What is brisket? Well, if you have ever had a pastrami, then you have had a brisket! This flavorful beef cut is a true classic which can be prepared in many different ways: smoked, slow-cooked, braised, cured… However, many of us have had not-so-good experiences with brisket; chewy and rubbery textures or lack of flavor are just two examples of how brisket magic can turn into brisket nightmare.
Luckily, these issues are easy to solve. We’re going through the everything connected to brisket step by step, explaining what brisket is, how to choose the best cut, and different cooking techniques, all topped with super-tasty recipes!
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What is Brisket?
The consumption of brisket in the US goes back to the native Indian tribes in Texas. Even today, this cut is considered one of the Texas staple foods and is synonymous with the Lone Star State’s culture.
Beef brisket is one of the nine primal beef cuts. It is a cut of meat from the lower chest or breast of beef (or less commonly used, veal). More precisely, brisket comes from under the first five ribs of the cow. It is large and heavy cut (10-20 pounds) which is sold without bones.
Is Brisket Good for You?
It should be noted that even the leanest beef brisket cuts contain a considerable amount of calories. Brisket contains no carbs but is quite rich in protein, which makes it great for physically active people.
Lean beef brisket contains B vitamins, including B-12, niacin, riboflavin, folate, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins enhance energy levels and improve red blood cell health. It is also rich in iron, as well as other minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and selenium.
As far as fat is concerned, a considerable portion found in brisket is saturated. Overconsumption of this type of fat can lead to raised blood cholesterol levels. However, considering that brisket is not something you prepare every day, it is safe to say that it is consumed in moderation and the risk of heart problems is kept at bay.
How to Buy Brisket
Instead of buying a brisket from the supermarket, obtain it from the butcher’s or a trusted local farmer. Make sure it has good color and looks moist (not wet).
As mentioned before, brisket cuts are quite hefty but they’re usually cut down into two parts which can be used interchangeably in recipes (unless the brisket recipe doesn’t specify which cut should be used:
– Flat cut, also called flat half, center cut, or thin cut, is rectangular or square in shape. It has less fat, mostly distributed at the bottom. This cut is considered better and that’s why it is usually pricier. Buy it if you plan on hosting a dinner party – it is easier to slice and looks better.
– Point cut, also called point half, front cut, or nose cut, is fattier, with the fat distributed throughout the meat. It is more flavorful and shaped like a triangle.
Before Cooking the Beef Brisket
The first step to a perfect beef brisket is proper preparation. Here is what you need to do before you get down to cooking:
– Don’t trim the fat. It is important not to remove the fat from the cut because it prevents the meat from drying during cooking. One more bonus from leaving the fat on is the extra flavor it contributes to the meat. If you really must intervene, remove only a part of the fat, using a sharp slicing knife.
– Season well. It is best to season the cut with a generous amount of salt and pepper the night before and leave it to absorb the flavor.
Due to the significant amount of connective collagen tissue it contains, brisket is quite tough and must be cooked in the right way in order to tenderize. Long, slow cooking (preferably with water or another liquid) helps break down the tough connective tissue, converting it into gelatin. The result is tender and juicy final product.
Here are our favorite ways to cook beef brisket:
Slow cooker brisket
We love using a slow cooker because it produces perfect brisket without requiring too much attention! Another important upside is that it turns the cooking liquid into a delicious smoky sauce which can be served on the side.
Place the brisket on top of chopped vegetables (celery, onions, and carrots) in the slow cooker. Note: if the cut is too big to fit into the slow cooker, you might need to cut it in half. Season with some ground pepper and pour the sauce over the brisket. (For a quick sauce, combine barbecue sauce, Dijon mustard, and Worcestershire sauce).
Cover and cook at low heat for 12 to 14 hours. Alternatively, you can set the temperature to high and shorten the cooking time to about 6-hours.
Note: Expert cooks recommend browning the meat on the stovetop before placing it into the slow cooker. This will seal the juices and add a deeper flavor.
Note 2: When it comes to add-ins, why stop at carrots and onions? The more flavoring agents you add to your brisket, the better it will taste. Think leeks, shallots, garlic, herbs, even dried fruits and booze (white wine, vodka, beer). And, similar to the brisket itself, try sauteeing them until fragrant before they enter the slow cooker.
Slow cooker brisket recipes:
Smoking a brisket
Smoking is probably one of the most popular cooking methods in the States and that love extends to beef brisket as well.
The first step is preparing a brisket rub that will pack the meat with flavors. Spread the brisket rub evenly on both sides of the cut. Cook immediately or let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to allow the brisket rub be absorbed. Alternatively, the meat can be marinated few hours before being smoked or, better yet, overnight.
Here is a step by step description of the method:
Place the brisket with the fatty side up on the top rack of the grill. Cover and heat to 225°F. Check the temperature of the grill every hour, without opening the lid (check the grill’s gauge or use a thermometer).
Cook until the meat reaches 195°F. If unsure, stick a fork in the brisket, and if it twists easily in the meat, you’re good to go.
Smoking implies cooking the meat slowly over indirect heat from wood or charcoal. This cooking method is especially popular in Texas where smoked brisket is one of the national favorites. In this State, brisket is smoked with hardwood to the fire to enhance the flavor. In Kansas City, smoked pieces of brisket can be returned to the smoker to make burnt ends and then serve them on white bread.
Braising beef brisket is a tradition in Jewish cooking, especially for holidays. We love braising because it doesn’t require any special equipment besides a baking pan! Just make sure the pan is tightly covered with a lid to keep the heat constant (brisket loves constant heat).
To make sure your beef brisket will be tender and moist, start by preparing a cooking liquid.
In a small bowl combine 3/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon chili powder, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
Next step is to bake the brisket. Place it in a 13x9x2-inch baking pan, then pour the cooking liquid. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 3 hours at 325 degrees F, turning once halfway through. Discard the cooking liquid and serve the sliced brisket with barbecue sauce or turn the cooking liquid into a sauce (read below).
Braised brisket recipes:
Corned beef and pastrami
Brisket is also the most popular cut for corned beef and pastrami.
Corned beef is a salt-cured beef. The name comes from the large-grained salt used in the process, called “corns” of salt. Most corned beef recipes include nitrates, which give the meat its pink color but also prevent the development of bacteria like botulism. Other commonly added ingredients are spices and sugar.
Corned beef is very popular in Britain and Canada, where the Jewish community in Montreal makes Montreal-style smoked meat, a close relative to pastrami.
The difference between these two methods is that corned beef is cured in brine and then simmered in water, whereas also pastrami involves smoking the beef brisket with a rub of salt before the final cooking.
Corned beef recipes:
On the Stovetop
Of all the brisket cooking methods, this is the most demanding one but we believe it is worth it!
Heat some cooking oil in a large skillet fitted with a lid. Brown the brisket on both sides, then remove from the skillet. Add onions to the skillet and cook until they tender, stirring frequently.
Return the brisket to the skillet. Add a can of tomato sauce, 1 cup beef broth, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and some chopped fresh herbs. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat. Spoon some of the mixture over the meat and simmer covered for about 3 hours, until tender.
International Beef Brisket Recipes
In Italy, beef brisket is used to make ‘bollito misto’, a classic stew originating in the northern parts of the country.
The British use brisket to prepare what we call a pot roast but they call it stewed beef. The cut is slow-cooked with a gravy in a covered casserole dish and usually served with root vegetables.
Germans like their beef brisket braised in dark beer and cooked with various veggies such as onions, celery, onions, as well as herbs like thyme and bay leaves.
In Thai cuisine it is used to make the traditional northers dish ‘suea rong hai’, where the cut is seasoned with spices, grilled until rare, and served with sticky rice.
In Vietnam, it is the base of the popular phở soup, along with rice noodles, broth, and herbs, whereas in Hong Kong, brisket is cooked with spices over low heat until tender, and served with noodles in a curry or soup.
In Korean cuisine, beef brisket is used to make jang jorim. The meat is first boiled with vegetables at low temperature, then placed in a container filled with marinade made with water, soy sauce, garlic, honey, eggs, and shishito peppers. This salty (and slightly sweet) dish is served on the side and eaten in small portions.
After cooking the Beef Brisket
If serving the brisket simply drizzled with the braising liquid, first skim the fat with a tablespoon, then pass the liquid alongside the brisket.
However, why settle for the simple solution when you can easily have a lavish one? Turn the braising liquid into a rich sauce by first removing the solid parts (veggies and larger herb leaves) and heat the liquid until thick. At this point you can add some more seasoning, whipping cream or, if you feel naughty, 2 tablespoons of booze like vodka or vermouth. Bring to a boil and remove from heat immediately. Voila, you have a quick and creamy sauce to serve with your meat!
Let the brisket be
Pro cooks will tell you that a day-old brisket is the best! Leaving the meat be overnight will allow the flavors to fully develop and blend together. In addition, the melted fat will solidify, making it easier for you to remove it. Not to mention, chilled brisket is much easier to slice – just place it in a cutting board and use a slicing knife to to move across the grain.
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So, after you’re done cooking, let the meet cool. At this point you can decide to place the meat in the refrigerator together with the liquid to make sure it stays moist or let it cool while still in the liquid, then remove and place in the fridge until the next day. Reserve the liquid in a separate covered container as well. The next day, place the meat and liquid in a dish, cover with a lid and heat at low temperature in the oven.
To store your leftover cooked brisket, divide it into smaller portions and place in a shallow airtight container. Refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to two months.