It's the best damn part of the cow.
Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of beef or veal. The beef brisket is one of the nine beef prime cuts. The brisket muscles include the superficial and deep pectorals. As cattle do not have collar bones, these muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing/moving cattle. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize the connective tissue.
According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, the term derives from the Middle English brusket which comes from the earlierOld Norse brjósk, meaning cartilage. The cut overlies the sternum, ribs and connecting costal cartilages.
Brisket can be cooked many ways. Basting of the meat is often done during the cooking process. This normally tough cut of meat, due to the collagen fibers that make up the significant connective tissue in the cut, is tenderized when the collagen gelatinizes, resulting in more tender brisket, despite the fact that the cut is usually cooked well beyond what would normally be considered "well done". The fat cap often left attached to the brisket helps to keep the meat from over-drying during the prolonged cooking necessary to break down the connective tissue in the meat. Water is necessary for the conversion of collagen to gelatin.
Popular methods in the United States include rubbing with a spice rub or marinating the meat, then cooking slowly over indirect heat from charcoal or wood. This is a form of smoking the meat. A hardwood, such as oak, pecan, hickory, or mesquite, is sometimes added, alone or in combination with other hardwoods, to the main heat source. Sometimes, they make up all of the heat source, with chefs often prizing characteristics of certain woods. The smoke from these woods and from burnt dripping juices further enhances the flavor. The finished meat is a variety of barbecue. Smoked brisket done this way is popular in Texas barbecue. Once finished, pieces of brisket can be returned to the smoker to make burnt ends. Burnt ends are most popular inKansas City-style barbecue, where they are traditionally served open-faced on white bread.
In the US, the whole boneless brisket, based on the Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS), as promulgated by the USDA, has the meat-cutting classification IMPS 120. The North American Meat Processors Association publishes a photographic version of IMPS called the Meat Buyer's Guide. The brisket muscles are sometimes separated for retail cutting: the lean "first cut" or "flat cut" is the deep pectoral, while the fattier "second cut", "point", "fat end", or "triangular cut" is the superficial pectoral). For food service use, they are IMPS 120A and 120B, respectively.