Based on discussions from panelists and participants during each year’s Camp Brisket held annually at Texas A&M Univ., we knew that many Texas pit masters use US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Prime or Choice briskets in their restaurants. Therefore, for this project we collected briskets from both sides of 12 USDA Choice carcasses. The briskets were vacuum-packaged and then aged under refrigeration for seven, 21 or 35 days.
After aging periods, briskets were seasoned with kosher salt and coarse ground pepper (the typical seasonings used on Texas-style briskets). Then, the briskets were smoked at Southside Market with post oak wood for approximately 11 hours on a commercial barbecue pit with a temperature close to 210°F. As the internal temperature of the briskets approached 185°F, Southside Market’s experienced pit master would hand-test the pliability of each brisket to ensure that it had cooked long enough to make it tender.
When the briskets were done, they were removed from the pit and wrapped in “peach paper,” which is fairly common in the world of Texas barbecue. Although not part of our research objectives, we admit that there have been plenty of arguments over the wrapping of briskets, including when to wrap and what type of wrap to use. About 10 minutes before serving to our consumer panelists, briskets were removed from the peach paper and separated into the flat (bigger, leaner, bottom) and point (fattier, top) portions and sliced for serving. Consumers had a plastic knife and fork to cut the brisket slices, and they were asked to score each sample for tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and overall liking. In addition to the subjective scores assigned by the consumers, an objective measurement of tenderness was taken by determining the Warner-Bratzler shear (WBS) force.
Beefing up results
The consumers scored all of the briskets as tender. They did not identify any flavor or tenderness differences between any of the aging periods, and there were no differences in the Warner-Bratzler shear force values for any of the aging periods. This shows that when briskets were cooked using the Texas-style “low and slow” method that aging them longer (21 or 35 days) did not make them any more tender than those that were aged for seven days, which is good news for pit masters, especially during periods of high demand and short supply.
While the answer to the initial question was “no, briskets did not benefit from aging,” we did learn that regardless of the aging period, consumers scored the flat and point portions of the brisket differently for some of the traits. For the most part, consumers found the point (richly marbled, top) portion to be juicer, but they gave higher flavor and overall liking scores to the flat (bigger, leaner, bottom) portion. Also, the Warner-Bratzler shear force measurements were lower for point portions compared to flat portions.
Although previous research studies have classified the point and flat muscles of a brisket as tough, the objective measurements for tenderness in this study definitely fell within the tender range. The “low and slow” Texas-style of smoking beef briskets resulted in a tender and flavorful product with high scores for consumer acceptance. It is not surprising that the brisket is frequently considered the favorite when it comes to Texas barbecue.