Cooking Brisket has certainly been an adventure for me so far. This was the first piece of meat I cooked, and has been a very big learning curve.
In this article I am aiming to answer some of the key questions I found myself asking whilst learning about this cook. Now, when I first started writing this, I realised there’s so much to cover, that we’ll split this into a few weeks.
So welcome to week 1!
Grades of Brisket
Firstly, it’s very important to understand the difference in quality of Brisket meat. This is something which will drastically affect your end product, so don’t overlook this.
There are really 6 grades of Brisket. These range from Standard to CAB Certified. To break this down in extremely rudimentary terms, the differences really come down to marbling.
Marbling is the strains of fat you would see when inspecting a piece of meat, running through the connective tissues. As this marbling breaks down and renders during the low and slow process, it will keep the meat tender and juicy, so the more marbling, the higher the grade! Now there are a lot of factors which go into how this marbling develops, including the diet of the steer itself, the environment it grows in, and how well it is looked after. We won’t go into this detail here, but it is worth knowing the difference between the grades, so here goes.
Standard – this is what you would expect to find in your supermarket in the chilled section. This will normally have very little to no fat cap, and when you see this it will have almost no visible marbling within the meat.
Select – These have slightly more marbling, but still hold a very small fat percentage.
Choice – this is the most common used grade in competition due to the trade-off between price, and fat content. Remember not all choice Briskets are the same, and some may have a better marbling effect, thickness, and feel than another, so it is worth really doing your due diligence when choosing from this grade.
Prime – this is actually still choice, but has received the highest possible grade within the choice category. This will be shown on the labelling, but also will have a softer feel to it, alongside some more visible marbling.
Wagyu – this is actually a completely different type of Beef. Wagyu has all sorts of myths around it, including that of massaging the cows (Apologies to burst the bubble but that doesn’t actually happen!) These do have a good marbling, and are sought after, however, be wary. The pricing on these is often very high, and the actual lineage of Wagyu beef across the US and UK comes from mixing of breeds (The cattles brought over to introduce this into our markets from Japan were very small in number). Make sure to do your research on the source of this before shelling out up to 5 x the price of a non wagyu branded Brisket.
CAB Certified is basically the top dog of Angus beef. This will have superior marbling and only a very few Briskets are classified in this manner. A good test when looking for Brisket is the bend test. When picking up a Brisket, a thick, floppy flat is a good sign! Just take into account that cryo packaging and a hard fat cap can skew these results slightly.
Rubs and Injections!
So I’ve been using a mixture of two different rubs for Brisket during my journey. This has included the standard Central Texas style which is a simple Salt and pepper 50/50 rub. This is a great option as it lets you taste the beef and doesn’t take away from that flavouring too much.
Secondly I have been trying out the Angus and Oink General recently – brilliant for forming a great Bark and super tasty so also well worth a try! The key with a rub is to apply this generously to create that strong bark, but also to make sure it doesn’t overpower the flavour of the beef. A difficult balance to strike at times! I’ve also played with injections recently – I’ve found that doing so has really improved the tenderness of the end product.
By injecting some simple Beef Broth mixed with a bit of your rub, the moisture content of the Brisket is enhanced significantly, and it helps to keep those levels high during the long cooking process – something I would definitely recommend going forwards.
Internal Temp and Time
There’s a lot of tables out there telling you how long to cook a piece of meat for based around weight. These are great guidelines, but the truth is, it’s done, when it’s done! The best thing I have found to go by is internal temperature, that way you are ensuring two things. The first is that the meat is cooked to a safe temperature for consumption, the last thing you want your barbecue to turn into is ground zero for food poisoning!
The second is you can then cook to the temperature guidelines given for different finishes. When it comes to a nice tender brisket, the key is to cook this to 203 degrees Farenheit. I’ve messed with slightly lower and higher, and have found that 203 is the golden number for the structure to hold together for a good slice, but also for a nice juicy bit of beef!
What is a Smoke Ring…?
When you watch any programmes about competition barbecue, or look at pics of really well cooked Brisket, you’ll see a red ring around the outside of the meat when you cut into it. This is what is affectionately known as the ‘smoke ring’ and is one of the signs of doing a great job getting your smoke to penetrate and flavour the meat.
So what is it that creates this phenomenon? Well, without going too far into a science lesson, this is essentially the pigment in the meat reacting with the gases from the wood or charcoal that you are using. In short, the Myogblobin (the iron containing purple pigment) within the meat gets exposed to the nitrogen dioxide gas (given off from your fuel) as the smoke penetrates the meat. This gas binds the myoglobin and blocks oxygen, therefore retaining that pink colour. So in short, when you see a smoke ring, you know the smoke has successfully penetrated the meat as it has reacted with the myoglobin and bound within the meat itself. This is why it is used a good visual cue for a well smoked Brisket.
So that’s a very rudimentary look through on a few points, there are quite a few more to go so check back next week when we’ll look at Bark, Wrapping and the dreaded stall!
Thanks again for checking out the article and keep that smoke rolling!