When it’s done right, beef brisket is melt-in-your-mouth tender, with excellent beef flavor and plenty of moisture. Every so often, though, you might wind up with stringy brisket instead. What causes this, and is there any way to salvage your work?
Why Is My Brisket Stringy?
When people describe brisket as “stringy,” it usually means that the meat didn’t cook long enough. The fat and collagen will have a stringy texture if they didn’t have a chance to break down. Other possible causes include a too-high smoker temperature, overtrimming, overcooking, and failure to carve the meat against the grain.
The Brisket Is Undercooked
Your first order of business is to determine whether you smoked the brisket for the appropriate amount of time.
Brisket requires a long, slow cooking process. If you don’t leave it on the smoker long enough, the collagen might not have a chance to break down. When this happens, the meat can be chewy and stringy as a result.
Undercooked brisket may also contain pockets of intramuscular fat that didn’t render out. These can give the meat a stringy texture as well.
It’s important to ensure that the meat has achieved an internal temperature of at least 195 degrees Fahrenheit before you remove it from the heat. The best way to do this is to insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the brisket flat.
The Brisket Is Overcooked
Interestingly enough, stringy brisket can also come about as a result of overcooking. That’s another reason why a reliable, well-calibrated instant-read thermometer is a grillmaster’s best friend.
Unlike steak, which should only cook to 120-140 degrees, brisket actually benefits from cooking to a higher temperature. That’s because the meat is naturally tough, with high levels of fat and collagen.
When the meat cooks past the 210-degree mark, though, it starts to lose moisture. As you can imagine, this has an adverse effect on the texture.
The Smoker Temperature Was Set Too High
This issue is closely related to overcooking, but it’s actually something that should be addressed on its own.
The key to a successful brisket is a low smoker temperature. 225 degrees Fahrenheit is preferable, but it’s permissible to set the smoker to the 250-275 range if you want to speed things up a bit.
As a last time-saving resort, you can opt for the “hot and fast” method. This refers to smoking the brisket at a higher-than-usual temperature of 325 degrees.
If you set the smoker temperature any higher than 325, the meat will reach the optimum temperature before the fat and collagen can break down. The result? Chewy, stringy brisket that’s unpleasant to bite into.
The Brisket Was Overtrimmed
Brisket needs a modest amount of fat in order to achieve the proper texture. Without it, the meat will be unpleasantly dry.
Our recommendation would be to buy untrimmed brisket whenever possible, and remove some of the fat yourself. Pre-trimmed brisket might be convenient, but unless you can give the butcher specific directions, there’s a chance they might trim off too much fat.
The Brisket Wasn’t Sliced Against The Grain
Brisket has a thick, ropy grain that should be easy to identify, even when the meat is cooked. For best results, you should carve the brisket against the grain—that is, perpendicular to the muscle fibers.
If you carve the brisket with the grain, each piece will contain long pieces of muscle fiber. This makes the meat difficult to chew, even if it’s cooked to the ideal temperature.
How To Avoid The Issue
Trim With Caution
It’s best to remove all but 1/4 inch of the fat cap when trimming brisket. This will give the meat just the right amount of fat for a juicy, mouthwatering texture.
Be careful not to trim too close to the brisket. If you do, you might wind up carving off chunks of meat, not just fat. In addition to being wasteful, this will harm your finished product.
Give Yourself Plenty Of Time
Planning ahead is the best step you can take to avoid stringy brisket. In fact, it’s the first thing you should consider if you want your barbecue to be a success, period.
At 225 degrees, the brisket should cook at a rate of 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. It may cook through more quickly, depending on how well your smoker holds its temperature or whether you opt to wrap the brisket partway through the smoke.
It’s better to err on the side of caution, so plan on at least 1.5 hours of cooking time for every pound of brisket. If the meat is done too soon, you can always wrap it and let it rest in a faux Cambro until serving time.
Check The Temperature
Some pitmasters rely on the “probe test” for checking the doneness of their brisket. That means they insert the thermometer probe—or a fork—into the brisket flat without actually checking the temperature. If the probe slides right in and out, the brisket is done.
While it’s certainly a good idea to familiarize yourself with the texture of a finished brisket, we prefer to test the actual temperature. It’s the only way to be sure that the brisket has had enough time on the smoker.
Be sure to calibrate your instant-read thermometer on a regular basis. If you can’t rely on the device to give you an accurate readout, there’s no point in using it to begin with.
Carve Against The Grain
Before you start to carve, look closely at the brisket flat to locate the muscle fibers. Once you’ve determined their direction, position your knife so that it makes a “T” shape against the grain. Then carve the slices as thick or as thin as you’d like.
On the point end of the brisket, the grain may run in different directions. That’s why you’re better off chopping or shredding that meat, instead of attempting to carve it.
Can You Fix Stringy Brisket?
If the meat is stringy because it was undercooked, you may be able to save it by returning it to the heat for a while longer. Set the smoker to 225 degrees, place the brisket back on the cooking grate, and smoke until the internal temp reaches 195 degrees.
Brisket that has a dry, stringy texture due to overcooking is a harder fix. In this case, your best bet would be to cut the meat into chunks and repurpose it into a recipe that calls for moist-heat cooking, such as stew or chili.
Similarly, you can attempt to revitalize overtrimmed brisket by serving the meat with your favorite barbecue sauce. This won’t give it back the moisture it lost, but it can help to cover up the dryness.
If you realize after the fact that you carved your brisket with the grain instead of against it, try chopping the meat into small pieces and using it for a sandwich or taco filling.
Once you’ve determined what caused your brisket to have a stringy texture, you should be able to avoid the same pitfall in the future. Remember: The more briskets you smoke, the more proficient you’ll become, so be sure to fire up that grill as often as possible!