Smoked my first and probably last brisket of the season this past weekend. (Apologies to Bruce Frankel, whom I promised I would get some males together and roast a whole animal on one of his spits. Next year!) Got a real nice smoke going and decided to leave the meat in my Weber kettle for the entire cooking time instead of finishing in the oven as I usually do.
The result is shown here. To me, this is brisket perfection. Nice crust, a satisfying smoke ring, and sublime tenderness both in the fatty section and the leaner part, the latter having just a bit of “bite” as Vencil Mares would describe it.
Which is why I was so flummoxed when a guest complained the lean meat was tough and, further, suggested it was “rare” after 8 hours in the smoker. The latter is easy to explain: the pinkness comes from the smoke ring. But tough?
I let the meat rest overnight as tempers cooled down, then did some objective analysis. A brisket is composed of two overlapping slabs of muscle. One is connected to the forelegs that do the work; the other just hangs there. The inactive part is full of fat which, with long cooking, assumes the texture of pudding; the lean meat can be cooked tender but in the way of a lean steak. It will always have a bit of chew and if you are doing a head-to-head comparison you’ll find it is “tough” compared to the fatty parts.
Good brisket establishments allow you to specify fat or lean meat or a combination and this is why. I stand by my lean, less-tender beef. It sliced with my butter knife and held its own when reheated and layered on a bun, whereas a fatty piece might have disintegrated. Tough? No way.
I’m thinking that my usual cooking method might have satisfied this cranky diner because the meat is finished in the oven, covered, at low heat which means it’s basted in steam and fat. Those factors might have made it more appealing when it was served right out of cooking, but not when it was re-heated. Keep in mind that most brisket is held at low temperature then sliced to order; a fresh-off-the-fire sample may not be the same as what you’ll get later. Like a good steak, barbecue benefits from a bit of patience.