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BBQ Brisket still on the tough side

I smoked a brisket in my upright gas smoker today. It was my first, and it came out just OK, but it was still a little tough for my tastes. I have had unbelievably tender brisket when i've eaten out, (believe it or not one of the best i've ever had was at famous dave's, a chain near me), and this just didn't come out as tender as I would have liked.

The biggest brisket I could find was a 4lb'er from Sams. I rubbed the brisket with my usual .rub (it's a kosher salt & paprika base). The meat was put into the smoker at temp, and the meat was rested at room temp for an hour. I smoked it with 2 rounds of soaked apple chips (i got a beautiful smoke ring,hell the pros would have been proud), and I mopped / basted the brisket with a vinegar&water based mop. The water pan was always 2/3 full (i used cheap american beers in the waterpan) as well,

My temp was 225-230deg for 6.5 hrs, and I let the meat rest 15 mins before slicing. The flavor with the apple was quite mild (i find mesquite a bit harsh), but it was just a little on he tough side. The meat was 200deg when i removed it from the smoker

I did two racks of ribs on the upper racks,and I smoked the brisket fat side up. The ribs on the top rack were restaurant quality results, but the brisket, not so much. Should I have left it longer, mopped it more, or gotten a bigger brisket?

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  1. I wonder if opening the smoker to baste might contribute to the problem. I use a vertical
    smoker with a water pan. I smoke a full brisket for 16 hours at 190 and do not open the
    smoker during the process. My smoker has an electric element and I use three 2 inch by
    8 inch pieces of apple branch which I place on the electric element at the beginning.
    Good luck.
    Paul

    1. The answer is real simple, Ya didn't cook it enough. Brisket is difficult to cook to a time. Every one I've ever cooked has been different. There is no hard and fast rule about cooking one. You could cook two identical, in appearance and weight, briskets side by side and each one will take a different amount of time to cook. The only way to cook a brisket is to temperature. I cook mine to 180 internal degrees. One of the problems with brisket is that at some point in the process they will reach a temperature plateau, usually between 150 and 165, and just sit there for hours it seams. You have to just be patient and wait until it gets up to 180. I've had briskest that were done in 8 hours and others that were still fighting at 16 hours. Brisket is quite forgiving as far as technique is concerned, I just use a little spritz of apple juice every couple of hours while cooking if you start feeling like it's getting too much smoke, foil it and just let it cook. I would suggest tryng a "Nut" wood like pecan or hickory, instead of apple. I've had my best success with pecan, apple is good for chicken and fish but personally I think it's wasted on beef. Good "Q" ing isn't a science it's an art and if you stick with it you will be rewarded.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Grillncook

        Grillincook.
        I agree with your answer BUT CaptaiJim said the meat was 200f when he took it out.
        I think as you suggest that the brisket was undercooked and that the thermometer was wrong or used in only one spot, perhaps in a fat pocket.

        Brisket or pork butt is falling apart at 200f.
        In short the brisket was not done.

        Been there, dick

        1. re: mr jig

          You're right, Dick. I missed that, I guess that the coffee hadn't kicked in yet. It depends on where you take the temperature and on whether it was a full brisket. I only cook full briskets, I've never had any kind of luck with "points". They just cook way too fast and are never done right. they shouldn't even sell brisket that way in my opinion. I always take the temperature in the butt part of the brisket, in the area just underneath the fat. because the point is always hot in relationship to the rest of the brisket. You really have to go in deep to get a reliable reading. I use a remote thermometer and don't have to open up the smoker to take a reading.

          1. re: mr jig

            200deg internal, (if that's what it was), cooked at 230 should be done. I know what you mean about a fat pocket, i've done that too but the op said it was a small piece, 4 lbs, I'm betting this was just the flat. Not much of a fat pocket in that. Whole packers' a different story with that vein of fat runs between the point & flat. Maybe, just maybe he didn't slice it right across the grain. doesn't take a miss by much in that department to make it tough as heck.

            1. re: csweeny

              The ultimate answer is that 6.5 hrs just isn't long enough at 200Feven for a 4 lbs brisket...
              12-18 is more like it...

              1. re: KiltedCook

                I think the 200 deg. refered to internal temp of the brisket after 6.5 hrs. It was cooked at 225-235. at those temps and that weight it sounds about right but sometimes the fat content can lengthen or shorten times. we try to pull and cooler our choice briskets at 195 but a prime we'll pull sooner, 180-185. cooking a 11-13 lb packer, (flat & point) at 240 usually takes somewhere in the area of 10 hrs.

            2. re: mr jig

              BBQ doneness is not testable by internal temperature. The meat should be able to pull apart by your (gloved) hands and the individual muscles should start to separate. It should them be rested in double wrapped aluminum for 30 min. to 1 hour.

              I don't smoke brisket for less than 10-12 hours, and 16 is possible for a large piece.

          2. There's just no way that a 4 lb brisket had an internal temp (throughout) of 200F after only 6.5 hours at 225F. I bet you hit a fat pocket with your thermometer, as mr, jig suggested.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ricepad

              It is amazing how much that temp can jump around when you move from spot to spot.

            2. You need to cook it longer, much longer ... esp. if the temp was only 225-230 F.

              1. It's all about time. A minimum of several hours at low temp. Then you keep checking it every 15-20 minutes till it reaches the breaking point.

                1. Let me preface this by saying that I am not bragging, just establishing credibility in stating that I am a competition BBQ cook and I have qualified for The Jack before and have won multiple large contests. I definitely know how to cook a brisket.

                  I have a few pointers for you:

                  In the first place, you need to measure temperature accurately on each of your cooking surfaces. In a vertical smoker you can have significant variation between the racks. Buy a cheap oven thermometer and do some experiments. Once you establish the difference between the stock thermometer and the cooking surfaces, you are good to go.

                  We cook our brisket at 225, but anywhere up to 250 or so should produce a nice brisket.

                  Second, when the heat source is below the meat you should cook fat side down.

                  Third, until you have a whole lot of brisket cooks under your belt, you should use foil. There is a reason they call it the Texas Crutch. It just makes a tough cooking situation much more manageable. With that in mind, when the brisket hits 160, foil it and return it fat side up to the smoker and leave it there until the internal temperature reaches 190. At that point, pull it from the smoker, wrap it in a few more layers of foil and put it in a cooler that is not much larger than the piece of meat and let it rest for up to 4 hours. (Fill the extra space in the cooler with old towels or crumpled newsprint.) Then it is ready to slice and serve.

                  More advanced techniques include injection (Beef Consomme or Fab-B are common) and extreme low temperature smoking.

                  Also, you should talk to the butcher in your local grocery store and ask for a packer cut brisket. Look for something under 10lbs and at least choice grade.

                  Good luck!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: uscga93

                    Hey uscga93, I've used foil for years, but didn't know they call it a Texas Crutch.
                    I'd just like your opinion on my technique...I smoke in Canada (offset) and sometimes its difficult keeping a constant cooking temp - like when its snowing and -10C.
                    So, I get required smoking time in (maybe 4 hours for ribs, longer for brisket or shoulder), use the Texas Crutch (hehe), and slap the meat in my kitchen oven to finish. It saves me valuable fuel (its easier to get my propane than lump), constant attention, and allows for a constant temp. Whattya think?

                    1. re: porker

                      Porker,

                      When not cooking at a contest, I have frequently used my oven to finish after I feel enough smoke has been applied. It saves on charcoal for sure and depending on your smoker it can save a ton of effort in fire maintenance.

                      Now I cook with a Big Green Egg and a Stoker forced draft unit attached. WIth that setup I can actually cook with more precision, from a temperature stability perspective, on my smoker than I can in my Thermador oven. The Stoker keeps the temperature variation down to as little as +/- 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Cheater Q to be sure, but my mouth can't tell the difference. On the now rare occasion that I decide to do some stick burning in my offset cooker, I always finish in the oven because that ornery beast requires lots of care and feeding to keep it at the right temperature with the right kind of smoke.

                    2. re: uscga93

                      I have cooked my share of brisket over the years, and I agree nearly entirely with you, uscga93. Replying to all the different opinions here, I think the key is to cook low and slow to get to the 190-200 internal temp. It IS a question of internal temp. You can not have the collagen fat break down fully much below that temp. But, it is also a question of "nudging" up to that 190-200... that it, if you get there too quick, you will have dried out the brisket in the process. So... you must get there gently. That's why some say smoke at 190-225.... just above the target temp to get there gently. Now, for the OP, I am convinced that your problem was simply too small a chunk o' chest. Sounds like a very small or partial, flat, because there was not enough fat to keep it moist to the desired temp. If it was a 4-lb point, it stood a chance. A 4-lb flat is a goner. Get either a whole flat at 7-8 lbs, or the packer at 14 +/-. I agree with foiling at about 160-170, to finish with a little steam and retained moisture for further tenderness, and let it stand in the foil, in a cooler for an hour or two.

                      1. re: woodburner

                        Woodburner,

                        One point you are incorrect on is collagen breakdown. Connective tissues can actually completely breakdown, given enough time, at cooking temperatures of 160 degrees. There is ample evidence of this in sous vide reference materials as well as in a large number of reputable molecular gastronomy writings. I've done a number of experiments with my smoker setup to cook at extremely low temperatures using smaller brisket flats that really bear that out.

                        1. re: uscga93

                          That makes sense... most people will have a hard time maintaining that kind of pit temp, but in the oven or the circulator I guess it could work... would take a long time, I expect. The other issue for a small flat is having enough fat cap, as Nosh points out below, to keep it moist. ANyway, the small piece makes a hard job harder...

                      2. re: uscga93

                        Assume for a moment, every brisket is different and they can take from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours per pound to cook. If you had a 14 lb packer cut and wanted to have it available for consumption around 6 pm, how would you plan your time?
                        Not that it makes much difference, but I have a Green Egg and can keep the temperature pretty steady at 225. Judging the time is a crap shot and I tend towards being early to real early, since I was way late once.

                      3. So embarassed to ask this...when using a meat thermometer with a brisket or roast, do you put it in at start and leave it in during the whole cooking process or just put it in intermittently to check temp? Couldn't find a forum of really dumb questions....

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: lindsley

                          That all depends on whether your thermometer can take the temps in your cooker. If it can, then you can leave it in. Or you can get a remote thermometer, where the probe is designed to stay in the meat in the cooker, and (either wirelessly or hard-wired) transmits the temps to a display unit outside the cooker. The wireless ones are particularly nice...you can monitor your meat from inside while watching the game!

                          1. re: ricepad

                            Oh, thank you so much - sometimes the people on CH are so intimidating I hate to ask a basic cooking 101 question!

                            1. re: lindsley

                              I would also think that you would not want to leave a normal meat thermometer in the meat in the smoker unless you wanted that thermometer to get so covered in smokey sut that you probably could not read it any more.

                        2. OK - Here it is. This is copied from my recipe book and I've done it twice. The first time was still a little bit tough, the second was right on. You will notice that it never hits a BBQ. The wild part is that nobody will suspect that it never saw a briquet because of the hickory flavored salt.

                          1 Beef Brisket
                          (A "Flat", which can be obtained from Costco and ranges from 4-5#'s is OK. But for a large group I like to use a "Whole" Brisket. A "Whole" Brisket is around 12-14#'s and can be obtained from United Grocers 'Cash & Carry' stores. A "Whole" has much more fat on it and is more difficult to cut, but it has great flavor and 1 large "Whole" will feed 20-25 people. A 'Whole' Brisket is comprised of the 'Flat' and the 'Cap' which are joined together with the 'Cap' on top of the 'Flat' by fat and connective tissue, most of which is melted away or tenderized by the cooking process.)

                          Season the Brisket liberally with 'Johnny's' Seasoning Salt, and Spice Island's 'Old Hickory Smoked Salt'

                          Place the Brisket on an elevated roasting rack and place in a 'Hot' 450? oven. Roast the Brisket for an hour or until the Brisket has a good 'Sear' but is not burnt. It may take more or less time so you just have to keep an eye on it.

                          Remove the Brisket from the oven and roasting rack and place in an aluminum 'Throw Away' pan. Cover tightly with foil and place in a 'slow' oven at 300°. The Brisket will produce it's own steam from it's own juices and will become cutting tender after about an hour to hour and a half, maybe longer if it is a large Brisket. At this point you don't want the Brisket to be "Falling Apart" tender because it is difficult to slice. This takes about 2 1/2 hours

                          Once the Brisket has reached the tender but not falling apart stage, remove to a cutting board tent and let it rest for a while. Put the pan with the juices back into the oven to keep warm.

                          After the Brisket has rested, slather the Brisket with BBQ Sauce and slice thinly across the grain with a bios cut. Place the slices back into the pan with all the juices and cover tightly with foil and place back in a very slow oven, 225?, until time to serve. Serve right from the pan with BBQ sauce on the side. The Brisket is tender, moist and flavorful but not heart healthy

                          1. As we like to say here in Texas, brisket is what separates the men from the boys at a barbecue restaurant. If your brisket is still tough, it has not cooked enough. Brisket needs at least ten hours, preferably twelve. It is not uncommon to start it the night before or in the middle of the night in order to get it done right, by dinner time, and no Texan worth their salt would tell you to try cooking it for less time. That is why it is so hard to nail -- the cooking time is long and in order to get it tender , the risk of drying it out increases. All of the other things you are doing are fine if their suit your taste, but your biggest problem is that you did not smoke your brisket long enough. I would suggest also lowering your temperature to about 200 to 210 if you can do it on your smoker. Slower and much longer are key. You can even consider wrapping it in foil about 2/3 of the way through in order to help keep some of the remaining juices in the meat. That is what most people do. BTW -- internal temp is not the indicator here, as the brisket is technically cooked through a long time before it is tender.

                            A couple of things: You can over smoke it (yes, it is possible) , so stop adding new wood about half way through the cooking process. Also, try using hickory or a blend of applewood and hickory, which will not become as bitter as the dreaded Texas mesquite (which Smoky Hale calls a noxious weed).

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: RGC1982

                              " internal temp is not the indicator here, as the brisket is technically cooked through a long time before it is tender"

                              There isn't a target temperature for brisket like there is for pulled pork?

                              1. re: jzerocsk

                                I would interject a qualified no answer.

                                If you plopped a brisket in a hot oven (say 350 or so), it can be cooked, that is to 225, in relatively short time. Itd be cooked, but still very tough.
                                So in this instance, no you're not simply shooting for a certain temp.

                                As all posters are suggesting, the key here is low and slow. Plop the brisket into a low BBQ (say 225 or so) and cook sloooow, bringing the temp up slowly and keeping it there until the meat gets tender.
                                The 'target' is a tender, juicy brisket.

                                Just my opinion.

                                1. re: porker

                                  Why would you put a brisket in a 350 oven anyway? I thought we were talking about smoking here.
                                  Back to reality...
                                  When you get a pork butt into the 190s it's a pretty safe bet that it's going to be tender becuase the connective tissue breaks down at that heat.

                                  Is there really no similar target temp for brisket to shoot for to help gauge that it's done?

                                  1. re: jzerocsk

                                    As mentioned above, I think the target is a similar 190s to 205 or so. That's when it will get fork tender. The flat will get there quicker than the point, which has more fat throughout. That's why when the flat is done, you can lop off the point, chop it up with a little sauce, and throw it back in to get to the burnt ends.... mmmmm.

                                    1. re: woodburner

                                      That's what I was looking for, thanks.
                                      @Porker I appreciate the help but I don't think you were understanding my question.

                                    2. re: jzerocsk

                                      Well, jz, I was using the oven for demonstrative purposes only...
                                      The point being that if you use internal temperature as the only reference, you won't necessarily get what you're looking for.

                                      Let me rephrase so you may better understand:
                                      If you plopped a brisket in a hot smoker (say 350 or so), it can be cooked, that is to 225, in relatively short time. Itd be cooked, but still very tough.
                                      So in this instance, no you're not simply shooting for a certain temp.

                                      Or in other words, cooking at a high temp (meaning the opposite of low and slow - high and quick) and getting the internal temp into the 190s will not be a safe bet that its going to be tender because the connective tissues break down.

                                      If you smoke at a lower temp, the meat will take longer to reach a desired temp. It is this combination of low and slow which gets the meat to be tender, regardless if you use an oven or a realistic smoker ;-)

                                      1. re: porker

                                        Hey porker, I'm with ya on the low and slow, but I knew I had come across some high temp cookers before and this is what I found. For the OP and others I don't think this would work on a small flat alone, you need the fatty vein 'tween the deckle and flat to baste but it is interesting nonetheless.

                                        hope linky work

                                        http://www.kickassbbq.com/quick_cook_...

                              2. Not only would a four-pound flat cut be too small, but it was probably trimmed as well. The way to get a proper brisket out here (L.A. area) is to buy a whole one -- they run about 9-11 pounds and are sold in cryovac packaging. (You can get choice grade at Smart & Final for $1.89 per pound -- the trimmed useless flat cuts cost $3.99/lb. at the supermarket and even more at small groceries or butchers.) These whole briskets have a much thicker fat layer than the quarter-inch trim that the supers stupidly brag about. This gives you moisture as the brisket bastes itself while cooking, and some of it will crisp up to a tasty crust layer. It provides a much-needed safety net to help prevent the meat from drying while it slowly warms enough to cook and tenderize the connective tissue into collagen, and if you do wrap the meat in foil after it has smoked enough it holds even more moisture.

                                1. Sometimes I think some foods and/or recipes should have a "DON'T PANIC" sticker on them.

                                  I agree with almost all of the responses. Brisket requires patience. After an hour in a slow oven, I probably could have dropped it from my 15th floor apartment balcony and have it bounce back up to me. After two+ hours, it practically melted in my mouth.

                                  As a general rule of thumb, I cover the brisket with 2/3 of liquid. Just recently I used a dark English Ale and a little water and it came out perfect. It's a great meal to cook, produces a wonderful aroma and your neighbors will love you forever!

                                  1. DItto everything thats been said about lower and slower. If its like the lean 4lb briskets I get sometimes, I would go lower temp, longer time, and get some beef fat, bacon, or salt pork in there to up your fat content.
                                    You can either tie it on, or foil wrap it.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: wallyz

                                      Yes this is true especially for smaller briskets, they dont have much fat. I cook a 5.5 pound brisket in my Cookshack Amerique at 225 for an internal temp of 195, takes about 10 hours. A 14 pound packer cut brisket takes about 17 hours. When done I take the roast and wrap it in heavy duty foil then wrap the foiled brisket in a beach towel and put in in a cooler(of course no ice) for at least an hour or two. always comes out tender.(make sure you cut across the grain or it will always be tough) Time is the most important thing here. It is not internal temperature alone. You could cut a half inch slice of raw brisket and throw it in a hot frying pan and in a very short time the meat would be at say 195f but would be tough, you need a lot of time for the connective tissue to break down and become tender.

                                    2. I put a spicy dry rub on the briskit, wrap it tightly in foil and bake it until it's tender but not too loose - 325 oven for about 2-3 hours dep. on size. Reserve some of the juices to add to your bbq sauce or for basting, if desired. Place briskit on grill and brown well on both sides, basting with sauce, about 20 minutes total. Very very tender and delicious!

                                      1. EASY TEXAS BBQ BRISKET (from your friends in Austin):
                                        A friend of ours added Jack Daniels to the mustard base and took 1st place in a cook-off last week with this recipe. There's plenty of room to get creative, just don't mess with these BASICS!!
                                        1. Don't trim the fat
                                        2. With knife; criss-cross-cut the entire surface about 1/8 in. deep
                                        3. Mix 1/4 cup mustard with 2 Tbsp of liquid smoke. Smear on.
                                        4. Sprinkle your choice of brisket rub. Rub in.
                                        5. In indirect smoker, start with charcoal in fire box, then add mesquite.
                                        6. Smoke brisket fat side UP. Close vents half way but keep smoke flowing, never stagnant VERY IMPORTANT. don't exceed 300 F. for 4 hours. Place a pie pan next to the brisket and pour in a 1/2 can of Coke (trust me).
                                        7. Remove. Place in foil. sprinkle 1/4 cup salt (yes 1/4 CUP). Pour 12oz beer on top (yes BEER, any beer, just do it), seal.
                                        8. Bake in OVEN, 225 F for 8-10 hours. (overnight)
                                        9. Build another fire in fire-box. (Next day) Open all vents. Use plenty of wood for hotter temps.
                                        10. Now remove brisket from foil and BBQ at 350-400F for another hour for crisp crust.
                                        11. Mop frequently with any sauce during this time.
                                        12. Allow to cool before slicing. Cut AGAINST grain with extra-sharp knife or elec. knife.
                                        13. Serve with slices of sweet onions, dill pickle slices and a good mustard potato salad.
                                        You just can't mess this one up...Have fun.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: coachfarmer

                                          I from Texas myself. And cooking it low and slow for a long time IS' the key. And many of kitchens and BBQ houses do the "wrap it in foil trick" for the last few hours. But I know this 'Ole boy' up in Okie territory that cooks what he calls "Lightning Chicken", The idea is simple and seasonal of course; During a lightning storm, he hoists live chickens about 100 Ft. up in the air. While they roost up in the steel cage, all it takes is one good strike to get them fully cooked. Two to three strikes for well done. He then lowers the tower cage and begins serving.

                                        2. You did everything right to a point - it got too hot. Internal temp should not be more than
                                          145-160 for well done, moist meat with good flavor.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: TXBBQman

                                            Are you talking about a steak or a brisket?

                                            1. re: TXBBQman

                                              Have you ever really done a brisket over a slow fire??

                                              1. re: TXBBQman

                                                Brisket to only 145 degrees? are you going to eat it or resole your sneakers?

                                                1. re: sdv231

                                                  Yes, 145 is way too low for tender brisket.

                                                2. re: TXBBQman

                                                  what a joke... 145-160 for a brisket. from an alleged texas BBQ man, no less. Please. It will not be tender before it reaches 200 internal. that's why you cook it low and slow...so it doesn't get turned into charcoal on the outside by the time the collagen breaks down to release the fat.

                                                  1. re: woodburner

                                                    Everyone cooks brisket [b]Low & Slow [/b], everyone but me. Do you think that is one reason I was kicked out of the KCBS? (My being obnoxious may also be a reason)

                                                    How to cook a Brisket Flat
                                                    Trim the fat down to about 1/4 inch. Sprinkle both sides with rub - I like a salt & pepper rub.
                                                    place in a 350F cooker until the flat reaches about 160F
                                                    Brush both sides of the flat w/BBQ sauce. Put the flat in a metal pan, Cover tightly with foil and cook until a probe goes into the meat like butter. Keep the temp up.

                                                    When the meat is like butter, wrap the covered pan with a thick towel and place in a cooler to stay warm and rest.

                                                    After an hour take the meat ut of the liquid, slice across the grain and serve with de-greased [i]au jus [/i]

                                                3. I don't think you can adequately smoke a 4lb brisket. You need at least 8 hours in the smoke to get it to break down, but by that time a 4lb brisket will be a little dried out brisket biscuit. The internal temperature doesn't matter much (it'll be around the temperature of the smoke within a couple hours of starting smoking). You need a long time at that temperature before it falls apart properly. The bigger the brisket you start with, the happier you'll be with your results. Myself, I prefer a 12 pounder.

                                                  This is my goto brisket technique: http://indirectheat.blogspot.com/2009...

                                                  Hope this helps.

                                                  1. I am seconding nosh-- you need an untrimmed brisket for sure and they are hard to find. We got ours (14 lbs) in Atlanta at the Dekalb Farmer's Market. A friend smoked it for about 10-12 hours and it came out great. It's such a lean cut that it really, really needs that thick layer of fat.

                                                    1. Reading this discussion helped me out this weekend. I smoked my first brisket, a 4 pounder from Costco. After 5 hrs at 225 degrees I lifted the lid to check the meat and it felt rock hard. Some one here referred to tinfoil as the Texas Crutch, so I wrapped the meat tightly in foil with a few pads of butter and left it on the smoker another 3 hrs. Then I put the foil wrapped brisket in a small cooler for 2 hrs before my guest arrived. When I unwrapped it, I couldn't believe how hot it still was. Watch out for the steam. The meat was so tender that it shredded when I tried to lift it with tongs. It tasted awesome and all my friends were impressed.

                                                      In summary, a smoked 4lb brisket can be a crowd pleaser. Such a long cook time seems counterintuitive for such a thin cut of meat (especially to someone accustomed to smoking pork butts) however it worked for me. I never took temperatures, used a Texas-style rub recipe, and hickory smoke until I put the foil on.

                                                      1. If you have any leftovers, you might try pressure cooking them to reheat them, using natural pressure release, and that might make the leftover brisket less tough.