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For the love of brisket

(Donald Bowers Photography)
By Glenn Yoder
Globe Staff / October 5, 2011

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Q. You write that unlike other meats, brisket needed an advocate. How so?

A. That is the unsung nature [of brisket]. It’s not a sexy cut. It’s not sirloin or filet mignon. It’s never gotten any kind of press. Brisket is so low on the totem pole that it doesn’t have a Facebook page, like Chilean sea bass. It never had a PR agency and it never had an advertising campaign like beef or “the other white meat.’’ I thought, that’s funny. Everybody talks about brisket, but it doesn’t get a lot of respect. Brisket has this enormous history and sense of family and community. And it’s all over the world. I discovered that it is so incredibly cross-cultural.

Q. What are some cultural variations?

A. In the book, there’s everything from a tahini brisket to a southern Maryland spiced peach brisket to a lovely Texan hybrid brisket - that’s a braised brisket that starts with a barbecue brisket rub - to classic Joan Nathan/Jonathan Waxman Jewish braised briskets to all the barbecue briskets which are all through the south and Texas and Kansas City. And then there’s corned beef, which is brined brisket. So here’s this humble, homely cut of meat that has this incredible history, where people came to Ellis Island from Eastern Europe with brisket recipes from their grandmas.

Q. Every recipe has a different twist. Do traditionalists accept experimentation with such an old dish?

A. When people go, “Oh my God, you’re not going to put ketchup in are you?’’ or “Ginger snaps, are you crazy?’’ or “No, you can’t put Coca-Cola in!’’ It’s very much like “Don’t mess with Texas’’ - don’t mess with what I think the perfect brisket is. I was talking with a friend and she said, “With other foods, there’s a right way and a wrong way. With brisket, there’s only my way.’’

Q. Cooking brisket is generally straightforward, but since you include recipes from some famous chefs, are any challenging?

A. None are very complicated. The hardest thing with brisket is really the time - that it takes so long. The brisket mantra is low and slow. And that’s with everything, whether it’s corned beef which is three weeks from scratch, and barbecue is 13 hours, and braised is three or four hours, and then some of those you have to put in the refrigerator overnight. So I say it’s not the meat for the Type A cook. Also I say it’s paradoxically the quickest way and the slowest way to a man’s heart.

Q. You have a chapter in the book about the future of brisket. What can people expect?

A. Saul Bolton is making a line called Brooklyn Bangers and one of them is a brisket hot dog, which is far healthier than a regular hot dog, although I guess anything is. And it’s totally great. Noah Bernamoff at Mile End, also in Brooklyn, is making incredible Quebec brisket sandwiches, all Montreal-influenced. Sam Hayward [chef and owner of Fore Street in Portland, Maine] and Richard Blais [winner of “Top Chef: All Stars’’] both contributed brisket burger recipes, so brisket burgers are really hot also. It’s funny, it’s come into its own in a very contemporary way - brisket sliders, brisket tacos, brisket enchiladas, food trucks serving different kinds of briskets.

Q. Did you have any concerns over writing exclusively about red meat when there’s currently a movement away from it?

A. Because I’m such a good person, I put a seitan - a non-meat brisket - in the book. But no, I didn’t [have concerns]. One of the things Robbie Richter, [former] pitmaster of Fatty ’Cue in Brooklyn, said to me is, “We should all be eating less red meat, but when you do, eat better cuts. Eat grass-fed, eat more sustainably raised, and better red meat.’’ His point was [to not buy] supermarket red meat. You can eat it. I think you just have to be a little judicious about it.

Q. You must have eaten a lot of red meat during your research.

A. I did. I look like the Michelin Man. I look like Chaz Bono. I’m kidding. I upped my exercise routine when I started writing this book. I’m hoping to write something not as fattening next time.

Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at

Stephanie Pierson
The journalist and cookbook author wrote her latest, “The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes,’’ with the belief the cut had been overlooked. “There were brisket recipes in lots of cookbooks, but brisket had never, I didn’t think, gotten its proper credit. It didn’t have its own cookbook,’’ she says. “I thought, That’s not right, because there are so many great brisket recipes. People have this huge passion about brisket that they don’t have about chuck roast or rump roast or pot roast.’’