My slow cooker brisket is falling apart but meat is dry -- where did I go wrong?

Hosting my first family Passover in a few weeks so decided to try a slow-cooker braised brisket recipe from America's Test Kitchen. It came out falling apart (mostly, there were some tougher parts near the edges) but the meat itself was dry before we drowned it in the jus created in the cooking process. Did I overcook it or not cook it enough? Any other slow-cooker brisket tips?

  • Posted by: SarahKS
  • March 19, 2012
  • 63913 views
  • 12 Comments

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Miranda Rake
Miranda Rake March 19, 2012

I wonder if maybe somehow the piece of meat was a little too lean. But it sounds like the jus solved the dryness issue for the most part?

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SarahKS
SarahKS March 19, 2012

Yes, but more in a band-aid sort of way. Brisket I've had in the past is usually juicy in its own right... Or maybe I've been fooled and it's been the jus all along. Either way, something doesn't seem right...

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Mr_Vittles
Mr_Vittles March 19, 2012

Ok, here you go. Rule one of braising/stewing meat is NEVER let the liquid come to boil. What happens is the heat generated from the liquid makes its way into the meat. Thus, boiling the moisture within the meat, straight on out of the cells and into the jus, or cooking liquid. Giving you a tender, albeit dry product. My advice, cooking using the "low" setting on the cooker and for much, much longer.

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sawman
sawman March 19, 2012

Actually brasing liquid can com to a boil. jJust watch your cooking time and the fat content. Meat should be fork tender not falling apasrt

Mr_Vittles
Mr_Vittles March 19, 2012

@sawman Sorry, that is simply just not true. Boil a chateaubriand and it will be tough.

ChefOno
ChefOno March 20, 2012

You're both right but, Mr_Vittles, for the wrong reason. Tenderloin, when boiled, at least when boiled long enough, will become tough. But it would also be tough if you cooked it at a lower temperature for the same length of time. The problem isn't the temperature, it's that the muscle lacks connective tissue and that's what a braise is all about.

I'll try to explain more below where there's a bit more room.

sexyLAMBCHOPx
sexyLAMBCHOPx March 19, 2012

Share the recipe to help further.

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SarahKS
SarahKS March 19, 2012

Can't find it online, but basically:
1. Prick 5 lb brisket all over with fork and add dry rub (paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, kosher salt, pinch cayenne). Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and leave in fridge for 8-24 hours. (Mine sat with dry rub for approx. 15 hours). Transfer brisket to large slow cooker (mine is 6 qts and the 5 lb brisket still barely fit).
2. Slice 3 onions 0.5" thick. Saute in 1T vegetable oil with 1T tomato paste, 3 minced garlic cloves, (and maybe something else, can't remember off the top of my head) for 8-10 minutes until onions are softened and lightly browned. Add 3T flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 1c chicken broth, incorporating flour and scraping up any browned bits. Transfer to slow cooker.
3. Stir in 2T red wine vinegar, 3 thyme sprigs & 3 bay leaves. (The "stirring" in this step was difficult, as it was mostly onions on top of a brisket.) Cook on low 9-11 hours or high 5-7 hours. (Mine cooked on low 9 hours and 40 minutes. I have an All-Clad 6 qt slow cooker.)
4. Remove brisket and let stand loosely tented with foil for 20 minutes before slicing against the grain. Let jus stand 5 minutes then skim off fat with large spoon. Add 1t additional vinegar and salt & pepper to taste. Arrange sliced brisket on platter, top with 1c of jus and serve rest on the side.

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Voted the Best Reply!

ChefOno
ChefOno March 20, 2012

Braising -- cooking meat low and slow in a moist environment -- is a process that sacrifices moistness for tenderness. It works by converting collagen from connective tissue into gelatin and, to a lesser extent, the melting of fat.

The conversion process begins around 140F and is most efficient close to boiling. Simmering is ideal but since the interior temperature of the braising vessel can't really rise above the boiling point, there's a built-in temperature regulator.

As the meat heats up, it toughens and loses all its moisture into the braising liquid. After a time, it will relax, reabsorbing a small amount of what it lost (which by now will be highly flavored by whatever liquid we started with).

By any other measure what we end up with is overcooked and dried out but we perceive (properly) braised meat to be juicy because of the sauce -- dissolved gelatin and melted fat. Yum!

If you start with too much liquid or if the meat and / or vegetables give up too much of their own, the sauce will be weak. Simply reduce before serving and start with a more concentrated liquid next time.

If the meat is truly falling apart, it was cooked too long. It can be saved, corrected actually, by allowing it to cool, slicing it, then reheating. As the meat cools, the gelatin firms up. The amazing thing is that it won't melt again by the time the roast comes back up to serving temperature.


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bugbitten
bugbitten March 21, 2012

Some wonderful answers here, but my simple mind leads me to question if the rest period was long enough. I just checked a few recipes on Cook's Illustrated. The barbecue version called for a half hour, and the oven braise a full hour's rest. If juice ran out when you did the carving, that may be your problem.

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SarahKS
SarahKS March 21, 2012

Thanks for the advice and answers everyone! In reheating (microwave, thoroughly covered in jus) it came out MUCH moister. So I think ChefOno is correct, it was probably a little overcooked and the meat needed to reabsorb the juices/sauce. I'll be trying this recipe (see link below) for my actual seder. No slow cooker, but the bonus is that I'll be able to make 2 at once!

http://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/detail.php?docid=6398

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ChefOno
ChefOno March 21, 2012

Culinarily speaking, the point (aka thick cut) is the preferred half of the brisket due to a larger amount of internal fat, what Miranda alluded to at the top of this thread. The flat half will put you at a distinct disadvantage from the start. I normally have a lot of respect for ATK recipes -- but not that recommendation to use the flat cut.

And you discovered the technique that many cooks take advantage of routinely; a braise is often better the second day.

I'm glad it all worked out.

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