9 Pro Tips for Making Brisket

BrisketManny Rodriguez / Getty Images

Maybe one of the most popular parts of the cow, the meat from around the lower chest is good for all sort of meals. Whether you’re cooking the whole thing or making a hash, it’s hard to go wrong with brisket, but it’s also often easy to screw it up. These nine tips will help you to make sure that never happens.

1. Trim the Fat
“Brisket is a large cut of beef that comes from the front, underside section of the cow. Because it can be up to 15 pounds, it gets divided into smaller portions. Always ask your butcher for the leaner flat cut that has less fat and connective tissue, which means fewer calories and it is not as tough. A 4 oz. serving of brisket is a complete protein (translation: it can actually support weight loss!) and provides half your daily protein needs. It is lower in fat than other cuts of beef and contains linoleic acid, which can help prevent diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer cell growth. It’s also loaded with B vitamins (actually 8 times the B12 found in a skinless chicken breast), riboflavin, niacin, zinc, iron and selenium,” says Executive Chef and Founder of PALETA, Kelly Boyer.

Save time in the kitchen and have your butcher trim most of the fat from the meat before you prepare it. Alternatively, says Boyer, it’s very easy to remove the excess fat after you cook the meat and before you serve it. This method will produce a slightly higher calorie serving, but it will fall away easily from the meat with a knife and fork.

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2. Season Well
“Season properly! The biggest mistake made when cooking large cuts of meat is to not season the food correctly in the beginning stages. This is critical and where you build all your initial flavor,” says Michael Dussault, executive chef at The International in Bolton, MA. and recent contestant on the current season of Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay on FOX.

3. The Rub
A slather of yellow mustard will help the seasoning to adhere to the meat while adding a complementary, slightly acidic flavor to the meat, says Pitmaster Chris Lilly on behalf of Kingsford Charcoal. “A simple go-to brisket rub starts with a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. Add garlic powder to taste,” says Lilly. The addition of oak or hickory chunks to charcoal provides a flavor combination that complements the natural beef flavor, says Lilly.

4. The ‘Other’ Beef
Consider bison brisket for an even healthier option, says Boyer. “Bison has a stronger flavor than beef, but is even leaner with 2.5 grams of fat in a 3.5oz serving, compared to choice beef which has just over 18 grams of fat. Cholesterol levels are similar, but the same 3.5oz serving of bison has 143 calories compared to 283 in choice beef. Comparatively, bison has more iron and vitamin B12. Bison are also grass fed, allowed to roam, and are free of hormones and antibiotics. Beef standards and processing methods vary widely, but it depends on the company as to how the cattle and meat are handled,” says Boyer.

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5. Sear the Brisket Off
Always season heavily and get a nice golden sear and crust on your brisket to promote flavor, browning, color and to allow the meat to become as tender as possible without falling apart, says Dussault. This is an important stage and where another layer of flavor is built where the sear adds additional colors, flavors and aromatics that cannot be reproduced.

6. Pay Attention to Fire
Cooking brisket fat side up insures maximum fat caramelization and flavor, says Lilly. Because all briskets have different thicknesses, cooking time is going to vary. “A 12-pound brisket will take close to 10 hours to cook at 225°F over indirect heat. The most important detail is what temperature to pull it at; the lean flat is ready at 185-190 °F and the fatty point is perfect at 200-205°F,” says Lilly. Let the brisket rest for a minimum of 30 minutes before slicing. Never slice brisket with the grain, says Lilly. Always cut perpendicular to the grain to achieve maximum tenderness.

7. South of the Border
“I never met a taco I didn’t like and brisket is no exception. I use heart healthy corn or whole grain tortillas, fresh tomatillo salsa, chopped lettuce, and sliced bell peppers. Chop the cooked brisket into small pieces, toss with a little adobo sauce from canned chipotle chilies and compose a taco using your favorite toppings,” says Boyer. Dust with a little queso and fresh cilantro and serve. Save some carb calories and replace the tortillas with chopped super greens for a lighter Mexican salad.

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8. Thai Inspired
“I love transforming brisket by tossing thinly sliced pieces with Thai flavors like lime, fish sauce, and Sriracha to dress the beef. Heap the flavored brisket onto a whole butter lettuce leaf, cover with grated carrot, chopped peanuts, fresh cilantro, and minced jalapeno and red onion,” says Boyer. Squeeze some fresh lime on top and dive in.

9. Backyard BBQ
“I love to use seasonal summer ingredients like cherries to make a homemade bbq sauce (easier than you think and so worth it!). You can cook your brisket for several hours covered on a low temp on your grill or in your oven. When it’s done, give your brisket on a nice char on a high heat grill on all sides and then baste in your bbq sauce. We like to shred the sweet and smoky bbq brisket and serve it on miniature whole-grain buns, topped with a cool, refreshing vegetable slaw for mini sliders,” says Boyer.

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