Brisket is a tasty cut of beef, but a stubbornly uncooperative one. It requires long, slow cooking to make it tender, and can still be chewy if it's not sliced properly. The trick is to cut across the grain of the brisket's long strands of muscle, shortening them and making them easy to chew. It sounds simple enough, but brisket conceals a surprise or two for the unprepared cook.
Going Both Ways
The difficulty comes from the brisket's anatomy. It's the pectoral muscles of a steer; the larger flat -- sometimes called the first cut -- and the smaller point, or second cut. The flat is shaped like a slab of bacon, only larger. The point is roughly triangular, and better-marbled than the flat. A whole brisket contains both, while smaller cuts might be all flat, all point, or some of each. The problem is that the muscle fibers of the point and flat run in different directions, so cutting them both against the grain requires a bit of ingenuity.
Cut Them Separately
The simplest method is to cut the point and flat separately. They're held together by a connecting layer of fat, so you can separate them by simply following the fat layer with your knife. Trim away any excess fat, then -- if you can't clearly see the direction of the muscle fibers -- scrape away at the surface until you can see the long lines. With a long, sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut across the grain of the beef to make slices roughly 1/4 inch thick. If the brisket
The point and flat each have a thick and a thin side. The thin edges are often overcooked by the time the middle is tender, so set those aside. Chop them and moisten them with gravy or barbecue sauce, and serve them as a separate dish or at a later meal.
Finesse the Angles
Some brisket enthusiasts prefer to keep the point and flat together, which requires a different approach. Start at the edge of the flat, and slice it across the grain just as you would if it was separate. After several slices, you'll get to the spot where the point is joined to the flat. Rotate the brisket 90 degrees on your cutting board, and start slicing again from the side closest to your knife. At this point you should be slicing across the grain of each muscle, but at a 45-degree angle to the grain rather than straight across. The ends of the muscle fibers will be slightly oblong, rather than round -- picture an angled slice of baguette -- and will be slanting in opposite directions. Both will be tender, though, and ready to mound onto a plate or bun.