Here we will cover why it is that your brisket ends up tough or chewy, and what you can do about it to fix it. A brisket by nature is already a tough cut when compared to most other types of beef. We actually did an experiment for the purpose of this article to see how a thin cut of brisket would perform in comparison to more tender beef cuts that have more thickness when they are cooked the same way.
We took a thin slice of fresh brisket (about a fourth of an inch) and cooked it as we would a steak. It was cooked at higher temperatures for a short period of time. We can tell you first hand that if you haven’t done this before, then don’t do it. We cooked these thin small slices of brisket until they were at their proper temperatures. The results was a juicy brisket that was very tough and really chewy. It was so chewy that some parts weren’t chewing into smaller pieces and just had to be swallowed as a chewed up whole.
So if you were thinking that a brisket from the start isn’t that tough, it is naturally a tough piece of meat. However, after cooking it properly, the brisket can still be juicy, cooked, and very tender.
So if you are experiencing a brisket that is really tough, then the usual cause is that the brisket did not cook long enough. Usually it is the opposite of what it would be for most other meats, which would be tougher when cooked too long. Both the fats and the muscle tissues for brisket are tough if they aren’t allowed to cook long enough.
When a brisket cooks, it has to be cooked low and slow. The temperature has to be around 250 degrees Fahrenheit for the best results, and the cooking will take hours before the brisket becomes less tough and more tender. The theory of cooking a brisket portion faster by making thin slices, as you would a steak, doesn’t work out so well for brisket, as we mentioned already.
For this same brisket, we also cooked it low and slow and tried the same portion of beef where we made the thin steaks from. There was a big difference in the texture of the brisket after cooking the brisket for hours at a low temperature. The result was a brisket that was still juicy, but no longer tough to eat. The bites could be chewed down easily and digested properly.
So it is ultimately the cooking methods of temperatures used to cook the brisket and the time to cook, that decides how tough or tender the brisket will be in the end.
The collagen in the brisket is what holds the meat in the brisket together. This collagen becomes gelatin after certain temperatures have been reached when cooking the brisket. These temperatures are in a range of about 160 to 203 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why it is often recommended to individuals that are cooking a brisket, that they should use a food thermometer. When a brisket is checked for its internal temperature of around 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, then the individual can be safer knowing that their brisket will be less tough than what it started out as before it started cooking.
However, if a brisket isn’t cooked slowly (around 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit) to reach these internal recommended temperatures, then the muscle fibers in the beef can end up tougher. This is because the moisture in the meat will begin to evaporate more quickly out of the brisket, resulting in tougher and dryer meat. So, the point of cooking the brisket for a long time and a lower temperature, is to break down the collagen without risking unnecessarily toughening the meat.
This is the best explanation to why a brisket has to be cooked for a long time and at a low temperature. Cooking a brisket at too high of a temperature will make the muscle fibers too tough. Since the brisket is a thick slab of beef, this is not ideal to do this. Trying to cook the brisket too fast, may also result in a tough brisket with collagen that hasn’t fully broken down. The heat may not reach the center portions of the brisket and cook it well enough, resulting in tough brisket on the outside (or even burnt).
The fat in a brisket can also become easier to chew if it is given more time to cook. The same is true for the fat in a brisket that does not render down, regardless of how long the brisket is cooked. This is good to know for the individuals that leaves the fat covering on the brisket (the fat cap) when preparing and cooking their brisket.
What To Do With Tough Brisket
Now we will cover what can be done with tough brisket if it is just too tough to fit its initial purpose. The best thing to do with it is use a food processor to shred the brisket up into smaller pieces. From here, the brisket can be cooked in broth for a few hours and used in other food dishes. It can also be turned into sandwich meat to make sandwiches from it after it is mixed with sauces.
Using the brisket this way is the same way that some restaurants and other professionals do to save their food. Instead of dumping it entirely, the brisket is sliced into thin long pieces or shredded, then used for other dishes. All the parts of a packaged brisket can be used for something and consumed in some type of way, as long as it isn’t burnt to a crisp.
If you still want to eat the brisket as is, then you can try to salvage it by cooking it for longer in the oven or what ever it was cooked in. Cooking the brisket in liquids, as mentioned earlier, is the best way to try and fix the tough brisket that still is desired to eat as is. However, this could end up taking a lot more time than originally planned. If this is the case, then going with the other options mentioned might be a better solution to salvaging or saving a tough and chewy brisket.
As already mentioned, regardless of the size of the pieces of the brisket, in most cases it will still have to be cooked at a low temperature and slow for better results to prevent chewiness.