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?”
Six Ways to Tenderize 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).
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
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.