A well-cooked brisket is meltingly tender, soothing, savory, warming, and welcoming. Beef brisket is the ultimate comfort food. Beef brisket is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat, but yields delicious results. No wonder families pass brisket recipes down like heirlooms.
Three Basic Ways
There are only three basic ways to actually cook brisket: barbecuing, brining (as in corned beef), and braising, which is by far the most popular. Here are my tips to help you on your way to meat so tender and delicious; you will be the one insisting you have the best brisket recipe ever.
The brisket is located above the front legs in the breast section of the beef and is a piece of muscle that is worked hard and supports a lot of weight.
Let’s first discuss the cut. Butchers generally cut a whole brisket crosswise in half so there are two briskets. The “flat” is the cut you are most likely to see at your local supermarket. The “point,” is thicker and has more fat. Unless the recipe specifies one or the other, either may be used in recipes calling for beef brisket. Tip: Corned beef brisket is made from beef brisket that has been cured in seasoned brine. Often, fresh beef brisket is specified in a recipe to differentiate a regular beef brisket from a corned beef brisket. Be sure to use whichever style of brisket is called for in your recipe.
Fresh brisket will be fine in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to five days before cooking. When wrapped airtight and placed in the freezer, fresh brisket can be frozen from six to twelve months.
Trimming the Fat
About one-quarter inch of fat is all that is required to keep the meat from drying out. How much fat to trim and when is a matter of personal preference: you can remove the fat prior to braising or wait until the cooked meat cools and then remove the excess fat.
Because brisket is a tough cut of meat, it’s best when braised (that is, simmered in a small amount of liquid), either in the oven, the slow cooker, or on the stove top.
Some recipes call for quickly searing the meat before beginning the braising process. However, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Do be sure to place the meat in the pan fat-side up for baking. The fat not only releases flavor, it also protects the brisket from drying out on top.
When braising, keep about one-half to two-thirds of the brisket covered with liquid at all times. Too much liquid and you’re stewing rather than braising. If you’re barbecuing the brisket, frequent basting is required to keep the meat moist.
For beautifully braised brisket, use an ovenproof enameled cast-iron pot, Dutch oven, or casserole dish. Be sure the vessel is sturdy, heavy-bottomed, and fits the meat snugly. With rare exceptions, braised briskets are cooked tightly covered. A lid is ideal, but you can also cover a pot or casserole dish with heavy-duty foil, making sure to seal the edges.
Low and Slow
Brisket is a meat that must be cooked slowly over many hours! The scientific explanation is that it takes a certain number of hours of low heat to gradually begin to dissolve the tough connective tissues found throughout the meat; if it’s not cooked long enough, the brisket will be tough and difficult to chew. On the other hand, if you cook it too long, the result is dry meat. The fall-apart goodness of this delicious meat is worth every hour.
“Low and slow” is the cooking mantra for braised brisket, with the oven temperature of 325°F. Allow about 1 hour of cooking time per pound of brisket. Remember – patience is a virtue. The USDA recommends cooking whole meats to an internal temperature of 145°F. Check doneness by using a meat thermometer. When it is done, rest it for 15-30 minutes wrapped in the foil.
Carve to Serve
Carve the meat in thin slices against the grain. Slice it any other way and you may chew longer, but the flavor will still be great. If serving the cooking juices alongside your brisket, use a tablespoon to skim fat from the cooking liquid. Pass the cooking liquid alongside the brisket.
The Best is Yet to Come
Braised brisket generally tastes better a day or two after it’s made. Store it overnight in the refrigerator and keep it sitting in gravy or its own juices. To serve the next day, trim any extra fat from the meat (if necessary), then slice the meat against the grain and reheat it slowly on the stovetop, along with all the glorious gravy from the cooking pot.
If the brisket is stored in the gravy, it may be refrigerated up to two days and frozen up to three months. Cooked brisket without liquid may be refrigerated up to four days or frozen up to two months.
Brisket requires a long cooking time at a low temperature, but the wait is worth it for this tender, boldly flavored beef. There are many recipes for brisket, so find one and try it out!