In this article we will cover the brisket section of the cow. We will go over the process used to cut it from a cow, the trimming of the meat, its texture, flavor, uses, and the best ways to cook it. This article will be helpful if you are buying brisket from a meat dealer or the grocery. You will be able to recognize it better and decide if it will fit your personal cooking endeavors.
This information also applies to wagyu, except the meat will have more tenderness due to the extra intramuscular fat in the cow.
The brisket section is located in the front part of the cow, underneath the front legs and sits below the chuck section. It is in between the chuck and the shank section of the cow, and is next to the plate section (the cow’s belly). The brisket section is actually the cow’s chest area.
When the cow carcass is sliced, the shank is pulled with a meat hook to reveal the armpit and the armpit of the cow is sliced to reveal the brisket in between/underneath.
Usually the brisket comes in one whole piece when it is packed, since it is a small section in comparison to most of the other sections of the cow. The brisket makes up about 6% of the cow. There are 2 main muscles in the brisket that are referred to as the flat and the point. The flat is the larger leaner piece, while the point has more marbling and fat. There is also usually an easily seen wide band of fat on the brisket called deckle fat. This fat is hard and thick, so it is often trimmed off of the outside of the brisket. It does not render well if it is cooked along with the whole brisket, plus it is not good to offer this to guests.
The whole brisket section is normally sold boneless, but it can sometimes still come with bones attached, which can be boned off of the brisket with a boning knife by sticking close to the bone while boning the brisket.
The reason why there are ball spots in the fat cap sometimes on a brisket, is because of how the brisket is separated from the cow in the slaughter house by the individual doing the slicing. Their knives are extremely sharp, so if they miss cutting the brisket off of the cow by cutting at a bad angle, they can easily slash into the meat.
The brisket as a whole also has two sides that are different when it is packed. There is a side that is covered with fat (the fat cap) and there is a side that has no fat cap, but what is called the heel fat. This heel fat on the other side of the brisket that doesn’t have the fat cap is trimmed down on the brisket when trimming it. It has little meat in it. It is mostly fat.
Trimming works best when the brisket is cold (around 41 degrees Fahrenheit), as the fat will be easier to trim off. The fat turns into a jelly texture when it reaches a cool enough temperature, making the trimming more difficult if this happens. The fat will also smear.
Also, on the side of the brisket that has the fat cap, there is what is known as the mohawk. This is a hump of mostly fat that is located on the point of the brisket. It can be cut off entirely, or trimmed off of its fat and then cut to butterfly the beef so that it cooks evenly. This can be done if the two muscles are being separated, but if it is left whole, this mohawk/hump is usually just cut off.
Trimming the brisket is important, because it will prevent unnecessary portions of the brisket from burning and becoming inedible during the long cooking process that the brisket undergoes. Trimming off pieces, even if they have meat in them, can possibly save money, because these portions that would burn off otherwise in the cooking process can be cut off to prevent them from being entirely wasted. They can be used to make other dishes instead.
Anything pointy or sticking out on the brisket can be cut off and saved as leftovers. Also, anything less than an inch in thickness can also be trimmed off, even if it is beef, as it will dry out or burn up during the long cooking process of the brisket. Usually the flat of the brisket is thin on its edges, so it is trimmed on the edges until it is thick enough on the edges to cook appropriately with the thicker point end of the brisket during the cooking process.
Depending on the individual’s preference, the brisket is cooked as a whole piece (with the fat cap left on), or it is separated by separating the point from the flat. This is done by finding the seam that lies in between the point and the flat of the brisket. A layer of fat (the deckle fat), which can be carefully cut through to separate the point from the flat. This seam however, can only be seen clearly after the fat cap of the brisket on the point has been trimmed off. Trimming the fat cap off of the point isn’t an issue, as the point side of the brisket is already well marbled with fat. However, this fat cap is important to keep on for the flat of the brisket.
The easiest way to do this is by lifting and holding the cut parts as it is cut to separate them, and carefully continuing the cut while ensuring that only the fat is being cut through as the flat and the point are being separated. The long side of the whole brisket is usually trimmed off so that the fat, seam, and meat can be easily seen from the sides. Cutting off the sides of the brisket also helps to see how thick the fat cap is on the brisket by observing its side. For individuals that want to leave the brisket as a whole, the fat cap on top of the brisket is left on sometimes and trimmed down to about a quarter of an inch (1/4).
For restaurants, the fat cap, heel, mohawk, and deckle fat in between too in some cases, is always all trimmed off of the brisket. Usually high quality restaurants will only use the point of the brisket, since it has the good marbling and more flavor. This is because the restaurant doesn’t want to give their customers a piece of brisket that comprises of mostly fat when it is cut, or that is dry and tough.
The brisket is usually cooked as one big piece and then sliced afterwards into thin slices of beef. These can be used for sandwiches, sub sandwiches, or just as a meat appetizer in a dish. The meat can also be cut into smaller portions for tacos or soups. The entire brisket also works well as ground beef for burgers, as it is one of the best meats to grind into pure brisket burgers or to be mixed with other meats besides the chuck and ribs. The fat can also be used to make tallow.
The brisket is not a tender section of the cow. It consists of hard fat and connective tissues, and the beef itself is also very tough. This is why it is often sliced into really thin slices after it is cooked. This makes brisket a more inexpensive section. However, if the brisket is cooked correctly, it can yield juicy and extremely tender beef.
Best cooking methods:
The brisket as separate pieces (the flat separate from the point), or as a whole, can be smoked for 5 to 6 hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit in a smoker for the best results. Afterwards, the briskets can be taken out of the smoker, prepped for braising, and double wrapped in aluminum foil, or wrapped in butcher paper and then aluminum foil, with the liquids it will braise in, in the wrappings. The wrapped brisket can then be placed back in the smoker to cook longer at around 300 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches the tenderness of butter. The tenderness of the brisket is checked by probing the meat after about an hour of cooking.
Smoking the brisket and braising it is the most common way of cooking it, but it can also be grilled or roasted. In any case, seasonings are always heavily placed on the outer surface of the entire brisket, covering it thoroughly. The seasoning can be a simple salt and pepper to a complex rub. In order for cooked brisket to hand the most flavoring, the seasoning has to be applied directly to the meat, as it does not penetrate the fat very well. The brisket is cook with its fat cap on the bottom, facing down.
Ensure that the fat cap is not too thick on the brisket during trimming. Separate the point from the flat for high quality cooking and flavor (restaurant/competition). This is not necessary for home cooking. Trim the side without the fat cap of silver skin on the brisket’s surface. Remove anything that is too thin on the brisket to salvage the pieces to prevent them from burning up or drying out before cooking.