By Stephanie Pierson
For such a humble dish, brisket is a multicultural wonder with reference points that span the globe. Consider France's pot au feu, Texas-style barbecued brisket, Ireland and America's corned beef, and of course the braised brisket that is central to so many Passover seders and Rosh Hashanah gatherings. And with so many communities celebrating a brisket tradition, it's not surprising that just about everyone has a brisket story: "Our recipe is a combination of my mother's and my mother-in-law's—all onions, one carrot, no potatoes." "My family is so blended and extended, we have 18 family brisket recipes to choose from." "The way I knew my brother-in-law forgave us was when, after four years of not speaking, he mailed us his favorite brisket recipe." Beef brisket is (sorry, meatball lovers) the ultimate comfort food. A well-cooked brisket is meltingly tender, soothing, savory, warming, and welcoming. No wonder families pass brisket recipes down like heirlooms.
Ask someone, "Do you have a brisket recipe?" And the answer is almost always: "Do I have a brisket recipe? I have the best brisket recipe ever!" A brisket lover is likely to insist it can be properly made only with onions or stout or miso or cranberry—and you can finish that sentence with any number of ingredients. Some add Coca-Cola, while others scoff. Still others roll their eyes if you use grape jelly or pour in even trace amounts of red wine vinegar. Some brisket cooks insist on browning; others object; still others recommend browning if you have time. The truth is, they're all right. As my friend Phyllis Cohen, a New York psychotherapist and a mean brisket maker, told me: "With all other meats, there's a right way and a wrong way. With brisket, there's only my way."
Infinite recipe variations notwithstanding, there are only three basic ways to actually cook brisket: barbecuing, brining (as in corned beef), and braising, which is by far the most popular. And there are a few simple techniques that everybody (well, almost everybody) agrees on. Brisket may not be a consensus dish, but it's also not a complicated one. You don't need to do anything tricky or add any fancy ingredients to produce a dish with deep, mouthwatering flavor. Here are eight tips to help you on your way to meat so tender and delicious, you'll be the one insisting you have the best brisket recipe ever.
Check out the slideshow above to discover eight tips to tender and delicious brisket.
New York–based writer Stephanie Pierson is the author of The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes. Her work has also appeared in Saveur, The New York Times, and New York magazine. For more on Pierson, go to Steviepierson.com.