Beef Brisket: What Is It And How To Cook It. - A Tender Discussion

Written in 2024
by Adam

    The term "beef brisket" was coined in Texas when they were cooking their cattle after slaughtering them for food, and the word "brisket" originated from an Old English term meaning "to trim or clean."

    Beef brisket is known to be one of the most under-appreciated pieces in a cow because it is tough, hard and not as easy to cook compared with other popular cuts like tenderloin. The famous saying "you need teeth to eat it" comes from this fact about beef brisket.

    In this post, we will talk about what beef brisket is, learn the different cuts and how best to prepare/cook it and watch out for the tips and tricks to ensure you get the most tender and juicy beef brisket.

    What is a Beef Brisket?

    Beef brisket comes from the breast of a cow or steer (a castrated male).

    It's located at the lower breast under the first five ribs, behind the foreshank. This area has pectoral muscles which support almost half of the steer's weight. The muscles have a lot of connective tissue, like tendons, ligaments, which hold the muscle tissue together and this forms part of why the meat is a bit tough.

    A beef brisket looks similar to pork shoulder with two thin layers of fat inside that can either be trimmed off entirely depending on how you want your meat done when cooking; whether you prefer leaner meats or ones with more flavour from an excess amount of fats still attached. It's also important that know these different cuts to ensure we cook them in the best way possible.

    The length of a beef brisket can be anywhere from about 30-33 cm(12-13 inches) to over 40 cm(16 inches), and the weight can range between roughly 4-8 kg (11-18pounds). With individual cuts weighing about 500g - 750g (1- 1.6 pounds).

    Know the Different Variations of Beef Brisket

    There are different types of beef briskets cuts depending on the cut and fat trimming.

    Beef Brisket Cuts

    1. Full or whole brisket.

    The full-cut has all the parts attached. You can cook the entire thing if you want to. It’s important to note this cut is found at a butcher shop and mostly on request. The reason for this is the excessive weight, 4-8 kg(11-18 pounds).

    2. First cut or flat cut.

    The first cut is the leaner meat, which is good for cooking in the oven or braising.

    Compared to the second cut it's much larger and more uniform, making the slices attractive when cut. It has a thin layer of fat on one side.

    This cut is what is used for corned beef.

    3. Second Cut (AKA Deckle point or Point Cut)

    The point cut is trimmed, with a thick layer of fat on one side and a thin strip of fat left intact. If you leave the second layer of fat completely attached to the brisket, it can be very difficult to slice after cooking, leaving all the slices stuck together because they're so moist from their own fats. It's important to trim some of this off for ease in slicing before serving after cooking

    It's one of the best cuts for smoking, as this allows you to cook it more slowly and with less supervision. Furthermore, it is also preferred for slow cooking because the fat helps it retain moisture better compared to other cuts during long hours of braising or simmering.

    This cut is used for making pastrami, which is beef brisket that has been smoked after brining. 

    Cuts According to Fat Trimmings

    1. Full Packer Brisket

    This cut has the entire layer of fat left intact

    2. Trimmed or Super Trimmed

    The trimmed cut has a thin layer of fat, mostly 1-2 cm ( 1/2” – 1”) of fat

    How to Preserve Your Beef Brisket

    So you decide not to cook your beef brisket immediately, you can preserve it by a process called curing. This helps keep the meat safe, tender and flavourful.

    Two ways to do this:

    1. Wet curing

    Wet-Curing, also called wet brining, involves soaking the meat in a container of brine, either using water or beef stock that is made of vinegar, pickling spices and other aromatics. Sometimes sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite are added to make it last longer and stabilize the colour.

    Corned beef is made by wet brining a beef brisket and can sit in the brine for 7-10 days when stored in the refrigerator. After curing, it can last in the refrigerator for about 3 to 4 weeks.

    2. Dry curing

    Dry Curing does not use liquid brine, instead, it uses a mixture of salt, sugar and other spices. This dry cure is rubbed all over the meat.

    Depending on the desired taste it would be left to sit for a minimum of 24 hours or up to two days, this process helps draw out excess moisture from the meat which helps keep your brisket from becoming too salty.

    After curing, you can leave it in the fridge for up to a week or keep frozen for up to 6 months, as long as it's well frozen and sealed.

    There are safety concerns about dry curing too as it can leave bacteria on the surface of the meat.

    How To Cook Beef Brisket

    There are different techniques used when cooking beef briskets, these are some popular ones:

    1. Smoking your beef brisket

    This is probably the most common method used, it is popular because of the low and slow cooking method that appeals to most beef brisket lovers.

    The steps to follow is to first tenderize your meat by soaking it with marinade or dry brining. Any acid-based marinade will do, for example, vinegar or lime juice coupled with your favourite spices or herbs.

    Although optional you can dry-rub your beef brisket with spices and herbs liberally coating it on all sides, but just a light dusting will do, too much of it can be overwhelming and overpowering to the taste buds

    After that you need to set up your grill for indirect grilling, this means you will need to light up only half of it. Place your beef brisket on the cool side of the grill and cover it. The fat side should face the side where the heat is coming from. It could be up or down, it all depends on your smoker.

    You can start monitoring your beef brisket after about an hour and every 30 minutes you should check it, turning it over and glazing it with your favourite sauce or marinade will give it that nice glaze to finish off the cooking process

    To know if your beef brisket is done by:

    • Look for a bark/crust that has formed on the outside of it, or holds it with tongs and press down into its flesh. If the meat springs back then it's not done yet, but if it gives in easily then you can consider your beef brisket cooked.
    • Use a digital probe meat thermometer and monitor the temperature until it reaches about 121℃ (250℉). Normally, it will take 1-1 1/2 hours to smoke about 500 grams of beef brisket.

    After the meat is cooked, allow it to rest before serving. This allows redistribution of the juices and flavour. If you happen to slice the meat immediately, the meat will lose all of its juices, resulting in it being dry and tough as it cools.

    2. Braising your beef brisket, also known as pot roasting

    Braising involves cooking the meat in a liquid over low heat for an extended period of time. You will need a heavy-based pot that is oven-proof.

    The steps to follow are the same as with smoking, but this time you will need to first brown your beef brisket under the broiler first for about 5 minutes on all sides until nicely golden or charred if you want some smokiness added too.

    Add your braising liquid, which can be water, wine and stock in equal parts and just enough to cover the beef. Add your vegetables for added flavour also.

    The braising liquid can be seasoned with salt, pepper, bay leaf and any other herbs you prefer.

    The time it will take to cook is about 2 to 3 hours per 500 grams of beef brisket, and you should check every 30 minutes if it requires topping up with the braising liquid.

    3. Oven Baking your Beef Brisket

    This is probably one of the easiest ways to cook your beef brisket, but it could be a little tricky at times because you will not have much control over the heat just like with braising.

    The steps to follow are pretty much the same, except you will need to season your beef brisket liberally with salt, pepper and other spices or herbs of your choice. You can also add dry rubs if you have any available in your pantry.

    Coat it all over both sides of the beef brisket and make sure to get in the nooks and crannies too.

    Preheat your oven to 225°C (437°F) and place a rack that is high enough for your meat to fit without touching the sides or top of it. You can use a roasting pan if you have any available, but if not a dutch oven or stew pot will do as well.

    Typically, for 500 grams, it will take 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook, but depending on your oven it could be just a little less or more. You should check after an hour by holding it with tongs and gently pressing it into the flesh of the beef brisket.

    If when you press in with tongs, and it springs back easily, then you can consider your beef brisket done.

    4. Slow Cooking beef brisket in a slow cooker

    This is an easy and hands-off way of cooking it where you can place all the ingredients inside, set it on low, cover it and cook for about 8 hours or until meat falls apart easily.

    This method usually yields tender meat cubes perfect for stews or soups. It works great with vegetables like potatoes, carrots, onions and flourishes with spices like salt, pepper garlic powder etc.

    Storing Your Cooked Leftovers

    First, allow the beef brisket to cool down after cooking and then store in a refrigerator set at about 40 °F (4 °C). A cooked beef brisket lasts bout 3 days in the refrigerator and 3 months when frozen, without losing its taste when properly wrapped in an airtight packaging or freezer bag.

    Beef briskets actually taste better the next day after resting overnight in the fridge. This is because flavours have had a chance to soak up in the meat.

    When it comes to reheating, you can use a microwave, oven or stovetop depending on what method was used originally at the first cooking stage. It is usually best to reheat your beef brisket slowly and gently rather than warming


    Beef brisket is one of the tougher cuts which requires either high temperature or a long time to break down so don't be surprised by its toughness, the reward is worth the effort.

    Try some recipes and see for yourself!

    Written by Adam

    Adam is the creator of the SmokeGuys website, running it since 2016. Hater of coriander, lover of all things meat... Adam currently works in marketing with a dream of being able to make food his full-time 'job' in the longer term.

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