Boiling Point: Brisket is tasty but testy

Jim Hillibish

Remember the first time your mother made brisket? She roasted it as she would any big piece of beef. It came out totally tempting.

Then with the first slice, you knew something was wrong. It rejected the knife. Try a cleaver. It rejected the cleaver. About the only way to get this thing sliced was with dad’s chain saw. Yummers.

I know in my family, one strike and you’re out. My mom ground it into hash, our last brisket.

This beef cut remains risky business for many cooks tempted by its deep-red, triangular appearance. Hint: Its name is from the Old Norse, meaning “cartilage.” Of course, nobody would buy it with that name.

If you’re going to attempt it, realize this is one tough puppy. It requires tenderizing and slow cooking, hardly like roast chuck or sirloin. Don’t just throw it into a pot with a cup of water.

I marinate ours overnight with a rub of paprika, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Then I cook it in another marinade for even more tenderizing —  burgundy wine.

It still has a little pull on the knife but is what we’d call tender and quite delicious. It’s always a relief when it slices thinly with ease.

The primary brisket mistake is cutting the fat off the top. Your butcher left this layer for a reason. Always cook brisket with the fat on top so it percolates through the meat, creating the beef juiciness we all crave. Cut it off and you may get something akin to roasted baseball glove.

If you don’t like wine, try an equal amount of beef broth. Fortify it with onions, steeping them for 10 minutes.

It requires s-l-o-w cooking, up to eight hours, covered. And this is after you brown it. If you have a Crock Pot, here you go.

I’ve got a brisket in our meat keeper awaiting my courage to tackle it, 4 pounds for $7. It’s usually on sale after St. Patrick’s Day, when lot of it goes into corned beef and cabbage.


2 slices bacon, chopped

3-4 pounds brisket with fat layer

1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup beef stock, canned is OK

1 cup burgundy wine or beef stock

2-4 bay leaves

The rub:

1 teaspoon celery salt

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon ketchup

Mix rub and massage into brisket all over. Place in a plastic food bag and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, cook chopped bacon and remove. Dust meat lightly with flour and brown on all sides in bacon fat.

Crock Pot: Add wine, bacon and drippings, beef stock and bay leaves. Load in the beef, fat side up. Cover and simmer on medium for three hours, then on low for four to five hours.

Oven: Whisk wine, bacon with drippings, water, beef  stock and bay leaves in a roasting pan. Add brisket, fat side up. Bake at 275 degrees for 90 minutes per pound.

With both methods, in the last 2 hours add sliced mushrooms, potatoes, carrots and onion if you wish.

Remove beef from liquid. Place a little liquid in a glass measuring cup and add cornstarch. Stir to a paste, then slowly whisk into the meat liquid. Heat and stir until sauce thickens.

Cut brisket widthwise (against the grain) into 1/4-inch slices. Serve with vegetables and gravy on the side. Serves 6-8


- Brisket is a lower-shoulder cut of beef.

- Corned beef is brisket brined in salt and spices.

- Pastrami is corned beef with added spices then partly dried and smoked.