In part two of my three part blog series, I’m going to briefly describe the USDA beef grading scale and the process of wet aging beef brisket. Having an understanding of both are important elements to making the perfect beef brisket.
Grading for quality is voluntarily and at the request of the meat and poultry producers and processors. FSIS (Food and Safety Inspection Service) is an agency within the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and they are responsible for performing these tasks.
In the United States beef is graded as a whole carcass. Quality of the grade is based on tenderness, juiciness and flavor. In the United States the grades of beef are defined as the following:
Prime grade beef is produced from young well-fed beef cattle with an abundant of marbling.
Choice is high quality meat with less marbling than prime.
Select is a leaner grade of beef. It has less marbling and lacks the flavor and juices than the higher grades of beef.
But what about WAGYU beef and where did it originate you ask? WAGYU is a Japanese breed of beef cattle. “Wa” mean Japanese and “Gyu” means cow. There are several grades of WAGYU beef, but for this blogs purpose we’re just going to define it as the highest grade of beef.
There are many steps to making the perfect brisket and the first starts with the selection of the brisket. Obviously, the higher grade of beef the better it is in quality. With that being said, I have made some amazing tasting briskets from select and choice grade beef briskets – it’s all about how you cook it that makes a difference.
When selecting a brisket, try to find one that is uniform in size and equal thickness. Avoid picking a brisket where one side of the flat is extremely thin. Inspect the different briskets and look for marbling. You will want to pick a brisket that has a somewhat equal sized flat with the most marbling.
After you find the perfect brisket contact the butcher and ask them if they know the kill date of the cattle. They may not be able to tell from the packaging. Ask if the still have the case the brisket was packaged in. The case the brisket was packaged in should have the kill date of the cattle.
So why is the kill date important? To help understand, let me first describe where the brisket comes from. Brisket comes from the lower chest of the cattle. Cattle do not have collarbones and this area of the chest supports a large percentage of its weight. Therefore the brisket contains a ton of muscle fibers and connectivity tissue.
Again why is the kill date important? The closer to the kill date the less time the enzymes in the muscle fibers and tissue have had to break down. Make sense?
This process is known as wet aging. Wet aging is a rather simple process and in my opinion is truly a game changer.
You selected the perfect brisket, spoke to the butcher and determined the kill date of the cattle. Now, place your cryovac sealed brisket in the refrigerator turning it over once a week. Ideally you are going to want to cook the brisket between 45 and 60 days after the kill date. During this time the enzymes in the muscle fibers and tissue will break down resulting in a more tender brisket. The brisket MUST be sealed in cryovac packaging for this process.
For example I had a brisket in the refrigerator that had a kill date on August 10th and I cooked it on October 1st. I cooked that brisket 51 days after the kill date. You will see it in part three of this series of blogs.
In some cases during the wet aging process the cryovac may bubble from the gases being released. If this occurs cook the brisket ASAP or reseal with a Food Saver vacuum and store it in the freezer. There may be a case where you acquire few briskets at one time. In these instances wet age the briskets and then store them in the freezer sometime between the 45 to 60 day window. Freezing the brisket will end the aging process.
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