Brisket [bris-kit] is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of a cow. The beef brisket is one of the eight beef primal cuts. The brisket muscles include the superficial and deep pectorals. As cattle do not have collar bones, these muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing/moving cattle. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked thoroughly to tenderize the connective tissue.
The term derives from Old Norse ‘brjósk,’ meaning cartilage. The cut overlies the sternum, ribs and connecting costal cartilages. Popular brisket recipes in the Southern United States include rubbing with a spice rub or marinating the meat, then cooking slowly over indirect heat from charcoal or wood. This is a form of smoking the meat. Additional basting of the meat is often done during the cooking process.
This normally tough cut of meat, due to the collagen fibers that make up the significant connective tissue in the cut, is tenderized when the collagen gelatinizes, resulting in more tender brisket, despite the fact that the cut is usually cooked well beyond what would normally be considered well done.The fat cap often left attached to the brisket helps to keep the meat from over-drying during the prolonged cooking necessary to break down the connective tissue in the meat. Water is necessary for the conversion of collagen to gelatin.
A hardwood, such as oak, pecan, hickory, or mesquite, is sometimes added, alone or in combination with other hardwoods, to the main heat source. Sometimes, they make up all of the heat source, with chefs often prizing characteristics of certain woods. The smoke from these woods and from burnt dripping juices further enhances the flavor. Once finished, pieces of brisket can be returned to the smoker to make burnt ends. Burnt ends are most popular in Kansas City-style barbecue, where they are traditionally served open-faced on white bread. The brisket muscles are sometimes separated for retail cutting: the lean ‘first cut’ or ‘flat cut’ is the deep pectoral, while the fattier ‘second cut,’ ‘point,’ ‘fat end,’ or ‘triangular cut’ is the superficial pectoral).
In traditional Jewish cooking, brisket is most often braised as a pot roast, especially as a holiday main course, usually served at Rosh Hashannah, Passover, and Shabbat. For reasons of economics and Kashrut, it was historically one of the more popular cuts of beef among Ashkenazi Jews. Brisket is also the most popular cut for corned beef, which can be further spiced and smoked to make pastrami.
In Britain, it ( although other cuts are more common) is normally cooked in a lidded casserole dish with gravy, very slowly in the oven, with root vegetables; the dish is known as a pot-roast. In areas of southern China, especially Hong Kong, it is cooked with spices over low heat until tender, and is commonly served with noodles in soup or curry. In Korean cuisine, it is commonly cooked for a short period of time and eaten in thin slices. In Thai cuisine, it is used to prepare suea rong hai, a popular grilled dish originally from Isan. It is a common cut of meat for use in Vietnamese phở soup.