Of all the cuts of beef, brisket is the one with the split personality.
A friend calls brisket’s styles “red and gray”: Red is smoked brisket, king of the barbecue circuit, with slices showing that distinctive red smoke ring. Gray is home-style, often associated with Jewish cooking, where it’s slowly braised for hours so it’s tender with lots of gravy.
Cooking brisket is an undertaking. It’s big, usually anywhere from 4 to 16 pounds. It has fibrous meat that can be tough and hard to chew unless you cook it long enough to break the fibers into submission. It has a layer of fat on the outside but not a lot of marbling inside, giving it the potential to be dry.
Get past all that, though, and you have a cut that can be moist and chewy, with flavor and personality. The real reward is versatility: You get a lot of meat that can handle a lot of treatments. I set out recently to find a variety of ways you can get brisket around Charlotte.
1. As a sandwich. Head to the small restaurant at Gleiberman’s Kosher Mart to get one “New York Style”: a high pile (2 solid inches) of thin, lean, tender brisket slices on seedless rye with a pickle and a bag of chips. They won’t shame you if you get mayonnaise on it, but I will – go for whole-grain mustard or don’t play. You can also get a brisket dinner with gravy, rice and broccoli.
5668 International Drive; 704-563-8288. Price: $13.95 for New York Style, $16.95 for overstuffed, $22.95 for the dinner.
2. As a diner plate. At the Big View Diner, you can go two ways: The brisket plate comes with several thick slabs of 12-hour braised brisket with jus-style gravy over mashed potatoes with garlicky broccolini.
But the real feel-good dinner is the Brisket Stroganoff – tender shreds of brisket with mushrooms and peas in a cream sauce over curly egg noodles. The sauce is missing that sour cream tang, but there’s enough fresh dill on top to give it the Borscht-Belt touch.
16637 Lancaster Highway, Ballantyne; 704-544-0313; xeniahospitality.com. Price: $15.95 for the brisket dinner, $14.95 for brisket stroganoff.
3. As an enchilada. If you get the Enchiladas Tejuano at Cantina 1511, the menu won’t tell you it’s brisket – but I will. Braised in a red chile sauce, shredded and rolled in corn tortillas (you can pick two or three), they’re covered in cheese and arrive bubbling and browned in a cast-iron pan, with a small bowl of beans and confetti rice on the side. It’s a juicy, rich brisket casserole.
7708 Rea Road and 4271 Park Road; cantina15eleven.com. Price: $9.50 for 2, $13 for 3.
4. As a taco. At Tapas 51 just off Carowinds Boulevard, chef Aaron Rivera takes time with his brisket: He coats it with a rub of several chiles, brown sugar and coffee from Pure Intentions, smokes it for five hours, then roasts it. Finally, he pan-fries the chunks, giving them carnitas-style crunchy edges. They’re piled on three small charred tortillas and topped with a citrus-y guacamole, charred-onion chimichurri and a pile of Una Alla Volta-made queso fresco.
3415 S.C. 51 (Flint Hill Road off Carowinds Boulevard), Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-548-1612; www.provechorestaurantgroup.com/provecho. Price: $9.
5. As barbecue. If you’ve ever slow-smoked a brisket yourself, you know why it costs so much. At Sauceman’s, an $18 brisket tray gets you a generous pile of thick slices, one side (I can never resist its collards) and slaw. The slices are a little thickly cut for a meat that tends toward dry, but they have a good chewiness and smoky flavor, with lots of pepper “bark” on the outside and, yes, a smoke ring.
228 West Blvd.; 704-333-7070, saucemans.com. Price: $18; $8 more for extra meat.