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Back to basics with beef brisket

This cut of beef is jam-packed with flavour.


Beef brisket is one of the most flavourful cuts of beef, so to help you get the most out it, we've put together our ultimate guide to brisket.

Our Back to Basics series takes a look at some common ingredients to help our readers make the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef, chicken thighs, and pork belly; today we're looking at beef brisket. 

Brisket comes from the lower chest of the animal and is quite tough as it supports about 60% of the animal's weight. While brisket can be sold in one long slab of meat, it is also often cut into two pieces that are a little easier to handle: the flat piece, also known as the first cut, thin or centre cut, is quite lean while the point cut, also known as the second cut or deckle, is fattier, thus providing more flavour.

While many people now associate brisket with low'n'slow, Texas barbecue-style cooking, brisket initially became popular due to its pride of place in Jewish Passover feasts. As per Jewish teachings, meat from the hindquarters of the cow isn't kosher, so the brisket became a popular cut for Jewish people to enjoy. Historically speaking, brisket has always been a cheaper cut of meat due to the amount of time required to cook it, so many Jewish people in Europe ate brisket as far back as the early 18th century. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Europeans emigrated to the United States, bringing their love of brisket with them. As many settled in the southern states of America, brisket was integrated into barbecue-style cookery that is so popular in this area.

Tips From An Expert

To find out more about beef brisket, we spoke to Andy Noonan, owner of Baste BBQ, specialist barbecue and outdoor catering and events company, and FowlPlay, a casual dining spot that uses a Texas wood-fired smoker to create big flavours. Andy also runs The Big Grill BBQ & Craft Beer Festival with Bodytonic, Europe's biggest barbecue festival, every August in Herbert Park. If anyone knows how to handle beef brisket, it's Andy.

"When you're buying beef brisket, you need to look out for a high fat content, it’s an absolute must. Grass-fed beef isn’t very fatty, so while I don't condone grain-fed beef, that is why brisket in the US is moister and a little nicer because it's so fatty. So when you're buying brisket here in Ireland, you need to make sure that there's a good amount of marbling and a healthy fat cap on top. If there's no fat cap, the beef will go dry when cooking, especially is it's the flat cut. Another thing that makes sure the beef has enough fat is its age. Often commercial beef is killed young, so it doesn't have enough time to develop fat, resulting in much less flavour than in an older animal. 

It's important to make sure you buy beef from a good breed, like short horn, long horn or wagyu if you're feeling fancy. A good butcher will be able to tell you more about the breed, whereas a commercial, supermarket-style butcher might not have that information. Peter Hannan from Hannan's Meats up North is one I would always recommend."

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

How To Cook Brisket

As we have already mentioned, brisket is quite a tough piece of meat, which is why it requires slow cooking to make sure everything breaks down, leaving you with a tender, juicy piece of meat. We like to place the beef, stock, onions and herbs in a roasting dish and cook in an oven for about ten hours at 100ºC, resulting in deliciously tender beef that can be sliced up and served as part of a roast. Alternatively, you can place the same ingredients in a slow cooker before you head to work, leave it on low and when you get home, it will be perfectly cooked. 

When we asked Andy how to cook brisket, he had some great tips:

"I like to smoke brisket. I'm not a fan of it pulled, as I think it comes out dry and chewy, which is the same when you pot roast it. With brisket, it's so important to make sure that you slice it across the grain, not with it, or else it will be really chewy.

I think smoking and braising are your two best options for cooking brisket. I like to cook mine at around 90-110ºC over a wood-fire. Braising is a failsafe method of cooking because adding steam adds moisture, making the meat really juicy.

Brisket is so flavourful and I really think people should use it more. It’s a difficult cut to get perfect as there’s a very small window between over and undercooked. The best way to cook it is to make sure to add moisture when cooking for a great final result."

Looking for some recipe inspiration? We absolutely love this beef brisket burger recipe from Ethna Reynolds in Nook – the flavours of stout and sriracha go really well with the beef. If you're looking for something a little fancier, why not try Ryan Stringer's beef brisket croquettes? Crispy on the outside with a punch of beef flavour on the inside, these croquettes would be a great canapé option.

Ethna Reynolds' beef brisket buns. Image by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.
Ethna Reynolds' beef brisket buns. Image by Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.