Dry Brisket: Causes and Consequences (And What To Do Next)

Have you ever spent hours toiling over the grill, only to find that your beef brisket is dry and tough in the center? We’ve all been there. The question is, what caused the brisket to dry out in the first place, and where do you go from here? Read on to learn the answers to these questions—and a whole lot more.

What Went Wrong?

Properly cooked brisket should be tender enough to melt in your mouth, with robust beef flavor. Although the meat may be very lean, depending on whether you used the point or the flat, it should be moist as well as tender. If it’s overly dry, it means that there was a misstep along the way.

The Cut

Sometimes, the brisket might come out too dry simply because there wasn’t enough fat on the meat. Buying USDA Prime beef can help to circumvent this issue, since the meat must contain a certain amount of marbling in order to earn this designation. If you can’t find Prime beef, look for the Choice label. Select or ungraded cuts can yield uneven or downright disappointing results.

On a similar note, the issue could be avoided simply by choosing the right portion of the brisket for the smoker. Because the point section of the brisket is naturally fattier than the flat, this portion is more likely to retain the right amount of moisture during cooking. In our experience, the point is better suited for the grill than the flat, but be forewarned that it doesn’t slice as well.

The Grill

Let’s say you’ve selected a whole packer brisket or a point with the Prime label, and the beef still turned out too dry. In this case, something may have gone wrong during the cooking process.

Make sure to set the grill or smoker to the correct temperature before adding the brisket. If the temperature is too high, the meat will dry out, especially if it’s left in there for too long.

One issue might be with the smoker itself—or more specifically, the way it’s configured. Some grills are equipped with deflector plates, which retain a great deal of heat. While this can be a good thing, it may have a disastrous effect on brisket, which requires a long and slow cooking process. If your grill is outfitted with one of these deflector plates, use the upper grate when making smoked brisket to avoid scorching the bark.

The Aftermath

Finally, don’t neglect the resting process. If the brisket isn’t allowed to rest, the beef’s natural juices won’t have a chance to thicken, meaning that they’ll run right out of the meat when you begin to slice it.

On a similar note, make sure you’re resting the brisket at room temperature. Often, budding barbecue enthusiasts will attempt to keep the meat warm in a cooler until it’s ready to be served. This is known as the “faux Cambro” method, and it’s fine to use it as long as the meat had a chance to rest properly beforehand. When the brisket “rests” at high temperatures, it loses a great deal of moisture.

If you still feel that you need a few pointers before you attempt to make smoked beef brisket again, take a look at this video tutorial.

How To Salvage Dry Brisket: Tips and Techniques

It’s important to understand what went wrong, as this will help you to avoid the same mistakes next time. But what are you supposed to do when the brisket you’ve just prepared is so dry that it resembles shoe leather?

We have a few suggestions. While there’s no real substitute for brisket that has managed to retain its moisture, these methods will allow you to make the most of a disappointing situation.

The Foil-and-Baste Method

In order to pull this one off, you’ll need some high-quality beef stock or broth. Don’t be tempted to fall back on the bouillon cubes you buy at the supermarket. These result in a broth that’s overly salty, which will compound your problems instead of resolving them.

To begin, have the brisket at the temperature you’d like to serve it. If you don’t need to serve it right away, you can store the meat in the fridge until you’re ready to try and revive it.

Heat about two cups of beef broth in a medium saucepan. This technique works better when the broth is warm, so you might want to start heating the broth as soon as you suspect that the brisket isn’t turning out as you’d hoped.

Meanwhile, wrap the brisket in a layer of aluminum foil. Don’t create a tight seal—you’ll want to leave an opening for the broth. Add an extra layer of foil if you’re worried about leaks.

Carefully pour the warm stock or broth onto the brisket. Crimp the foil together so that it creates a tight seal. The moisture should seep into the meat, thereby replacing the moisture that was lost. If it works, you’ll be rewarded with beef that’s as moist and flavorful as it would have been if nothing had gone wrong.

Be aware that this method might not work if the brisket is too dry. Past a certain point, the meat simply won’t absorb any moisture. You’ll know it’s too late if the broth isn’t penetrating the brisket.

If you don’t have any stock or broth on hand, you can try substituting water instead. However, we wouldn’t recommend this, since water lacks the beef flavor that you’re trying to recreate. In fact, we would suggest sprucing up the broth with a few of the spices that you used in the brisket rub to make it taste more authentic.

The Sauce Method

Brandy and peppercorns are excellent partners for red meat. In this twist on tradition, we use this combination to our advantage to revitalize dried-out brisket.

Saute 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. When the butter turns golden, add 4 cloves of minced garlic, 2 teaspoons cracked black peppercorns, and 1-1/2 teaspoons whole green peppercorns. Stir in 3 minced shallots and saute for about 1 minute.

Add 1-1/2 cups of beef stock or broth, bring the mixture to a low boil, and simmer until the liquid has reduced to about 1 cup. Add 1/4 cup of brandy, 1-1/2 cups of heavy cream, and stir until well-blended. Continue to simmer until the mixture has reduced again to 1 cup.

In a glass measuring cup, stir together 2 teaspoons cornstarch and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice. Slowly whisk this blend into the sauce until the mixture has thickened. When the sauce reaches the desired consistency, taste it and season with salt, if desired. (If you used salted butter, this step may not be necessary.) Pour the sauce over the sliced brisket and serve.

Note that this sauce can be refrigerated for up to one day before serving. For best results, warm it up over low heat before serving.

What To Do With Dry Brisket

If you’ve tried and failed to replenish the juices in the brisket—or if you just didn’t want to go that route to begin with—you still have options. Just because the meat is dry doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inedible. There are recipes that can mask the texture so effectively, you might not even remember that the initial experiment was a failure. Here are a few of our favorites.

Chili

This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to repurpose leftover meat, even if it turned out perfectly to begin with. Best of all, it can be made using pantry staples, so there’s no need to invest in extra ingredients.

To turn brisket into chili, cut the meat into 1-inch cubes. You can cut the chunks slightly larger or smaller as desired, but we’ve found that this is the ideal size when the meat has been precooked.

Saute a handful of diced onion in lard or olive oil until soft. Stir in some diced jalapeno or habanero peppers–you can add more or less, depending on how spicy you like your chili. Add the brisket chunks, along with a large can of crushed tomatoes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and salt, and bring the mixture to a low boil.

Simmer for an hour or so, until the flavors have had a chance to blend. If you’d like, you can add a can of kidney or pinto beans at this point, but true Texas chili doesn’t contain any beans. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired, and serve the chili hot, topped with sour cream and chopped scallions.

Beef Stew

When making beef stew from scratch, the meat is typically dredged in flour and browned. Since you already have a batch of cooked brisket on hand, there’s no need to perform this step. However, we would recommend making a roux after sauteing the aromatic vegetables. This will act as a thickening agent, giving the stew a rich, velvety texture.

Chop the brisket into 1-inch cubes and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a stock pot and add chopped celery, onion, and carrot. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables are softened, then stir in 2 tablespoons of flour.

Add the brisket and 2 cups of beef stock or broth and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the beef is fork-tender, about 1 hour. Add some chunks of carrot, potato, and turnip, then simmer another 30 minutes. Season the stew with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

Shepherd’s Pie

If you’d like to take your beef stew to another level, you can transform it into shepherd’s pie. Simply follow the instructions we’ve outlined above, but omit the potato. Instead, make a batch of mashed or whipped potato on the side.

When the stew is finished, transfer it to a pie pan or an oven-safe casserole dish. Spread the mashed potato over the top and smooth the surface with the back of a wooden spoon. If desired, scatter about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese over the potato. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges. Serve hot.

Other Ideas For Dry Brisket

  • Shred the brisket and heat it in a saucepan with canola oil, diced onion, chili powder, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Use the mixture as a taco or burrito filling.
  • Mix shredded brisket with barbecue sauce and use it as a pizza topping.
  • Tuck a few slices of brisket into a grilled cheese sandwich. For dry brisket, it’s best to use a particularly gooey cheese, such as havarti or fontina.
  • Saute some cubed potato and diced onions in butter until the potatoes are brown and crisp, then stir in chopped brisket and fresh thyme to make a homemade brisket hash. Serve with scrambled eggs.

Final Thoughts

While dry brisket is no one’s idea of a success, it doesn’t have to be a complete disaster. You can attempt to resurrect the meat by rehydrating it with seasoned broth, or use the meat in a recipe that will cloak its imperfections.

No matter what you decide, try to learn from this experience so you can alter your technique. The next time you make smoked beef brisket, you’re bound to be satisfied with the results.

Happy grilling!

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