With a little bit of time and the right cooking method, even the toughest piece of meat can be made delicious. Brisket, which comes from the breast of the cow, is a great example—it's one of the least tender cuts of beef, but braised, smoked, or slowly roasted, it's rendered soft and satisfying with incredible flavor. 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.
What Is Beef 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, which makes the meat tough. A brisket is quite long and is usually divided in half and sold as two different pieces of meat.
How to Cook Beef Brisket
Since brisket is a very tough cut, the best methods for cooking are those that cook at lower temperatures for a longer period of time, such as braising and smoking. Brining is also an option, which will turn the piece of brisket into a corned beef; after the meat is cured in a brine, it is slowly simmered until tender.
Whether braised, brined, or smoked, brisket needs plenty of time to cook. A smoked brisket, Texas style, is rendered soft and delicious after eight to 12 hours at 225 F. 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.
What Does Beef Brisket Taste Like?
In general, brisket has a beefiness to it; how you prepare the beef brisket will determine how the brisket tastes. Brining and smoking infuse very specific flavors whereas a braising liquid will impart its own taste to the meat.
Varieties of Brisket
Once the full piece of brisket is cut in half, each half is given different names—the first cut and second cut—and sold as such. The first cut, also known as the flat cut, thin cut, or center cut, is the leaner piece of meat. The second cut—or pointcut or deckle—has more flavor due to a bit of extra fat.
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 contributes to 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.
Recipes for Brisket
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 like Romanian pastrami and Italian bollito misto. In England, brisket is a classic cut for a braised beef or pot roast. The classic Vietnamese noodle soup pho is made with brisket, and brisket is often curried with noodles in Hong Kong.
A crockpot is an ideal vessel for cooking brisket, or you can use the oven or even the grill.
Where to Buy Beef Brisket
A beef brisket is usually available in the meat department of the grocery store; if you do not see any (or the size you need), it is worth asking the butcher. Keep in mind that a brisket will shrink down significantly when cooked, so you will need to purchase one that is larger than you would think. Plan on about 1/3 pound per cooked serving but should buy 1/2 pound per person when raw; keep in mind that the fat cap on a second cut will account for some of the weight.
When looking for a second cut, 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.
How to Store Beef Brisket
A raw brisket can be stored in the refrigerator for five to eight days in its packaging and when wrapped air-tight can be frozen for six to 12 months. Brisket is the type of dish you often cook ahead of time (especially when braising, so the gravy fat has time to separate), so you may need to store the meat in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Wrapped well, the brisket will remain fresh up to four days in the fridge and two months in the freezer; you can store it with or without the gravy.
Nutrition and Benefits of Beef Brisket
Brisket contains high amounts of oleic acid, which can lower the "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and increase the production of HDL, the "good" cholesterol. It is also an excellent source of protein, as a 3-ounce serving provides half of the daily recommended allowance at 28 grams. A serving of brisket is a good source of the B vitamins as well as minerals including zinc, iron, phosphorus, and selenium.
If you choose the first cut, which is leaner than the second, then the fat content will obviously be lower. A 3-ounce serving has approximately 9 grams of fat, whereas a second cut can have 16 grams of fat. A serving of flat cut has around 183 calories and deckle has 246.