When it comes to delicious barbecue, beef brisket is one of the most popular options thanks to its irresistible combination of flavor and texture.
However, even the most seasoned pitmaster might not stop to think about the origins of this delicacy. In recent years, brisket’s popularity has skyrocketed. But what is it exactly?
Why is it suddenly so popular on the cow, and where does it come from? Here, we offer answers to all of them as well as advice on how to prepare and serve it.
It was known as cartilage or gristle by the Vikings. The word “brushk” means “tough” in Old English. You can just make out that there is a lot of serious chewing going on. Oh, yeah, fun times.
However, the brisket we know and love today is centuries different from what was once served in draughty dining rooms with mugs of mead and ale. Thank goodness.
So let’s start, and along the road let’s look closely at one of the best transformation stories in the history of meat cookery.
Where Does Brisket Come from in the Cow?
Beef or veal (cows or steers 2 years of age and older) are the sources of brisket (milk-fed beef calves aged 2 to 4 months).
It’s the region directly above the front leg if you’re gazing at the animal side. It is located in the space in front, between the front legs. Various names for this include the pectorals, breast, and (lower) chest.
If interested, we have a comprehensive chart of beef cuts that displays all common cuts. These pectoral muscles are the only thing lifting the front half of a 1,200–1,400 pound animal off the ground because cattle lack collarbones, which assist in supporting the body’s weight.
The thick and durable muscle is required to support roughly 60% of the animal’s weight. Because of this, the majority of it is connective tissue.
In the video below from Jess Pryles, you can see where the brisket originates from on the cow and get lots of expert advice on how to cook and prepare a brisket:
How Does Connective Tissue Work?
A substance that resembles a rubber band and is present in tendons, silverskin, and ligaments primarily serves to hold muscle fiber and sheaths together. They give structure to and strengthen tissues and are also known as cellular glue. Connective tissue comes in two different types:
A flexible and elastic protein that can stretch and then return to its initial shape. It can become dry, brittle, and difficult to chew when it ages or is cooked, and this condition is known as gristle.
One of the strongest types of protein and the one that is most prevalent in all animals. The rope-like structure of collagen, which is made up of three molecule chains braided together to hold fiber and sheaths together, is explained by The Accidental Scientist of Exploratorium.edu. It also strengthens collagen.
The legs, rump, and chest of cows and pigs are the main locations where it can be found. The act of cooking transforms it into gelatin.
A velvety, moist feel is imparted to the meat by the gelatin. Collagen is also a component of blood vessels, bone, skin, and connective tissue in addition to connective tissue. Yes, the very substance that causes crinkly skin and wrinkles when it’s absent.
Beef brisket must be cooked slowly and at a low temperature because of this protein mix. Instead of being squeezed out like a sponge would be when the connective tissues are tight, water is allowed to evaporate.
Furthermore, it takes time for the collagen to degrade after repeated exposure to heat, resulting in the formation of gelatin.
Three Cuts of a Beef Brisket
Brisket is offered in 3 different ways, which are more fully covered on our page on flat vs. point brisket:
This is a cut from the entire brisket that combines the Flat and the Point muscles, which are separated from one another by a layer of fat. 8 to 20 pounds are within its weight range. The top has a fat cap that can be cut to between 14 and 1 inch in thickness.
This is the main part of the brisket. It is situated against the ribs on the inside of the cow and is also referred to as the initial, flat cut, or deep pectoral cut. Being the most labored, it is lean, or lacking in fat content. Pastrami and corned beef are two of their most popular uses.
The superficial pectoral is the part of the chest that is lower and sits “outside” over the leg. Also known as the triangle cut, the fat end, or the second or point cut. Beef-burned ends are often made using it.
Where to Purchase Brisket Online
Snake River Farms
Snake River Farms offers two levels of brisket:
- American Black Grade Wagyu
- American Gold Grade Wagyu
USDA Prime briskets have a lower marbling score than black grade briskets. Due to the mild temperature of the Pacific Northwest, this Wagyu cross beef is reared, producing briskets with great flavor and naturally rich marbling.
In comparison to their Black Grade briskets, Snake River Farms’ Gold Grade briskets are their most expensive line. They also have greater intramuscular fat and marbling. As a result, you should anticipate them to be rich, buttery, and incredibly umami-tasting.
From 9 to 12 pounds to 20 or more pounds, Snake River Farms’ briskets come in various sizes.
There are two types of brisket offered at Porter Road: “Packer brisket” and “whole brisket.”
In contrast to their full briskets, which weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, their packer briskets weigh 13.5 to 14.5 pounds.
I’m not sure why they have different names since they are both “whole brisket,” but they do have varying weights and come from various farms.
They won’t let you down, since both briskets are full of flavor and richly marbled. For maximum freshness, Porter Road’s briskets are shipped frozen.
Where to Find the Fat and How Much to Trim
According to Chefsteps.com, a website for expert cooks, the fat should be white in color and dispersed uniformly throughout the brisket. The website gives visitors a solid idea of what to avoid buying.
Never take the fat out entirely. As we covered in our post on whether to smoke brisket fat side up or down, it’s crucial for the cooking process and helps prevent drying out. To know the following terms before having the brisket professionally trimmed:
Packer- fat cap was completely left intact
Trimmed or Super Trimmed refers to leaving half to one inch (1/2″-1″) of fat, depending on who you ask.
The difference between eating brisket in a comfortable, contented manner vs nibbling on the gristle with tremendous effort is the fat and the low-and-slow cooking method.
For more on how to achieve the best results, see the brisket trimming guide. Read on to find out how the most difficult part of the cow ended up being the most valuable.
Softening One Difficult Customer
It used to be usual to describe a cooked brisket as being rough, chewy, and stringy. At the meat processing facility, it was consequently forgotten.
Nobody thought someone would intentionally buy it. However, someone will always be hungry enough to burn the meat that is regarded as being of the lowest quality.
Eventually, it was “found” that using a low-and-slow cooking technique—perhaps boiling, stewing, or roasting—could turn those tough muscle fibers into a succulent cut of meat.
Here in the United States, the practice of smoking brisket dates back to the late 17th century, when Jewish and Eastern European immigrants and local ranchers exchanged culinary ideas.
But brisket didn’t become a common cut served to restaurants and shops commercially until the 1960s. By the 1980s, there was such a huge demand for it that there were often lines around the block at restaurants where it was the main event.
Brisket is the subject of numerous seminars and even more competitions, and it has almost entirely come to be associated with Texas barbecue.
But the smoker is only one component of the brisket. It is preserved using one wet process and one dry way to create the two cultural favorites corned beef and pastrami.
Some Advice on Corned Beef
Compared to the tiny crystals coming from a salt shaker nearby, coarse rock salt seems more like grains or seeds. The term “corned” was initially used to describe beef preserved in a salt bath somewhere around 1570 or 1580 AD.
Cloves, garlic, and peppercorns are typically also used in this wet preservation technique. Wet brining, often known as curing, is the term used nowadays. We’ll examine this in further detail at a later time.
A Word about Pastrami
The subtitle of The Story of Pastrami may be “Beyond the brine lies the smokehouse”. The word “pastrami” is derived from the Romanian verb “pstra,” which means to preserve.
This mainstay of the delicatessen uses a salt-and-spice cure before spending some time in the smoker for dry preservation. The curing salt gives a distinctive pink tint. More on this later because it also merits its own essay.
The Many Ways to Make Brisket Taste its Best
In the Smoker: Brisket
We go into great detail on smoking brisket elsewhere; for now, we’ll just note that seasoning (marinade/brisket injection), smoking (1 to 1 12 hours per pound at 250° F), and properly slicing brisket produce excellent results.
Another popular preparation of brisket in many cultures is pot roast. Let’s just say that carrots, onions, and other ingredients spent some quality time in the oven or slow cooker.
Betty Crocker, another cultural icon, advises roasting a 2 12 to 4-pound bird for 2 12 to 3 hours at 325 °F until the internal temperature reaches 135 °F. Within 15 minutes of carryover cooking, the brisket’s temperature should reach 170° for a well-done brisket.
The Sous Vide Way to Cook Brisket
A soft roast is produced by melting the collagen into gelatin in a water bath at 131 to 133° F for two to three days.
According to Clint Caldwell of AmazingRibs.com, during this cooking phase, the brisket will shrink by at least 40%. The meat is seasoned before being vacuum-sealed in a large plastic bag.
The meat is placed in the water-filled sous vide cooker in airtight packaging, where a low, consistent temperature cooks the meat until it turns pink.
It can be served straight from the cooker to the table, but some prefer to add a crust by briefly searing it in a dry skillet on the stovetop or under the broiler.
It takes a lot of patience to make smoked sous vide brisket, as Clint demonstrates: Once the cut has been trimmed, it should be dry brined for 12 to 24 hours, sous-vided for 30 hours, and then quickly chilled in a 50/50 ice-water bath for about 30 minutes.
It can now be frozen or stored in the refrigerator until grilling time. The brisket is then removed from its plastic bag and placed on the grate of a 2-zone grill or smoker, where it will be smoked for an hour at 225° F. For a killer sauce, strain the juice from the bag. Then it is finished.
Is there a Proper Brisket Serving Technique?
Sliced brisket is placed on top of a brisket roll along with sauce and pickles. Yes, we’ve written entire articles about how to chop and serve brisket, so we’ll keep this short.
A wonderfully smoked brisket can be destroyed by what happens when it is served since it has so much connective tissue. You ought to:
- Cut and slice it against the grain. As the muscle fibers point in the same direction as the meat fibers, going in that direction will transport you back to the Days of Gnaw. Cut strips are typically three-eighths of an inch wide for the tip and quarters for the flat.
- Limit exposure to the air. It will retain its fluids for a longer period of time if the brisket remains intact. The moist and tender meat will rapidly become bland and dry when served on a platter, even though it might create a pretty picture for Instagram or Pinterest.
Slices should be kept together rather than spread out if it isn’t practicable to cut them as needed. The oxidation process is slowed down by less exposure to air (meat turns dry and brown).
One Last Thought on Safe Brisket
There will always be a wide range of suggested cooking temperatures for meats. The official organization responsible for establishing national standards for food preparation and storage is the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As for brisket:
- Up to 5 days in the refrigerator before cooking
- Can be frozen for up to a year without losing quality
- A trimmed brisket will take 24 hours in the fridge to thaw; a complete packer will take several days.
- Cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches at least 160° F (but smoked brisket should cook to a much higher temperature, around 203° F).
- 20 minutes should pass before serving.
- Keep the temperature at or above 140° F while using a chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray to serve hot food.
- No more than two hours at room temperature (without a heat source as noted above)
- Keep the temperature at or below 40° F when serving cold (on an ice bed or small, often replenished plates).
- After cooking, it is possible to store food in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Following cooking, it can be frozen for up to three months while maintaining its highest quality.
Tough No More Brisket
The gray-hued, chilly, and windy scene of rugged consumers persistently chewing on rough, leathery meat is no longer the image presented of beef’s toughest muscle part. Oh, no. Blue smoke, a pink smoke ring, and a deep, amazing crusty brown color make for a warm image.
Some could argue that the sole purpose of a smoker is brisket. It has established a permanent spot on the American menu in all of its varieties, including pastrami, corned beef, and pot roast. A place can be made for the creative over tried-and-true methods.
We sincerely hope you had fun and will tell others about your tour through the history of beef brisket. If you have a go-to recipe, share it with us so we can serve this lovely cut more often. Enjoy your grill! Do well to like, comment, and share this educative and informative content.