What to do with Beef Brisket?

raw brisket before seasoning and smoking 4_3 1200

What kind of meat is beef brisket? 

Beef brisket comes from the lower chest area of the cow. It is a tough and flavorful cut of meat that contains a significant amount of connective tissue. Because of its toughness, brisket is often cooked low and slow through methods such as smoking, braising, or slow-roasting to break down the collagen and render the meat tender and flavorful.

While beef brisket is the most common and widely recognized type of brisket, brisket can technically be obtained from other animals as well, such as veal or bison. However, beef brisket is by far the most popular and widely available type of brisket, particularly for smoking and barbecue purposes. The general concept of brisket—a tough cut of meat from the chest area that benefits from slow cooking to become tender—applies to these other animals as well.

One of my go-to smoker books points out that early versions of pastrami were made with goose!

How is beef brisket used?

Brisket is an inherently tough cut of meat, and most preparation methods focus on ways to make the meat more tender and break down cartilage.  Here are the heavy hitters for brisket:

  1. Smoked Brisket:  Simple, classic, and a cornerstone of good American barbeque.   Smoking at a low temperature for a long time really tenderizes the meat.   Before at home smoking became super popular, Brisket used to be a cheap and relatively undesirable cut of meat.  Today, you’re lucky to get a whole brisket for less than $80.
  2. Corned beef: Fresh brisket is cured with salt, peppercorns, and other spices for about a week.  It’s then steamed or slow cooked until tender.
  3. Pastrami:  Brisket is cured similarly to corned beef, but then the brisket is smoked.  There are few things more pleasurable than a smoked pastrami sandwich and rye!
  4. Stews and soups: Before brisket became popular, it wasn’t thought very highly of.  It was common to chop up brisket and cook it for a long time in a stew to make it tender enough to chew. 

Why is smoking brisket so hard?

As delicious as brisket is, it can be a bit intimidating for new smokers.  It took me three tries to smoke a brisket I was proud of, and I still think there’s room to improve.   Don’t worry if your brisket doesn’t come out perfectly, even tough, overcooked brisk still works great in our other recipes.  When the brisket is cut up, mixed, with sauce, and cooked, it takes on a new life all on its own.  So don’t sweat it!

Smoking brisket can be a challenge for a few reasons:

  1. Long smoke time: Depending on the size of your brisket, you might be smoking anywhere from 10 to 20 hours!  I usually go for smaller briskets and clock in around 11.5 hours.  This takes a lot of planning and patience.  If you want to eat dinner at a reasonable time, you’ll probably want to start the smoke in the wee hours of the morning.
  2. Managing smoke, humidity, and temperature:  With such a long cook time, you have to keep a close eye on all your smoking variables.  You’ll have to refill your water tray a few times, wrap the meat when it’s through the stall, keep your smoke tube going, etc. 
  3. Trimming and preparing the brisket:  The hardest part of prepping the brisket is dealing with the raw size of it.  Compared to ribs or roasts, a full brisket is massive, and it can be a challenge to trim the excess fat and cover with seasoning.  Then you have to find enough room in your fridge to store it.

What can I do with leftover brisket?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll smoke a huge brisket and then have a ton of leftover meat.  Brisket leftovers can be incorporated into all sorts of awesome meals, from sandwiches to pasta.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Chili’s Brisket Quesadilla:  This is a copycat of the discontinued by ever-popular Chili’s quesadilla.  I worked hard to stay close to the original, and it makes a great lunch!
  2. Texas Brisket Sandwich:  This chopped brisket sandwich reminds me of the brisket sandwiches you might find ant Buc-ees.  
  3. Brisket Slider:  These sliders are steamed with a generous helping of onions.  The sweet bbq sauce on the brisket makes these sliders super special.

If you have too much brisket to eat, you can freeze your brisket for later.  If you have a meat slicer, you can turn leftovers into lunch meat before freezing.  Regardless, I recommend wrapping and freezing your brisket with as little exposed air as possible.  This will help prevent freezer burn. 

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