Why Is My Brisket Tough? 6 Tips to Ensure Tender BBQ

Cooking brisket can be tricky: it’s a tough cut that needs low, slow cooking. Follow these 6 tips to ensure your brisket turns out tender and delicious.

Brisket BBQ

Nothing is better than delicious barbecued brisket. For many pit masters, being able to cook a brisket until it is “fall-apart” tender is the peak of their culinary accomplishments.

However, brisket can be one of those tough cuts of meat that takes some skill to cook.

A perfectly cooked piece of brisket will be moist, tender, and tasty, while a poorly cooked cut of brisket is chewy and nearly impossible to eat.

Brisket is a large, often expensive piece of beef, so it is a good idea to do your homework before you try to cook it (especially the main Flat cut, wrapping it, and trimming it).

This way, you can avoid frustration and have a wonderful, delicious cut of beef when you are finished cooking. Follow these instructions and you will not find yourself asking, “Why is my brisket tough?”

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Six Ways to Tenderize Brisket

Raw Brisket

Cook It Longer

If you have smoked your brisket for what you thought was the correct amount of time and it is still tough, you may need to cook it longer. Wrap the brisket in a layer of aluminum foil and return it to the smoker.

Turn the heat down low and keep cooking it for a few more hours to tenderize your brisket. Remember, brisket is a muscle that is full of connective tissue. The long, low, slow cooking time breaks down that connective tissue to make the brisket tender and delicious (similar to cube steak or bottom round).

Use Coffee

Brisket in Coffee

Coffee is an acidic liquid and when you use it as a sauce in which to cook the brisket, it will help break down the tough tissues in the meat. To use coffee in cooking brisket, you may want to braise the meat rather than smoking it. Place the brisket on the bottom of a baking dish on a layer of hearty onion chunks.

Pour 1 to 2 cups of cold coffee over the meat. Sprinkle the meat with a tablespoon of onion powder, a teaspoon of garlic powder, and a teaspoon of salt.  Add 3 or 4 cups of cooking wine and cover the whole pan with aluminum foil. Bake the brisket in the oven at 250 degrees for 3 to 5 hours. 

Trap the Moisture in the Meat

If you are smoking your brisket or cooking it in the oven, you may use a meat thermometer to keep track of the temperature of the meat. You probably will notice that around the 160 degree mark, the brisket will “stall.”

This means that the temperature will stay the same for quite a while. This occurs when the meat is releasing a large amount of moisture. However, if you want a moist and tender brisket, you don’t want those juices wasted. When the meat hits 160 degrees, remove it from the heat and wrap it in aluminum foil to trap the juices in with the meat.  

Note – make sure you evenly defrosted it before cooking. You can also get a brisket from a cow with more marbling to get more fat juices.

Let It Rest Before Slicing

Best Wood for Smoking Brisket

You’ve been cooking this piece of meat for hours and you are starving. The smell and appearance of the meat is irresistible when you pull it off of the smoker. You really want to dig right in. But wait! Don’t do it! When you cook meat, the moisture in the muscle migrates to the outer layers of muscle fibers. 

You need to let the meat rest for a few minutes to allow the moisture to redistribute throughout the meat. Since brisket is such a large piece of meat, you will need a very long resting time of up to an hour! Wrap the brisket in foil and tuck it into a quality cooler surrounded  by thick towels to let it rest before you slice into it. 

Cut It Against the Grain

The muscle fibers in brisket are long fibers that run parallel to one another. If you slice the meat along these lines, parallel to them, even a perfectly cooked brisket will seem stringy and chewy. To get the proper texture in your brisket, cut the meat perpendicular to the grain. The meat fibers will then be perfectly tender and delicious. 

Let It Sit Till the Next Day

A brisket that is a bit on the tough side will get a little more tender as it sits. If your brisket is just a shade chewier than you prefer, let it cool to room temperature. Then, add the sauces it cooked in to the pan.

Cover it with foil and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, slice the brisket, return it to the pan, cover it again and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or an hour.  It should be much more tender afterward.

Why is Brisket Such a Tough Cut of Beef?

To understand why brisket is a tougher cut of meat, you have to think about the fact that your meat used to be part of a beef steer. When muscles are used frequently by an animal, those muscles will be strong, full of connective tissue. Less frequently used muscles are not strong and are tender.

This means that the brisket, the area underneath the ribs, gets quite a workout and will be tough when the animal is butchered. More tender cuts of meat like tenderloin come from parts of the animal that are seldom used.  

But when you cook brisket, if you do it correctly, something magical happens to all of that tough muscle and connective tissue. The muscles begin to soften.

However, what is incredible for the meat is that all of the connective tissue called collagen begins to melt into gelatin as the temperature of the meat increases. The gelatin adds delicious moisture and tenderness to the muscle fibers.

How Hot Should I Cook My Brisket?

The key when cooking brisket is long and low. You should plan for this cooking project to take most of the day. The temperature of your smoker or oven should never get over 325 degrees, but it’s even better if you can keep it down from around 225 to 250 degrees. High temperatures will make the muscle fibers chewy and tough since they will seize up in cooking. 

FAQs about Cooking Brisket

How do you fix a tough brisket?

To fix a tough brisket, you can try baking it in a preheated oven at 150°C (300°F) for approximately 20-30 minutes. This will allow the brisket to absorb the broth or gravy, helping to restore moisture and achieve a more tender texture.

What is the fastest way to tenderize a brisket?

The fastest way to tenderize a brisket is by pounding it. By sandwiching the meat between plastic wrap or wax paper and pounding it before cooking, the meat becomes softer and more tender, making it easier to cut and enjoy.

Does vinegar tenderize brisket?

Vinegar does tenderize brisket by breaking down the meat fibers, making it softer and easier to chew. The tenderizing process is aided by piercing the meat with a knife, allowing the vinegar marinade to penetrate below the surface.

Why are my burnt ends tough?

Your burnt ends are tough because they were not cooked low and slow enough. If they were cooked at a high temperature, the fat and collagen did not have enough time to render down, resulting in tough and dry meat.

Does brisket need to be covered in liquid?

Brisket does not necessarily need to be covered in liquid, as it ultimately depends on personal preference. However, it is recommended to place the meat in the pan with the fat-side up when baking. The fat not only enhances the flavor but also acts as a protective barrier to prevent the brisket from drying out on top. If braising, it is advisable to keep approximately one-half to two-thirds of the brisket submerged in liquid throughout the cooking process.

Will brisket get tender while resting?

The brisket will become tender while resting, regardless of whether you are smoking, roasting, or grilling it. Resting is crucial for achieving a delicious and juicy meal, especially since brisket is a tougher cut of meat.

Can you overcook brisket in slow?

It is possible to overcook brisket in a slow cooker. The goal is to achieve tender meat without it becoming overly soft or mushy. The recommended cooking time for a brisket in a slow cooker is 8 hours on low heat. Cooking it on high heat can result in a tougher texture, so it is best to avoid exceeding the 8-hour mark on low.

How do I make brisket fall apart?

To make brisket fall apart, it is important to cook it for a long period of time at a low temperature. For larger briskets weighing 4 pounds or more, you can start cooking it early in the morning, allowing it to spend at least 8 hours in the oven. Alternatively, you can also put the brisket in the oven before going to bed and let it cook overnight. The key is to give the meat ample time to break down and become tender, resulting in a fork-tender texture.

How long does it take to soften a beef brisket?

It takes at least 1-3 hours of resting in a cooler after cooking to allow the internal juices to redistribute and the collagen to firm up, trapping in the liquid. Resting also facilitates carryover cooking, as the internal temperature of the beef brisket rises slightly, resulting in a more tender slice.

Why do you cook brisket low and slow?

Cooking brisket low and slow is done because it requires a specific amount of time at a low temperature to slowly break down the tough connective tissues present in the meat. If the brisket is not cooked for a sufficient duration, it will be tough and challenging to chew. Conversely, if it is cooked for too long, the outcome will be dry meat.

What temperature do you pull a brisket?

The temperature at which a brisket should be pulled is typically between 190°F and 210°F. At Angry BBQ, we have found that our briskets are usually ready to be pulled from the smoker when they reach a temperature of 202°-205°F. You can see in the video below how to determine when the brisket is done correctly.

Is brisket naturally tough?

Brisket is naturally tough due to the animal’s constant movement, resulting in a relatively tough cut of meat. This is because brisket contains a significant amount of connective tissue, which requires cooking over low heat for an extended period to effectively break down the tissue without overcooking the meat.

Can you overcook a brisket at 200 degrees?

You can overcook a brisket at 200 degrees if it goes past 200-225°F (93-107°C), resulting in a likely outcome of being overcooked, dry, and tough. To achieve the perfect doneness, it is crucial to closely monitor the internal temperature of your brisket as it cooks.

Is brisket the toughest meat?

Brisket is not the toughest meat, but it does require approximately twice the amount of time to become tender compared to other braising cuts. This is due to the higher presence of collagen, the primary component in meat’s connective tissue, in brisket. The collagen in brisket takes longer to convert into soft gelatin, which is necessary for the meat to fully tenderize.

How long should brisket rest?

The ideal resting time for brisket varies depending on its size. It is recommended to let the brisket rest for at least an hour, but for optimal results, it is best to allow it to rest for more than two hours. A medium-sized brisket benefits from a resting period of around 4 hours, while a smaller brisket can be rested for about 2 hours.

Why cook brisket to 203?

The reason for cooking brisket to 203°F is because the meat requires additional time at a higher temperature to fully break down fat and collagen. While brisket can be cooked within a range of 200-210°F, it is generally recommended to aim for 203°F. This ensures that the brisket is tender, but still holds its shape without falling apart.

How long to smoke a brisket at 225?

The recommended smoking time for a brisket at 225 degrees is typically around 1.5 hours per pound. However, it’s important to consider factors like the thickness of the meat, wind conditions, temperature fluctuations, and the frequency of opening the smoker door, as these can affect the overall cooking time.

Can I put brisket back on smoker?

You can definitely put the brisket back on the smoker. It is a great way to reheat the brisket while maintaining a low temperature, which is crucial for preserving its quality. To do so, simply double-wrap the brisket in aluminum foil along with the original cooking juices, and place it in the smoker at approximately 275-degrees.

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