Beef Cuts: Brisket

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beef chart

There are nine prime cuts of beef, and the brisket is one of them.  It comes from the lower chest of beef or veal—AKA the cow’s pectoral muscles. (Nice Pecs Elsie)

Anytime an animals muscle gets a lot of action, it will be a tough cut.  That means, if it is moving a lot, as are most of the muscles on the animals lower half, tendons and connective tissue develop and strengthen the muscle.  Those that get very little movement, along the back for instance, are much more tender—as in tenderloin).  This is great for the cow, but not too good for the chef, unless you know how to cook it properly. (Hint: slow and low.)

The brisket muscle supports the weight of the cow most of the time, because cows don’t have collarbones, and they mostly just stand around (unless they’ve been tipped—see: The Story of my Misspent Youth). Therefore, the muscle develops a ton of connective tissue and cartilage.

There are two cuts of brisket you may find.  The deeper first cut or flat cut is the deep pectoral, and that is leaner.  The second cut, fat end, point cut or triangular cut is the superficial pectoral, and it is fattier.  There is a flap of fat separating the two, which ends up on the point cut, making it particularly good for smoking, if that’s your thing.

Brisket is super-popular for pot roast, and it is the cut used to make pastrami and corned beef.  It’s a common cut in dishes around the world, because it is traditionally a cheap cut.  You see it in brothy soup, curry, and noodle dishes across Asia, and cooked slowly in stews across Europe, Central, and South America.

(I love this beef chart…the way the cow is looking right at me, daring me to cook her!!!)

Black Coffee Brisket

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brisket diagram

Lately we have been on a BBQ quest.  We are trying as many BBQ joints as we can, in search of the perfect meat.  Bill is looking for ribs and  I am in search of brisket.  Usually he is happy and I am disappointed.   But last night it switched, and I had terrific brisket.

I am always surprised that brisket is not better, because it’s not that hard.  I think, perhaps, on a BBQ menu, brisket is an afterthought.  Most people seem to go BBQing for the boney pork products (BTW, a great name for a band.  You’re welcome.)  But I prefer beefy chest to piggy ribs.  Maybe it’s the lady in me, preferring to eat with utensils.  (Nah—who am I kidding– if I have the choice to eat at the table or over the sink, I choose sink.)

The key to a good brisket is braising, and the key to a good braise is a cheap piece of meat with lots of fat and connective tissue paired with a long, low, slow cooking time. Don’t rush it, or you’ll be disappointed

This recipe is quite good, although it sounds weird.  It works because  it cuts the richness of the typical brisket.  The bitterness of the dark coffee paired with acidic tomatoes and vinegar tone down all that fat and nicely compliment the beefiness.

Enjoy responsibly.


2 or 3 lbs. beef brisket
8 cloves garlic
4 slices bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery
1 (16-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup cider vinegar
4 cups strong black coffee
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 300˚F.
  2. Rinse beef and pat dry. On all sides of roast, make about 8 incisions with a boning knife, and insert 1 clove garlic into each one.
  3. In a large roasting pan cook bacon over high heat until brown and fat is rendered. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add roast, and brown on all sides. Add celery, tomatoes, vinegar, coffee, water, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Bring liquid to a boil. At the boil, cover tightly with a lid or foil, and transfer to oven.
  4. Roast for 6 to 8 hours or until fork tender.  That means when you poke it with a fork, the meat falls apart.  If it doesn’t do this, you cooked it too high and too fast.  No remedy to save it now,  other than slicing it super thin so the toughness is less noticeable.  But next time, try the oven even lower.
  5. Slice meat thinly and serve with boiled potatoes and carrots, over buttered noodles, or with coleslaw and cornbread. You can add BBQ sauce if you like.  I’m a purist, preferring only a sprinkle of salt.