A well-cooked beef brisket has a rich, beefy flavor and a pleasantly soft texture. Paradoxically, it begins as one of the toughest, most leathery cuts on the entire steer. The secret is long, slow cooking, whether you simmer gently or braise it in a sauce, or smoke-roast it all day in a charcoal barbecue. In either case, savvy cooks often improve the flavor by searing the outside first.
Browning, Slow-Cooking and Flavor
The toughest cuts of meat, from beef brisket to old stewing hens, are among the most fully flavored. It takes a long time to cook them because they're full of dense muscle fibers and connective tissues. If you have the patience to slow-cook them until the fat and connective tissues dissolve, the dense muscle becomes soft and richly flavored. However, the meat won't be as savory as meats that are browned at high heat. To enjoy the best of both techniques, sear your brisket or other tough meats before slow-cooking them.
The brisket is a relatively large cut, usually 12 to 14 pounds in weight. It is located below the front shoulder, and it forms the first section of tough abdominal meat in a steer. It contains two separate muscles, referred to as the point and the flat, which are separated by a connecting layer of fat. Barbecue enthusiasts prefer to work with a whole brisket, but usually it's sold in halves or smaller portions. The flat end is a single, thick muscle that slices well, while the point end contains two separate muscles and is better shredded.
Searing a Whole Brisket
Searing a full brisket requires some effort because of its size. It's best done outdoors on a barbecue, since most grills are large enough to fit the whole piece of beef. Preheat a gas or charcoal grill until it's very hot, approximately 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and lift it onto the grill. Leave it over the heat until the underside is completely seared and very dark, then use tongs to turn it. It's easier to do this with a second pair of hands. Repeat the searing process on the second side, then remove the brisket.
Searing Smaller Portions
Brisket halves or smaller portions can be seared on the grill in the same way as a full brisket. However, you can also sear them indoors if that's more convenient. Place a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven over a medium-high burner and heat it until it almost smokes. Place the brisket piece in the pan, fatty side down, and leave it until it's completely dark. Turn the brisket until each side is equally browned. Alternatively, sear the brisket for four to five minutes on each side under your broiler element.
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