No one has ever accused America of groupthink. We lay out our contradictions for all to see, and mock. Like our relationship with beef: One part of the country would like to see the beef industry go the way of Blockbuster Video. Another part has elevated Texas barbecue, with its emphasis on briskets smoked low and slow, into the most popular regional style in the nation.

As if embracing both sides of America’s bipolar attitude about animal agriculture, Chipotle has just introduced a new ingredient to menus nationwide: smoked brisket. The fast-casual chain, the one so careful about sourcing its chicken, will now have (for a limited time at least) three different beef options at its more than 2,800 locations across the country, and as The Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan wrote two years ago, “If cows were their own country, they would be the third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.”

But Chipotle executives say they are just responding to customer demand. According to a news release touting the new protein option, the chain notes that “brisket has been consistently among the top requested menu items by Chipotle guests.”

Nevielle Panthaky, Chipotle’s vice president of culinary and menu development, said in an interview that the brisket is no knee-jerk reaction, though. It took two years to get from his teams’ collective brain to your bag of takeout.

To start, the company is careful with its beef sourcing, relying on a network of ranchers in the United States and Australia, he said, to meet the chain’s enormous need for brisket at a time when beef prices have soared and supply lines have become unreliable. Chipotle has “baked in contingencies after contingencies to account for the labor disruptions and/or the supply disruptions,” Panthaky says. The time of year also factored into the brisket’s rollout; its fall debut comes, he said, after the summer barbecue peak when brisket prices tend to be higher. Those same price considerations could mean the smoked brisket remains a seasonal item, Panthaky adds.

Chipotle relies on a couple of partners to smoke whole briskets. Panthaky couldn’t name the partners, but he said they’re actually using smokers to cook the beef. They’re not the kind of custom-made, 1,000-gallon smokers that you’ll find at Texas barbecue joints. But they’re the kind of gas-assisted rotisserie ovens (which also burn wood to flavor meats) used at countless smokehouses across America. Panthaky said that Chipotle’s pitmasters for hire use at least three woods — oak, maple and mesquite — to flavor the meats.

The cooking-and-reheating process differs from traditional Texas brisket. Chipotle applies a custom spice rub (garlic, chipotle pepper, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper) to the briskets before smoking them anywhere from 10 to 16 hours, depending on the size and fat content of each brisket. They then slice and pack the beef for transport to restaurants where the crews reheat/sear the meat on a hot grill with another seasoning blend before folding in a housemade barbecue sauce (jalapeños, vinegar, molasses, tomato paste, garlic, onion) that hits many different notes.

As skeptical as we might have been about brisket produced on a massive scale — it’s a cut, after all, famously resistant to consistency — we found much to like with Chipotle’s version. The meat is chopped into pieces roughly the size of pencil-top erasers. After so much product manipulation between smoker and server on the line, you won’t find much, if any, bark still clinging to the brisket. Nor will you spot anything resembling a smoke ring, although there are still occasional deposits of fat still clinging to the meat.

Regardless, the brisket has loads of flavor and spice. Occasionally you encounter a piece that blasts your palate with chile pepper, a refreshing hit of heat from a chain that has to cater to many different sensitivities. With that said, we found the brisket, despite its wallop of aromatics and spice, can get lost in some of Chipotle’s menu formats, especially if you get too carried away with additions (Two kinds of salsa? Why not? Guac? Sure!). That was particularly true in the burrito, where the double-starch bomb of tortilla and rice — plus beans — could drown out the beef’s complex flavors and springy-crisp texture.

We liked it best, as Panthaky does himself, in the simpler quesadilla, where the brisket shines merely because it doesn’t have to muscle its way past a crowd of other ingredients to get noticed. The brisket also pairs well, we thought, with Chipotle’s pinto beans. In a bowl, the creamy legumes were a nice foil for the meat — and mimicked a classic Texas smokehouse combo.

If it seems like Chipotle has stepped up its pace of introducing more menu items, it’s not just your imagination — and no coincidence that it’s happening under CEO Brian Niccol, who previously headed up Taco Bell, the fast-food chain known for its constantly evolving menu. This year, Chipotle has added cauliflower rice and the quesadilla format, in addition to the brisket. “The ideal would be to have a few new menu items a year, when you talk about the cadence of innovation,” Panthaky says.

Panthaky knows that his chain’s brisket, no matter how well considered, is unlikely to win over the most rabid of barbecue aficionados. Like Chipotle’s carne asada, a brisket served by a massive chain is inevitably going to get dragged by those decrying it as something less than the real deal.

“They’re purists, and okay, that’s reasonable for them to say,” he says. “I’m just proud that we didn’t bastardize it, and use different cuts and call it ‘brisket-style.’”

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