I used brisket in this recipe, but feel free to substitute for any meat that braises well — flanken and beef cheek would both be great options. The meat can be cooked a day or two in advance, so the actual work is pretty minimal — just stuff the dough, brush with baking soda and water mixture, and bake!
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Combine ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, garlic powder, paprika, beer, and liquid smoke. Pour over the brisket and cover tightly.
Bake for three hours or until the brisket is extremely tender.
Using two forks, shred the beef and return to the sauce.
While the beef is in the oven, spread the baking soda on a baking sheet and bake for an hour, then cool and store in an airtight container (this will keep for several weeks). This will amp up the alkalinity of the baking soda to create that pretzel-y crust on the dough.
Most commercial food companies use lye (sodium hydroxide) on their dough to get that real pretzel-y flavor. It has an extremely high alkalinity, which is a necessary component of the Maillard reaction, otherwise known as browning, but it’s so strong that it is dangerously corrosive, so definitely not safe for home use. The best way to mimic that flavor is to increase the alkalinity in an alkaline product regularly used at home — baking soda. Baking your baking soda increases its potency in a safe and delicious way. Don’t skip this step for true pretzel flavor!
The brisket can be made a day or two in advance.
Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Divide the dough into 12 pieces.
Roll each piece out to a thin 3×10-inch rectangle.
Lay a narrow strip of meat down the length of the dough and cover, forming a long rope.
Form a U shape, then fold the edges down over the base of the U to form a pretzel shape. Continue with all 12 pieces of dough.
Place pretzels on two baking sheets.
Combine the baked baking soda and two cups of hot water (some of the baking soda will clump, just stir well), and then brush onto the pretzels. Dab excess water off, then sprinkle with salt.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until well browned.
Combine sauce ingredients and serve alongside pretzels.
Alternately, divide the dough into smaller pieces (about eight pieces per pound). Stretch each piece out and stuff with meat, then pinch underneath to form a ball for “pretzel bombs.” Proceed as above.