Brisket is a beef cut taken from the breast section beneath the first
five ribs, behind the fore shank. Fresh brisket is an inexpensive
boneless cut that requires long, slow cooking to break down the collagen in the connective muscle tissues to achieve tenderness. In
Texas, the whole brisket is known as "Texas BBQ."
In other parts of the country, the long piece is cut in half for marketing. You'll find it sold as a flat cut or a point cut. The flat cut is leaner, but the point cut has more flavor due to a bit of extra fat (called the deckle).
Where BBQ isn't a big thing, like the Northeast, they use brisket for
things like corned beef and pastrami.
When picking out a brisket, you will want to choose a "Packer
Trimmed Beef Brisket." Your butcher will know. Pick one between
10 & 12 pounds. The fat protects and flavors the meat during the
long slow smoking /cooking process. It also prevents the meat from drying out while the tenderizing process of breaking down the collagen in the connective muscle tissues inside is taking place.
An 11 pound brisket will net you approximately 6-7 pounds of
useable meat. If you're planning a BBQ or dinner party, plan on
using 1/3 lb. of smoked brisket per person. That is, if you're only
serving brisket. If you're also serving, say ribs and/or sausage,
you would cut back to 1/4 lb of brisket per person. Now it's smoking time. Load your wood box with 3 pieces of your favorite hardwood (never more than 8 oz.). If you want a smoke ring on your brisket, add a few lumps of charcoal to your wood box. The nitrates in the charcoal will give you the ring.
Now you're going to say, "They don't put charcoal in an offset
BBQ pit." You're right, except after the first few hours of smoking
in a pit, the wood becomes charcoal and thus the smoke ring.
Now that you have smoke-cooked the briskets for 12 hours at
200ºF using no more than 8 ounces of your favorite hardwood not
soaked in water, it's time to clean and serve or freeze.
A good test to see if it's done is to press your finger into the fattiest
part of the meat. If it is soft and your finger doesn't have a
problem penetrating, it's ready! After the brisket has cooled
down a little, it's time to clean it.
Some people up in Oklahoma we hear eat the whole brisket - fat
and all. In Texas, most of the BBQ joints clean the brisket of all the fat. The brisket is in two pieces separated by a layer of fat. Lay the
meat down fat side up. Position your index finger on the flat part
of the brisket, now move your finger under the fat layer and towards
the back of the brisket. You will be able to feel where the
two pieces are joined and in fact you will be able to separate the
two with your hand part of the way. Then you will need a good knife to finish the job. If you look along the side of the brisket, you will see where the two are joined.
After the deckle is separated from the flat part, clean both of fat by pulling it off with the knife blade (both sides of the deckle).
After they're cleaned, put them back together the same way they
came off and wrap in film or vacuum-pack. Now you're ready to
serve or freeze.
Keep warm at 150°F, if you're going to serve it.