Let's talk about one of the most misunderstood cuts of beef around that also happens to be one of our favorites to smoke on the Traeger – brisket. Brisket is a tough cut of beef that needs to be prepared correctly to be edible. Brisket is lean and has long, stringy fibers so it's easy to overcook. This isn't a "slap it on the grill on a Wednesday afternoon" kind of cut. You'll want to budget time to cook brisket the right way.
What Is Beef Brisket?
Beef brisket is one of the nine primal cuts. It's what we make pastrami, corned beef, and pot roast from, and there are legions of brisket fans in popular barbecue cities. Brisket is an intimidating cut because of the sheer size. A decent brisket will weigh north of 10 pounds and may tip the scales at 16 or 17 pounds depending on how it's cut from the surrounding muscle. Brisket is dense, active muscle that has a bland flavor on its own. Basically, this is a cut of meat perfect for flavor-packed recipes and a low and slow cooking method.
Is Brisket a Good Cut of Meat?
Brisket is a tough cut of meat. Many people have first experiences with poorly cooked brisket, particularly when it comes to barbecue, so it isn't a popular cut everywhere. The difficulty of cooking a good brisket is made worse by the fact the cut is relatively expensive. Much more tender cuts of beef that are easier to cook are available for a small difference in price. But, if you ever talk to anyone who has eaten smoked brisket in Lockhart, Texas, they'll tell you that this cut of beef is a culinary miracle.
Brisket might be the state meat of Texas, and over at Texas A&M, they found out that brisket may even be considered a healthy eating option. Brisket is high in Oleic Acid, shown to reduce LDL or bad cholesterol and increases HDL, the good kind of cholesterol. Brisket is a lean cut with an average of 2.1 grams of fat per ounce of beef. To top it all off, Brisket is protein-rich and loaded with valuable minerals and nutrients.
Where on the Cow Does It Come From?
The brisket is a cut from the breast of the beef carcass. When a carcass is broken down, there are nine cuts removed and the brisket is one of them. A brisket is typically a rectangular, thick piece of meat that naturally has a deep red color and long, tough muscle fibers. The brisket will have a thick fat cap on one side. Brisket is either cut rectangular between the fifth and sixth ribs or is extended to the sixth rib. Brisket cut the second way retains a very thin "tail" that is frequently cut off by pit-masters and used for ground beef.
The location of the cut explains why this piece of meat is a challenge. The breast of a cow is a heavily worked muscle, which means the fibers will be tougher and there will be less fat. It is also a long muscle, unlike the chuck or ribs cuts that are nearby. Not only must brisket be cooked correctly to be a good tasting meal, it has to be cut against the grain, as well.
How to Cook Brisket
Time to get out the Traeger or the Big Green Egg! The best way to cook a brisket is in the smoker. It provides the ideal low and slow process to draw out the excellent flavors of the beef and makes a melt-in-your-mouth tender meal when done just right. In fact, we have a video on our YouTube channel that shows us cut, trim, and smoke two briskets simultaneously to demonstrate the difference between pellet and charcoal. Warning: don't watch this video without eating something first, it looks that delicious.
Some of the things we want to point out about cooking brisket. First, when you buy a brisket, you will usually have an option of the flat, point, or the whole brisket. Be aware that if you are smoking a separated brisket, it will cook faster. The flat is the leaner of the two cuts. A layer of fat and connective tissue separates the point from the flat. Ideally, buy a whole brisket, sometimes called a packer brisket. Yes, it's a big piece of meat, but you'll get the most flavorful smoked brisket using the whole cut.
Smoking a brisket is a long process, but it isn't a difficult one. It requires patience and a good meat thermometer. If you are smoking a whole brisket, you are looking for an internal temperature right around 200 degrees. That can take as long as 12 hours with a full-size brisket. You can't rush perfection, so plan on taking your time when you cook a brisket.
Popular Cooking Tips & Techniques
Here are some tips and tricks we have seen and used over the years. There are tons of different seasonings and rubs people like to use. Traditional Texas-style uses nothing more than coarse salt and cracked black pepper. We like to use our Bearded Butchers Black Seasoning Blend that gives a smoky, sultry sweetness to a perfectly smoked brisket.
The brisket should be near room temperature before you start to cook. If you put a refrigerator cold brisket on the smoker, the temperatures are going to plummet and you'll have to wait until the smoker recovers.
Wrapping your brisket helps to increase flavor and gets that perfect bark texture. You can use aluminum foil, but try butcher paper for an even better result. The trick is to smoke the brisket to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, wrap it, and return it to the smoker until it hits the proper final temp.
Don't skip the rest period. When your brisket has hit its optimal temperature, you should place it in an empty ice chest for at least an hour. The chest will keep the meat warm, while the rest locks the juices into the meat. I you try to slice an unrested smoked brisket, the juices are going to run out of the meat and onto your cutting board. It's better to let your brisket rest for two or three hours to really let it get tender and delicious.
Don't Be Intimidated
Even though brisket is an intimidating piece of meat to cook because of the size, if you take the time to smoke a brisket, it can be otherworldly delicious. Now, we love a good corned beef brisket now and then, but nothing beats the tender, juicy, and smoky flavor of smoked brisket thin-sliced and hot. Don't be intimidated by the idea of cooking a brisket. You can use simple and effective flavors to get a fantastic meal your family will enjoy.
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