By: Ginger Hill

Rooted deep in the culture of the Southern states, you can bet your bottom dollar that for authentic, meticulously prepared Southern cuisine you will find juicy, succulent brisket to be number one on my list! Because I was blessed to be born and raised in Texas, I can assure you that brisket, when cooked to perfection, is not only the best comfort food, but it is also a cultural tradition of the South.

History of Brisket

There are many variations as to the history of brisket used in barbecues depending on what region of the world is studied. In fact, the earliest tale of brisket originated in Medieval Europe with the process of preserving meat with salt. This is an ancient process of preserving beef with “corns” which are large grains of salt, thus, the term “corned beef” originated in 1621 in Europe. This process of preserving beef was extremely popular among colonial Americans because it was an economical, effective way in which to preserve meat.

According to The Virginia House-Wife by Mary Randolph (1824), take a piece of thin brisket and rub both sides with two large spoonfuls of pounded salt. Pour a gill of molasses and a quart of salt onto the brisket and rub it into the meat. Put the brisket in a vessel just large enough to hold it, but not to tight, for the bloody brine must run off as it makes or the meat will spoil. Make sure the brisket is covered top, bottom, and sides with the molasses and salt. If you have an ice-house or refrigerator, it will be best to keep it there. In four days, the brisket is ready to be cooked. (Well, thank heaven, that today we have grocery stores with the meat already prepared in nice little Styrofoam packages wrapped in plastic wrap!) Times were definitely hard in Colonial America, however, with this divine process of killing the cow, cutting off the meat, preserving the meat, and then preparing the brisket, people were brought together with a societal gathering to feast on the freshly cooked brisket.

As America came to be throughout all the endured hardships of creating this great country to present day culture, people have always seemed to find time to get together to converse and share food, especially when dining outdoors.

Brisket and American Picnics

Americans, through a celebration of human spirit, traditionally love the adventure of dining outdoors with family and friends. Picnics are a personal time filled with a joyful atmosphere of extreme love, friendship, and togetherness as people share in intimate conversations and feast on freshly cooked food directly from the grill. In Texas we refer to picnics, as “backyard barbecues” where we prepare large briskets in which to bring people together to share in a feast. It is common to have 10-100 people in a backyard at any given barbecue where you can feel the Southern hospitality through the conversations, laughter, hugs, and love.

When Texans barbecue, they prepare brisket through a method called “hot smoking” where the meat is cooked with both smoke and low heat provided by pecan, oak, or mesquite wood in a grill. Meat prepared by this method has a red tinge, even when fully cooked, and a pink smoke ring adorns the edges of the meat. This provides a piece of juicy meat that will simply fall apart making the use of a knife extinct!

What Exactly is Brisket?

Brisket is a cut of beef taken from the breast section beneath the first five ribs of the cow making this cut of meat inexpensive. This cut is an inexpensive piece of meat that requires long, slow cooking, preferably on a grill outside, to break down the collagen in the connective muscle tissues in order to achieve tenderness. Even though brisket is one of the least tender cuts of beef, it can be made tender and the flavor is tough to beat! With a little bit of time and the proper cooking method, even the toughest piece of meat can be made palatable!

Brisket Cooking Tips

Brisket is usually prepared using a braising method, which is a moist heat cooking method that uses liquid to make tough cuts of meat tender. Because well exercised muscles contain more connective tissue to hold muscle fibers together, a protein called collagen is formed. Time, heat, and moisture break down the collagen into gelatin, the substance that decadently lavishes your palate. However, as the proteins in the muscle tissue cook, they tighten and squeeze out their moisture which actually reduces tenderness. However, the gelatin as well as the fat in the meat more than compensates for this loss of succulence. Therefore, when cooking brisket, leave the excess fat until after cooking and then remove any and all fat if desired. (The fat produces “juice” when cooking that makes the brisket remain tender.) Typically in Texas, we braise our brisket with apple cider vinegar, however, you may use dry white wine, liquid smoke, or Worcestershire sauce, whatever liquid that you feel will taste succulent with brisket. After the brisket has been cooked and is ready to serve, make sure to slice the brisket along the grain through the long fibers into thin slices. By cutting these long fibers to break them down, the texture of the brisket becomes easier to chew so that the flavor can be savored. If by chance you have any brisket left over, the proper way to store it is to cover it with tin foil and refrigerate for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 2 months. However, by following the recipe below, I can almost guarantee that you will have no brisket left over in which to fool with!

Well, now it’s time to fire up the grill and invite family and friends to our backyard for an all-out brisket brigade filled with laughter, conversations, and love! In order to ensure that your “Texas barbecue” is perfect, I have provided a recipe that is sure to please all your guests and have them asking for a “doggie bag” to boot! So, get your apron, and get ready to cook a brisket feast that is fit for a king!

Brisket Recipe

Texas (Yee-Haw) Brisket

  • 4-10 pounds beef brisket
  • 3 cloves garlic, slivered
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ T. bacon fat
  • 1 cup strong, black coffee

(What a great way to use breakfast as a way to get ready to prepare your brisket by using your left over bacon fat and coffee!)

  • salt and pepper
  • ½ cup water

With a long, thin, sharp knife, make slits in the meat and insert the slivers of garlic. Place the meat in a bowl, spread one sliced onion and the crushed garlic over the meat, and pour in the vinegar. Marinate for 6 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator, turning several times.

While meat is marinating, prepare the grill for cooking the brisket. Clean out the fire box, the area of the grill where the wood, charcoal, etc. is placed. Also be sure to clean the grate with a wire brush with a mixture of mild soap and water. When the grill is cleaned, place fresh, dried pecan, mesquite, or oak wood into the fire box. (I prefer the taste that mesquite wood/smoke leaves on the meat!) Place dry kindling or lighter fluid on the wood and light with a match. Adjust the smoke stack cap to allow smoke and heat to flow at a semi-rapid speed. Open/close the vents to keep heat in and the fire going. When all this is done, and the grill has the proper flow of smoke and heat and the fire is at a constant burn, the grill is ready for the brisket.

Heat the bacon fat in a deep, heavy iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Remove brisket from marinade and discard onion and vinegar. Place brisket in the skillet with the bacon fat and baste the brisket with the bacon fat. Remove the brisket and place on a plate. Line a platter with enough tin foil to tightly wrap the brisket. In the fat remaining in the skillet, sauté the remaining sliced onions until deeply browned. Pour ½ cup coffee into the skillet. Bring to a boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet to loosen the browned bits. Spread the onions and liquid from the skillet on the foil lined platter. Place the brisket on the onions. Season meat with salt and pepper to taste. Pull the foil up to make a bowl around the brisket and pour in the remaining coffee and add ½ cup of water. Tightly cover the meat and place the brisket on the prepared grill. Grill for 4-8 hours, checking the meat through out the grilling process. When meat is very tender, remove from grill and slice brisket thinly against the grain. Serve brisket at once or refrigerate for later use.

Well, as you can see, preparing a brisket takes a great deal of time and tender loving care. If you put forth the effort, I can assure you that you as well as your guests will be extremely pleased with the finished brisket. So, take some time out of your busy lives and have a Texas style barbecue this weekend to share in the lives of your family and friends and to feast on succulent, savory brisket!

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