In almost any meat animal, there are regions of the body used for different cuts. The brisket is the lower front region, akin to the breast area of a chicken. It is, in general, one of the tougher cuts of meat, but it can become very tender through slow cooking and regular basting. Brisket is also a popular choice for slow-cooked pot roasts and corned beef.
Brisket is a relatively inexpensive cut of beef, lamb or pork found on grocery store shelves, but it can also be one of the toughest cuts if not prepared properly. Meat cutters often divide a whole piece into two separate parts before presenting it for sale. The flat cut portion is very lean, but less flavorful and more difficult to prepare without a slow cooker. The other cut, called a point cut, is more marbled with fat and collagen, which makes it more flavorful and easier to tenderize through slow cooking at low heat.
A point cut beef brisket is often included on the menu of Southern-style barbecue restaurants, especially in the state of Texas. Although other animals have a brisket suitable for braising or barbecuing, the default type for that served as barbecue is beef. Large slabs of point cut or even whole brisket are placed on racks in a barbecue smoker, with an indirect heat source of wood chips providing a controlled slow cooking atmosphere. Beef prepared for barbecue could spend at least 10-12 hours in a smoker or other cooker before it is ready to be served.
Beef brisket becomes very tender after slow cooking because of a cap of fat, known in some circles as a deckel. The meet is placed in the slow cooker, oven or smoker with the fat cap on top, which allows gravity to draw it into the meat very slowly. The slow cooking process also allows the collagen and fat between the muscle tissues to melt, not burn or sear. A brisket placed in a standard slow cooker or crock-pot could be ready to serve in as little as 2-3 hours, if time is a consideration.
Corned beef is a popular cured meat often made from the flat cut portion. The "corned" in corned beef refers to the large corns or kernels of salt used to brine the meat for preservation. It is also popular as a deli sandwich meat and as a substitute for pork-based bacon forbidden by Jewish dietary laws. Brisket is also a cut of choice for pot roasts and slow-cooked stews.