Beef brisket is an excellent cut of meat for slow cooking. Corned beef and pastrami are made from beef brisket. Brisket is also familiar as pot roast and, of course, smoked or barbecued brisket. All these dishes are succulent and tender by the time we eat them, but beef brisket is in fact a rather tough cut of meat that needs proper preparation and cooking in order to be transformed.
Beef brisket comes from the muscles on the lower chest of the cow, just above the front legs. The brisket is usually divided into two smaller cuts called the first cut and front cut, or the flat cut and deckel. The first cut or flat cut is less tender than the front cut or deckel. However both sections of the brisket are rich in collagen, which makes the meat tough. Slow cooking breaks down the collagen, making the beef tender and intensely flavoured.
For the most tender beef brisket, choose a well marbled cut of meat. Feel the meat in the package to see if it is pliable. A stiff or overly firm brisket will be tough. Leave the outer layer of fat on the brisket during cooking to add flavour and tenderness to the meat. If you want to reduce fat in your beef brisket recipe, trim only some of the fat. Also, if you trim the fat from the beef brisket, you'll need to shorten the cooking time to keep the meat from drying out. Ultimately, the brisket will not be as tender if the fat is trimmed.
Beef brisket is flavourful on its own and does not need complicated seasoning, but it's also a robust meat that can stand up to just about any recipe you have in mind. A simple seasoning can be made with salt, pepper, onion and garlic. If you're not smoking the brisket over a fire, you can rub liquid smoke flavour on the meat before cooking. If you are making a smoked or barbecued brisket, prepare the barbecue sauce separately and serve it on the side.
Beef brisket can be marinated or brined. In addition to adding flavour to the brisket, the salt in the marinade or brine solution helps to tenderise the meat by unwinding the meat protein molecules. Brined beef brisket will be similar in flavour and texture to corned beef. Most recipes recommend brining or marinating the brisket overnight or for 8 hours.
Slow cooking at a relatively low temperature is the key to breaking down the collagen fibres that make beef brisket tough. Roast the brisket at 149 degrees Celsius for about 1 hour per pound. If you are smoking your brisket, the temperature will be lower--usually 93.3 to 121 degrees Celsius--and cooking time will be longer. In both cases, cook the brisket with the fat side up so that the melted fat flows down through the meat as it cooks. The brisket is done when it is fork tender and has reached an internal temperature of 85 degrees Celsius. When you're ready to serve, slice the beef brisket across the grain, at a slight angle.