Large and in-charge, the beef brisket is perhaps one of the most popular and in-demand whole roasts. Yet despite all the hype about this particular cut of meat, it’s often misunderstood and cooked in ways that don’t bring out its best flavor and texture. Some home cooks also mistakenly avoid a whole brisket because they assume it’s not something they could properly roast at home. As long as you have a full-sized oven or another useful kitchen appliance, you can definitely cook beef brisket at home. A grill or smoker may produce more traditional results, but they’re not strictly required.
What is Beef Brisket?
Part of the chest of the cow, the beef brisket is a large piece of boneless meat that is downright tough to begin with. It’s the magic of slow cooking that breaks down the well-exercised muscle and melts the fat and connective tissues so they enrich the meat rather than interfering with your chew. Once cooked slowly for a few hours, this piece of meat becomes so tender it often falls apart just from being poked with a fork. Yet if you want it to remain easy to slice, you can also adjust your cooking method with that goal in mind. This is the cut traditionally used for creating such favorites as pastrami and smoked pulled beef.
What to Know When Buying Brisket
Most briskets are cut into two sections before selling. The thicker piece is known as the point and it handles processes like smoking better than oven cooking. For a thinner and more uniform piece that is easier to cook and slice at home, look for the part known as the flat. The flat is also more lean, which makes it more appealing for many home cooks. If you plan to cook an entire uncut brisket, make sure you have room in your grill, smoker, or oven for such a large piece of meat. Make sure to pick out a roast that is rated as USDA Prime. This means the meat is well-marbled and will be more flavorful and tender at the end of cooking. Brisket shrinks tremendously while cooking, weighing about ½ of what it does when you start, so plan ahead accordingly.
Different Methods of Cooking Beef Brisket
You have a lot of options when it comes to cooking beef brisket at home. If you’re a traditionalist, you’ll want to fire up the grill or smoker and head out to the patio for the process. Yet if the weather isn’t quite nice enough for that just yet, you have the option of using a range of different kitchen appliances to get the brisket you want indoors.
Cooking Beef Brisket in the Oven
The oven is perhaps the most reliable way to cook a beef brisket. It’s easy to control the heat level, gives you plenty of options for checking the meat without disturbing it too much, and almost everyone has one already. You want a low temperature, around 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and you’ll need a roasting pan with a lid and rack. Add enough water to fill the bottom of the pan but not reach the rack so the brisket doesn’t dry out while cooking.
Cooking Beef Brisket on the Grill
It can definitely pose a challenge to cook a full-sized brisket on a grill without the outside surface becoming too blackened or the inside drying out. Smaller cuts like the flat and point are better suited to this cooking method since they’ll get done a little faster. Only gas grills are recommended for this process because it’s tricky to keep charcoal evenly heated and lit the entire time the large cut of meat needs to cook. Aim for a grill temperature around 250 degrees F or even lower.
Cooking Beef Brisket in Smoker
The smoker is generally a better place to cook a beef brisket than a grill for a few reasons. First, most smokers make it relatively easy to set and control the temperature right where you want it. Second, the water pan that helps prevent flare-ups and creates a smoother smoke flavor also sends moisture to the meat so it can’t dry out too much while cooking. In many techniques, you wrap the brisket in butcher paper or foil after it reaches the 160 degree mark for its internal temperature. This is known a
s the Texas Crutch method and it’s considered to produce juicy meat and better crust at the same time.
Cooking Beef Brisket in a Crock Pot/Slow Cooker
Crock pots and other slow cookers won’t put much of a dark and flavorful crust on your meat like the smoker or grill can. But if you prefer tender meat and juiciness over a crisp burnt end, you’ll want to experiment with this indoor method for cooking. Consider the brisket a type of braised or pulled beef and add flavorful cooking liquids it will soak up over the six to eight hour cooking time. By the end, you’ll have meat that’s ready to shred for sandwiches, tacos, and more.
Cooking Beef Brisket In an Instant Pot
Even the popular Instant Pot can create a brisket so good your friends will be asking for your secret. Some home cooks use their grill or smoker to get a char on the brisket, then transfer it to an Instant Pot for the last 10 degrees of cooking needed to reach the desired internal temperature. If you cook the brisket only in the Instant Pot, it will be soft and tender but lack the flavor and char of a grilled piece of meat.
How to Season Beef Brisket for Best Flavor
Brisket doesn’t take too well to marinades because the size and density of the cut makes it hard for the liquids to absorb deep inside. Instead, look for rubs and spice mixes that are applied to the outside of the meat. Rubbing on a thick layer of spices creates a flavor that penetrates the meat as it cooks and the fat melts into the muscle. It also helps prevent unwanted blackening and burning before the meat is done.
Tips to Perfect Beef Brisket
- Always let the beef brisket rest at least 20 minutes after cooking and before slicing
- Consider serving with your favorite barbecue sauce on the side rather than slathered on the meat
- Let the brisket warm up for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking, regardless of the method
- Cook the brisket to medium-well doneness because rare or pink brisket is tough and not safe to eat
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly since they can be used in so many different dishes.
Beef brisket may be the star of the smokehouse, but it can become a regular treat at your house as well.