First of all, this node is for the carnivores of the species. Those of you who are strict vegetarians or even stricter vegans would probably be best suited by just clicking away right now. After all, I’m not here to convince you that you should change your lifestyle or anything approaching that. To each his or her own is what I always say.
Besides, when all is said and done, there’s more left for me…
On with the show…
If you’re hungry now and want a quick fix on how to prepare a brisket, you better look somewhere else or make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or some cold cuts or grab something else to tide you over because a decent brisket can take anywhere between ten and twenty hours to prepare depending on the size and the cooking method you choose. I’ve prepared a brisket or two in my day and for what it’s worth, the time you take to make this sucker is well worth the effort. The smell alone that it emits as it slow cooks in the oven or in a smoker is enough to get my juices flowing and my stomach growling. Why don’t we start with the basics?
First of all, what is a brisket?
Well, for starters, almost all types of meat
have what is known as a “brisket”. For our purposes though, we’re gonna focus on our friend the cow
and that portion of its lower chest area just behind its front legs. That, my meat loving friends, is where the brisket comes from and it's one tough son of a bitch
to cut through. When it comes to beef
there two types of brisket. The first one is what is known as a “whole packer”. This means that the cut you are choosing includes the “flat” (the meat part), “the point” (the end part that contains some muscle) and something called the “fat cap” (I have no idea). For my purposes, I think I’ve only dealt with the second cut which is basically just the “flat” with a thin layer of fat on the underside.
Choosing a brisket
As you’re wandering down the grocery aisles and come to the meat case or, if you’re fortunate enough, drop in on your local butcher you’ll notice some huge cuts of beef usually at the end of the counter. These my friends, are the briskets. Before you select one, there are couple of things you should check. First things first, there should be a nice thin layer of soft white fat on the underside. If the fat is yellowish, that means the meat has probably come from an older animal and will be tougher to cook. There’s also the possibility that it will dry out during the lengthy cooking process. Another thing to check for is what is known as “marbling”. A good brisket will be marbled throughout. The last thing I’d look for is the thickness. Usually I’d pick one that is pretty uniform and doesn’t taper to much at either end. This is to prevent either end from burning or becoming too dry as the meat cooks.
How much is enough?
Naturally that’s going to depend on how many folks you plan on feeding and under what circumstances you’re feeding them under. If it’s something like Super Bowl Sunday and you’re having the gang over, I’d go with a pretty decent size hunk. If it’s an occasion that is less subdued, I’d go with a smaller piece. As a general rule of thumb, it’s pretty safe to go for about one pound per adult and about a half a pound per child.
On a personal note, I like to play it safe and buy more than I think I’ll need. I’m of the feeling that nobody should leave your home hungry and besides, there’s nothing wrong with leftovers.
Let the games begin!
Lets just say that there's a rule that no two briskets are alike. Another rule of thumb is to allow anywhere between an hour and half to two hours per pound. So that means if you crate home a 10 pound brisket, you might be looking at anywhere between fifteen to twenty hours from start to finish. That’s assuming that your smoker or oven is blasting away at an even two hundred twenty five degrees. I know that sounds like an awfully long time but there are ways to shorten the time in between. You can always cook it a higher temperature and run the risk of ruining it .
It’s been my experience that drinking a lot of beer also helps to pass the time.
Marinade or Rub?
Purely up to you the user but since most cuts of beef are pretty bland when they are forced to stand alone, I’d highly recommend one or the other. Adding a few spices or letting the meat soak up some marinade is a time honored tradition and well worth the additional effort. Besides, a decent rub or marinade will make the meat juicier and more tender when it comes to plating the beast.
If you plan on doing a rub, it’s best to do it about a half hour before you get ready to toss it into the fire. This way it has a chance to form an even coat on the meat and allows it to cool down to room temperature. If on the other hand, you plan on doing a marinade, you better add an additional ten or so hours for the meat to sit in the fridge. This will allow it sufficient time to soak up whatever flavor you decide to use.
Enough already, when do we eat?
Okay, since I don’t have the luxury of having a smoker, the only way I can tell you how to cook this baby is in the oven. Yeah, I know, some of you purists out there are shaking your heads in disbelief but one can only work with the tools that they have so here goes.
Here’s what you need.
About a five pound cut of beef brisket.
A bottle of Liquid Smoke
About a teaspoon of some garlic salt
The same goes for some onion
and celery salt
A decent sized onion chopped pretty fine
A cup or so of ketchup
About a half a cup of brown sugar
About a third of a cup of cider vinegar
Here’s what you do
Gently place the brisket in one of those glass dishes or a roasting pan. Dump the whole bottle of Liquid Smoke on it cover it up for three or four hours.
After that’s done, pluck it out of the marinade and cover both sides of the meat with all of the salts and the onion. Cook it in the oven at two hundred fifty degrees for five or six hours. Keep checking it every so often and turn it every once in a while to keep it from sticking or burning. Remove it from the oven and drain all of the juices that formed while it was cooking away. Take those very same juices and add them to ketchup, brown sugar and cider vinegar.
Pour that concoction over the meat and slap it back in the oven for about an hour.
By now, your appetite should be sufficiently whetted as the aroma wafts throughout the house. After the hour is up, pull it out and let it sit for maybe ten or fifteen minutes before cutting into it. This will allow the meat to keep cooking and for the juices that are still inside to take hold.
Get out a sharp knife and cut across the grain of the meat in slices of about a quarter of an inch thick. Spoon some of the juices in the bottom of the pan over the meat and dig right in.
I usually like to serve this with something simple like a potato salad and some corn on the cob on the side. I find that those dishes aren’t all that complicated and don’t detract from the flavor of the meat. After all, who wants somebody to say something like “Hey, great salad!” when you’ve been slaving away for upwards of ten hours cooking the meat.
Let me know how it comes out and as always, Bon appetit!
Note: As some of our readers from across the pond have kindly pointed out, the cooking temperatures I mentioned would burn the meat into an inedible unrecognizable hunk of coal if they were done in Celcius. Call it the ugly American in me but for the record, all cooking temperatures used in the write up are in Fahrenheit.
Trial and error