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Brisket Without Fat---Doomed to be Stringy?

I realize there are more pressing issues that the world is facing, but the brisket that I special ordered has zero fat on top. I'm going to assume that the butcher thought he was doing me a favor by removing it.

So, is there anything to do? Will decreasing the temperature or adding more braising liquid help? Do I brush it with oil?

I only make this twice a year and it would be so nice to have it turn out well. Thanks for any help!

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  1. If you're braising you should be okay. I'd be concerned if it was BBQ dry heat but I think you'll be fine. I think it's the internal fat and collagen that matters most in this case.

    1. Go nice and low with cooking. It may be Ok with the intramuscular marbling.

      1. You might need to be more careful about this one, but I don't think that a fat cap dripping into the meat is what keeps the main mass from being stringy and dried out (maybe the top). Brisket should have internal fat and collagen. How do you cook it (grill, oven, mix)? How do you serve it?

        I hope you express your view to the butcher, too.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Bada Bing

          The recipe is 3 hours at 350 and has liquid about half way coverning the brisket. It turns out very well, but specifically states to remove the layer of fat after braising and then slice.

          Sometimes you just KNOW you are going to have problems. I ordered this at my local grocery last week. Everytime I went to the meat counter, the butchers were "on break". When I went to pick it up today I was told that they didn't have an order for me. Then they finally found my order. When I looked at the meat I told them that it was trimmed too close. I was told "sorry, that's all we have." Frustrating!

          1. re: DaisyM

            as others have mentioned, you'll be fine, but a better tactic might have been to simply refuse the meat if it isn't what you wanted. to get a response that was basically "tough sh*t" from the butcher is unacceptable.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              You are right! Next time I have to find a new place to get brisket.

          2. re: Bada Bing

            Do you think I should brush the top with vegetable oil? Is it going to burn without the layer of fat?

            1. re: DaisyM

              It won't burn, especially if you cook it lower, at 300 and covered until the last 30 minutes, when you want the liquid to reduce and intensify.
              You need a better butcher ;-)

              1. re: monavano

                A couple of years ago I was ordering something at this meat counter and the butcher asked me if I was single. I raised my left hand and said, "very happily married". Maybe I would have gotten a better brisket if I was single!

              2. re: DaisyM

                Don't bother with the oil and don't worry about it being any more stringy than normal. As long as you're braising it (or slow roasting wrapped in foil, which is substantially the same thing) you'll be fine. The tenderness & unctuousness of brisket comes from the muscular collagen fibers being denatured by heat and moisture and effectively turning into gelatin. The external fat mostly stays external or drips away -- it has little effect on the texture of the end product unless you're exposing the meat to convection heat, i.e., hot moving air as in oven roasting or pit barbecuing. In those cases, the fat serves as a barrier to keep moisture from being drawn away by the convection process.

                1. re: DaisyM

                  Flip it halfway through. The fat cap "basting the meat" is pretty much a myth. If I recall correctly, it's been shown not to penetrate at all. At most, it simply provides a barrier. Since you are braising and not barbecuing, it's a non issue. Marbling is where it's at.

                  1. re: DaisyM

                    I agree with monavano and others here: provided you cook it in a closed environment, no oiling is called for (though I don't think I could resist a mustard and spices rub, myself).

                2. An idea for moisture is to cover the brisket in sliced onions while it braises. Adds flavor too.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: monavano

                    That's interesting about the putting the onions on top. This recipe has the brisket on top of them. I'm going to try doing that, flipping it over and reducing the temp.

                    1. re: DaisyM

                      I always put onions on top, so they're easy to scoop off and save for our brisket sandwiches. I put carrots and/or celery underneath.

                      When I get thin cut brisket, there is really never any fat on it and it comes out delicious and tender. I cook it in a dutch oven at 300.

                      1. re: DaisyM

                        you totally do not need to flip it. I love onions on top, a little garlic too.

                        1. re: magiesmom

                          I do onions and shallots. Never crossed my mind to open up the pot and flip it, you'd just be wasting your time and the heat.

                          1. re: coll

                            Actually, Cook's has experimented with this and has demonstrated that the flipping is a very important step if the liquid does not completely cover the brisket.

                            1. re: coll

                              I hadn't thought of shallots. Okay, onions and shallots in the pan and on top of brisket and no flipping. Anyway, I have two brisket and I'd probably end up with 3rd degree burns if I tried.

                            2. re: magiesmom

                              I've been flipping for years, it does make a difference. The meat above the water line gets a bit tougher and drier. Also, the meat below the water line is soaking up all the flavorings from the stock and aromatics (which don't condense out and back over the top). It's not a game breaker, but it does give a more succulent result.

                              1. re: sbp

                                I agree. I made 12 lbs. of brisket yesterday. I had 2 pieces in one Le Creuset and 2 pieces in the other. Half way through I rotate the meat so the pieces that were on top were then submerged in the liquid. I put tons of onions underneath and on top. Then about 45 minutes before it was done I added lots of baby carrots. It came out, as it always does, amazingly tender and delicious.

                                The key is to slice it against the grain and then it should not be stringy. And while I'm slicing it, I take any parts that fall apart too much or are stringy and I keep those separate, add some gravy and freeze it for later use. It's almost like pulled brisket and my kids love it over pasta for dinner during the winter.

                                1. re: valerie

                                  Are you guys talking about cooking it covered or uncovered? I have it sealed tight in the oven and never flip myself, cooks evenly as far as I can see.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    Covered. Honestly, I can't swear that it makes a difference because I've always "rotated" the meat so it all has a chance to be submerged. But it comes out great every time, so I feel like "if it ain't broke..."

                                2. re: sbp

                                  my experience is different. The very thick layer of onions keeps the top tender , not drier or tougher. That is its purpose and it serves it well.

                          2. The bisket I cooked over the weekend had much less surface fat than any other I have seen and it turned out fine. All but maybe a 4 square inch area (spread out over the entire surface) was stripped of the fat.

                            I did keep it tightly covered for the first 3 hours.

                            1. The cap fat is not an indication of how much intramuscular fat there is

                              1. It shouldn't harm the final product. I usually trim any visible fat from the outside of the meat before cooking anyhow, and I've never had a problem with stringiness. A nice bonus is that the resulting sauce needs little if any defatting after cooking.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: topbanana

                                  Thanks, everyone. Its nice to feel like you are surrounded by cooking angels when you are worried. I'll let you know how it turns out. Thanks again!

                                  1. re: DaisyM

                                    One more thing - if you have the time, when the meat is done, take it out of the roasting pan and once its cool enough, plop it in a big ziploc. Now pour all the juices/sauce into a big take out container - basically a quart jug with a wide top. You may need several. Refrigerate. Once the sauce is cold, you'll have a nice, solid fat cap on the top that you can peel right off. Reheat the sauce, reduce it some, and it will be nice and thick and grease free.

                                    1. re: sbp

                                      That was an EXCELLENT tip! I'm cooking it right now. Thank you

                                2. Don't worry about it. I always have my butcher take off the fat. As others have stated put some onions on top. I always put onions on top and bottom, then I put onion soup over it and add liquid. Cover it and cook at 350 and it should be fine. I like to cook mine the day before, let it cool in fridge, then slice it put it back in the pan with the juices and rewarm. It is delicious and not dry.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: paprkutr

                                    I'm going to put the onions on the top and bottom, thanks!

                                    1. re: DaisyM

                                      and garlic studs in da middle!!!!!!!!!

                                  2. You could add a LITTLE suet to the braise and brush the top of the brisket occasionally if the brisket does not submerge.

                                    You might be able to return to the butcher and get a little suet (beef fat) free of charge, since he'd left you no fat on the brisket. I think that a butcher should ask "how much fat do you want" on every cut that you buy.

                                    Covering with onions is also an excellent technique.
                                    When not smoking a brisket, I like to use enough braise and melted fat to submerge the meat during cooking and then reduce the braise in a sauce pan (separately) after cooking.

                                    1. Grrr....I don't think this is working out. It has now been in the oven for 31/2 hours. (recipe is for 3 hours) The majority of it still isn't tender AND there is a lot of liquid. Previously, it has formed a very thick glaze. Maybe the fat on top did matter? Or maybe having the two brisket is the pan has screwed this up. I'm wondering if I should remove the foil and let the sauce cook down. Any thoughts on this?

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: DaisyM

                                        Time will vary based on thickness and volume so don't fret. If it's not tender then it's not done unless you went WAY past done but I doubt it. Remove the foil if you want more crust. You can vent the foil if you want less crust but still want to reduce the sauce.

                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                          Okay, thank you! It is a little more tender now, but the sauce isn't nearly as thick as it should be. I'm opening up the foil to see if it will reduce.

                                          1. re: DaisyM

                                            You can always reduce the sauce later! Once the meat is done, reserve it as above and later, after you've skimmed the fat (which I always do unless for whatever reason I NEED to serve the same day), just put the braising liquid in a pan and reduce as you like.
                                            Nothing to worry about. The oven does not have to do it all.

                                            1. re: DaisyM

                                              Not just size of brisket, but individual variation in muscle density can affect cooking time. Just be patient. I cook on low heat, can take 10 hours. Don't worry about the sauce at all now. As mentioned, if you separate and refrigerate, you can defat and boil it down to a thick sauce later. (It's a good sign if the cold sauce is jello like). Also, if you have carrots and onions cooking in there too, you can whir the whole thing in a blender (not hot with the cover sealed, or it will "explode") or with a stick blender. This thickens it up as well.

                                              1. re: sbp

                                                I do this too. Thickens without having to add extra starch and is more flavorful to boot. And it sneaks some veg into the kids. Win-win.

                                                1. re: acgold7

                                                  I do it too. Great way to add body and flavor.

                                        2. I posted this is another post, but thought I would also post here.

                                          This is the way I prepare brisket for the oven.

                                          Tear off piece of heavy duty aluminum foil large enough to completely enclose the brisket. Place brisket on the foil. Rub or sprinkle on seasonings of your choice and may also add some BBQ sauce. Wrap the heavy duty aluminum foil around the brisket with the fat cap up; place in a large pan - whatever will fit the brisket. Let sit in refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. When ready to bake, do not open up the foil. Put in 250-275 degree oven and cook for 12 hours. Remove from oven and unwrap foil carefully; you may take the fat off or leave it on. This has an incredible flavor and is extremely tender.