Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.
Today: Brisket isn't just the perfect cut for summer barbecues -- it's also great slow-braised for a cozy autumn dinner.
In the summertime we rub and smoke our briskets, we pull them for tacos and slather them in barbecue sauce for sandwiches. Despite being a perfect cut for outdoor smoke pits, though, brisket doesn’t disappear when cooler weather hits. In fact, it’s a perfect cut for our cozy fall and winter slow-braises, like this Sweet and Savory Brisket.
Unlike many beef cuts, the brisket is easy to spot on the living animal -- it hangs off the cow’s chest. Or rather, it is the cow’s chest. The brisket is made up of the pectoral muscles, which lay over the cow’s sternum and ribs. Because cows don’t have collarbones, the brisket muscles have the very important job of supporting roughly 60% of the animal’s body weight. All this heavy lifting means lots of tough cartilage, connective tissue, and fat, which, when cooked incorrectly, will result in tough, gristly meat. Cooked properly, low and slow, these connective tissues will turn to gelatin, and the large fat cap will render, helping to keep the meat moist throughout the cooking process.
If you aren’t buying an entire brisket, you will be offered two choices: the first cut (also called “the flat”), or the second cut (also called “the point”). First cut brisket is generally prized over second cut because it is leaner and more uniform in thickness, making it slightly easier to cook. I happen to prefer second cut brisket (pictured here), because of all the extra fat and connective tissue, which help to prevent the meat form drying out, and give it a richer flavor. If you don’t want to consume all of that rendered fat, cook your brisket a day ahead of time and allow it to sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, all of the rendered fat will have formed a thick layer on the top, which you can then scoop off before reheating.
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog, Yummy-Books.com, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.