 15 hours in total, and once the meat is sliced, it’s brushed with a mixture of molasses and brisket drippings. The results, which are juicy and tender with a sweet finish, speak for themselves.

Along with his long barbecue history, Zimmerman credits this painstaking approach to his classic French training under Michelin-starred chef Guillaume Burlion at Sunset Marquis–a culinary juxtaposition that, coincidentally, has parallels to Barrel and Ashes, the new Texas barbecue spot from French Laundry alum Timothy Hollingsworth and Rory Hermann of Bouchon. At Charcoal, French influences comes through not only by way of arduous processes, but also in the flavors and execution of dishes, like potato salad made with colorful heirloom potatoes, eggs, pickles, and celery-seed dressing, which balance refinement with down-home comfort.

“Everything I put into the barbecue and everything else here is as much as I would put into a five-star plate,” Zimmerman says. “It’s an equal amount of time, finesse, timing, and the whole bit.”

redarrow Charcoal, 2611 N. Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, 323-300-5500