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[USA] Barbequed Beef Brisket

Posted: Tue Nov 02, 2010 03:17
by Chuckwagon
"Bandit's Brisket"
(Barbecued Brisket)

Between a steer's front legs are muscles mostly used for walking. This "brisket", cut from the chest of a steer (or cow), is naturally tough but naturally delicious when carefully prepared. Called "London Broil" by butchers desiring to boost sales, most folks in London have never heard of the stuff! Most cooks, even the pros, have few clues how to slowly roast brisket that is both tender and flavorful - not overly smoked, bitter, or tough. Being naturally sturdy, the brisket contains two distinct muscles separated by a layer of fat that will not render. Worse, the meat absorbs smoke like a sponge, and may easily become bitter to the palate of many folks. It is also so large, it requires a longer period of cooking time, and most chefs and cooks consider its preparation without drying the meat, a legitimate challenge. The brisket may very well be the most difficult piece of beef of all to barbecue, and the process of selecting, preparing, and barbecue-cooking brisket in many parts of the United States is truly an art form, remaining in a culinary class by itself - often chosen only to display the skills of a good chef. Inside a working ranch barbecue pit, properly cooked brisket habitually becomes a matter of economy, using all the parts of a steer. Allow me to share a few sourdough secrets I've learned along the trail to turn this "tough stuff" into a delicious meal.

Selecting And Trimming A Brisket For The Barbecue

Selecting the best brisket from a butcher`s cold case is almost a combination of skill and luck and cookin' the ominous article may seem as if a miracle were needed. On the range, you may choose and cut an eight to ten pound brisket from a medium size beef, having checked the cut for flexibility - and the brand on the steer! Place your hand vertically beneath the center of the butchered brisket and let the brisket "flop" over the edges of your hand. As with the selection of tenderloin, find a pliable cut with a natural bend. If it is tough coming from the meat locker or butcher shop, it will be difficult to make it more tender upon the barbecue grill.

The large end of the brisket is called the "point". Place the brisket upon a cutting board and remove the outside fat from the brisket's backside with a boning knife. This layer will not render drippings and is hard, tough, and often slightly yellow in color. With a boning knife, cut the thing almost to the muscle so there is only a slight amount of fat remaining. It will look mostly red with just a bit of fat remaining. Yes, there is much waste in preparing a good brisket.

The fat at the front of the brisket is handled a little differently. Notice two things. First, how deeply you must cut into the fat layer of the brisket in order to remove the maximum amount of fat separating the two muscles. This fat layer invariably remains in the center traveling the length of the brisket, separating the two muscles. Second, note the inch thick layer of fat along the bottom of the brisket. This layer will vary anywhere from 1/4 inch to about 1 inch in thickness. If you select a brisket with the 1/4-inch of fat trimmed along this side, you must thank your butcher, as it certainly did not come that way. Be sure to send him a Christmas card and shop at his market often. The goal is to trim this fat edge to about 1/4 inch in thickness, offering a protective layer during the long period of cooking. Although this hardened fat will not render, it will help keep the meat moist while preventing it from absorbing too much strong smoke smudge, becoming overly bitter or having too strong a smoke flavor.

Seasoning The Derned Thing

Now that you've selected the best brisket and have trimmed it to perfection, it's time to season the meat. Some folks choose to marinate the brisket, being aware the process only penetrates the meat to a depth of about 1/4 inch and won't penetrate fat at all. Whenever cooking a hefty piece of meat this robust, marinating is not all that effective, although I use marinade to introduce as much garlic flavor as possible, prior to sprinkling the meat with a spice mix called a "dry rub".

Folks in the southern and eastern United States apply a thick coating of ordinary prepared yellow mustard to the meat by "painting" it with a pastry brush before the dry rub seasoning is applied. Some of these brisket-bakin` barbecuers are the finest in the country and their plain ol` yellow prepared mustard helps keep the meat moist, keeps the dry rub on the brisket, and seals the meat by developing a tender crust. The vinegar within the mustard will also help tenderize the meat to a slight degree. The mustard flavor dissipates entirely during the cooking process. Believe me, those southerners definitely have a great secret. However, in the Rocky Mountains, by tradition, most ranch cooks simply skip the mustard for some reason, usually preferring to "smoke-cook" briskets for hours inside low-temperature smoke houses using light smoke for only a short period of time. Rocky Mountain briskets are mopped infrequently using a garlic-oil, oregano, vinegar, and mildly sweet citrus combination sauce much like a Cuban "mojo sauce". I can`t explain the reason for not spreading on the mustard; it`s just not done often here in the mountains, and to be absolutely truthful, most brisket (having been marinated overnight) is cooked within a matter of minutes as high heat is applied from both sides of the cut simultaneously. It is then cut on the bias, thinly across the grain. Hmmm... perhaps this is London broil style?

More experienced barbecue cooks, wishing to have meat they may cut with a fork, tend to slowly cook brisket overnight. First, they liberally sprinkle a "rub" onto the meat. Here are two of my favorite recipes:

"Tenderfoot's Brisket Dust"
(Basic Brisket Rub)

1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
3 tblspns. garlic powder
2 tblspns. onion powder

"Noble 'No Bull' Brisket Rub"
(Beef Brisket Rub With A Little More "Velocity")

1/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tblspns. chili powder
2 tblspns. ground black pepper
1 tblspn. ground cumin
1 tblspn. ground oregano
1-1/2 tblspns. garlic powder
1/2 tspn. cayenne pepper
1/2 tspn. powdered mustard

Smoke Cookin` Brisket Low And Slow

Now pay attention cowboys! Beef brisket cannot be cooked in the same manner as pork and can withstand very little smoke during the cooking process. It simply becomes bitter with too much smoke. Pork is quite "forgiving" when it comes to the use of excessive smoke. Pork ribs, butts, and sausage, retain their unique flavor very nicely with lots of hickory smoke. Not true with beef brisket! Lightly smoke brisket using charcoal briquettes rather than real wood as your fire source and you can`t go wrong. If you desire a little extra smoke flavor, you may occasionally place a few hardwood chips on top of the coals, but this is done sparingly and cautiously.

Barbecued beef briskets need long and slow cooking with frequent basting to prevent an over dried "bark". We prefer a smoker using lower heat. If you use a grill or a pit, the thermometer, (located at the same level in the pit as the meat), should be reading no more than 225° F. for great barbecuing. Using the indirect method of cooking, place the meat as far away from the source of the heat as possible. If you are using a gas grill, turn off the middle burners and heat the chamber using the side burners. This practice provides even cooking temperatures and consistent tenderness. It also dries out the meat! Allowing ten hours cooking time for a ten-pound brisket is fine - if the brisket is contained in tightly sealed foil during the final eight or nine hours (after smoking). Left alone these last hours of cooking without containing the meat`s natural moisture, will only produce a blackened cinder. In times before the innovation of handy aluminum foil, the meat was "sealed" with a heavy sugar or honey based mop sauce applied liberally and often. Today it is perfectly acceptable to inject flavorful liquids into a brisket while using a probe type thermometer to constantly monitor the meat`s internal temperature as it cooks. Be sure to mop the meat often using your favorite mopping concoction. A brisket cooked "low n' slow" (eight to ten hours at 225° F.), is well done when the internal meat temperature registers 170°. A pink center is not desired in this particular cut of meat.

If you have a smaller pit or kettle type barbecue, rake glowing charcoal briquettes to one side of the pit and cook the meat using indirect heat, turning it every 30 minutes or so, as you baste. Keep the cooking temperatures consistent as possible. If you are using a vertical cooker, try using some type of pan beneath the meat to catch the juices, preventing flare-ups, and to act as a diffuser for even low-temperature cooking. A water pan with 1/4 inch of water will keep juices from flaring up and scorching the meat, producing a bitter, burned taste.

To baste or not to baste - that is the question. The only method known by horse ridin' scientists to barbecue tender brisket, is to cook it slowly. Do not baste it at first, allowing the rub to thicken and dry a bit. Later, periodically raise the lid and begin basting the brisket with the liquid or marinade of your choice to intensify flavor. Basting a brisket is usually done with a barbecue mop - a twelve-inch wooden handle with cotton tassels on one end. It`s great for soaking up liquid then quickly and gently "moping" sauce onto the meat. Usually, moisture - holding thicker sauces are applied, containing all types of seasonings, crushed garlic, onions, carrots, celery, and the like. Sometimes, a hand held spray bottle is preferred, containing pure liquid juices without pulp. Many ol` pros use straight apple juice only. Another sourdough`s old secret here - and a mighty important one: never use a tomato-based basting sauce on a brisket as it will burn and become bitter long before the meat is ready to be eaten.

I've heard "experienced" cooks say thermometers are for wimps. Don't you dare believe it! Use a baby-dial thermometer and carry it inside your shirt pocket. This tool is vital to good ranch cooking and great ranch cooks are constantly aware of the internal temperature of the meat they are cooking. As not all meats cook at the same rate, constant monitoring is essential to perfectly cooked meat - easily accomplished using an inexpensive meat thermometer - usually $10 or less. Newer models constantly monitor the meat's internal temperature without ever lifting the lid, and the latest on the market are read using remote sensors. By the way... there are many arrogant and overconfident cooks out there who claim they don`t need a thermometer because they "can sense when its ready". These guys are usually looking for respect and recognition and indeed are the easiest individuals to bluff in a good poker game! Although you may be filling an inside straight, or even holding four aces, always beware of the guy with a thermometer clipped to his shirt pocket! Especially if he raises the stakes in the pot!

A good brisket-broiling bronco-buster should constantly be aware of the temperature inside any cooking vessel. Charcoal briquettes and lava rocks are affected by wind and weather. I've seen barbecue pits employ several thermometers to register proper temperatures; not a bad idea at all used to prevent underdone or overcooked meat. Without the knowledge of the cooking utensil temperature, a panjangler has no idea when the meat will be done. Use charcoal briquettes only when they have burned to gray ash. If you use wood as a fuel while cooking a brisket, use it only when it has been reduced to red-hot coals - not as raw wood pieces placed into the pit. Always use the cleanest fuel available. Professional brisket cooks using wood, often burn the fuel into coals using a separate fuel fire, avoiding the placement of raw wood directly into a barbecue pit. The pros never use a petroleum based lighter fluid or fluid-soaked charcoals to start their pit fires.

Anytime any cut of meat is overcooked, it will become dry. Although brisket does not contain a bone, it is still good to know that if a roast contains a bone, overcooked meat will release itself from that bone. Never overcook any meat trying to make it "falling off the bone" tender! If meat is tender, it simply stands to reason, it has not dried out and has become toughened by overcooking the cut.

Best wishes,


Posted: Sun Dec 25, 2011 05:41
by el Ducko
Great brisket summary, Chuck. I'm surprised that you haven't had any posts saying they agree or disagree.

Central Texas style, we don't marinate or mop. Rubs are simple. Low and slow smoking is the method. No sauce- - "it's about the meat."

My company transferred me to North Carolina, years ago. ...took a while to get back home. They don't have barbecue there- - assuming that pork COULD be barbecued, why would you chop up perfectly good meat, then attempt to glue it back together with a sticky sweet sauce? ...and as for South Carolina's mustard based sauce, it's awful!

Back when I was a grad student in Colorado, we had BBQ brisket at the home of a friend who, though a native Coloradan, was of Japanese descent. He used a mop sauce which started out half bourbon and half soy sauce, and as it was consumed, he would make up the liquid level with bourbon, then we would taste it. I don't recall ever throwing out any sauce. Then again, I don't recall much at all about that afternoon.

Posted: Wed Dec 28, 2011 01:22
by Blackriver
Very good brisket summary! This will help me when I do my next brisket. You put it perfect on falling off the bone tender. My first time doing a brisket mine was tender, but dry and overcooked, not what I wanted. I have never tried foiling. I will try that next time. As always thanks Chuckwagon!

Posted: Sat Aug 31, 2013 18:47
by el Ducko
Life is good, this Labor Day Weekend.
...back home at last. Kids and grand-kids on the way over, after swimmin' in "the Blue Hole" in Wimberley. batch of chorizo mellowing in the refrigerator.
...brisket in the smoker, with plenty of mesquite smoke thanks to that Amazin' invention.
...two kegs of home brew, finished after quite a bit of lagering (translation: sitting there, waiting for us to get back home).

I'm happier'n a duck in a BBQ/beer joint. (That's a new simile that I just made up.)

What's YOUR weekend cookin' lookin' like? (...sound of gauntlet being thrown down.)

Posted: Sat Aug 31, 2013 19:38
by ssorllih
I am planning to roast a duckling. Haven't decided what to have with it.

Posted: Sat Aug 31, 2013 20:21
by redzed
ssorllih wrote:I am planning to roast a duckling. Haven't decided what to have with it.
Well, it all depends how you are seasoning it or the type of sauce you are preparing. If with a fruity sweet sauce, I would go with a cool Riesling (with a hint of apple and gooseberry), or even a basic Gewurtztraminer. If it is roasted with stronger spices, go with a Pinot Noir.

Posted: Sat Aug 31, 2013 23:02
by el Ducko
We used to make brandied cherry sauce to go with the duckling. We always made a double batch, so we could sample to make sure it was made right. To this day, I don't remember if we ever ate the duckling...

Posted: Sat Aug 31, 2013 23:55
by sawhorseray
Just as I was about to get started on breakfast this morning I was told we were running errands , right now. By the time we got back for lunch I was starving; half pound hip-shot burger on a freshly made bun, Colby jack cheese, four slices thick home-made maple-honey bacon, vine-ripe maters from the backyard, sautéed onions. It was a challenge to mouth but I attacked with a full frontal assault until victory was mine, bottle of Rolling Rock helped. Off to the coast tomorrow to escape the heat and get in a trip on the ocean party boat New Sea Angler on Monday morning. Don't know yet if we'll be fishing for salmon or cod, captains choice, I'm geared for either. Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend! RAY