With a little bit of time and the right cooking method, even the toughest piece of meat can be made delicious. Brisket is a great example — it's one of the least tender cuts of beef, but braised or slowly roasted, it's rendered soft and satisfying with incredible flavor.
What Is Brisket?
Brisket is a beef cut taken from the breast section of the cow beneath the first five ribs, behind the foreshank. It comprises the pectoral muscles of the cow, which supports much of the animal's weight. Consequently, brisket can be a large cut of meat, between 3 and 8 pounds, and is rich in the connective tissue collagen.
Choosing the Right Brisket
Fresh brisket is an inexpensive boneless cut that requires long, slow cooking to break down the collagen in the connective muscle tissues to achieve unctuous tenderness. The cut is quite long and usually cut in half. Each half has a different name. The flat cut, also known as the first cut, thin cut, or center cut is a leaner piece of meat. The pointcut, or second cut, or deckle, has more flavor due to a bit of extra fat. How to choose?
The first cut is more attractive and will slice up neatly. It's a great choice for corned beef. The second cut is a favorite of Jewish grandmothers everywhere, as the fatty cap makes a rich and satisfying stew as the meat braises. Pitmasters also gravitate toward the deckle, as the preponderance of fat makes for a juicy smoked cut that shreds nicely. Note that a "chuck deckle" is not always the same as a second cut brisket, as butchers have found that other tough meats well-endowed with fat make for cuts as successful as deckle when braised.
Whether braised, brined, or smoked, brisket needs plenty of time to cook. A smoked brisket, Texas style, is rendered soft and delicious after 8-12 hours at 225 degrees. A braised brisket, Jewish style, also cooks at a low temperature for at least three hours, as it absorbs the liquid from vegetables and the collagen fibers break down.
Brisket Around the World
As mentioned above, brisket is the primary cut for barbecue, corned beef, and Jewish pot roast. But it's also the main ingredient in some other classic dishes, for example, Romanian pastrami. In Italy, bollito misto is made with this cut; in England, it's a classic cut for a braised beef or pot roast. The classic Vietnamese noodle soup pho is made with brisket, and it's popularly curried with noodles in Hong Kong.